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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.
Until recently, I didn’t bother with facebook, thinking, why waste my time with the superficialities of social networking when I could write much deeper articles and books? Then, after all the publicity which facebook received over its role in international demonstrations and revolutions movements, I figured, why not give it a try? Since I write a blog at Israel National News about aliyah, I thought that maybe facebook could help me spread the message of aliyah to Jews around the world. So I started making friends….
It seems to me that some of the dangers of facebook are already known, especially concerning our children. First, the world of facebook is a very egotistical place, with everything centered about ME – how I look, what I like, what I do, and what I think – ME, ME, ME, ME. Facebook gives everyone a chance to stand out and be “famous,” which is not necessarily an admirable Jewish trait. Furthermore, on facebook, you can be friends with anyone, religious and non religious, Jewish and gentile, Jews for Israel and Jews for Jesus. And these new “friends” can send you anything they want, like dirty jokes, trashy songs, indecent photos, and links to all kinds of “cultural” garbage that many parents wouldn’t want their children to encounter. Additionally, your list of new facebook “friends” can include perverts of all persuasions, child molesters, porn peddlers, and even murderers, may G-d have mercy. We’ve all heard horror stories of how a young and innocent facebook enthusiast arranged to meet one of his, or her, new friends, and ended up being molested, raped, and even killed.
Most parents are aware of these dangers. “It won’t happen to our kids,” we say. But I am writing this warning to alert people of yet another very real danger – facebook pornography. Frankly, in my facebook ignorance, and during my first week of networking, I didn’t discover anything overly worrisome. It seemed that whoever was running things at the other end of the computer, wherever that may be, simply didn’t allow pornography onto the network. But then I noticed that there was an option to “search,” like with Google and Yahoo, and I curiously typed in a key word or two. BONKERS! Was I ever shocked! Pornography at its worst, just a click of the mouse away – the most pornographically graphic and explicit photos and videos, the very glimpse of which still has me shaking.
Don’t believe me? Never seen it on facebook yourself? Well, you’ll just have to take my word.
Do you have a teenager who is doing badly in school? Do you have a kid who hates to pray? Does the tiny kippah he wears come off his head the moment he’s down the block? This may be why. Nothing turns off a person more from Torah than an exposure to porn. And while I agree that at first glance, facebook may seem to be kosher, with a little “ingenuity,” a whole world of pornography is waiting. And don’t delude yourselves – when it comes to computers, our children are geniuses – they can figure out everything. If you are Israeli, your Hebrew-speaking son may come home from school with a flunking grade in English, but you can be sure that if he’s a facebooker, he knows, in perfectly spelled English, all the immodest key words, phrases, magazines, and types of intimate apparel in the world.
So parents, beware! Either ban you kids from using facebook, or be sure you have a foolproof filter that doesn’t allow them to see all of the junk that’s out there. They may yell and scream and threaten to boycott the house, but their fury will pass. In the Torah portion of “Shofetim,” it states: “When you come to the Land which the L-rd your G-d gives you, do not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There must not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter to pass through fire…” (Devarim, 18:9-10). In my opinion, that is exactly what you will be doing if you allow them to self-immolate with facebook.
Since today, the third of Elul, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Kook, we are posting some selections from his writings on t’shuva. Rabbi Kook was probably THE master teacher of our times, possessing an all-encompassing understanding and vision of Torah that raises Judaism far above the individual practice of ritual commandments to a cosmic revolutionary movement chartered with the task of bringing the world to perfection via the return of the Jewish People to a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael.
The book which I had the great privilege of writing with Rabbi David Samson, “The Art of T’shuva,” explains Rabbi Kook’s teachings in a clear and simple fashion, and certainly deserves to be a part of every Jewish library. The power of Rabbi Kook’s vision is so great, it is certain to inspire every reader to an incredibly new understanding of Judaism and to deepen each person’s understanding of who he is as a Jew and what is his ultimate mission in life. Here, we will present a small sample Rabbi Kook’s teachings on t’shuva, keeping our commentary to a minimum, while encouraging all seekers of G-d to order the book for a complete overview of this vast and supremely vital subject.
