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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.
Nisan 6, 5767, 3/25/2007
[Bulletin from Mattot Arim]
Nisan 6, 5767, 3/25/2007
Rabbi Meir Kahana says it better than me. Pesach is the holiday celebrating our freedom from Galut. Apparently, many Jews don’t read to the end of the Hagaddah, or else don’t mean it when they say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Here is an essay he wrote, to help us internalize the messages of the holiday:
AND THOU SHALT TELL THY SON
The essence of Passover is the commandment of the Hagaddah, of telling and retelling, of passing on to our children, the story of Passover, its concepts and lessons and commandments. Passover is the beginning of Judaism, its very birth, hence its direction and directive to pass on to our sons and daughters its fundamentals and teachings. However, the problem with a commandment to parents to pass on lessons to their children is that so few know what to pass on. Indeed, through honest ignorance or honest receipt of confusion from those who passed that down to them, Jews of befogged confusion do not pass on but rather pass over the basic truths, and the irony of the holiday name is glaring.
For Passover is a festival of national faith, of a free people leaving an Exile for a home of their own. Jews of the ghetto and the Exile cannot understand Passover as it really is. They can only pass over it, never pass it on.
The object of Jews to understand the real and so-very-clear lessons of the holiday of Freedom, is the tragic reality of a 20-centuries-old Exile that not only brutally deformed Jews, but far worse, perverted the Torah concepts that are so basic to knowing not only who we really are and from whence we came, but what we should be doing and telling ourselves and our children, so that we may know how to reach the final redemption that is based — as our Rabbis tell us — on the first one, the Exodus from the Land of Egypt on that first Passover so long ago.
We are the victims of an agonizingly long exile that saw us change from an authentic religio-nation to a religion alone; that saw us learn to accept our crippling deformity, a religio-nation with a state of its own turned into a religion with no national or land roots. It is an exile that effectively perverted, warped and twisted Torah truth and we are the victims. That is why it is so essential to resurrect Passover and its lessons; to learn and understand them as they really are. For Passover is a festival of national faith, of a free people leaving an Exile for a home of their own. Jews of the ghetto and the Exile cannot understand Passover as it really is. They can only pass over it, never pass it on. And so, let us see the lessons of Passover, learn them, and throw off the leaven of the Exile, and hallow ourselves with the simple sanctity of the matzoh of freedom.
1) Passover is the holiday of negating of the Exile, of the throwing off of the slavery of Galut and going up to the freedom and spirituality of Eretz Yisrael.
The freedom given to the Jews by the All Mighty was more than just escape from bondage, from Egyptian slavery. The Ramban (Exodus 3:12) puts it best: “For the All Mighty said two things to Moses: To go down and save the people from the hand of Egypt and this might have been accomplished in the Land of Goshen [Egypt] itself or nearby — but G-d promised another thing: To take them out of the country entirely to the place of the Canaanites.”
And the Ibn Ezra (Deuteronomy 4:10): “For the L-rd knew that Israel could not observe His commandments properly if they remained in the lands that ruled over them.” And the Sforno (Deuteronomy 6:21): “And since in our slavery we could not acquire the completeness that was directed from Him, He did wondrously to take us out and bring us to a land where we could acquire that completeness.”
The so-obvious and basic Divine law: No people can live as a minority, a stranger in another’s land, and not be influenced by the majority’s foreign culture so that it infiltrates his mind, his views, his thought processes and makes him a different person than if he were isolated from that foreign invasion of his environment. We, the greatest of scholars — are all products of our environment, and the insidious foreign influences — newspapers, radio, streets — must influence and change us and shape us in a way that is different from an isolated, insulated Jewish state.
And so G-d did two things. He freed us from slavery, but only for the purpose of creating a holy, special, different people that would create a total Torah society in the only way possible: by leaving the influence of the foreign exile and living in cultural isolation in its own land. “Lo, it is a people that dwells alone . . . ” (Numbers 23:9).
2) Passover tells us that the Jew who can go up to the Land and does not, will not be allowed by the All Mighty to survive in his Exile Paradise.
And these are the words of the Rabbis (Shemot Rabbah 14; Tanchuma, Va’era 14): “Why did G-d bring the plague of darkness? Because there were, among the Jews, sinners who had patrons among the Egyptians, and they had honor and wealth and did not wish to leave Egypt. Said the All Mighty: If I bring a blow on them openly and they die, the Egyptians will say: Just as he struck us down so did he do to them. Therefore he brought darkness on Egypt for three days so that they could die and be buried with no one knowing.”
And indeed, that is the reason for the Rabbis telling us that only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt, all the rest dying in the plague of darkness because they refused to leave Egypt to go up to the Land of Canaan (Tanchuma, B’shalach 1).
