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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
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.
Once again, we hand the baton over to Rabbi Kahana to help get us ready for Pesach. It is a Torah message you certainly won't hear anywhere else. The opinions expressed are those of the Rabbi, and not those of the staff or management of Arutz 7 and INN.
Let us turn to the great holiday of Passover, the first one given to the Jewish people, the national holiday par excellence, and study its major, driving lesson: total faith in G-d — Kiddush Hashem.
Shabbat HaGadol, commemorating the basic lesson of Judaism: faith, real faith, faith in G-d who really is greater than the mighty Pharaoh, or the regal Reagan, or the burningless Bush.
Shabbat Hagadol. The Sabbath that precedes Passover. It is the necessary, the indispensable preface and introduction to Passover. It is the explanation that cries out the ultimate message of the holiday, the basic lesson of the feast of our freedom. It is the foundation of foundations that raises Passover from an insipid, saccharine social custom beginning and ending with recipes printed in the New York Times women’s section; from a golden opportunity for Manischewitz to return to Jewishness through capitalist Passover profits even as the truly frum raise their level of religiosity by raising the level of prices; from a Jewish people that marches on its Seder stomach even as it moves on to the annual national lie: “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is the Great Sabbath, which attempts to save Judaism from myopic ritualism, to make the Jew Jewish and the Orthodox, religious.
Shabbat HaGadol. The Sabbath preceding the Passover, the Sabbath that cries out the basic, the ultimate message of that enormous Exodus from Egypt, of Passover itself. Shabbat HaGadol that gives us the lesson without which Passover, the Jewish people itself, lose all reason for being. Shabbat HaGadol, commemorating the basic lesson of Judaism: Faith, real faith, faith in G-d who really is greater than the mighty Pharaoh, or the regal Reagan or the burningless Bush — Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath, that began more than 3,000 years ago on a Sabbath in Imperial Egypt.
“Speak to all the assembly of Israel, saying: On the tenth day of this month they shall take for themselves every man a lamb . . . ” (Exodus 12:3)
It is a special, an awesome commandment, one that is given to every Jew, hence the unique words: “Speak to all the assembly.” Take a lamb and bind it up for four days.
You believe that this is a simple commandment? Hardly. The lamb is more than an animal, it is the very god of Egypt. It is a deity, a hallowed creature before whom the Egyptian bows and whose meat dare not touch his mouth. And the Jews, “every man” thereof, are commanded to take this lamb, this Egyptian god, this deity of their masters, and tie it to their beds, to their posts, bind it up. And when the astonished and outraged Egyptian masters will ask: “What are you doing?” the answer shall be: “We shall soon slaughter this lamb, this deity, your god, and eat it.”
Do you still think this is a simple, bland commandment? It is a commandment fraught with danger to life, a commandment that surely sent fear down the spines of the Jewish slaves, that, without a doubt, led scholars to rush and ponder whether pikuach nefesh, danger to life, might perhaps demand the postponing of this dangerous commandment . . .
Nor does the All Mighty stop there. He insists on a policy of extremism, of goading the gentile. Not content with a commandment that cries desecration of the Egyptian god, that taunts him with the sight of his deity bound up, the G-d of Israel insists that the Jew add salt to the wound.
“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire . . . . Eat it not partially cooked, nor boiled in water, but roasted with fire, its head with its legs, and with its insides complete.” (Exodus 12:8-9)
Awake and consider! This is what Passover is all about; only this! This is what Judaism is all about; only this! This is what the duty and the role and the essence of the Jew is all about; only this! To affirm to the world, but first to ourselves, that the L-rd, the G-d of Israel, is. That He truly does exist, that He is the One, the only One, that He, only He, directs the world, the fate of man, the destiny of His people. That whatever will be for the Jew will be only because He so decrees. That the gentile has no relevance to Jewish fate, that the Pharaohs of all time, the ones in Egypt and the ones in Washington are utterly irrelevant to what will be with the Jew.
On the Great Sabbath in Egypt, the L-rd taught us the lesson that we trampled in the dust, the dust of secularism and the dust of the yeshiva-world alike: The lesson that the Jew must raise high, must flaunt the glory and Omnipotence of his G-d. That the world must be compelled to see their deities, their gods and idols, bound up and humiliated and destroyed. That one must goad the gentile in order to raise high the banner of the L-rd. That Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Name of the G-d of Israel, demands an open, fearless, flaunting sacrifice of the idols and deities of the gentiles that deny the uniqueness of the G-d of Israel, His exclusiveness, His Oneness. The lamb is openly tied and those who tremble and whisper: “But we dare not goad the gentile,” are silenced with thunderous contempt. The lamb is slaughtered and roasted whole and fully and openly. It cannot be hastily covered in a pot where it will not be seen. Its identity cannot be disguised by cutting its body into pieces. We cannot escape the danger of the gentile by avoiding confronting and goading him. No. Precisely the opposite!
