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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Av 3, 5767, 7/18/2007
We mentioned that many people are so cross-eyed in the dark maze of their exiles that they fail to see the light that is so obvious to anyone who looks with straightforward vision. Or as our illustration suggests, they find it hard to see the butterfly that sits at the tip of their nose.
Keep your eyes on the butterfly
The situation is similar to the laws of writing sacred texts. For instance, if a reader of a Torah scroll is not certain whether a letter is an unusually extended yud, or a too short vav, he must call a child up to the scroll and ask his opinion. Whatever the child answers is the verdict, determining whether the Torah scroll is kosher or not.
This same test can be applied to the question whether or not G-d wants the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel. Make the test yourself. Take any fourth grade or fifth grade class of Jewish kids in your community. Have all of them read the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). Then ask them where G-d wants the Jewish People to live. The test is as simple as that. That way you’ll get the answer straight from the mouth of babes. To make sure the kids haven’t already been brainwashed in their homes, choose a class of non-Jews in any public school. Ask them the same question. I bet every one of the kids answers, “In the Land of Israel.”
Sinai was merely a stopover to pick up the Torah. Why? Because the Torah is meant to be lived in the Land of Israel, not in the wilderness of Sinai, or England, or America, or France.
Why do I say this? Because, as you study the Book of Devarim for the next two months, notice how many times it says, in one phrasing or another: “These are the commandments that I have given you to do in the Land that I have given you to possess.” For instance, to cite just a few:
“Now therefore, hearken O Israel, to the statutes and to the judgments which I teach you to do them, that you may live and go in and possess the Land which the L-rd G-d of your fathers gives you (Devarim, 4:1).
“Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the L-rd my G-d commanded me, that you should act accordingly in the Land whither you go in to possess” (Devarim, 4:5).
“And the L-rd commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might do them in the Land into which you go over to possess (Devarim, 4:14).
“Thou shall keep therefore His statutes and His commandments which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou may prolong thy days upon the Land which the L-rd thy G-d gives thee, forever” (Devarim, 4:40).
“I will speak to thee all of the commandments and the statutes and the judgments, which thou shall teach them, that they may do them in the Land which I gave them to possess” (Devarim, 5:27).
“You shall walk in all the ways which the L-rd your G-d has commanded you, that you may live, and that it be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the Land which you shall possess (Devarim, 5:30).
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments, which the L-rd your G-d commanded to teach you, that you might do them in the Land into which you go to possess it (Devarim, 6:1).
“Hear therefore, O Israel, and take care to do it, that it may be well with thee, and that you may increase mightily, as the L-rd G-d of thy fathers has promised thee, in that Land that flows with milk and honey” (Devarim, 6:3).
“All the commandments which I command thee this day shall you observe to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your fathers (Devarim, 8:1).
“Therefore shall you keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the Land, into which you go to possess it; that you may prolong your days in the Land, which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them, a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim, 11:8)
“in the Land….” “in the Land….” “in the Land….”
Now, when the Torah speaks about a Land of milk and honey that G-d gave to our forefathers, it isn’t talking about England, or France, or South Africa, or Australia, or Mexico, or even America, as any fourth grader will tell you. The commandments were given to us to be performed in the Land of Israel. G-d wants the Jewish People to live here.
Let’s take a quick look at this week’s Torah portion. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook would repeat this to his students year after year by saying, look what we have here! Moshe begins to explain the Torah to the Children of Israel as they are about to enter the Promised Land. We are about to hear the commentary of Moshe Rabainu on the Torah. Pretty good teacher, right? Rashi writes that Moshe explained them the Torah in 70 languages. (Maybe so that the English Jews, and the French Jews, and the Spanish-speaking Jews would be sure to understand). And what is the first thing that Moshe tells them?
“The L-rd our G-d spoke to us in Horev, saying, You have dwelt long enough in this mountain: turn and take up your journey” (Devarim, 1:7).
In other words - let’s go guys. You’ve hung around in this wilderness long enough! And where are they supposed to go? Moshe reminds them what G-d has already said on the way out from Egypt:
“Behold I have set the Land before you; go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your fathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, to give them and to their seed after them (Devarim, 1:8).