And the message echoes through the ages to each and every one who remains in the Exile where he enjoys honor and wealth. It cannot and will not be. A plague of darkness cometh and there will be no survival for those who despised the Holy Land and who chose their gentile patrons.
3) Faith, total faith in a G-d who is stronger than Pharaoh or even an American President.
The All Mighty comes to the Children of Israel and tells them to do nothing less than take the god of their Egyptian masters, the lamb, tie it up for four days and inform anyone who asks, that on the fourth day they will slaughter the animal-god, and then do it.
Mindboggling! Consider what the reaction of Jews would be today to a command to degrade and to flaunt victory over a sacred religious symbol of Christians or Moslems. Say, to remove the mosque from the Temple Mount . . . . One need not have much imagination to know what the reaction of Jews from left to right, from Reform to Moderdox, would be. Terror, outrage, indignation. But Passover teaches us differently.
In order to sanctify the name of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, as against the nations who mocked Him and knew Him not, the Jew is ordered not only to take, degrade, and manifest his mastery over the religious symbol of the Egyptian — he is told to do it in the most public way possible!
“And they shall eat the flesh that night, roasted . . . . Eat not of it raw, nor boiled in water, but roast with fire; its head, with its legs and its inner parts [complete].” (Exodus 12:8-9)
Why? Because you are sacrificing the god of Egypt, you might say, let us not roast it completely lest the Egyptians see us; therefore the verse says “eat not of it raw.” And if you say (for the same reason), let us boil it and put it into a pot, the verse says “nor boiled in water.” And if you say, let us cut it up so they will not recognize it, the verse says “its head, with its legs . . . ”
No nonsense about fear of agitating the gentiles, a concept of the Exile where it had its place, but utterly humiliating and a Hillul Hashem in a state where the All Mighty demands of the Jew a proclamation and demonstration of the utmost of faith, a faith in the face of apparent danger, a faith that manifests the essence of Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d, that is total and undiluted.
4) In the totality of faith and sanctification of G-d, there is no compromise — it must be complete and absolute.
Pharaoh has just refused the Israelites permission to take their children with them. Now, with the plague of darkness, he breaks and agrees. He surrenders almost totally. “Go, serve the L-rd, only let your sheep and cattle remain behind; even your children may go with you” (Exodus 10:24).
Consider, dear Jew. The Israelites have been slaves for decades upon decades. They have suffered and cried out unto G-d to free them. And now, finally, Pharaoh agrees to allow them to leave. Freedom now! And he only raises one minor condition — leave your cattle and sheep. Picture the scene: the joyful Jews, rejoicing in their soon-to-be-gotten freedom, embrace Moses and thank him. And then, to their horror, to their consternation, Moses shakes his head and tell Pharaoh, NO! You too, will give us sacrifices and offerings and our flocks will go with us. There shall not remain a hoof.
Dear moderate, non-fanatical, normal Jew. Was there ever a more fanatical, extremist, dangerous man than this Moses who refuses to compromise and insists on a stubborn policy of not one inch! Give them the sheep, Moses, give them the flocks! For freedom and peace one must compromise. Freedom now, shout the Jews, give him the sheep! But no. Moses knows what Judaism is, what Kiddush Hashem is: total surrender and capitulation before the L-rd — for only thus does the gentile admit his acceptance of the L-rd as the one and only G-d.
5) Sanctification must be open, unafraid, proud and tall.
The tenth plague strikes Egypt. Panic, terror. In every home there is death. Pharaoh surrenders totally. There is no thought of anything except total surrender. Go, go but above all, leave now, immediately. At midnight he races to Moses and cries out: Get up, get out of my people! You and the Children of Israel . . . take your sheep and cattle, too. Finally. Surely now, Moses is satisfied. Even the worst of extremists and fanatics must surely now accept this capitulation. Hardly. Thus says Moses: “Are we then thieves that we go out at night? We shall only leave with a mighty arm, before the eyes of all Egypt” (Tanchuma, Bo 7). And: “G-d said to them [the Egyptians]: You take My children out in the middle of the night? You will not take them out at night but rather openly in the middle of the day!” (Shemot Rabbah 18). And: “Moses said to Pharaoh: We have been warned to leave only openly” (Mechilta, Bo, 13).
The lesson is so clear, even to all the gentilized and Moderdox. Sanctification of G-d’s name, by its very essence, is a declaration that He is supreme, that no power on earth can touch Him or those who trust in Him. That the slightest thought of hidden or quiet, non-provocative sanctification is a contradiction in terms. That an admonition to do things quietly carries within it the seed of fear of gentile reaction and that, by its essence, is the very antithesis of Kiddush Hashem.
How many lessons there are in Passover! How many lessons that we pass over. Let us instead learn and pass them on.