The same gentile who thundered and thunders: “Who is the L-rd? . . . I know not the
L-rd, nor will I let Israel go!” (Exodus 5:2) must be taught the eternal lesson of: “The
L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is G-d!” (Kings I 18:39). The gentile does not wish to “know” G-d, to acknowledge His exclusive kingship. He must be taught that lesson in an open and bold and humiliating way. He and his idols must be humbled and broken. The lamb is taken openly. The lamb is slaughtered openly. The lamb is roasted and eaten, openly. And those who cringe in pilpulism and whisper: “But one dare not goad the gentiles . . .” are silenced by the thunder of the L-rd, whose commandment is eternalized by the Rabbis in the Great Sabbath, Shabbat HaGadol.
So let that Sabbath be understood and appreciated and embraced. For without it, there cannot be a Passover, an understanding of what that Passover really is. And without that, when the Jewish child asks for the meaning of this night, the pathetic father who knows not what to tell him, will doom his child to become as pathetic as he: a practitioner of Jewish ritual, but never, never a religious Jew.
(From the soon to be published book, "Selected Writings of Rabbi Mei Kahana")
Rabbi Leon says that before Pesach everyone cleans their windows until they sparkle, then G-d sends a sudden rain or sandstorm from the desert and dirties them again, to teach us that the cleaning we should be doing is not our windows, but ourselves. In the upcoming days, we will be posting some of the Kabbalists teachings on Pesach and t'shuva. As a background to these pieces, I am reposting the article I wrote for INN a year ago, on how I met the Rabbi, and the wonderful renewal it brought to my life....
THE TZADDIK ARRIVES
When I asked the rabbi if he could bless my parents, immediately, without even looking at them, he stated their medical problems exactly, as if reading straight from a detailed medical report.
When I asked the rabbi if he could bless my parents, immediately, without even looking at them, he stated their medical problems exactly, as if reading straight from a detailed medical report.
It is eleven o’clock, Thursday night in Bat Yam, and the Rebbe Meir Baal HaNess Synagogue is already packed with five hundred people awaiting the arrival of the righteous Tzaddik. Upstairs, the women’s section is full. It is the middle of Shovavim, and there is a tangible electricity in the air. At exactly eleven-thirty, the kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, arrives with a surrounding wall of students. With his head lowered humbly toward the ground and his hands clasped before him, the Rabbi makes his way through the crowd to the stage set up in front of the ark, where rabbis and other elderly kabbalists stand waiting to greet him. I rise along with the others, not as a curious journalist, but as a student of Rabbi Leon.
The Rabbi motions for the crowd to sit down. The music stops. “Please make room,” his powerful voice calls out over the loudspeaker. In his youth, he served as cantor in the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv, yet the strength and beauty of his voice hasn’t waned. “More people will be coming from Judea, Samaria and Hevron. Hurry. There isn’t time to waste.”
With the holy cry of the nighttime Shema Yisrael, the all-night tikun (rectification) is underway. The letters of Shovavim are the initial letters of the weekly Torah portions in the book of Exodus from Shmot to Mishpatim. Ever since Mount Sinai, the period of the year has been considered a special time for Tikun HaBrit - a time to attain forgiveness for sexual sins.
In the book, “Orot HaKodesh,” (Part 3, Pg. 296) Rabbi Avraham Yitzkah HaCohen Kook writes that all of the world’s most moral treasures are hidden in the exalted aspiration toward sexual purity contained in the prayers of Shovavim. During the evening, Rabbi Leon will explain the profound esoteric significance of sexual holiness to each individual Jew, and to the Jewish People at this important stage of redemption. The gathering will continue all night.
Rabbi Leon announces that it is time for Tikun Hatzot – (the Midnight rectification). Everyone somehow manages to find a place on the floor. After a few moving words from the Rabbi on the destruction of the Temple and the pain of the exiled Shekinah (Divine Presence), he cries out the opening verses of the first part of the Midnight rectification - Tikun Rachel. His piercing lament stirs the hearts of everyone present, and a unified cry rises from the congregation like a column of incense, shattering the barrier between the Jewish People and Heaven. For an hour, the tears and lamentations continue. Then comes part two of the Midnight prayer - Tikun Leah. Reaching the verse, “Open the gates...” the Rabbi rises to his feet, and everyone with him, to sing and dance with a thundering roar in honor of the Shekinah. The singing goes on for half an hour. Hitherto strangers now sway arm-in-arm like the closest of friends. At that indescribable moment, all of the Jewish people are one.
And the evening is only beginning. There will be more Torah learning, plenty of food, a trip to the mikvah (ritual bath) at three in the morning, and the climaxing Tikun HaYesod authored by the Ben Eish Chai with the Ark open, shofars blaring, and all of the congregation on its feet. It is a spiritual experience not to be forgotten. And in the morning, after the vatikin prayer, one’s head is crystal clear, like the burst of the first sunlight after a long winter’s rain.
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
Four years ago during the Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles] holiday, I was in my house getting things ready to set off on a family outing, when my son telephoned from our sukkah downstairs in the parking lot.
“There is a rabbi here with 30 students,” he said. “They want to know if they can use our sukkah.”