The Land isn’t Greenland, nor Iceland, nor even Disneyland. It’s the LAND OF ISRAEL. And “their seed” – that’s us!
Not even Disneyland
Once again, cherished brothers and sisters. What is Moshe telling them? Ask the fourth graders. He is telling them that have lingered long enough around the mountain of Sinai – they are to take up their journey and go on to Israel. Sinai was merely a stopover to pick up the Torah. Why? Because the Torah is meant to be lived in the Land of Israel, not in the wilderness of Sinai, or England, or America, or France. The goal of Judaism is not the Torah, but rather to live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel. That’s what the Exodus was all about, as the verse clearly states: “I will bring you up out of the afflictions of Egypt to a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Shemot, 3:17).
In upcoming blogs, with G-d’s help, we will see more. In the meantime, read this blog over and over until it sinks in. Remember. It isn’t the commentary of Tzvi Fishman. It’s Moses explaining the Torah. If you don’t believe me, ask any fourth grader.
Get the picture?
Av 2, 5767, 7/17/2007
We do not hide the fact that there is a lot of garbage in Israel. There is garbage in the Prime Minister’s office. There is garbage in the Knesset. There is garbage in the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, and in the public educational system. There is garbage in the media. I am not ashamed of the garbage. I am proud of it. The fact that there is a lot of garbage means that there is also a tremendous amount of good.
The fact that there is a lot of garbage means that there is also a tremendous amount of good.
What is the function of garbage? To help us understand, let’s use the example of food. Garbage is the refuse that is left over from the edible food. For example, garbage is the peel of a banana, or the husk of an orange, or the shell of a pistachio nut. The fruit is eaten and the peel is discarded by throwing it into the trash. Until the banana is ripe, the peel serves to guard it. Though eventually the peel will turn into garbage, it plays a vital function is the development and growth of the fruit.
Just like the shell guards the nut.
In a language more eloquent than mine, Rabbi Kook explains that the garbage and evil husks that we see in our time come to guard the budding fruit of Redemption and allow it to develop and grow. On the one hand, the light of Redemption is so powerful, it cannot be revealed all at once. Just as a person cannot stare up at the sun in its zenith, the world would be blinded if G-d were to reveal Himself, in all of His splendor and glory, without any filter or screen.
Shielding the light
In this sense, the husks of garbage in Israel, in the many forms they assume, serve to shield the world from the great growing light of Redemption within, until the proper vessels are built, so that we can become gradually used to the light. These vessels are things like prophecy, the Sanhedrin, the Beit HaMikdash, and the Kingship of David, for which we all dream. Precisely because people lack the vessels to contain the immense Divine light of Redemption, they can easily fall into spiritual rebellion and disbelief. Often these people have very big souls, but lacking the vessels to perceive the all-encompassing cosmic truth of the Torah, they reject it as something antithetical from the freedoms and universal truths that they long for. This accounts for the heresy and terrible chutzpah of our times.
Nonetheless, while the headlines are focused on the political corruption in Israel, on the Intifadas and the threats of war, quietly, beneath this husk of evil, dozens of new yeshivas are opened, cities and settlements are built, a new advanced satellite is developed, a new insect-free lettuce is produced, more of our scattered exiles are gathered, and more and more Jewish children are born. All of these are aspects of Mashiach and the holy vessels of nationhood that we need to build. “We don’t have to worry about the Israelis,” the United States Secretary of State assures the President. “Look at all the problems they have.” That’s true when you focus on the darkness of the husks and don’t see the great light within. But one day soon, the world will wake up and the developed State of Israel will be world superpower #1.
Granted, this is a difficult concept. After all, everything that the Almighty has created, He has created is to manifest His glory. This includes garbage. Since it is G-d’s will that the Jewish People worship Him and rebuild their Statehood on the foundations of the Torah, can it be that He has servants working in an opposite manner creating mountains of garbage which counteract everything the Master has decreed? How can He allow all of this trash?