“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principal t’shuva, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to G-d, to the Soul of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence....”
“All of our t’shuva will only succeed if it will be, along with its spiritual splendor, also a physical t’shuva which produces healthy blood, healthy flesh, firm, mighty bodies, and a flaming spirit spreading over powerful muscles. Through the power of the sanctified flesh, the weakened soul will shine forth — like the dead’s physical resurrection.”
“Sudden t’shuva results from a spiritual bolt of illumination which enters the soul. All at once, the person recognizes the ugliness and evil of sin, and he is transformed into a new being. Already, he feels within himself a total change for the good. This type of t’shuva derives from a certain unique inner power of the soul, from some great spiritual influence whose ways are best sought in the depths of life’s mysteries.”
“There is also a gradual type of t’shuva. The change from the depths of sin to goodness is not inspired by a brilliant flash of light in one’s inner self, but by the feeling that one’s ways and lifestyle, one’s desires, and thought processes must be improved. When a person follows this path, he gradually straightens his ways, mends his character traits, improves his deeds, and teaches himself how to correct his life more and more, until he reaches the high level of refinement and perfection.”
“From out of this psychic bitterness, t’shuva comes as a healing plaster from an expert physician. The feeling of t’shuva — with a deep insight into its working and its deep foundation in the recesses of the soul, in the hidden realms of nature, in all the chambers of Torah, faith and tradition — with all of its power, comes and streams into his soul. A mighty confidence in its healing, the encompassing rebirth which t’shuva affords to all who cling to it, surrounds the person with a spirit of grace and mercy. Like a man is comforted by his mother, so I shall comfort you.”
We see that in his writings, Rabbi Kook illuminates the phenomenon of t’shuva in an entirely new fashion. Here we encounter the notion of t’shuva, not as personal penitence alone, but as an ever-active force in the world which constantly works to unite all things with G-d.
“The currents of specific and general t’shuva flood along. They resemble waves of flames on the surface of the sun, which break free and ascend in a never-ending struggle, granting life to numerous worlds and numberless creatures. It is impossible to grasp the multitude of colors of this great sun that lights all worlds, the sun of t’shuva, because of their abundance and wondrous speed, because they emanate from the Source of life itself....”
Once we understand that the goal of existence is to be reunited with G-d, and that the force of t’shuva is at work all of the time, we can understand that the t’shuva of the individual over specific sins, and the encompassing t’shuva of the world longing for perfection, all stem from the same essential drive, as Rabbi Kook writes:
“General t’shuva, which is the uplifting of the world to perfection; and specific t’shuva, which relates to the particular personality of each individual, including the smallest items needing improvement in all of their details... they are both of one essence. So too, all of the cultural reforms which lift the world out of moral decay, along with social and economic advancements, and the mending of all transgression... all of them comprise a single entity, and are not detached one from the other.”
“The world must come to a state of complete t’shuva. The world is not static; rather it progresses and develops, and the true, complete development must inevitably bring absolute health, both physical and spiritual, and this will bring the light of the life of t’shuva with it.”
“T’shuva is ever-present in the heart. Even at the moment of transgression itself, t’shuva is hidden in the soul, and it sends out its rays which afterward are revealed when remorse calls out for t’shuva. In the depths of life, t’shuva exists, since t’shuva preceded the world, and before sin occurred, the remedy of t’shuva had already been prepared. Therefore, nothing is more certain in the world than t’shuva, and in the end, everything will return to its perfected state.”
“The abandonment and rebellion against the commandments of G-d is a terrible moral regression, which only seizes a man through his frightening immersion in the vulgarity of material life. It is possible that for a time, a generation, or a part of it, in one place or another, will become entangled in the thicket of moral blindness, to the point that it won’t sense at all the ethical descent inherent in the abandonment of the laws of G-d. But the Divine law does not lose its value because of this. T’shuva is determined to come and to be revealed. For the sickness of forgetting the Divine world cannot hold a permanent place in man’s nature. Like a polluted spring, it returns to its purity.”
