Ask the Rabbi
News & Call-In with Tamar Yonah
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.
Friends in the Land of Israel,
Aliyah is not easy. It is the most difficult and challenging mitzvah – the true test of a Jew’s faith in G-d.
On this Isru Chag, we have an intimate day together to praise G-d for His great kindness, "Malchut sh’b’Chesed," in bringing us to the Land of our Forefathers to live as free Jews, Children of Israel, while our brothers and sisters in the dungeon of galut are still crunching their teeth on matzot and dreaming of the minute when they can get their hands on a bagel. Who can explain the miracle why the Almighty lit up the light bulbs in our heads, and made us realize that Eretz Yisrael is the one and only true place for a Jew, while He has not yet switched on the light for all of the others who are still enslaved in the darkness of exile? Perhaps it is our fault. Perhaps we are not doing enough to show them the light. Let us take some time this day, each and every one of us, to think of ways that we can reach out and find new ways of attracting our poor and unfortunate brothers to the truth and beauty of living a Jewish life in the Land of Israel.
Over twenty years ago, before coming on Aliyah, I worked in the public relations department of the Aliyah Center of the Jewish Agency in Manhattan. In those days, an average of 13,000 Jews were coming on Aliyah from North America each year. The last few years, the figure has been around 2000. The Nefesh B’Nefesh organization does wonderful work encouraging (and paying) Jews to come to live in Israel, and the media does a good job of covering the arrivals of jumbo charters filled with new olim descending with happy smiles from the airplanes. But let’s face it – 2000 out of the five million Jews in North America isn’t even a percentage point. It is a shameful disaster. Something is very wrong.
To judge the Diaspora Jews in a fair light, the centrality and exalted importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People is simply not taught in institutions of Jewish education in the Diaspora. Books on Judaism and Jewish thought are published that don’t even mention Eertz Yisrael. Jewish curriculums sometimes include a course in modern Zionism, but they give scarce mention to the fact that Eretz Yisrael is the foundation of all of the Torah, the only place that the Torah can be practiced in its complete and intended national format. So they simply don’t learn these deep, essential matters, and thus don’t understand what they are missing. Also, news reports coming out of Israel are often frightening, painting a discouraging picture of constant war and political corruption. On top of these factors is the difficulty in packing up one’s life and starting anew in a far away country, separating from family ties, job security, cultural familiarity, an established self-image, and the like. So we can understand that Aliyah is not easy. It is the most difficult and challenging mitzvah – the true test of a Jew’s faith in G-d.
So how can we help our brothers and sisters make the great leap into the unknown and join us in the Holy Land? During the holiday, I facetiously thought that if the leading rabbis in Israel make a binding rabbinical decree that the Jews in the Diaspora would have to celebrate three days of Yom Tov rather than two, this would drive everyone to come on Aliyah. How many days can a person be without television and the movies? If the three days of Yom Tov fall near Shabbat that would make four straight days of Yom Tov, enough to drive anyone crazy.
Or what if Moetzet Yesha would do something constructive, for a change, and instead of giving up pieces of the Land of Israel without a fight, start a dynamic program to bring Diaspora Jews to Yesha to see the beauty and holiness of the settlements? The Jewish Agency doesn’t do it because of American pressure. And if Moetzet Yesha is incapable of even doing that, then perhaps we need to start a grassroots movement of our own to bring Jews to Judea and Samaria, with the help of some millionaires sympathetic to the cause.
I would be happy to hear your comments and ideas. In the meantime, happy Isru Chag, and may we merit soon the complete ingathering of our exiles and a Geula Shlema!
Just as Jewish women saved the Jews in Egypt, they can save the Jewish nation today by encouraging their husbands and sons to learn Torah, by dressing modestly, and by guarding against sexual transgression. So writes the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi:
IN THE MERIT OF RIGHTEOUS WOMEN
THE NATION OF ISRAEL WAS REDEEMED
By Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, shilta
Excerpted from the book, "Mishbatzot Zahav Livusha"
THE WOMAN’S ROLE IN BUILDING THE TORAH
In this generation, in order to save the Jewish People from our tribulations, the foremost responsibility rests with the holy women and daughters of Israel to play an active role in helping to upraise the generation in the study of Torah and in the practice of the commandments.
In this generation, in order to save the Jewish People from our tribulations, the foremost responsibility rests with the holy women and daughters of Israel to play an active role in helping to upraise the generation in the study of Torah and in the practice of the commandments. They also have the great obligation in helping to uplift the special high standard of holiness demanded of this generation, as the time of our Redemption approaches, in order to guard the holiness of the Jewish Nation, the pinnacle of Creation, to insure that our minds and eyes remain sanctified by dwelling on holy matters alone. Most important at this time, when our Salvation waits at our doorstep, is the obligation to send husbands and sons to learn Torah for its own sake, for the vitality of our nation comes only from the study of Torah when combined with a great reverence for G-d. This is in order to build a mighty army of Torah scholars in the Land of Israel and throughout the Diaspora, and to arm the generation with the embracing shield of the mitzvot. This must be done, even though husbands are needed as the wife’s main support at home. Nonetheless, the self-sacrifice of the women and daughters of Israel, in conducting the affairs of the house without the assistance of their husbands and fathers, is a cornerstone of the Redemption, since it is done to honor our Creator and King, may His Name be blessed for all time.
In order to meet the demand of the hour and help elevate the spiritual level of the nation through a renewed commitment to Torah and mitzvot, it behooves the women of Israel to encourage and counsel one another in elevating their husbands above the daily material struggle of our era. This oppressive yoke leaves almost no opportunity for spiritual advancement and for the study of our holy Torah. The widespread economic hardship of our times makes the situation all the more difficult. Nonetheless, women must inspire their husbands with clear proofs of faith that G-d is ever ready to remember His People and come to our imminent salvation when we strive to sanctify our ways.