That’s interesting, I thought. Out of the tens of thousands of sukkot in Jerusalem, a rabbi and 30 students suddenly appear out of the sky like a spaceship and land in our parking lot. Ever since becoming a baal tshuva (returnee to being religious) in Hollywood in a rather miraculous way, I always kept an eye out for heavenly signs and wonders.
“Invite them,” I told my son, wondering what HaKodesh Baruch Hu [G-d, literally, The Holy One, Blessed Be He] had in mind for me now.
“The rabbi wants to talk with you,” he said.
After a moment, a rich sefardic accent sounded over the cell phone, followed by a river of blessings. The truth is, the Hebrew came out so fast, I had trouble understanding every word. The startling thing was that each blessing was like a ballistic missile targeted for precisely my life, my problems, and my ups and downs in serving Hashem [G-d], as if the rabbi was looking through a window into our house.
After packing a few final things for our holiday trip, I hurried downstairs to our sukkah. The seventy-year old rabbi was standing in the parking lot of the building, slicing up tomatoes on a fold-up table that his students had brought. The first thing I noticed was the big white kippah [skullcap] which completely covered his head. The next thing was the glow of holiness which radiated from his face and white beard. Draped over his white shirt was a large tallit katan [biblical fringed garment]. While he sliced the tomatoes, he gave orders to his obviously well-trained team of students, like an army officer commanding his troops. They had removed my table and chairs from the sukkah and had set up tables and benches of their own. Already laid out on the table were a wide assortment of salads, juices, pita bread, and fruits.
My thirteen-year old son came over to me with an amazed expression on his face. As the son of a baal tshuva from Hollywood, he was used to all kinds of people showing up at our house for a visit, but this surrealistic scene was a first.
“Maybe it’s the prophet, Elijah HaNavi,” he said.
Seeing me, the rabbi repeated his blessings and continued on with his work, adding a variety of spices to the large bowl of salad before him. Many of the students, Jews of Mideastern descent in their thirties and forties, wore large white kippahs like the rabbi. Here and there, an Ashkenazi face stood out in the crowd. One of them, the driver of their mini-bus, dressed in the holiday garb of a Hasid, came over to me and told me the rabbi’s name, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, shlita, from Bnei Brak. I remembered having seen him a few times at the Kotel, always surrounded by followers and fervently engaged in prayer.
Earlier that morning, they had been at the Kotel for the priestly blessing of the kohanim. Their plan had been to eat a festive breakfast in our Kiryat Moshe neighborhood before returning to Bnei Brak. But when they arrived, the synagogue sukkah they had intended to use proved to be much too small for the group. Scouting the area, they came upon our parking lot and our ample size sukkah.
A verse of the Hallel prayer rang in my ears, “This is Hashem’s doing; it is wondrous in our eyes.”
That year, I had brought my parents on Aliyah to Israel from Florida when my mother was stricken with the first symptoms of Alzheimers Disease. My father, who had several serious medical problems of his own, could not cope with her alone in America, so, with my wife’s permission, they moved in with us in Shilo. Because of their frequent medical needs, and the Melabev, English-speaking Alzheimers group which met 3 times a week in Jerusalem, we decided to move to Kiriat Moshe, where we were fortunate to find a building with two vacant apartments.
Without a second thought, I hurried upstairs to bring my parents down for a blessing from the rabbi.
By the time I could get them organized, the rabbi was sitting in the sukkah with his students. Slowly, I led my parents over. We stood outside the sukkah about ten meters away. When I asked the rabbi if he could bless my parents, immediately, without even looking at them, he stated their medical problems exactly, as if reading straight from a detailed medical report.
“Your mother’s head is not working as it should,” he said. “She is very confused, forgets things, becomes suddenly irritated and has frequent bursts of uncontrollable anger. Her overall blood circulation is poor and she suffers from pains in her upper back.”
My son stared at me in amazement. I too was dumbfounded. The rabbi had described her situation exactly.
“Your father is depressed and extremely nervous,” he continued. “He worries over every small thing. The arteries in his neck are clogging, but he needn’t worry about that. He needs to get more fresh air, that’s all, and take him to the shopping mall where he can see lots of people in order to cheer him up.”
According to his latest ultrasound, one artery in Dad’s neck was already blocked, and the other closure was 75%. I asked if there was something more I could do to help them.
“Bring your mother to me in Bnei Brak,” he said. “Once the problem has reached the head, it is hard to influence the Heavenly Court, but perhaps it is possible with G-d’s help to ease the pains in her back.”
Years before, major surgery had left my mother with constant pain in her back. Plus, she had terrible arthritis. I had taken her to a gamut of doctors, chiropractors, reflexologists, and the like, but nothing had eased her suffering.
A VISIT TO BNEI BRAK
One of the students gave me a phone number to call to reserve a slot for Mom on the rabbi’s day of visiting hours in Bnei Brak. Like a dutiful son, I made the appointment. But because of my father’s nervousness, he rejected the idea out of hand. So as not to waste the opportunity, I suggested to my wife that we go instead with one of our children who made hyperactive children look like they were standing still. If G-d hadn’t sent the rabbi to us to help with my parents, then surely it was to help with our son.