“The future will reveal the miracle of the power of t’shuva, and this revelation will capture the whole world with an incredible fervor, far greater than all of the wonders which the world is accustomed to see in all of the realms of life and existence. And this new revelation will captivate every heart with its wonder, and its spirit will influence all people. Then the world will rise to its true rebirth. Sin will cease, the spirit of impurity will be consumed as if burned, and evil will vanish like smoke.”
“The Jewish People, because of their enhanced spiritual nature, will be the first nation in the world to do t’shuva. The special spirit of t’shuva will initially be revealed in this portion of humanity. Israel is propelled from within to be united with G-d’s light in the world, which is free of transgression and wrongdoing. Every falling away (from its connection to G-d) blemishes the wholeness of its inner perfection, yet in the end, its powerful life-force will triumph over the deviation, and it will return to complete health. This complete health will start to invigorate (the nation) with great strength and the light of t’shuva will shine within her first. Afterward, Israel will be the special channel to spread life’s inner yearning for t’shuva to all the world, to lighten the world’s darkness and elevate its stature.”
Rabbi Kook teaches that even in the return of the non- religious Zionists to Israel there is a profound holy core. The inner source of their desire to return is the Divine Ideal itself. With time, it will surely be awakened. This great transformation may take fifty years. It may take one hundred. We need to remember that after nearly two-thousand years in exile, a few generations is like the blink of an eye. The important thing to know is that the t’shuva of the nation is sure to come.
“The awakened yearning of the Jewish people as a whole to return to their Land, to their roots, to their spirit and way of life — truthfully, there is the light of t’shuva in this.”
“Without question, the light of Mashiach and the salvation of Israel, the rebirth of the nation and the Land, the revival of its language and literature — all stem from the source of t’shuva, and out of the depths to the heights of the highest t’shuva, everything will be brought.”
The return of a scattered people to its Land is no simple matter. Because of the magnitude of the undertaking, there are numerous problems. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us that our inner longing for G-d will overcome all of the barriers. Even the brazen secularism, which seems so contrary to the nation’s holiest goals, will become a powerful vessel bursting with Torah.
“Out of the profane, holiness will also come forth, and out of wanton freedom, the beloved yoke (of Torah) will blossom. Golden chains will be woven and arise out of secular poetry, and a brilliant light of t’shuva will shine from secular literature. This will be the supreme wonder of the vision of redemption. Let the bud sprout, let the flower blossom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the Spirit of G-d is speaking within the nation of Israel in its every expression. All of this will climax in a t’shuva which will bring healing and redemption to the world.”
May the memory of Rabbi Kook and his teachings be a blessing for the Jewish People and the world.
Once upon a time, there was a Jew named Moishe who owned a plush and first-class brothel. He lived in the brothel so that he could keep a better eye on the business. He was very successful and had many important clients. Wherever he went, people would nod to him in respect. But after many years, Moishe got tired of the business. In fact, he felt guilty that he had been running a brothel for so many years. The feeling was so nagging, he decided that he had to start his life all over and become religious. He put on tefillin in the morning, went to shul, made the brothel’s kitchen kosher, and closed the place down on Shabbat. And he kept the Jewish holidays the way they were meant to be kept, carefully observing every custom and detail. He let his son take over the brothel’s operation and devoted himself to learning Torah, happy to have returned to Yiddishkeit and the ways of his forefathers.
That’s the story. Now, obviously, as long as Moishe is still living in the brothel, his t’shuva isn’t complete. For sure, he is a better person and more connected to Torah, but as long as he remains in the brothel, he hasn’t really returned to his roots. Everyone can understand that he has to get out of the brothel in order to live a true Jewish life.
There are a lot of brothels in the world. Some are called America, some are called Australia, some are called France. When a Jew becomes religious in one of these places, it is a wonderful thing, but he is still living in a brothel.