May 9, 1986
Nisan 5, 5767, 3/24/2007
My son, the soldier, phoned home to inform us that the EMPTY ONES OF LITTLE FAITH are moving his unit to the Shomron to prevent the FAITHFUL ONES from reaching the evacuated settlement of Homesh, where they hope to return to their homes. Already on Friday, the media joined the EMPTY ONES by announcing that police would arrest anyone who tried to enter the off-limit zone surrounding the settlement. They warned that the leaders of the FAITHFUL ONES would also be fined for the cost of moving troops and police into the area. I told my son to refuse orders. Seventy years ago, with the issue of the White Paper, British soldiers patroled the shores of Palestine to prevent Jews from arriving and settling in Eretz Yisrael. Now, on the orders of the EMPTY ONES, Jewish soldiers are being forced to do the same criminal act of trying to stop the Children of Israel from living wherever they please in the Promised Land. It is the EMPTY ONES who should be arrested, not the FAITHFUL ONES, for their plotting to prevent Jewish settlement in the Jewish homeland. I told my son that if he goes with the troops, he should let the FAITHFUL ONES circumvent the blockades. Stay posted for further developments!
Nisan 3, 5767, 3/22/2007
EVERYONE LOVES STORIES
Everyone loves stories. Rabbi Nachman said that in the future, the stories about Tzaddikim would bring the world back to G-d. So let me tell you a few stories about my teacher, the saintly Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levy, master of the secrets of Torah.
A few weeks ago, I was on my way to an all-night session of prayer and Torah learning with the Rabbi. As I was driving along the highway, a police car appeared alongside my car, and an officer motioned for me to pull over.
Needless to say, it is silly to get angry at a traffic cop when you know he is merely a messenger from the Almighty. “I suppose I have not been exact in giving Maaser,” I said to my passengers, other students of Rav Leon.
The Hebrew term, maaser, means a tithe, the obligation to donate a tenth of one’s income to charity. A few months back, my wallet was stolen from my pants pocket while I was in the mikvah. When I told Rav Leon, he advised me to give a little more maaser, which was his tactful way of saying that I did not give enough. Our Sages teach that if you want to be rich, you should give maaser with an open heart, even 20% of your earnings. The more you give, the more you will get in return. Rav Leon himself gives away 60 percent of his earnings. If you don’t give at least a tenth, then G-d will collect it in some other fashion, whether through plumbing expenses, visits to the dentist, thieves in the mikvah, or traffic tickets.
The cop walked over and asked for my license and car registration. Imagine, a Hebrew speaking cop. After twenty-three years in Israel, it still fills with me with gratitude that we have our own sovereign State.
“Have you had a traffic violation within the last two years?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure. I had received a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, but I couldn’t remember how long ago it had been.
He took my papers back to his cruiser. I could see the screen of his special car computer glowing in the dark.
“Do you think the Holy One Blessed Be He has a computer as advanced as the one in that police car?” I asked the students in my car.
To make a long story short, the search on the computer revealed that I had not yet brought my car into the motor vehicle inspection center for this year’s road test. It also revealed that my seat belt violation had indeed been less than two years before. So I was given two days to do the test, along with a 200 shekel fine. “Thank you,” I said to the cop. “You have given me the opportunity to make a donation to Medinat Yisrael.”
Because of the unexpected delay, we were late. It was after midnight when we reached our destination. The synagogue was packed with local residents who had gathered for the nightlong prayer with the revered and holy Tzaddik. I did not want to go into the main entrance while Rav Leon was speaking, so I found a back door that led to a room where refreshments were spread out on tables. I waited until the Rabbi finished his opening remarks, then snuck into the synagogue and sat down in the first empty chair.
“Fishman,” the Rabbi called out into the microphone. “Kedima!”
Embarrassed by the turning heads of the crowd, I walked forward and sat down toward the front of the synagogue. Again the Rabbi’s voice called out, summoning me to the dais where he and other Kabbalists were sitting. “Be careful not to get any more traffic tickets,” were the first words he said to me. Apparently, he had had his own famous radar turned on. Imagine, if a person can see things via spiritual radar, how humbly we should always behave, knowing that the Radar of Radars is watching.
While we are speaking of cars, the other day, a student of the Rabbi was driving his brother-in-law to the hospital because he had been having terrible pains in his eyes. The student suggested they phone Rav Leon and ask for a blessing. After making a few calls, they reached another student who was at the yeshiva with the Rabbi, who does not have a cell phone of his own. After hearing the student’s request, Rav Leon asked to speak to the brother-in-law. “Can I tell you the truth?” he inquired.
“Sure,” the brother-in-law answered.
“You won’t be angry with me?” the Rabbi asked.
“Not at all.”
“What are those pornographic magazines doing in the trunk of your car?” Rav Leon asked.
The brother-in-law was speechless.