Rabbi Leon sees people on Thurdays at his synagogue in Bnei Brak. By the time we arrived, the waiting room was already full. Each week, scores of people call for appointments, but only 12 are accepted, so that the rabbi can spend the time needed with each person in order to help raise him up out of his dilemma, spiritual darkness, or pain. Sometimes a one-on-one meeting with the rabbi is a half hour, sometimes an hour, often even two.
When our turn came, we sat down facing the rabbi who was absorbed in a book of Psalms. Beyond his study, the synagogue was stunningly lit with brilliant chandeliers. After several minutes, the rabbi looked up and nodded with a very serious expression, not with the radiant smile that had warmed my heart on the sukkot holiday. I explained that since my father was apprehensive about coming, we had come with our son. Being the father of 14, including five Torah scholars, the rabbi certainly had experience with children.
The rabbi told the boy to take a book and go study in the synagogue. When he was out of hearing range, he said, “The problem isn’t with the boy – it is with the parents. A child is merely the extension of the parents. When the parents fix themselves, the problem of the child will vanish.”
“Uh oh,” I thought, certain that the rabbi was going to turn his x-ray vision on me. But instead, he started speaking about problems of the circulation system. Gently, without mentioning any wrongdoing, he led us to understand that transgressions, and improper character traits like anger and depression, affect the nefesh (soul), and the nefesh effects the blood, and the blood circulates to all of the organs of the body, eventually causing a disorder in the region that corresponds to the transgression or faulty attribute. I remembered studying about this relationship in the book Shaare Kedusha, but I never had the knowledge to apply it in a practical way. In a similar fashion, the Rabbi said, emotions like anger and nervousness in the home can have a devastating effect on the children.
“There have been mistakes,” he inferred in a general way.
He gave us a diet that would revitalize our blood and suggested some other very down-to-earth advice. Then for the next fifteen minutes he spoke about pride, about how poisonous it was in serving G-d, causing the Divine Presence to flee from a person and leave him in spiritual darkness.
“Wow, did you get it on the head,” I said to my wife when we left.
“Me?” she responded. “Everything he said about pride, he was talking about you!”
“Me?” I responded in amazement.
How ridiculous could you get? Everyone knew that I was the famous baal tshuva from Hollywood who had rejected fame and riches for G-d. Who was more humble than me?
True, I had learned a lot of things in yeshiva, but very little about making a married life work and bringing up children. And like every new immigrant, I had my share of frustrations in beginning a new life in Israel. The arrival of my parents had exacerbated things a hundred times over. Often I felt like an actor in a movie about a man who had two wives, running back and forth between my sick mother and wife, trying to keep everyone happy. Add my father’s nervousness, and a super hyper son. Under the emotional burden, one of my vertebrae moved out of place, and I was paralyzed with pain. It wasn’t long before I had sunk into a period of depression and despair.
But it wasn’t until reading the booklet that Rabbi Leon gave me, that it hit me. There was an essay on anger, an essay on the sanctity of marriage relations, an essay on repentance. The main part of the booklet was the “Tikun HaYesod Yeshuat Eliahu,” an arrangement of 13 Psalms chosen by the rabbi, followed by a long confession designed to inspire a person to a new level of sexual purity, known as shmirat habrit. Along with many insights based on the secrets of Torah, the essence of the tikun [rectification] was “Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you.”
“AND HE REPENTED AND WAS HEALED”
The following Thursday morning, I returned to Bnei Brak with a list of questions for the rabbi. Once again the waiting room was filled with people. The rabbi nodded when I entered the synagogue, and continued on with his prayers. I sat down near his desk, waiting for an opportunity to ask my questions. After a while I realized that without an official place on the list, I wouldn’t be permitted to talk with the rabbi. But no one asked to me leave, so I sat there as inconspicuously as possible, happy to be in his presence and the special atmosphere of holiness that surrounds him.
Suddenly, a man burst into the study area followed by a woman in what I guessed was her ninth month of pregnancy. The hysterical husband held up an x-ray and shouted, “They want to operate! They want to operate!”
“Of course they want to operate,” the rabbi said calmly. “Your wife has a massive growth in her stomach.”
She wasn’t pregnant, I realized. Her over-swollen belly was the result of a malignancy.
“They want to operate on Tuesday,” the husband shouted. “Here’s the x-ray. Here’s the x-ray!”
“What do you expect?” the rabbi told him. “You don’t keep the the laws of family purity.”
Suddenly, the husband was silent.
“And you are violent with your wife, demanding your way, without thinking about what she wants, or maybe I am wrong?”
The man looked as if he wanted to disappear under the table.
“Those are very big sins,” the rabbi said. “Do you regret them?”
“Yes,” the man said meekly.
“Do you promise that from now on you will keep the laws of family purity and be considerate of your wife?”
“Yes,” the man repeated.
Rabbi Leon turned to the woman. “The growth in your belly is your anger at your husband. But you have to realize that he never learned otherwise. He doesn’t mean wrong. He’s a high tempered person. He doesn’t know any better. But now he will change. Can you forgive him?”