Generations ago, Moishe’s forefathers were cast out of the Holy Land and exiled to brothels all over the globe, so, for Moishe to truly return to his roots, he has to give up the brothel and return to the Land of Israel, where putting on tefillin and keeping Shabbos have their true meaning, because that’s where Hashem wants us to keep the commandments.
Have a nice day!
Here’s a short chapter from our book, “The Art of T’shuva.” There are so many eye-opening insights in Rabbi Kook’s writings on t’shuva, it’s hard to choose just one for this blog. Basically, the entire life of a Jew is one long, roller-coaster ride of t’shuva.
The goal of a Jew should always be to get closer to G-d. Ultimately, this means transcending one’s individual life and being attached to the concerns of the Nation, and to our National T’shuva, which means being an active part of the Nation’s return to the Land of Israel – the goal of all the Torah, the Prophets, and the Redemption that is unfolding before our eyes.
Rabbi Kook discusses this all-important National T’shuva toward the end of his writings on t’shuva. There are many stops along the way. Here’s one:
DON’T WORRY! BE HAPPY!
THE SECRET OF STRIVING
Amongst the many eye-opening revelations on t’shuva in Rabbi Kook’s writings, one concept is especially staggering in its profundity. It is such a new understanding, we have decided to devote a separate short chapter to it, to highlight its importance to the reader. Usually, we think that a process is completed when it reaches its end. We experience a feeling of satisfaction when we finish a project. An underlying tension often accompanies our work until it is accomplished. This is because the final goal is considered more important than the means.
Most people feel the same way about t’shuva. Until the process of t’shuva is complete, they feel unhappy, anxious, overwhelmed with the wrongdoings which they have been unable to redress. Rabbi Kook tells us that this perspective is wrong. When it comes to t’shuva, the goal is not the most important thing. It is the means which counts. What matters the most is the striving for perfection, for the striving for perfection is perfection itself.
“If not for the contemplation of t’shuva, and the comfort and security which come with it, a person would be unable to find rest, and spiritual life could not develop in the world. Man’s moral sense demands justice, goodness, and perfection. Yet how very distant is moral perfection from man’s actualization, and how feeble he is in directing his behavior toward the pure ideal of absolute justice. How can he aspire to that which is beyond his reach? For this, t’shuva comes as a part of man’s nature. It is t’shuva which perfects him. If a man is constantly prone to transgress, and to have difficulties in maintaining just and moral ideals, this does not blemish his perfection, since the principle foundation of his perfection is the constant longing and desire for perfection. This yearning is the foundation of t’shuva, which constantly orchestrates man’s path in life and truly perfects him” (Orot HaT’shuva, 5:6).
Dear reader, please note: if you are not yet a tzaddik, you need not be depressed. Success in t’shuva is not measured by the final score at the end of the game. It is measured by the playing. The striving for good is goodness itself. The striving for atonement is atonement. The striving for perfection is what perfects, in and of itself.
King Solomon teaches that no man is sin-free. “For there is not a just man on earth that does good and never sins,” (Kohelet, 7:20). Transgression is part of the fabric of life. Since we are a part of this world, we too are subject to “system failure” or sin (Orot HaT’shuva, 5:6A; 6:7). Even the righteous occasionally succumb to temptation, (Sanhedrin 107A; Mishle, 24:6). Thus, until the days of Mashiach, an ideal, sinless existence is out of man’s reach (Joel, 2:20, see Radak there).
An illustration may help make this concept clearer. On Yom Kippur, we are like angels. We don’t eat, we don’t drink. All day long we pray for atonement from all of our sins. At the end of the day, with the final blast of the shofar, we are cleansed. But in the very next moment, as we pray the evening service, we once again ask G-d to forgive us. Forgive us for what? The whole day we have acted like angels. Our sins were whitened as snow.8 In the few seconds between the end of Yom Kippur and the evening prayer, what sin did we do? Maybe at the beginning of the evening prayer, exhausted by the fast, we didn’t concentrate on our words. Maybe our prayers on Yom Kippur were half-hearted. Maybe, we forgot to ask forgiveness for some of our sins.