This must be done even though the Redemption delays in coming, and seems far away in our eyes because of our many tribulations, including a lack of brotherly love between fellow Jews, in-fighting, and the division into warring camps, all of which cause a weakening of Torah. We are also witness to cumbersome taxes, cutbacks in financial assistance to large families, the needy, and to institutions of Torah. Even radio stations that used to broadcast Torah have been closed down, all at once, like the gourd that grew and wilted overnight for Yonah the Prophet, so that the voice of Torah, and of men of truth, has nearly been silenced.
Nonetheless, my dear sisters and daughters, the awaited Redemption is at our doorstep, "standing behind our walls, spying in through the windows." If we prove meritorious, our righteous Mashiach will instantly come. And this, my precious sisters and daughters, can be hastened if you make a concerted effort to inspire your husbands and sons with faith. With your inspiration, all of the Jewish People will rise up from the long dark exile that shadows our existence, and which a vast number still cling to, as if hanging on to the corners of the altar, as if exile was a good thing. For they do not believe in the signs of our salvation, and have grown content with their life of galut.
Therefore, honored women and cherished daughters of Israel, this heavy burden is upon your shoulders to make it your daily task to proclaim that the Redemption is real and near, both a spiritual and physical salvation for our people. With assistance from Heaven, the Jewish People will, step by step, undergo a process of inner cleansing. Our minds will be Divinely recharged with exalted wisdom, and we will attain intellectual and emotional freedom.
When you do all of these matters with complete faith on behalf of the L-rd of Hosts, we shall immediately leave this oppressive exile and enter the stage of true Salvation which we have longed for so fervently.
In addition to all of this, honored sisters, always remember our young, precious and holy children. Their true care and upbringing depends on being nursed from the bosom of Torah, to love the Torah with all of their hearts. That is your task, to instill the love of Torah in the generation to come. Without the sound of their Torah learning, all existence would end, because it is the Torah learning of children who have not tasted sin that sustains all of the upper and lower worlds. Endear them to Torah and the commandments, for "They are our life and the length of our days, and in them we will meditate day and night." For from the Torah learning of schoolchildren, great Divine kindness is granted to the world, as it says, "Your love and compassion will always be with us." Along with sending them to learn, you can instill a simple pure faith in their hearts by reading to them holy stories about our holy exalted Sages. This should be enhanced by relating to them the miracles that G-d performed for us in the past, and the miracles that He performs for us even now, every minute of the day. In this way, we will build a blessed and upright generation that will be worthy of a true and lasting Redemption – Amen.
MODESTY – THE KEY TO REDEMPTION
Today, the warnings that are appearing in the world are as clear as the noonday sun, as in the case of the tidal wave, "Tzunami," and the flooding of New Orleans, and mudslides and quakes that wipe out whole villages and their inhabitants.
In addition, with all of this responsibility, please, holy women and daughters of Israel, do not forget that the primary foundation of your faithful and holy service is the clear recognition of how good and pleasant it is to live a life of truth amongst the Jewish People, the life of Torah, infused with its moral teachings, specifically here in our Holy Land. To live this true live - and not live a depressing life of falsehood and vain illusions, as is found in the life of other nations, who are utter strangers to holiness, as it says, "You remain here with the donkey," meaning that their attachment and yearning are for material things, and that they have no connection to spiritual worlds at all.
How different is our nation, the House of Israel, in its transcendental holiness and great modesty, in which our holy Torah showed us the way, deeming us "Bnei Chorin" (free men), liberating us from all of the polluted workings of the nations of the world who are drawn toward a bottomless pit of moral turpitude that threatens to bring catastrophic destruction to the world, just as with the Generation of the Flood. Today, the warnings that are appearing in the world are as clear as the noonday sun, as in the case of the tidal wave, "Tzunami," and the flooding of New Orleans, and mudslides and quakes that wipe out whole villages and their inhabitants. These Heaven-sent signs and warnings come with a clear and forceful reprimand to the nations of the world.
How much more must we be on guard, for we are the holy nation that has the Torah for its heritage which shows us the path to holiness and modest behavior. Therefore, the more we follow its ways and live in a holy, modest fashion, especially in regards to the women and daughters of Israel, the more we are spiritually attached to transcendental worlds and to our Father in Heaven. When the precious women and daughters of Israel conduct themselves even more carefully according to the teachings of our holy Torah, and according to the recommendations that I have noted in my books, this is what will bring us to the true and desired goal. Resulting from this, the men and sons of Israel will become more sanctified in all of their comings and goings, since the increased modesty of the women will keep their eyes and minds sanctified in the service of G-d. In this way, everyone will be elevated in holiness. Behold then, holy and honored women and daughters of Israel, your labor and toil on behalf of the nation of Israel has yielded fruit. Today, the nation of Israel stands at an exalted level, ready to rise up the ladder of holiness and enter the stage of final Redemption, in the merit of the holy women and daughters of Israel. For in the merit of your great efforts in guarding the modesty and holiness of the Jewish People, our nation we will be redeemed, just as it was in the past when you guarded the holiness of the nation during our bondage in Egypt. Fortunate are you, precious daughters of Israel, fortunate are you. And fortunate is the nation that lives in this fashion, fortunate is the nation that has the L-rd as its G-d.
LIKE MOTHERS – LIKE DAUGHTERS
Everyone is stuck in a deep slumber, no one looks out for his brother’s welfare, everyone acts as he or she pleases, and the daughters of Israel parade wantonly in the streets of Israel in brazen breaches of modesty that have not been witnessed for centuries.