“Did you think that looking at them would be good for your eyes?” the Tzaddik asked him.
When the tearful brother-in-law admitted his misdoing, the Rabbi blessed him, gave him some Psalms and prayers to say, called “Tikun HaYesod,” to rectify his transgressions, and told him to immerse himself in a mikvah as often as he could. “You don’t need the hospital,” he told him. “If you repair the spiritual damage you caused, your eyes will feel better starting today.”
Our Sages tell us: "דע מה למעלה ממך" “Know what is above from you.” And they answer, “A seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all of your deeds are recorded in a book” (Avot, 2:1). The Almighty has a top-of-the-line radar computer. All of our doings appear on His screen. And for everything we do, there will be an accounting. As Rav Leon stresses, sooner or later, anger, arrogance, jealousy, sexual transgression, speaking bad about others - all bring misfortune in their wake. It is just a matter of time. Therefore, Rav Leon teaches, a man should give up his wrongdoings, return to G-d, and be healed.
That’s the story for today. In the near future, G-d willing, we will recount some more Rav Leon stories. The moral to remember is that the possibility for improvement and health is in our hands. What we sow, we reap. As the verse implies: “Know that what is above (the decree that is written above) is ממך - from you.”
Nisan 2, 5767, 3/21/2007
MARITAL UNION - THE SAGA CONTINUES
But first, in answer to my concerned and righteous brothers who worry about discussing these matters in public, here is a statement from the Torah giant, Rabbi Aharon Cutler, may his memory be for a blessing:
"Here I want to awaken you to a painful and shocking matter about which many people err. There are many people whom refrain from speaking about these things under the pretext of modesty. May Heaven help us! In such a fallen and licentious generation as ours, where everything is exposed without shame in the open - to speak about holiness and modesty – this is considered an affront to modesty?! Can there be a greater deception on the part of the evil inclination than this?! On the contrary, it is an absolute obligation to speak about these matters in public!"
LAWS OF CHASTITY
When engaging in the marital union, it is proper to contemplate on matters of Torah, or other sacred subjects. While it is forbidden during the act even to utter holy words, thinking holy thoughts is permitted, and even meritorious.
It is forbidden to have intercourse by light, even if the light is shut out by means of a garment, but it is permissible if one makes a partition forty inches high in front of the light. It is also forbidden to have intercourse during the day, unless the room is darkened. At night, if the moon shines directly upon them, it is forbidden, but if it does not shine directly upon them, then it is permissible if that light is shut out by a garment.
One is forbidden to look at the sexual organ of his wife. Whoever does so is devoid of shame, and violates, "And walk humbly." Also by this, he stimulates lewd thoughts within himself. Certainly, one who kisses that place violates all of this, and in addition, he violates, "You shall not make yourselves detestable."
A person must not be unduly familiar with his wife, excepting at the regular time appointed for the marital duty, as is written, "And her conjugal rights shall not be diminished." [The number of times a week depends on his constitution, occupation, and whether he travels for work.] The time appointed for Torah scholars is on Sabbath night. One must fulfill his marital duty even when ones wife is pregnant or nursing. One must not deprive his wife of her conjugal rights, unless she consents to it, and when he has already fulfilled the obligation of having children. If he deprives his wife thereof, in order to afflict her, he violates the Divine command, "And her conjugal rights shall not be diminished."
It is the duty of every husband to visit his wife on the night she has performed the ritual of immersion. Also on the night he is to set out on a journey. When a man sees that his wife is coquetting and primping and trying to please him, he is bound to visit her, even if it is not the appointed time. From such a union will come worthy children.
When having marital relations, his intention should not be to satisfy his personal desire, but to fulfill his obligation to perform his marital duty, like one paying a debt, and to comply with the command of his Creator, with the goal that he have children engaged in the study of Torah and the practice of its precepts.... If he is overwhelmed with a craving for it and he cohabits with his wife to avert sinful lust, he is destined to receive reward for it. But it is better to conquer his passion. For as our Sages say, "A man has a small organ; if he starves it, it is satiated, and if he nurtures it, it is hungry" (Sukkot 52b). But one who has no need for it, and he deliberately arouses his lust, he is following the counsel of the evil impulse.
One should not have relations with his wife unless she has a desire for it, but not otherwise, and certainly one is forbidden to force her. Nor should one be with his wife when she is actually asleep, or when he or she is intoxicated.
Semen is the vitality of the body and the light of one’s eyes. When it issues in abundance, the body weakens and life is shortened. He who indulges in having intercourse, ages quickly, his strength ebbs, his eyes grow dim, his breath becomes foul, the hair of his head falls out, his teeth fall out, and many other ailments beside these befall him. Great physicians said that one out of a thousand die from other diseases, while nine hundred and ninety-nine die from sexual indulgence. Therefore, a man should exercise self-restraint.