The woman nodded, yes.
“Give your belly a hit,” the rabbi told her.
Gently, she tapped on her stomach.
“Harder!” the rabbi said.
Again, she tapped on her belly.
“Harder!” the rabbi commanded.
This time she gave her belly a punch. Like a punctured beach ball that loses its air, the big round swelling in her stomach simply disappeared. I was sitting no more than a few feet away. Right before my eyes, the swelling shrunk and vanished. The woman burst into tears. Once again, the husband started shouting in utter disbelief, “But I have the x-ray! I have the x-ray!”
“You can throw the x-ray in the garbage,” the rabbi told him. “It’s over. It’s gone. Your wife is healthy again.”
“But the operation. The appointment is next week,” the dazed husband muttered. “What will I tell the doctor?”
“You won’t have to tell him. He will see for himself.”
Then Rabbi Leon turned to the woman, who was still weeping in shock. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “You should be happy. HaKodesh Baruch Hu has done a miracle for you.”
When I started on the road of repentance in Hollywood, HaKodesh Baruch Hu had done a similar miracle for me. Through lots of tshuva [penitence] and prayer, without any medicine, an illness that had plagued me for years disappeared. So I wasn’t surprised by what I had witnessed. As Rabbi Leon teaches, the verse says, “Return in penitence and be healed.” HaKodesh Baruch Hu can do everything. The secret is tshuva.
THE POWER OF PRAYER
I left that day without being able to ask the rabbi my questions. On the way out, I overheard his secretary telling someone on the telephone that the rabbi had decided to travel up north with his students in order to pray for rain. Seizing the opportunity, I asked him if I could come. He told me that he would ask the rabbi and call me with his answer.
To remind the reader, four years ago there was a very serious drought in Israel. The water level of the Sea of Galillee was dangerously low. There was serious talk of purchasing water from Turkey. So I was very excited when later that evening I received a call saying that the rabbi agreed that I come along
The following week a long caravan of cars set out from the yeshiva. The rabbi had requested that everyone recite the entire Book of Psalms on the drive up north, so there was no time for small talk. Our destination was a secluded wooded glade called “Maayan Baruch,” just outside the city of Kiryat Shemonah.
At the end of the long drive, a bumpy dirt road led us to a picnic area in a forest of towering eucalyptus trees. The rabbi had arrived ahead of the group to organize the makeshift camp. It was a beautiful sunny day at the beginning of November. Like my first view of the rabbi outside of my sukkah, he had taken off his hat and black overcoat, and with his big white kippah and flowing tallit katan, he looked like the Baal Shem Tov himself. Just as before, he was preparing a gigantic salad. When the minibus arrived with crates of food and tables, the rabbi took charge of the operation, where to put the tables, where to wash the fruit, who would study the Zohar [The basic work of the Kabbalah] and who would recite psalms.
One of the things which characterizes Rabbi Leon is his energy. For his age, he moves about with extraordinary quickness, far surpassing his students. In years past, they would leave the yeshiva in Bnei Brak at least once a week to travel to a different location throughout the country to do a tikun in a large tent that the rabbi had specially designed for their outings. Even today, Rabbi Leon makes the trip to the Kotel at least three times a week. His students say that he sleeps no more than two hours a night, if at all. His nights are filled with study and prayer, like in the days of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his disciples.
In a short time, tables were laden with a kingly feast for the seventy people present. The rabbi told us to make our blessings over the food out loud so that everyone could answer “Amen.” After completing the Tehillim and the readings from the Zohar, the rabbi told everyone to wash hands for the meal from the nearby water pipe, whose source was from the rivers of the Garden of Eden. During the meal, the rabbi gave a dvar Torah, saying that rains are held back because of transgressions to the Covenant-Brit, as explained in the Zohar, regarding the Shema:
“Those who do not guard the sign of the holy Brit [Covenant of sexual purity] cause a separation between Israel and their Father in Heaven, as is written, And you turn aside and worship other gods, and bow down to them. And afterward, it says, He shut up the heaven, so that there be no rain. For to be false to the holy Covenant is considered like bowing down to another god. But when the holy Covenant is properly guarded by mankind, HaKodesh Baruch Hu showers blessings from above down to this world.” (Zohar, Bereshit 189b)
Immediately after the meal, the rabbi had everyone stand in four lines, facing all four directions while he stood in the middle. In unison, in loud, fervent voices, everyone recited a kabbalistic prayer based on the incense service. Even before we had finished, there was the sound of distant thunder over the peaks of the Hermon. At first, we thought it might be tank fire on the Lebanon border. The sun was still bright in the afternoon sky. The thundering grew louder as we continued to pray. The first drops of rain fell while we were packing the tables back into the minibus at the end of the tikun. On the drive back to Bnei Brak, the sky darkened, and rain poured down in gushes. Hailstones bigger than marbles rumbled atop of car roofs, shattering windshields. Four students collected insurance to compensate for the damage. To be sure, we were not the only people in Israel praying for rain at that time. But it is hard to say that the sudden rainstorm was a mere coincidence after our prayers. Plus, it wasn’t the first time that rain fell after a tikun by Rabbi Leon and his students.