Pure and cherished daughters, the time and the hour have come to publicly sanctify the Name of G-d. I beseech you, in all of your public outings in our holy cities and streets, please have compassion on our nation, and do not pollute the hour by leading our nation to stumble into harsh and bitter transgressions by parading about in an immodest fashion. Honored women of Israel, please guard over your modesty, and the modesty of your daughters, and all those who follow your example, by dressing in the manner proper to the daughters of the King. In dressing with increased humility, all of those who see you will recall the ways of our holy Matriarchs and understand that you do this to bring honor to our Father in Heaven. In this way, the holy, pure daughters of Israel will learn from you the proper way to dress in the house and out on the street. For the Torah commands us that the daughters of Israel must listen to the heeding of our holy Torah, and to the Sages of the nation, and dress at all times in a modest fashion, covering all of the portions of the body that are considered as being sexually provocative.
Therefore, dresses and skirts must extend 13 centimeters below the knees, and they must never be tight-fitting, so as to highlight the shape of the body. Also, sleeves must extend down the arm to a point not more than 10 centimeters from the palm of the hand. Also, in the name of modesty, garments must be opaque, and not transparent, and they must not cling tightly to the body. It must also be stressed that both young and older women should not wear t-shirts, not at home, nor in the street. Women who do not heed these rules, and who dress in an immodest fashion, bring multitudes to sin, and the punishment is grave indeed.
Additionally, both young and older women are obligated to learn to use cosmetics sparingly. The excessive use of make-up and coloring is a distasteful and repulsive practice that does not bring honor to the holy daughters and women of Israel. Please be very careful not to overly emphasize the use of make-up, and do not try to imitate the ways of the gentiles, G-d forbid, in this or any other matter. Remember that you are a holy Daughter of Israel, sanctified above all other nations. The Holy One Blessed Be He has given you a transcendent Divine soul, containing nefesh, ruach, neshama, chiya, yechidah, that sets you apart from the nations, and thus it is forbidden to learn the ways of non-Jews and to compete with them in their doings.
It follows that it is forbidden to wear false and fancily colored fingernails over ones natural fingernails, since this lacks modesty and even evokes revulsion. It is also best to do without nail polish. If used, bright colors should be shunned. Rather, the polish should be almost invisible. In summary, our Father in Heaven bequeaths you to appear, in and outside the house, in a proper and modest fashion, fitting a holy Daughter of Israel. You should be modest in all of your comings and goings, in your dress, in your make-up, in your speech and manner of walking, whether at home, in the streets of the city, or at festive gatherings. If you comport yourself in this manner, befitting the holiness of Israel, then of you it is written, "Many women have acted virtuously, but you have excelled them all," and "her worth is far above rubies," attributes of the woman of valor.
In this manner, you will raise up the Nation of Israel in holiness, and in doing so, you will be bringing an eternal salvation. For this, your reward will be multiplied by the L-rd, may He be blessed. Therefore, at this moment in history, the eyes of the generation are focused on you. It is in your power to sanctify G-d’s Name publicly, through your dress and behavior. In doing this, you will be mothers to a righteous generation.
How vital this is today, at this difficult hour when many Jewish people are straying from their heritage, and there is no one to shepherd them back, and no one to reprimand a generation that is falling toward an abyss of darkness, G-d forbid. Rather, everyone is stuck in a deep slumber, no one looks out for his brother’s welfare, everyone acts as he or she pleases, and the daughters of Israel parade wantonly in the streets of Israel in brazen breaches of modesty that have not been witnessed for centuries. It has reached the point that when criticism is aimed at them, they react with great affront, saying, "What do you mean? We are, Baruch Hashem, the most modest women in the world!"
This hedonistic quest led to their performing their marital relations in lightheaded, perverse, and unholy fashions. In so doing, they lost their sanctity, especially since they persisted in this evil behavior of shameless sexual practices, in the manner of the Egyptians.
A portion of our women think in this erroneous fashion. Yet they have strayed far from the path of our holy Matriarchs, and have abandoned the way of the Torah, and have caused many holy sons of Israel to succumb to temptation and fall in their service of G-d. For in the absence of guarding ones eyes, a spiritual downfall is certain, and a man, little by little, descends to a spiritual abyss. How much suffering must be endured in climbing back to the path of the Torah. For the eyes are attached to the center of wisdom, and when the brain is polluted (by seeing forbidden images), its vitality is lost, and it lacks the strength to draw power from the wellsprings of Torah. It is as if an idol has been inserted into the brain, causing it to atrophy, as it says in our holy Torah, "The pit was empty, containing no water." When there is no water, then the pit is filled with snakes and scorpions. So too with the brain – when it is empty without Torah, then scorpions and snakes reside there instead. The brain then festers with kleipot and evil spirits which bring about a man’s downfall, until he is lost completely, G-d forbid, unable to prevent his descent to the depths of immorality. This being the case, there is nothing to stop thoughts of licentiousness from overcoming him, and he is led to the snares of the purveyors of pornography, who have set up their shops in the marketplace, causing the multitude to sin. These modern day versions of Bilaam and Balak, enemies of G-d, poison all who come to sample their wares, for when a man pollutes his eyes and his thoughts, he draws impurity and pollution into his brain, contaminating his intellect. This leads to pollution in the house, which was once a pure and holy abode, but is now like a sewer....