To explain this paradox, the Zohar teaches, in the famous parable of the harlot, that the purpose of evil is to bring forth the will of G-d. While the king wants his son to live a moral life and not succumb to temptation, he secretly hires a harlot and instructs her to seduce his son, in order to test his obedience to his father’s teachings. To resist her wiles and charms, the prince has to summon all of his inner resources and strengths. When he succeeds, the king grants him the highest of prizes and honors. Now who caused all of this grandeur to come to the prince? The harlot! (Zohar, Shemot, 163A).
Just as each one of us is called upon to conquer our evil inclinations in our personal lives, we, as a nation, are also summoned to separate the holy from the garbage in our national lives as well. This is the process of “birur” or selection that the Jewish Nation is experiencing today.
It's our job to separate the peel from the fruit.
This estrangement from our own holy sources is but a passing illness. After two thousand years of exile among the nations of the world, we have returned to Eretz Yisrael to build our own unique Jewish State. But when we come back from our wanderings, our luggage is filled with both good things and bad. We have learned about socialism, and communism, capitalism, and democracy. In our school of hard knocks, we have learned how to be writers, scientists, statesmen, and soldiers. In the long school of galut, we have absorbed gentile concepts, corrupt dealings, and heretical teachings as well. It is our job to sift out the good from the bad and to re-establish our nation on the basis of Torah. The more garbage that there is, the harder each one of us has to work. The darker the husks, the more we have to strive to increase Torah in order to spread its light. Just as the dregs serve to preserve a fine wine, so does the existence of the wicked force the champions of spirituality and goodness to climb to greater heights, until they can reveal the glorious, universal, transcendental, Divine “ism” of Judaism, the paucity of which led to the spiritual rebellion and heresy of the past. In a nutshell, the more corruption, immorality, and evil, the holier we all have to be.
Rabbi Kook writes that although holiness, goodness, and faith will seem to suffer and weaken in the early stages of nation building, this is in reality the stimulus for the magnificent ascent that follows. “For after the decay of the refuse, the light of splendor and holiness will immediately begin to grow on healthy holy foundations” (Orot HaTechiya, 52).
But to bring about this world perfecting rectification, you have to be engaged in the battle. If you want to participate in the Redemption, you can’t sit on the sidelines, watching from thousands of miles away, afraid to get dirty.
Watching from the sidelines
You can't do the Divine work of selection by keeping away from the garbage. You have to buckle on your boots, grab your buckets and brooms, and climb onto the dump with the rest of us here. The garbage is waiting for you. And also an incredible, indescribable good. If you come with a willing heart and a firm trust in G-d, then you won’t even notice the smell on your shoes. I promise.
Av 1, 5767, 7/16/2007
The organizers of the “Return to Homesh” movement have announced that after several months of secret negotiations, they have signed on an unnamed American Jew to lead the march to Homesh. A New York Jewish businessman is reported to have put up the million dollar fee that X is rumored to be getting for his services. “He’s worth every penny of it,” the businessman said. “With a no-nonsense American Jew like X leading the charge, things are going to start to change in Israel.” An investigation which I conducted into the identity of this mysterious soldier of fortune was met with insurmountable roadblocks along the way, though my journalist intuition has me hoping that he is Mike from Vienna, VA. To remind Arutz 7 readers, Mike is the prolific blog commenter who advocates armed revolution as the only method of making Israel a true Jewish State. Since he is presently serving as a reserve commander in the U.S. Army Special Overseas Forces, chances are that if he is indeed the awaited savior, he will be wearing a mask while in Israel to guard his identity.
His Identity Remains Unknown
One of the Homesh evacuees said that if the rumor were true, it could mark a turning point in the settlement movement, now that an American Jew would be leading the way. “The American Jews are the real Jews,” he said. “The Macabbees of today. Not like us sissy Israelis.” In a related development, the Hamas leadership in Gaza has been flying white flags and negotiating secretly with Israel to flee to Tunis, ever since the news of the mysterious American recruit was leaked. “One American Jew is equal to ten thousand Israeli soldiers,” a Hamas military commander said. “We’re scared.”
Leading the Way to Homesh. Hi Ho Silver!!!!
Tammuz 29, 5767, 7/15/2007
On Friday, the family, close friends and students of Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, z’tzal, gathered at his gravesite on the Mount of Olives, to commemorate his yahrtzeit. Rabbi Hazani was one of the pioneer founders of Gush Emunim and the leader of the settlement movement all through its years of dynamic growth.
