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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Av 4, 5771, 8/4/2011
I am writing this diary of my ascent to Eretz Yisrael at the request of a person who has given me the gift of moments of laughter, at times when I have needed them the most. And whose writings have given me the fortitude to deal with the 800 pound Gorilla of Galut that was riding on my back until I finally told it goodbye and came home.
There have been many days over the past several years, on which I have been prepared to let go of the battle that raged within. To go or not to go, that is the question. To stay with my daughter in exile (I am now divorced coming up on two years and my daughter is 14), or to come home, with the prayer that one day she too will find her path to the One source of all truth. I left the Exile, knowing that if I were to remain in Canada, then Eretz Yisrael and Judaism would never be the center of my daughter’s life. RebTzvi, your encouragement has provided the courage to be sitting here today, in Jerusalem, with a Teudat Oleh nestled safely in my back pack. You and Rav Moshe Kaplan never gave up on me, even though there were times I had given up on myself.
And thank you for letting me come over for Shabbat. I know that being my age (52) and without family here, there will be times that I will be by myself ….I just wasn't emotionally ready to do so this week.
And now to my thoughts on my entry into our land….
To those who are contemplating the path of Aliyah, there is no finer group of people to work with than those who make Nefesh Be'Nefesh the outstanding organization that it is. My case was far from simple, as I had been a temporary Israeli resident in the mid 1980's, while I was studying at the wonderful Machon Meir Yehiva. NBN guided me through all the necessary steps to ensure a smooth entry home.
My travels began on the Eighth of Tamuz (July 10th). After saying goodbye to my backwoods Canadian town, I drove to Vancouver and flew to New York. NBN was already preparing for the 1:30pm flight that was now only a few hours away. I was already undergoing my first mind-altering moment. For in those first few minutes of being with the other passengers of El Al flight 0034, I was with more Jews than I had been over the past 26 years.
There was the usual luggage check in and document authentication. After a brief ceremony and final farewells to family and friends, we boarded the plane. I do not for a moment minimize the sadness felt by those staying behind. But it has fallen upon us to begin this new chapter in the book of our nation's history. At every moment of every day, the voice of HaShem calls out "Lech Lecha"…we who are coming Home, are those who have been able to hear these words in the breezes that blow from one end of Creation to the other.
The flight itself had all of the typical "dangers of the road" familiar to immigrants to Israel - but of a different type than the pioneers who had come before us….three Glatt Kosher meals, a television built into the seat in front of you with 32 channels , 10 washrooms, air conditioning, and at least 12 cabinet attendants. Pretty tough journey!
Oh yes. I forgot to mention that Nefesh Be'Nefesh handled all of the necessary forms and passports for immigration officials. I might have injured my fingers otherwise. That was a close call!
Seriously, the aliyah process couldn’t be easier with NBN handling all the paperwork. Not to mention the free ticket.
Having watched the video of NBN flights many times over, I thought that the official "greeters" and soldiers (chayalim and chayalot) waving tiny Israeli flags would not have an affect on my emotions. Big mistake! It was one of the most overwhelming experiences in my life! Three weeks later I still find myself tearing up when I think of it.
Because these soldiers, these government officials, they are mine (and yours) and they are Jewish. Not like the boys of the Canadian Mounties and your average New York cop. And please don't come back at me with "The State of Israel uses these young men and women in ways that are negative to Torah Judaism". Less than 80 years ago, we were hunted down and slaughtered across the European countryside, with no one to protect us. THANK GOD for Medinat Yisrael and Tzahal! And by the by, if you don't like the way things are run here, put down your remote control, stop worrying if the NFL will have a season, and bring your body over here. That way it can join up with its Neshama. Stop hiding behind your computer screen. If you want to change something, then come here and do it. And stop supporting a country that wishes Israel would go back to the 1867 borders…..when there was no State of Jews at all.
And while we are on the topic of American politics, can you please possibly explain for me why 60 to 70% of the American Jewish community continues to poll support for Obama? Never mind his policies…..how can you support a man who did not allow Jonathan Pollard out of imprisonment to visit his Father before he died, and then kept him from attending his funeral? "Your" president is a soul-less individual and mean spirited to boot. Shame on you for your continued support of such a person. And while we are here, your financial support of Israel amounts to one day of our GDP. The simple fact of the matter is that the communities in the "chosen" diaspora are becoming rapidly less relevant to the Nation of Israel living in Eretz Yisrael. And you are building castles made out of sand.
It may not even take 2 generations to see assimilation go past the point of no return. Intermarriage in western Canada is pegged at 75% and that is a conservative estimation. Out of the 6 million Jews in America, it is known that over 50% are not halachic Jews. By choosing to stay attached to your more affluent life in Exile, you are responsible for, and are finishing the process, that began with the extermination of your relatives in the slaughterhouses of Europe. It either is important to you, or it isn't.