It is time to ask the question – in whose merit were we redeemed and liberated from bondage in Egypt? Our Sages have already told us the answer; "In the merit of righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt." How did this transpire? Let us look at the inner meaning of the verse, "And Egypt made the Children of Israel serve with rigor; and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar (b’chomer) and in brick (b’livanim), and in all manner of bondage in the field, wherein they made them serve was with rigor" (Shemot, 1:13-14). Influenced by the crass material culture of Egypt, the Jewish men at the time sunk into a material existence (b’chomer) whereby the pursuit of physical gratification became their constant fixation. In all of their doings, they placed the material over the spiritual, in order to enhance their pursuit of physical, bodily pleasure. The word, "b’livanim," can be read, "bleei banim," meaning without children. In other words, the pursuit after physical gratification brought them to emit holy semen in vain, in order to avoid having children, so that they would not have to exert themselves with raising and educated them. For this would have interfered with the free time of the parents, who longed to engage in vain past-times and superficial enjoyments like the movies and theaters of today, wasting time in coffee shops, gorging their palettes at exotic restaurants, and vacationing at luxurious hotels. These sensual enjoyments were their craving, so they preferred to be without children, "bleei banim," in order to have the time to pursue their selfish bodily pleasures. This hedonistic quest led to their performing their marital relations in lightheaded, perverse, and unholy fashions. In so doing, they lost their sanctity, especially since they persisted in this evil behavior of shameless sexual practices, in the manner of the Egyptians. Thus they fell into an abyss of sexual corruption, enslaved to their passions, may G-d have mercy, and this is what brought about the hard and crushing servitude in Egypt under the cruel oppression of Pharoah and his servants. Their subjugation was increased when they did not repent from their erring ways, and did not rectify the blemishes they caused to the Brit, as it says in the Torah, "And Yosef died, and all his brethren, and all that generation" (Shemot, 1:6). As is known, Yosef represents the sefirah of Yesod, which is associated with sexual purity. As long as Yosef and his brothers were alive, the Jews guarded the holiness of their sexual lives, even in the darkness of the degenerate Egyptian culture around them. But when Yosef died, the Yesod died with him, meaning that the Jewish men fell from their holy ways. This blemish to the Covenant (pigam habrit) was so widespread, it affected all of that generation. Thus their spirituality died, and this brought a great spiritual darkness upon them, and thus the generation did not merit "the hidden light" needed to bring them salvation.
It was only when Moshe Rabainu was born did the light of the promised Salvation return. For Moshe was perfect in matters of the Yesod, and this influenced all the nation, as is written, "And she saw that he was good" (Shemot, 1:2), for he was born circumcised and rectified in his attachment to the realm of the Yesod. When he grew older, the Torah says that, "Moshe went out to his brothers." He went out, again and again, to his Jewish brethren, armed with his great holiness, to gather them together and teach them the awe and fear of G-d, and the proper ways of behavior. Thus, he awakened their dormant spirituality and, little by little, inspired them to t’shuva. This immediately opened the gateway to Redemption, leading to their departing from Egypt, to their receiving the Torah, and to their coming to the Holy Land.
From all this we learn that whomever blemishes the holy Yesod, and does not rectify it immediately through various tikunim, especially through the tikun of the holy Yesod called "Yeshuat Eliahu," and does not return in true repentance, then this person will not, G-d forbid, merit to see the face of the Shechinah, and the treasured light of G-d will not shine on him. What was true for the Jewish People in Egypt is also true for the Jewish People today.
Therefore, honored women and pure daughters of Israel, please, please, gird yourselves with strength for the sake of the Shechinah, in order to bring true perfection and splendor to the Jewish People, the nation of G-d. Please, in all of your holy doings, take care that they be in the spirit of the Torah, at home and in the streets of our Holy Land. In doing so, we will be redeemed with a complete Redemption, as it says, "Just as in the days of your leaving the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders." Amen. May it be G-d’s will.
(Other articles by Rabbi Levi can be found at www.jewishsexuality.com)
It is time to brush off the dust, shake off the kicks of our readers, put the matzah and avocados aside, and get back to the business of t’shuva.
This is not the rantings of some Chicken Little from Hollywood, but rather the teachings of the holy lantern of the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
As we mentioned, the Jews in Egypt were ensconced in the 49th level of impurity and would have been doomed if G-d had not miraculously delivered them from their physical and spiritual bondage. Throughout the Exodus, G-d did all the work, and we followed passively along. On Pesach, our salvation came from Above. From now however until Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, 49 days away, G-d steps back and we are to do all of the preparatory work of personal spiritual cleansing in order to be able to receive the Torah’s holy light. The famous Hasidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, compares this to parents who hold their child’s hand when they first teach him to walk. Then, after a while, they step back and let the child walk on his own. This parallels the seven week period of Sefirat HaOmer. G-d steps back and leaves us to purify ourselves by having to climb up the 50 rungs of the ladder of holiness, day after day, until we reach the supremely exalted 50th gate, when we immerse in the purifying mikvah on the night of Shavuot, just before morning prayers.
Like everything else in Judaism, our Sages have given us explicit directions how to achieve this spiritual rehab. If you look in your prayer book, you will notice that in addition to the list of days and weeks of the Omer, you will see written in tiny letters the character traits that we are to work on each day. For instance, the first day is Chesed of Chesed; the second day is Givorah of Chesed; the third day is Tiferet of Chesed. The fourth day is Nezach of Chesed. Day five is Hod of Chesed. Day six is Yesod of Chesed. And day number seven is Malchut of Chesed. What does this mean? Chesed is related to kindness. Givorah is related to strength. Tiferet is related to the splendor. Netzach is related to victory. Hod is related to praise. Yesod is related to sexual purity. Malchut is related to kingdom, representing the combination of all of these traits. These are all aspects of kindness. Thus the first week of the seven-week rehab is devoted to kindness, when we are called upon to rectify any blemishes we have in the character trait of kindness. The second week is devoted to rectifying the seven different aspects of Tiferet or strength. We continue in this manner, seven weeks times seven traits, for a total of 49 days which serve as steps up the ladder of holiness, cleansing us of our impurities.