Overlooking the Jerusalem he loved.
A moving eulogy was delivered by Rabbi Gadi Ben Zimra, organizer of this Tuesday’s “Return to Homesh.” With his voice choking with emotion, Rav Gadi expressed the feeling in all of our hearts, how much he personally, and all the nation, missed Rabbi Yehuda’s towering spirit, energy, and selfless devotion to Eretz Yisrael.
Eulogizing Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, a champion of the settlement movement.
In his round the clock campaigns on behalf of the Torah, the settlement of Israel, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Rabbi Hazani was the true continuation of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, buried just yards away.
Rabbi Kook's Burial Site on Mt. Olives
In his memory, as a tikun for the destruction of the Temple, we are dedicating the following Torah teaching of the Ramban on last week’s Sabbath Torah portion. Since our Sages have stressed that the destruction of the Temple on the Ninth of Av had its origins with the Spies in the wilderness, who returned with their evil report about the Land of Israel on that very same date, our upcoming blogs will focus on the mitzvah of living in Israel, in hopes that our brothers and sisters who are still living in exile will be inspired to come home and thus play their part in the rectification of the great stain of our past.
The Torah giant, the Ramban, states emphatically that it is a Torah obligation for a Jew to live in the Land of Israel in every generation: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which Hashem, Blessed Be He, gave to our Forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaacov, and not to surrender it to other nations, or to leave it desolate, as He said to them, ‘You shall dispossess the inhabitants of the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land for you to possess it (BaMidbar, 33:53), and He further said there, ‘To inherit the Land which I swore to your Forefathers,’ behold we are commanded with the conquest of the Land of Israel in every generation” (Supplement of the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4).
The Ramban continues: “In my opinion, this is a positive commandment, enjoining that they dwell in the Land and possess it, because it was given to them, and they should not despise the inheritance of Hashem, Here we are commanded with this mitzvah, for this verse is a positive command. And the proof of this commandment is this – they were told to go up in the matter of the Spies, as it says, ‘Go up and conquer as Hashem has said to you. Don’t fear and don’t be discouraged.’ And it further says, ‘And when Hashem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and possess the Land which I have given you.’ And when you didn’t go up to Israel, the Torah says, ‘And you rebelled against the word of the L-rd,’ and you didn’t listen to this command.” (Ibid).
What could be clearer than this? There are those who play halachic gymnastics, twisting themselves into halachic pretzels by bringing all sorts of opposing proofs and excuses, but we see with our very own eyes, with the incredible rebuilding of the Jewish Nation in Israel, that Hashem Himself rules according to the Ramban.
There are some people who claim that the mitzvah of living in Israel is a mitzvah “kiyumit” like the wearing of tzitzit. This means that if you happen to wear a garment with four corners, then you have to attach tzitzit to it, but that you don’t have to wear such a garment in the first place. Now tell me – what serious religious Jew does not wear tzitzit? We do it gladly in order to get closer to Hashem, knowing that it is His will and pleasure, and that wearing such a garment is for our spiritual good. How much more so with the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel which our Sages have declared is equal in value to all of the commandments of the Torah?
Dear G-d, as we approach the Ninth of Av, may You in your great mercy, untwist the pretzels in our hearts, and bring us to the truthful and straightforward understanding that it is your will, as clearly set forth in the Torah, that a Jew is to live in the Land of the Jews, and not in the lands that you have bequeathed to the gentiles. May we merit to rectify the sin of the Spies, and may the Temple be speedily rebuilt in these days. Amen.
Tammuz 25, 5767, 7/11/2007
A hundred thousand words ago, at the beginning of this blog, I promised to tell some Rav Leon stories. New readers can learn about how I met this saintly Tzaddik and Kabbalist from a former article. Rebbe Nachman taught that at the time just before the Mashiach arrives, the spiritual darkness will be so great that only stories about the Tzaddikim will have the power to awaken people from their spiritual slumber. So here goes….