ZOHAR BY HEART
In “Orot HaTechiyah,” (Ch. 57) Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook writes that the study of the Zohar is destined to open the road to redemption. By the time he reached twenty, Eliahu Leon Levi knew large portions of the Zohar by heart.
Rabbi Leon’s grandfather, the kabbalist, Rabbi Avraham Levi, grew up in the Old City near the Damascus Gate. Due to economic hardship, the family relocated to Turkey in the town of Marash. Every night, even in the ice-cold winters, Rabbi Avraham would rise from sleep at 2 o’clock, immerse in an outdoor pool, go to the synagogue to recite the Midnight Prayer (Tikun Hatzot) and learn Mishna and secrets of Torah until dawn.
At the age of 98, he left this world, passing on the crown of the inner Torah to his son, Yeshua Levi. Under his spiritual leadership, all of the Jews in the area returned to the Torah. He knew all of the Bible, the Mishna, and Tehillim by heart. He taught the children of the community in the morning, tended to his rabbinic duties during the day, slept a few hours in the evening, and studied kabbalah all through the night. Inspired by their devoted shepherd, most of the town’s inhabitants would rise at midnight and go the synagogue to recite Tikun Hatzot together. Very often, Rabbi Yeshua would drag young Eliahu along, even when the boy begged to stay in bed, in order to accustom him to the attribute of saintliness in the service of G-d.
With a contingent of families from Marash, the Levis returned to Israel in 1950 and settled in Tel Aviv. As if inspired by the air of Eretz Yisrael, the twelve year old Eliahu Leon started to read from the Zohar when his father wasn’t around. The energetic Torah prodigy had plenty of opportunity since his father left the house in the middle of the night to immerse in a mikveh 151 times before reciting Tikun Hatzot. Then he would continue on until midday with his learning, teaching, and prayers. As time went on, Rabbi Yeshua noticed that his volumes of Zohar were missing. Discovering them with his son, he would take them away, only to find them missing again. As the boy grew older, other books began to disappear from the bookshelf, including the teachings of the Arizal and other classics of Kabbalah. In his teenage years, the budding mystic learned at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva and later at Kfar Chabad, but he states that most of his learning came from his father.
“He taught me secrets that I haven’t revealed to this day. You can take the knowledge of all of the scientists, professors, and doctors in the world, and the Torah contains more wisdom than them all.”
For a period of six years, Eliyahu secluded himself in the house, studying Kabbalah, fasting, and reciting yichudim day and night. Finally, his father told him, “Enough. You may make an angel out of yourself, but what about Am Yisrael? Go out and teach. Go out and pray. Take the gifts G-d has given you and lift people up.”
MIRACLES BY THE KILO
Ever since the prayer for rain in the north, I have seen many miracles with Rabbi Leon. One time, at the end of a nightlong tikun, a young soldier pushed his way forward through the crowd around the rabbi. One arm dangled loosely at his side. He said it had been paralyzed for half a year, and that no doctor had been able to help.
“Why did you pick up that statue of idol worship?” Rabbi Leon asked him.
The soldier seemed stunned. As if he were dreaming, he shook his head to wake himself up.
“That was seven years ago,” he admitted. “I was on a group tour to Spain. They took us into a church, and I picked up one of the statues.”
“HaKodesh Baruch Hu gave you seven years to do tshuva,” the rabbi said. “Now you received the penalty in your arm. Are you sorry?”
“Of course,” the young man answered. “I had no idea.”
“Good,” the rabbi told him. “With your bad arm, pick up a pretzel, say a blessing, and eat it.”
The soldier looked down at the pretzels on the table. Sadly, he shook his head. “I can’t move it,” he said.
“Yes you can. You’ve got a new arm now. You can pick up the front end of a car.”
As if concentrating his strength, the soldier looked down at his arm. When it made a move forward, he let out a sound of surprise. He reached out toward the table. A smile broke over his face. Then he grabbed a pretzel, made a loud happy blessing and ate it. Everyone clapped.
“People sometimes think that Divine Inspiration (ruach hakodesh) doesn’t exist anymore,” Rabbi Leon explains. “That it was something only in the past. But that isn’t the case. Ruach hakodesh is always here waiting. Has HaKodesh Baruch Hu changed, G-d forbid? He is always ready to give. The problem is that people don’t prepare the proper vessel in order to receive the light.”
One time, an Ashkenazic rabbi showed up among the people during visiting hours. He sat quietly in the synagogue, watching everything that went on in the Rabbi’s study. When a woman stood up from a wheelchair and started to walk, he burst into the study and raced over to Rabbi Leon, peering under his desk and behind his chair as if to discover some secret hidden button or magic box.
“Where is it?” he said. “Where is it? How do you do it? What do you do?”
Students tell hundreds of Rabbi Leon stories of sterile women having babies, lame people walking, and mute people speaking. When the wife of the Baba Sali needed someone to talk to, she would come to Rabbi Leon. Every Thursday, the yeshiva on HaShomer Street is crowded with people, but because of his great humility, many people have never heard of Rabbi Leon. Another reason is that he has never aligned himself with any political party. While Knesset members and leading public figures often come to confer with him privately, he shies away from the public eye.