These traits are also called sefirot. The sefirot are the spiritual worlds, or channels, that G-d uses to bring His light and blessing into the world. To illustrate, imagine a paper cup with its bottom cut out. Let’s say this is a sefirah, or spiritual channel. If you put six of these plastic cups, one inside the other, you have a representation of the six lower sefirot. (The upper sefirot of Chochmah, Binah, and Daat are above our grasp and not included in this counting). The channel of Chesed flows into the channel of Givorah; Givorah into Tiferet; Tiferet into Netzach; Netzach into Hod; and Hod flows into Yesod. Now, put all of these into that last plastic cup without cutting out its bottom. This cup represents the sefirah of Malchut which receives the light and blessing from all of the other sefirot. This last cup represents our world, the world we live in, with all of its different aspects.
Now for the few readers who are still with me, the Kabbalah teaches that because man is a microcosm of the universe, these Sefirot have a parallel in each and every one of us. The right arm parallels the sefirah of Chesed; the left arm the sefirah of Givorah; the body the sefirah of Tiferet; the right leg the sefirah of Netzach; the left leg the sefirah of Hod; the organ of the Brit the sefirah of Yesod. Thus, for example, when a man raises and waves a lulav with his right arm, this sends an invisible laser beam streaking through all of the heavens until its strikes the great plastic cup of Chesed in the sky, releasing zillions of liters of kindness into the world. In the same manner, should a person steal something with his right hand, the laser beam he creates strikes the sefirah of Chesed, damaging the channel, and restricting the flow of kindness into the world. With every wrongdoing that we commit, we damage one or more of the channels of Divine blessing. Therefore, in correcting our character traits during the Omer period, we are concurrently rectifying all of the damage we caused in all of the spiritual worlds through our sins.
Now we can understand why the Kabbalists emphasize the importance of the guarding sexual purity. Because the sefirah of Yesod is associated with the organ of the Brit, any sexual wrongdoing damages the channel of Yesod. If you will remember our example of the cups, the blessings from all of the cups flow into the Yesod before reaching our world of Malchut. The Yesod is like the spout of the funnel. Therefore, when we damage the channel of Yesod through sexual wrongdoing, we cut off all of the flow of blessing. This stunting of blessing leads to disastrous individual and national consequences. If sexual misbehavior reaches national proportions, not only is the flow of Divine blessing to the individual severed, Divine blessing is also cut off from the nation, resulting in economic hardship, a plague of traffic accidents, Intifadas and wars, G-d forbid. This understanding is stressed again and again in the Zohar. Take a brief glimpse at some of the passages from the Zohar that are translated on our website, and you will see that this is not the rantings of some Chicken Little from Hollywood, but rather the teachings of the holy lantern of the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Readers interested in a more comprehensive explanation of these matters can also check out the chapter, "The Spiritual Blueprint," on our website. For the purposes of this current blog, we can see from this brief introduction that the seven weeks of Sefirat HaOmer have cosmic significance. Our Sages tell us that these days are the root of the year. Our behavior during this time determines what will be in the months to come. Someone who cleans up his act now will breeze through Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Since we are here in this world to correct our character traits, this is a propitious time to do some serious t’shuva. This is why we said at the end of our counting today:
"Therefore, may it be Your will, L-rd our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that in the merit of the counting of the Omer that I counted today, the damage I caused to the channel of Tiferet of Chesed will be rectified, and I will be purified and sanctified with a transcendental holiness. And that this in turn will cause a great influx of blessing in all of the worlds to rectify our beings, spirits, and souls from every impurity and blemish, to bring an exalted purity and holiness upon us, amen, selah."
The astonished expressions on the faces of my family reminded me of the astonished reactions at ringside when Ali’s rope-a-dope tactics and crushing right hand sent the mighty George Foreman crashing to the canvas. My wife, children, in-laws, and guests all stood up from the Seder table and stared down at the floor where I lay in a daze. "Are you all right, Abba?" my twelve-year old son asked, rushing over to help me.
Unlike George Foreman on that miraculous night in Africa, I got up off the canvas, and the Seder continued.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of the Seder. Before starting, I apologized to everyone in advance that I would be using the Hagaddah of the Torah giant and Kabbalist, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, and I would be reciting the lengthy Kabbalistic intentions before performing the evening’s mitzvot. Since the hour was late, and people were hungry and anxious to get to the great mitzvah of eating the matzah, not everyone was pleased to hear that my strivings for added saintliness would be delaying the whole affair. But since I was the Baal Habayit in charge of the show, there was nothing they could do. Finally, finally, I finished all of the preliminary prayers and their esoteric kavanot. Ready to recite the "borei p’re hagufen" over the first cup of wine, I leaned to the left to recline in the manner of free men, and the leg of the plastic lawn chair I was sitting in collapsed under me. I went down like a startled George Foreman to the floor. Fortunately, G-d, in His never-ending kindness, had already provided me with a pillow, so my fall was considerably softened. I saw the whole thing as if in slow motion, like the TV replays at sporting events – the astonished expressions of my family, the Haggadah flying into the air, my wife’s frightened look, then everyone standing above me, looking down at the fallen champion, the would-be master of Kabbalistic intentions. I lay stuck in the toppled chair on the floor, like Humpty Dumpty - all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty’s ego together again. I remembered the verse concerning the exodus, "From your lowliness, G-d remembered you." My sons lifted me to my feet. Apart from my wounded ego, I was absolutely OK. Sitting in a different chair, I recited the blessing over the wine. Unlike George Foreman on that miraculous night in Africa, I got up off the canvas, and the Seder continued. As our Sages teach, "The righteous man falls seven times and rises." I suppose that next year, come Erev Pesach, I will have to work harder to get rid of my pride.