HaRav Eliahu Leon Levi
This time we will concentrate, not so much on the miracles performed through the Rabbi, as on the connection between our deeds and our fate. We know that the First Temple was destroyed because of idol worship, sexual transgression, and murder. The Second Temple was destroyed because of reasonless hate. So too, in our personal lives, there is no suffering without sin (Shabbat 55A). Nothing is the product of nature or a natural course of events, whether on an individual or a national scale.
One morning, a few years ago, there was a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. A suicide bomber blew up a bus crowded with passengers. Among the wounded was a newborn infant. With dozens of other wounded people, the baby was whisked to the nearby emergency room at the Yichalov Medical Center.
Terror bombing in Israel
The situation was critical. While doctors worked to save the baby’s life in the intensive care unit, the parents jumped into a taxi and speeded to Rav Leon’s synagogue in Bnei Brak, just ten minutes away. Generally, the Rabbi’s visiting hours are only on Thursdays, but in light of the emergency, the young couple was ushered into his study room. Choked with sobs, the wife was unable to speak. The husband uttered a few words to explain what had happened. Rav Leon said that he was sorry, but that he saw that the child had already passed on to a better world. With the mother screaming hysterically, the husband called family at the hospital and they confirmed that the infant indeed had died.
“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” the wife cried out, again and again. “How could Hashem do this? What did the child ever do to deserve this. How awful. How cruel. What kind of G-d is this?”
The husband tried to calm her, but she was hysterical from anguish. The Rabbi sat quietly. The wife continued crying and screaming, then turned to the Rabbi and shouted at him and at G-d for the unjustified cruelty that had robbed her of her child. Gradually, her anger lessened and she sobbed tearfully in her husband’s embrace. “How could He do this? How could He do this?” she continued to ask.
“Do you want to hear the truth?” the Rabbi asked them.
At first neither responded, then the husband said yes.
“What about your wife?” the Rabbi asked.
“Do you want the Rav to tell us?” the husband asked her gently.
Sobbing, she shook her head, yes.
“They are showing me a very tiny child up in Heaven,” he told them. “Not the one who was killed on the bus. Another boy who is covered in blood. Does this mean anything to you,” he asked them.
They both silently shook their heads, no.
“This child is standing before the Heavenly Court accusing you both," the Rabbi continued. "Just as his life was taken unfairly, the Court has taken away his brother in punishment.”
The couple remained speechless.
“Maybe you aborted a child in the past?” Rav Leon asked them.
The wife shook her head no. “No, no!” she insisted.
“We can’t lie to the Rav,” the husband said. Then he admitted that a few years before, they had indeed aborted their first pregnancy because for a variety of reasons they felt they weren’t ready to be parents. Once again, the wife broke into tears. Her husband embraced her.
“It will be all right,” the Rabbi told them. “You acted out of foolishness. You didn’t know better. You didn’t do it because you are bad people. You thought you were doing the right thing, that it was still early enough in the pregnancy. It will be all right.”
Before they left the synagogue, Rav Leon told them that in addition to heartfelt remorse for their error, in order to rectify their wrongdoing they should meet with couples who were debating whether or not to have abortions. He said that there was an organization (Efrat) that dealt with the dilemma, and that they could volunteer with them and reach people that way.
It certainly wasn’t easy for the couple after the tragedy. Their suffering was immense. They followed the Rabbi’s advice and met with dozens of couples. On many occasions they succeeded in convincing pregnant women them to let their pregnancies come to fruition. Several years later, they had another baby of their own. They brought the baby to Rav Leon for a blessing and regularly keep in touch to seek his advice on the questions and decisions that they face in their life.
There are so many miraculous Rav Leon stories, it is difficult to decide which to tell. On one occasion, two middle-aged sisters came to see the Rabbi. In their youth, they had immigrated to Israel from Morocco with their family. One of the sisters did all the talking, while the other sat in quiet despondence. The past year, their mother had met with a tragic death. While the one sister related the story, the Rabbi took a pencil from his desk and drew a diagram on the back of an envelope, as he does quite often. Then he turned the envelope over face down and continued to listen. One evening, the mother of the two sisters had complained of pains in her chest and a shortness of breath. So an ambulance was called and the medic who came hooked the mother up to an oxygen mask. On the ride to the hospital, the mother turned blue. She died before reaching the emergency room. It turned out that the medic had forgotten to turn on the oxygen and the woman had needlessly suffocated. If that wasn’t injustice enough, now the silent sister was sick with a cancer.