The point is that the process of t’shuva never ends. Perfection in deeds is out of our reach. Thus, when a goal is unattainable, it is the striving to reach the goal that counts. Regarding t’shuva, it is the constant striving for t’shuva which purifies, enlightens, elevates, and perfects. So relax all you seekers of t’shuva. Even if you haven’t yet atoned for all of your sins, DON’T WORRY. BE HAPPY. As long as you are sincerely trying, that is what really counts.
“Art of T’shuva” can be ordered online at: https://www.createspace.com/3595479.
For some time now, I have been struggling with an inner battle. A powerful force is impelling me to speak on the subject of t’shuva. All of my thoughts are concentrated on this. The greatest part of the Torah and life is devoted to the matter of t’shuva. All of the hopes of the individual and the community are founded upon it. T’shuva is a Divine commandment which is both the easiest, since the thought of t’shuva is considered t’shuva in itself (Kiddushin 49B), and on the other hand, it is the most difficult commandment, since its essence has not yet been fully revealed in the world and in life.
This is how Rabbi Kook begins his introduction to his book, “Orot HaT’shuva.” He continues: “I find myself constantly thinking and wanting to speak exclusively about t’shuva. Much has been written on the subject of t’shuva in the Torah, the Prophets, and in the writings of our Sages, but for our generation, the matters are still obscure and require clarification…. My inner essence compels me to speak about t’shuva. And yet I am taken aback by my thoughts. Am I worthy enough to speak about t’shuva? However, no shortcoming in the world can discourage me from fulfilling my inner claim. I am driven to speak about t’shuva….”
The new month of Elul is the month of t’shuva (penitence.) I had the good fortune of translating selections from Rabbi Kook’s “Lights on T’shuva” and of writing a reader-friendly commentary on the book with Rabbi David Samson, a longtime student of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and one of Israel’s foremost educators. Rav Samson is veteran teacher at the Mercaz HaRav High School Yeshiva, and founder and director of 5 high schools for “youth at risk” in Israel. The book, which we called, “The Art of T’shuva,” may be one of the most important self-help books you can find, opening pathways to a new and more vibrant connection to G-d and to Torah, sure to fill your life with greater light and happiness. The commentary can now be ordered online at: https://www.createspace.com/3595479.
For those of you who can’t afford the ten odd bucks it costs, we have posted condensed sections of the book at www.jewishsexuality.com. There you will find a mini-library on t’shuva, including the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and the Baal HaTanya’s famous “Letter of T’shuva,” condensed and explained. You’’ll also find Rebbe Nachman’s “Secret of Elul” and an online translation of the famous “Tikun HaKlali” confession. Sexual transgressions, knows as “Pigam HaBrit,” are among the most serious sins, and the jewishsexuality.com website has dozens of articles, written by our holiest Sages, on ways to rectify past errors and begin anew on a healthier, holier path. For people who are prone to Internet temptations, the site offers a free download pamphlet that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner highly recommends to every teenager, parent, adult, teacher and rabbi.
As Rabbi Kook writes:
“With each passing day, powered by the lofty light of t’shuva, the penitent’s feeling becomes more secure, clearer, more enlightened with the radiance of sharpened intellect, and more clarified according to the foundations of Torah. His demeanor becomes brighter, his anger subsides, the light of grace shines on him. He becomes filled with strength; his eyes are filled with a holy fire; his heart is completely immersed in springs of pleasure; holiness and purity envelop him. A boundless loves fills all of his spirit; his soul thirsts for G-d, and this very thirst satiates all of his being. The holy spirit rings before him like a bell, and he is informed that all of his willful transgressions, the known and the unknown, have been erased; that he has been reborn as a new being; that all of the world and all of Creation are reborn with him; that all of existence calls out in song, and that the joy of G-d infuses all. Great is t’shuva for it brings healing to the world, and even one individual who repents is forgiven, and the whole world is forgiven with him.”