CHAMETZ IN THE COMPUTER
Not only the pride. The anger as well. Listen to this. At the Seder, I related two miracles that I had recently witnessed. One occurred Saturday night, after we finished saying Tehillim at the Kotel with the holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Leon Levi. As usual, we said the prayers inside the arched hall to the left of the Kotel plaza. When we left, clouds blackened the sky, completely hiding the moon. This was the last opportunity of the month to recite the Sanctification of the New Moon, which must be said when the moon is clearly visible. Rabbi Levi gazed up to the dark heavens and asked G-d to move the clouds aside for a few minutes so that we could praise Him. Sure enough, the clouds parted, just like the Red Sea parted for Moshe and the Jews on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Joyously, we joined in with the Tzaddik as he recited G-d’s praises and cried out for the downfall of Israel’s enemies, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the terrorist rabble in Aza, to name just a few. Then, as if on cue, the moment he finished, clouds came together, blanketing the moon’s glow as before.
That was the first miracle. The second occurred the following night. Here is what happened. As Pesach approaches, we have the custom of putting our chametz into a cardboard box and placing it outside the front door to get it out of the house. For years, this has never caused a problem to anyone in the apartment building where we live, but this year, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) got his hands on one of our neighbors, and come Erev Shabbat, he knocked on our door, demanding that we remove the box from the hall. When my dear wife refused, he started panting and screaming, ranting and raving, and kicked the box angrily into our apartment. I wasn’t home at the time, and my poor wife was left trembling from his bestial behavior. The bad feelings that the incident created spoiled the Sabbath. The following night, I sat down at the computer with my wife to write a letter to all of the tenants in the building, saying that at this time of the burning of chametz, when we are called upon to do away with the anger, pride, judging others in a derogatory light, grudges, and other bad traits in our hearts, that I apologize if I offended anyone this year with my anger. I made the letter general, without referring to our hot-tempered neighbor, hoping that he would read between the lines and learn a lesson for himself. To emphasize the seriousness of the matter, I included some quotes from our Sages underscoring the evil consequences of anger, how it poisons the soul with a terrible pollution. Lo and behold, when I tried to print the letter, something inside the computer exploded, and the hard disc went dead. I checked the plugs and pushed all the buttons, but the machine refused to respond. My wife looked at me in amazement. What do you say? Was this just coincidence or the finger of G-d? For one thing, I learned what my own anger and feelings of revenge can do to a computer. For the time being, I am using my laptop.
Along with the cloud story, I related this incident to everyone at the Seder to show that G-d is still very much with us today. At the end of the evening, my wife shut the bedroom door in my face, saying I had been totally insensitive to her feelings by telling that story and rekindling its still burning embers, spoiling the Seder night joy. That’s how I ended up spending the night on the living room couch. Things could be worse. After all, it’s higher up than the floor. At least my direction is upward. With 49 more days to go before Shavuot, I still have a chance to clean up my act in order to receive the Torah, cleansed of all of my chametz.
This brings us to the 49 days of Sefirat HaOmer and a layman’s guide to a spiritual rehab, coming up, G-d willing, in our very next blog.
The holiday of Pesach celebrates our freedom from the bondage of Egypt with the goal of establishing the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael. In addition to our physical liberation from the slavery of Pharoah and his evil taskmasters, we experienced a spiritual liberation as well from the impure Egyptian culture and the rampant immorality that festered there. The commandments of the Pesach holiday, and especially the Seder night, are designed to help us re-experience both facets of our freedom, the national/physical and the cultural/spiritual as well.
In order to explore our spiritual liberation and thus better understand who we are as a nation, we will take a glimpse at some secrets of Torah, culled from the teachings of our Tzaddikim, masters of the Kabbalah from the past and present. We will present just a few, in a very simple manner, with the understanding that the matters are much deeper and far more esoteric than our explanation.
Interestingly, we were commanded to tie the lambs to our bedposts, not to the door, or the window, or kitchen table, but to our beds, precisely to drive this point into our individual and national consciences that we are to be a holy people, separated by the purity of our sexual lives from all of the other nations in the world.
Ancient Egypt was the spiritual and cultural cesspool of the world. Promiscuity, adultery, and sexual perversion were the norm. When our Sages write that no foreign nation in Egypt ever escaped from the land, they mean it in a spiritual sense, as well as the physical. The clutches of temptation and sin were so powerful that no people, in the natural course of events, could shake off the shackles of lust that marked Egyptian life. The Jews were no exception. After 200 years dwelling in such a polluted, immoral environment, we plummeted to the 49th degree of impurity and would have been immediately destroyed if G-d had not miraculously interfered and rescued us with the utmost haste, speeding our exodus from the land.
Our Sages tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt due to the merit of the two mitzvot which G-d commanded us to perform on the eve of our departure – the korban Pesach and the brit milah. Both of these commandments were designed to free us from our spiritual slavery to the lusts of the body, and liberate us to true freedom as servants to G-d. Among a cornucopia of bestial doings, the Egyptians worshipped the lamb. Among the domestic beasts, sheep are known for their fecundity. In a similar manner, licentiousness was an integral part of this idol worship. Our Sages teach us that the Jewish People only worshipped idols as an excuse to engage in the sexual debauchery that went with it. In commanding every Jewish household in Egypt to take a lamb, the Egyptians’ god, and slaughter it for the Pesach offering, G-d was commanding us to slaughter the physical lusts in ourselves that lead to the perversion of the holy marital union, and to the pollution of the holy life force of our nation. Interestingly, we were commanded to tie the lambs to our bedposts, not to the door, or the window, or kitchen table, but to our beds, precisely to drive this point into our individual and national consciences that we are to be a holy people, separated by the purity of our sexual lives from all of the other nations in the world.