“How can G-d act this way?” the irritated sister asked.
Rav Leon turned over the envelope and pushed the diagram he had drawn across his desk toward the women. It was a rough sketch of a head with a thick dark scribble on the right side of the brain.
“Where is the tumor?” he asked.
“In my head,” the sick sister answered.
“Which side?” the Rabbi asked.
“The right,” she answered.
“Where did I mark it on the drawing?”
“The right side,” the other sister confirmed.
“You are very fortunate,” Rav Leon said. “It is just the beginning. It hasn’t started to spread, G-d forbid.”
“It isn’t fair,” the irritated sister proclaimed.
The Rabbi told them that it isn’t the bite of the snake that kills, it is the transgression behind it. If the sister did t’shuva, then everything would be all right, as it says, “Return and you will be healed.”
“T’shuva for what?” the sick sister asked.
“There must be something,” the Rabbi said.
The sisters looked at each with blank expressions, as if they couldn’t possibly think of a single wrongdoing in all of their lives.
“Do you want me to have a look?” the Rabbi asked them.
When they both nodded yes, Rav Leon made a gesture for them to be patient and then started to quietly read some Tehillim. After a long minute or two, he looked up and said, “There is a decree in the Heavenly Court above. They are showing me that the Tzaddikim are angry, as if you have offended a Torah scholar.”
The sick sister shook her head, no. “Never. Not me. It isn’t true.”
That’s what they are telling me,” the Rabbi said.
“No. I wouldn’t do such a thing. It isn’t true.”
The Rabbi said that he would look again. He lowered head and went into a deep meditation. After ten seconds he said, “That’s what I’m being shown.”
“Oh my G-d!” the sick sister exclaimed. Her face reddened with embarrassment. “It can’t be. Oh no.”
Everyone waited. Her sister stared at her expectantly.
“The night that Emma died. When we got home, I was so angry, I pulled down all of the pictures of the Tzaddikim that we had on the walls. I was so furious. How could G-d have done such a thing to our mother? I pulled down all the pictures and threw them into the garbage as if I didn’t believe anymore.”
“Now I remember,” the other sister said.
“G-d forgive,” the sick sister said. “How could I have done such a thing?”
The holy Tzaddik, Baba Sali. His picture hangs in many homes.
It was obvious that she felt true remorse. In many religious and traditional homes throughout Israel, Sefardi and Ashkenazi alike, people hang pictures of holy Tzaddikim on their walls, as a gesture of reverence for Judaism and the Sages of the Torah.
“It will be all right,” Rav Leon said. “You didn’t really mean it.”
He told her to go, buy new pictures, and put them back on the walls. If she had three pictures of Tzaddikim before, let her buy six. He also told her to light a candle every day in honor of one of the Sages, recite Tehillim, and ask forgiveness for her anger and momentary disbelief. In a month, he said, G-d willing, the next X-ray she took would be clean.
A month later, she came back to thank him with a big bouquet of flowers in her hands. With tears in her eyes, she said that the latest x-ray had not revealed any trace of a tumor.
Since this blog is getting long, and since I am always being warned to write things that are short and sweet, I will mention just a few more condensed stories.
One week, a young attractive woman showed up on Thursday morning along with the other people who had succeeded in making appointments to talk with the Rabbi. Since she was wearing an immodest top with a low neckline and no sleeves, the Rabbi’s assistant gave her a shawl to wrap over her shoulders. Since the Rabbi usually first sees the people with serious medical problems, and since he spends from thirty minutes to two hours with each one, the young woman had to wait several hours. When she was finally ushered into the synagogue study, where the Rabbi meets with people, she kept the shawl wrapped tightly around her. She explained that she had come on aliyah from France two years ago. A few months after moving in to her apartment, rats had appeared and refused to go away. So she moved to a new apartment, and once again, rats started showing up in her kitchen and bedroom. So she abandoned the apartment for a third one, and the rats followed her there too! She said she felt like she was going crazy and didn’t know who to turn to for help.