One time, when I suggested making a video of visiting hours, so that people could see all the miracles, he said, “If word got out what happens here, gangsters would show up with machine guns threatening to kill me if I don’t heal their mothers and brother-in-laws.”
I don’t profess to say that a miracle occurs with every blessing. Sometimes, nothing seems to happen at all. When I asked Rabbi Leon about this, he explained. “Hashem decides not me. Everything comes from Hashem. If a person has merit, feels sincere repentance, and Hashem decides to intervene, then a miracle occurs. If a person is closed down to tshuva, then he first has to work on himself to reopen the channels of blessing that he’s damaged. Everything depends on tshuva, hard work, and merit. My blessings are nothing. Hashem does it all.”
Of course, Hashem does it all. Nevertheless, there have been many cases when visiting a comatized patient in a hospital that during the Rabbi’s blessing, the person has awoken from his sleep. Such a dramatic case occurred last month in the Shaare Tzedek Hospital intensive care unit. Lately, Rabbi Leon has been working around the clock to put out a series of books on Tikun HaBrit [rectifying one's sexual purity] and does not make hospital calls like he used to. But when the two sons of a head of a certain Yeshiva appealed to the Rabbi, he immediately drove with them and a student to Jerusalem to pray at his bedside.
“He was attached to eighteen tubs and wires,” the student relates. “It was like pushing your way through the vines in a jungle to get to him. The Rabbi asked the doctors to lessen the anesthesia so that he could work on raising his levels. After the Rabbi prayed for three hours, all of the man’s vital signs were on the rise. We left with one of the sons to go to the Kotel where the Rabbi continued to request mercy from Heaven. While we were there, the son at the hospital called and said that all of the levels were back to normal and that his father was breathing on his own. He called in the evening to tell me that the doctors had removed all of the tubes, and that his father was sitting up in bed talking about going home for Shabbat.”
THE DREAM OF THE “KARIN A”
The rabbi’s unending efforts to help the Jewish People are not limited to medical problems alone. A few years ago, the Rabbi dreamt that a ship dangerous to Israel was heading our way. The dreams of the Rabbi are no simple matter. Tzaddikim like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Orh HaChaim HaKadosh, the Ben Eish Chai, and others have appeared to him with important messages. So when he awoke from the dream of the ship, he immediately alerted a high-ranking army officer whom he knew, and asked that the information be passed to the proper security channels. The Air Force sent out a reconnaissance plane. It reported back that the only naval activity was a joint Egyptian-American war exercise that Israel already knew about. The Rabbi responded that they were mistaken – there was a boat dangerous to Israel approaching from the South. Once again, the plane made a reconnaissance sweep, and sure enough, there was an unidentified ship in the Red Sea approaching the Gulf of Eilat. It was the “Karin A” on its way to smuggle a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition into Gaza.
Students and people who are fortunate to enter his inner circle also benefit from Rabbi Leon’s unique talents in the most incredible ways. One of the Rabbi’s students, Yigal Vanazi, works in Tel Aviv for a computer software firm. One time, the company was attacked by a virus, and 180 computers shut down. For two days they struggled in vain on their own to find a solution. When a company specializing in computer viruses asked for $400,000 to fix the problem, Yigal thought of the Rabbi.
“I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me immediately,” he relates. “I called up the Rabbi and told him the problem. He instructed me to put my hand on one of the computers. After a minute, he said he saw the virus, and described it to me. Later he showed me the sketch he made in the yeshiva. It looked just like diagrams of computer viruses that I had seen with a long curving tail. Then, over the phone, he told me that he had caught the virus and locked it up in a spiritual safe. He told me to hit the “enter” key on the keyboard. Immediately, the computer lit up, along with all of the 180 computers in the building. It was amazing!”
Enemy ships, computers, cars, you name it. Once, Yankela Levine stopped by the Yeshiva to say hello to the Rabbi. He had just bought a used car from the sexton of a synagogue in Bnei Brak.
“Did he tell you that the car was in an accident and that the axle connecting the two front wheels is bent out of shape?” the Rabbi asked him.
Yankela couldn’t believe it. The sexton was as honest as could be, he said.
“Maybe so,” the Rabbi answered, “But he should reduce the sales price by three thousand shekels.”
Having known the Rabbi for many years, Yankela brought the car to a garage and put it up on a lift. Sure enough, the axle connected the tires was bent. In great embarrassment, the sexton gave him back the money he had overpaid.
And, as for me, ever since my father allowed me to bring Mom to Bnei Brak, she no longer has pains in her back.
GUARDING SEXUAL PURITY – GUARDING THE LAND
Every Saturday night, Rabbi Leon comes to the Kotel to recite psalms. Two years ago, at a Malave Malka celebration with students, before the Disengagement Plan from Gush Katif was announced, the Rabbi said that there was a decree in Heaven that would be every hard to cancel. “HaKodesh Baruch Hu is very displeased with the lack of sexual modesty in the Holy Land.”