This is the very same lesson of the brit milah. Only a man who was circumcised was allowed to partake in eating the Passover lamb. The removal of the foreskin both symbolizes, and physically effects, the removal of the impure physical lusts that accompany the marital union. On the eve of our departure from the bondage of Egypt and from our servitude to its debauched and immoral culture, we were called to renew the Brit of our Forefathers, the founding Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, whereby we safeguard the purity of our sexual lives, symbolized by the brit milah, and G-d, for His part, promises us the Land of Israel as our eternal inheritance. Thus the Zohar teaches that in the merit of the blood of the slaughtered Paschal lamb (the korbon Pesach) and the blood of the brit milah, we were redeemed from the spiritual dungeon of Egypt.
This mixture of blood was to be splattered on the doorposts of our houses, as a sign to G-d that a Jew lived within, when G-d came to slaughter the firstborn of Egypt and to lead us out of slavery:
"And they shall take the blood, and put it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses in which they shall eat…. And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt…. For the L-rd will pass through to smite Egypt, and when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, he will pass over the door (petach), and will not allow the destroyer to come into the house to destroy you" (Shemot, 12, 7-23).
Obviously, G-d does not need signs to know whether a Jew or an Egyptian lives in a certain house. The Almighty sees everything without needing splatterings of blood on doorposts. So what is the meaning of this? Once again, the secrets of Torah illuminate our understanding. Based on the Zohar, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, explains that the underlying mystical meaning is speaking about us. The two side posts of the door represent the legs of person. The upper mantle represents the torso. The blood was to be placed where a mezuza is fastened to a doorpost, two-thirds of the way to the top. This represents the place of the Brit, the male organ. Just as the word "Shaddai" is written on the outside of a mezuza, signifying one of the Names of G-d, so to the brit milah is considered to be invisibly stamped with this same Name of G-d. Rabbi Levi states that when a man guards the holiness of his sexual life, he bears the Name "Shaddai," inscribed on his Brit. But if, G-d forbid, he succumbs to sexual transgression, the Hebrew letter "Yud" flies off from the Name, leaving שד, the Hebrew word for a demon. This evil spiritual force enters the "petach" or opening of the Brit, and makes its way though the body, bringing terrible destruction and diseases in its wake, may G-d have mercy. "When a decree of Judgment is issued to destroy," Rabbi Levy explains, "This opening of the Brit is the first place the destroying angel looks. If a man has guarded his Brit, the destroying angel passes over the opening, and the man is saved. But if the person has committed sexual transgressions, he is smitten. This is the esoteric meaning of, ‘He will pass over the door (petach), and will not allow the destroyer to come into the house to destroy you.’"
Once again, we see that the commitment to abandon sexual transgression was the key to our redemption from Egypt. This separation from sexual immorality is the essence of the Jewish People, "a nation of priests and a holy nation." Only when we rose above the sordidness and pollution of Egyptian culture could we escape from the chains of its bondage.
Now let’s take a glimpse at our painstaking search for bread crumbs and leaven before the holiday of Pesach begins. Once again, Rabbi Levi explains the inner spiritual meaning according to the Kabbalah. "Some people think that by scattering ten pieces of bread around the house, representing the ten foremost evil spiritual forces (kleipot) embodied in the 10 sons of Haman, and by burning them in the morning, they have gotten rid of all of their chametz. When in fact, their houses are filled with the evil spiritual forces that they themselves have created in their very own bedrooms due to their wrongful doings. These kleipot is the spiritual chametz which we are commanded to oust from our homes. When a man burns his bread crumbs, he should cry out to G-d in tears, recite the Tikun HaYesod prayers, and beg G-d to forgive him for his errant ways and all of the blemishes he caused to the Brit. Then he can sit down to his evening Seder with a clean heart, prepared to receive all of the transcendental spiritual treasures of the night."
One other note. Rabbi Levy stresses the importance of celebrating the Seder night at home, in not in a hotel, no matter how glatt kosher it may be. First, he says that the Holy One Blessed One Be He comes to our houses on Pesach night with Eliahu HaNavi, and their visit burns up all of the evil spiritual forces that our chametz search didn’t find. But if the family is away at a hotel, these exalted guests don’t come, and the opportunity for a new beginning is lost. Secondly, many Kosher hotels employ non-Jews in the kitchen, and who knows what they do with their Wonder Bread and pita, whether accidentally or to spite. "During Pesach time," Rabbi Levi says, "The hotel may be kosher, but Mohammed is the one in charge of the kitchen."
Therefore, he says, if you want to enjoy the rewards of the holiday, celebrate the Seder at home, or with your parents, where you will receive the same reward as if you had stayed at home because of the greatness of the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother.
Dear Readers, the holiday is quickly approaching and I, like the rest of the Jewish People, am busy helping my wife with preparations, cleaning, shopping, keeping the kids out of the house – so my writing time is short. I don’t know if I will find the time and clearness of mind to write about matzah, the Seder night, and Sefirat HaOmer which commences right after the first day of the holiday.
BURNING THE CHAMETZ WITHIN
An excellent time for a little introspective prayer and repentance is when we burn the last remnants of chametz before Pesach begins.