"Hi there, Mom."
Like a kind, patient father, Rav Leon delicately explained the cause of her problem. He said that she dated a lot of men without having any serious intention of marriage. Even though she didn’t mean any harm, because she dressed immodestly, she led the guys on and cause them to fantasize about her at night. Because of this, they spilled semen in vain, and the souls that were brought into the world were entrapped by evil spiritual forces known as kelipot. These kelipot found their way into rats, and the rats tracked her down, since she was their spiritual mother.
Needless to say, the young woman was aghast. The Rabbi told her to dress modestly in the future and get married as soon as she could. If she did that, the rats would go away. I don’t know what happened afterwards, but I am quite sure that after her encounter with the Kabbalist, she surely changed her ways.
One morning after Shacharit prayers at the yeshiva, Rav Leon was giving his daily Halacha class to students when the phone rang outside in the hallway. Usually, the phone only rings on Tuesday mornings when people call to make appointments to for Thursday’s “Kabbalat Kahal.” When a student rose to answer the phone, the Rabbi told him, “Not now. It’s a call from Los Angeles. He will call back after the shiur.”
Sure enough, a few minutes after the class ended, the phone rang again. This time when the student rose to answer, Rav Leon said, “Tell him that the problem with his blood will go away if he gives up his shicksa mistress, puts on Tefillin every day, and gives as much Tzedaka as he can.”
A few months later, a stranger showed up at the yeshiva after morning prayers. It was the man from Los Angeles. He had come all of the way to Israel to thank the Rav personally. His ailment had vanished, he had stopped all of his extra-marital affairs, he was putting on Tefillin every day, and he wanted to make a generous donation to the yeshiva. Today, he is a complete baal t’shuva, religious in every way.
And what about the very religious woman who had developed a cancer? She was always doing acts of kindness, and she was accustomed to read Tehillim for two hours each and every Shabbat. Why in the Name of Heaven should someone like her get sick? Rav Leon listened and said that she was truly a righteous Tzadekes. But after saying Tehillim, she would go over to her sister’s home and speak lashon hora nonstop until seudah shlishee, and this speaking badly about people was not only evil in itself, it was also a desecration of the holy Shabbat. So was it any wonder that she was sick? Just as she polluted the “Malchut” of Shabbat, she polluted the “Malchut” of her very own being. This was the source of her cancer.
Similarly, not long ago, a religious man came to the Rabbi, suffering from the same illness. Rav Leon asked him if he desecrates the Shabbat? The man adamantly answered, no. When the Rabbi insisted that that was the problem, the man was dumbfounded. It was out of the question. Desecrate the Sabbath? Never!
“Perhaps, you fight with your wife on Shabbat?” the Rabbi suggested.
“That, yes,” the man admitted. “We have terrible arguments. They start on Friday when we are trying to get everything ready, but I never desecrate the Shabbat because of it.”
Rav Leon then explained that according to the Kaballah, a man’s wife is an aspect of Shabbat, sharing the same Divine sefirah of Malchut. By abusing his wife on Shabbat, he was abusing the Shabbat itself. In addition, because they were angry at one another, they didn’t engage in marital relations on Sabbath night, thus withholding spiritual pleasure from the Shechinah, also an aspect of Malchut. Spiritually, his illness could be understood as the Shechinah’s revenge. Fortunately, the man accepted what he heard and with deep shame and contrition, promised to turn over a new leaf with his wife.
Blee nader, sometime soon, we will tell a few more stories of the miracles of the Almighty, and the wonders of our Tzaddikim. In the meantime, it pays to remember what our Sages have taught:
All of our deeds are recorded
“Rabbi Akiva used to say, ‘Everything is given on pledge, and a net is spread over all the living; the store is open, the shopkeeper gives credit, the ledger lies open, and the hand writes, and all who want to borrow may come and borrow, but the collectors regularly go about their rounds every day and exact payment from man, with his consent or without his consent, and they have on what to rely, and the judgment is a verdict of truth’” (Wisdom of the Fathers, 3:16).
During these three weeks of tribulation, may the Almighty accept our t’shuva, forgive our transgressions, gather our scattered exiles to Zion, and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash soon. Amen.