“There is nothing in the world that so arouses the anger of HaKodesh Baruch Hu as the sin of transgressing the Covenant. Our hold on the Holy Land is in danger if we don’t live our lives in a holy fashion. Sexual purity is the essence of the Covenant between Abraham and G-d. Remember what I am saying.”
A student asked what we could do. The Rabbi was solemn and pensive. “If rabbis begin to speak more about guarding the Brit, about guarding one’s eyes from gazing at forbidden things, and about the laws concerning sexual modesty, then maybe HaKodesh Baruch Hu will have mercy. It isn’t enough just to live in the Holy Land. We have to live here in all the holiness that the Torah prescribes. That’s the whole meaning of the Brit. That message has to get out.”
Shmuelik and Shimon, come and join in the building. Instead of just waiting for Mashiach, your aliyah will help bring him.
Sorry to disappoint my friends, Shmuelik and Shimson. While I have no qualms noting that some things are rotten in the State of Israel, the blood in my veins is blue and white to the very last drop. The fact that there are problems in Israel does not impinge on the intrinsic holiness of the State. Apparently, this is an understanding that needs to be repeated and repeated until it sinks into the heads of our confused and self-deluding brothers in galut. For example, the cow hides used to make the parchments of mezuzot and tefillin are not holy in and of themselves. However, when the hides are used for the holy purpose of these mitzvot, the hides become holy too, and one is obligated to treat them with stringent sanctity. So too in the case of Medinat Yisrael, which is the vehicle that the Almighty has given us in order to perform the mitzvah of conquering and dwelling in the Land of Israel, a mitzvah that is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Parshat Reah, 12:29).
No one can deny that Medinat Yisrael has been G-d’s instrument for the great ingathering of exiles in our time; and G-d’s vehicle for the renewed settlement of the Land of Israel; and G-d’s instrument for the defense of the Jewish People against its enemies – all clear mitzvot of the Torah. The shortcomings that appear along the way in this colossal enterprise in no way invalidate the sanctity of the State, as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook taught his students again and again. For the sake of our brothers who may not have heard him, we will mention some of his teachings.
“It is well known that the Ramban established a fundamental halachic ruling that conquering and living in the Land of Israel are commandments of the Torah which apply in every age (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Command #4). Among the supporting verses he cites is the Torah verse, ‘Go up and possess.’ The Ramban emphasizes that this is the language of a command. In contrast to this, the rejection of this command is a rebellion against Hashem, as is written, ‘And when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, Go up and possess the Land which I gave you, and you rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not believe in Me, and did not listen to My voice’ (Devarim, 9:23). They did not listen to Hashem in conquering and possessing the Land. Possessing the Land is a mitzvah, and the opposite is a rebellion against Hashem.”
The Torah is eternal. The Torah doesn’t change. What was true in the time of Moshe is true for us today. Living in Israel is not a matter of personal choice. It is the foundation of the national Torah life of Am Yisrael.
“People occasionally ask, where is it written in the Torah that we have to build a State? Aren’t they familiar with the words of the Ramban, who stated that we are commanded that this Land be in our hands, and not in the hands of any other nation? Everyone understands that dominion over a geographic parcel of land demands political sovereignty and government. All of the early and later Torah authorities decide the law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban that the precept of conquering the Land applies in all generations, and all of the agree that it is a commandment of the Torah” (Pitchei T’shuva, Evan HaEzer, 75:6).
Rabbi Kook emphasized that, “The intrinsic value of the State is not dependent on the number of observant Jews here. Of course, our aspiration is that all of our people will embrace the Torah and the mitzvot. Nonetheless, the Statehood of Israel is kadosh, holy, whatever religious level it contains.”
“There are religious Jews who express a type of criticism and say, ‘If the State of Israel were run according to our lifestyle and spirit, then we would accept it. Until then we abstain from it.’ They talk as if the State does not belong to them. But the truth is that the State belongs to all of us. Anyone who refuses to recognize the State of Israel does not recognize the return of the Divine Presence to Zion.”
Rabbi Kook said that we had to be patient, that Redemption came slowly in gradual stages, little by little (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:1), and that it would reach perfection with time.
“In the Gemara, our Sages explain that all of the material used in building the Temple became sanctified only after it was set into place. We build with the profane and sanctify afterward (Meilah 14A and B, see Rashi there). This was enacted because our Sages realized that during the construction, workers would sit in the shade of the building to rest from the sun, and thus improperly derive personal benefit from something which had been exclusively dedicated for the use of the Temple. The Beit HaMikdash was built in this fashion, and this is the way the Redemption of Israel develops, in stages, little by little. Just as the stones used in building the Temple were not sanctified, so too the building of Eretz Yisrael is accomplished by every segment of the nation, by the righteous and by the less righteous. We build with the secular, even though this causes complications and problems, and little by little all of the various problems will vanish, and the sanctification of Hashem will appear in more and more light.”
Shmuelik and Shimon, come and join in the building. Instead of just waiting for Mashiach, your aliyah will help bring him.