In our very first blog, forty thousand words ago, I wrote that we would pray together. An excellent time for a little introspective prayer and repentance is when we burn the last remnants of chametz before Pesach begins. In addition to the formulas found in our prayer books, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, says that everyone should recite Tikun HaClalli, or Tikun HaYesod Yeshuat Eliahu, and the other tikunim designed to rectify transgressions committed through sexual misconduct, for this is the real, inner chametz that we are called upon to burn . If a person does not have a copy of these prayers, he should know that true heartfelt t’shuva is always accepted. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov calls this "outpourings of the heart." In the same way that we scrupulously search for every bread and cake crumb in the house in order to burn it, it is meritorious to verbally detail, as minutely as one can, all of the wrongdoings that one can remember. Find a quiet, secluded spot in the park and begin. This is a great tikun. For readers who may be unfamiliar with this practice, below is a sample of the prayer that I will be saying, with a lot of the details censored to avoid unnecessarily embarrassing myself and my family. May all of you, and all of the Jewish People, have a happy, healthy, and kosher Pesach.
EREV PESACH PRAYER
"Abba, Abba, Abba, how embarrassed am I to stand before You, knowing how very far I am from being a good and holy Jew. Yes, I have burned all the bread crumbs and chametz that was left in my house, but I know that under Your all-seeing lens, You can see all of the chametz that is still embedded like cement in my heart. First and foremost, the sexual transgressions that I committed from my youth until today, especially the damage I caused in all of the worlds through the spilling of semen in vain. Please take into consideration that when I was a boy, nobody told me how awful this was. The opposite – they claimed it was healthy! No one told me that each zera was a living soul, my very own offspring, and that by casting it off wantonly, I was in effect destroying my own children, and creating destructive spiritual forces that wreak havoc in the world, may You in Your infinite mercy forgive me. Truly, I would be without all hope if not for Your all-forgiving compassion toward those who repent and change their ways. And later, in Hollywood, all of the Sallies and Cindies and Betsies and Bonnies, to name just a few. And when You in Your great kindness brought me back to the Torah, and I learned that I was called upon to live my marital life in a holy fashion, even still, how many times did passion overcome my judgment, and I acted like I had no fear of Heaven at all? For all of these sins, forgive me. For now I know that zera is the lifeforce of Creation, containing not only genetic codes, but also the letters of the Torah, and the blueprint of all the spiritual worlds, and this is the reason that our holy Forefathers would swear an oath by placing their hand under this place, the place of the Brit, because of its sacredness, and woe to those who blemish it by mindless wrongdoing just for the sake of the vain pleasures of the moment.
And may this prayer be for all of the Jewish People, especially those who don’t know how to pray, that You in Your Divine Kindness forgive us all, for we are like children who have gone astray and long to come home.
And then there is the chametz of pride, and anger, and depression, and jealousy, and doubts of faith that fill every crack and cranny of my being, like the chametz of pride of being the famous Arutz 7 blogger, with the towel draped over my shoulder, like a Jewish Mr. Clean, the Mark Spitz of mikvah immersions, cyberspace poster boy, the champion baal t’shuva from Hollywood. And You know that it is all a big fake! True, I try my best to please You, but how many mistakes I still make, how often I fall to temptation, looking an extra second at the pretty girl in the street, or an erotic photo on the Internet, and thinking about some other guy’s wife, as if You didn’t see everything, including the thoughts in my mind! And what about the way I try to pass myself off as a big student of Kabbalah? Can anything be more arrogant than that, when I can hardly learn a page of Gemara with Rashi? You know that the list of my failings could go on until sunset, like angrily blowing up at the kids when they interfere with the great blogger’s concentration when he is trying to write; and the cynical, hurting comments I so often make to my wife; and the doubts I have about Your providence over the world, as if I could run it better; and the jealousy I feel for writers more successful than me, and for scholars possessed of more wisdom; and what about my stinginess in giving charity; and all the times that I could have done something to make my parents happy instead of disappointing or even ignoring them. Please, Abba, please, forgive me for all of these wrongdoings, and for all of the bad things I said or wrote about a fellow Jew, or about a specific community of Jews, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora. Help me to remember all of my transgressions, and help me to make amends, so that I can be a true loving son before You. And help me not to get angry the rest of this day, or to do or say anything that offends my wife, so that we can get to the Seder in joy and perform all of its customs and laws in the true spirit of freedom and thanks for all of the miracles that You performed for our Forefathers, and for the miracles that You perform for us every day, especially in bringing me to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael. Thank you for giving me loving parents who have supported me in all of my endeavors, and for giving me a loving wife, and holy children, devoted friends, and saintly rabbis to show me the way to come closer to You. May it be Your will to help me to use the talent that you gave me to spread the truth of Your holy Torah, and the importance of guarding the Brit, and the incredible blessing that comes by living in Your chosen Land. May the chametz that I have found in my house and burned, as You have commanded, be considered like all of my sins, and may I start a new beginning with this Pesach night, liberated from all of the lusts and evil inclinations that have held me in bondage till now. And may this prayer be for all of the Jewish People, especially those who don’t know how to pray, that You in Your Divine Kindness forgive us all, for we are like children who have gone astray and long to come home. Bless my wife and my parents and my children, and everyone’s children, and guard over all of our soldiers, and over every Jew wherever he lives, and don’t let our enemies hurt us in any way, but rather may their evil plans backfire and blow up in their faces. Please gather all of the Jews from the four corners of the earth, and build Jerusalem and our Holy Temple, with the speedy coming of our righteous Mashiach, and turn our hearts of stone, to hearts of flesh, that we may all return to You and to Your holy Torah, so that all of the world will come to see that the G-d of Israel is King over all of the world, and the day will soon come that all the peoples, who are left after the great and triumphant wars of Mashiach, will come to Jerusalem to bow down before Your holy mountain and give praise to Your Name. Amen, may it be Your will, Amen."
Good luck with your own personal prayers! Pesach Samaoch! And make it truly, "Next year in Jerusalem!" B’Amet!