Back to the welcome at the airport…..we were ushered into Terminal Three that had been transformed into a reception area, complete with refreshments, and yes, with politicians. Several gave the typical welcoming speech, how happy they were that we had chosen to come home. And then former Prisoner of Zion, Anatoly Scharansky took the mike….his words I will never forget. As he looked out at us, this is what he said…. "You people, sitting here, are the answer to those who had attempted to stage "fly-ins" in solidarity with the flotillas and disrupt the Ben Gurion airport in previous days." And he was right. WE are the answer to the Obama's and the Mullahs and the Pope's of the world, all of whom would prefer to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning to an Israeli-less Middle East. So my question to you is, as one Jew to another, what are you doing to prevent their deepest desires? And what will you tell your children when they ask you? More importantly, where will you be living when you tell them?
While in Canada, I had arranged for a one year rental of a 2 room apartment in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Yershalayim. As it was totally unfurnished, I spent the first few days "schlepping" around the area purchasing bedroom furniture and appliances. Having been forewarned of Israelis lack of service politeness and general attitude problems towards newcomers, I came "armed"…..which as it turns out, was so totally unnecessary. Since arriving, there is not one negative experience that I am able to speak of. The furniture store owner not only gave me sizable discounts on my purchased items, he gave me , as a welcome present, free bedding, sheets, comforter, and pillows. Not only that, but he pulled strings and had everything delivered and set up the next day so that I would not have to spend more money on a hotel.
He then directed me to another store for appliance purchases, where again the same level of service and friendliness was on display. Discounts were given, and service technicians were ordered for the very next day (something unheard of in Israel) as I was rapidly running out of clean clothes and needed a washing machine. Baby, it is HOT outside! I came from 19 degrees and rain showers to 35 degrees and no breeze. But that is summer here….not really different from the Eastern US…..but very different for someone from Canada….but this way, I will sweat out more "tumah" of the Exile in a more rapid manner, which can only be for the best.
Everyone warned me of the banks here and their indifference to olim. I don't know where you all are getting you “bubba mises” misinformation from, but you should stop!
The people I have had the PLEASURE of working with at Bank Hapoalim (especially Amira at the Givat Shaul branch) have been more service oriented than those I have dealt with both in the US and Canada. The Welcome Mat is truly rolled out here.
On several occasions, grocery store clerks have taken me on individual tours showing me where everything is, and then seeking me out later to see if I had found what I needed.
I have now been here for three weeks. I have experienced a few hiccups, but that is expected whenever one moves to a new country. But NONE of the warnings of Israeli ineptitude, poor attitude,or indifference, have crossed my path. Maybe they will someday, maybe they won't. The only thing I know for sure is that I am Home. I always knew my Neshama was here. My aliyah simply brought my body over to join up with it.
As Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (Chabad) writes "One who really cares, is not placated by the fact that he has a good excuse. If the goal was not achieved, it was simply not achieved---regardless of the excuse. "
So what's your good excuse for not making aliyah? Do you really care about your Jewish identity and the future of your kids?
Anyway, Baruch Hashem, I’m here.
Av 3, 5771, 8/3/2011
Yesterday, I spoke with an old friend from the States. He lives a half-and-half, Modern Orthodox life, half in Judaism, and half in the secular American culture around him. Shabbos is Shabbos, with all the trimmings, but come Motzei Shabbos, he drives to the cinema to catch the latest movie. For years, I’ve been pushing the virtues of a true Jewish life in Israel, but he always has one excuse or another why he can’t come.
Yesterday, he said, “Look, I know that aliyah is a mitzvah. It’s probably the biggest mitzvah there is. Everything your opponents write on your blog against living in Israel is a lot of hot air. Instead of just admitting that coming on aliyah is just too big an undertaking for them, they come up with a lot of excuses, blaming Israel, but they know as well as everyone else that living in Israel is the real thing for a Jew. Most of us, like me, are stuck here. Mentally, financially, culturally. I’m not a pioneer, willing to leave everything behind and start my life anew. Besides, my wife isn’t interested at all. That’s the way it is with most of us. We try to make the best of it, supporting our Jewish communities here, and doing whatever we can to help Israel. In an ideal absolute sense, what you write is true, but it just isn’t practical for most of us.”
I was moved by his honesty. Of course I realize that aliyah is a gigantic undertaking – precisely because it’s the greatest, all-encompassing mitzvah there is. And because it’s the most important mitzvah, the yetzer hara works overtime to prevent Jews from performing it, pulling the wool over their eyes in a thousand different ways, convincing them that all of their arguments are correct.
In last week’s Torah portion, it says, “And you shall conquer the Land and dwell in it, for I have given you the Land to possess it” (Bamidbar, 33:53). This is a commandment of the Torah as the Ramban makes clear in his commentary on the Torah: “This is a positive commandment, enjoining that they dwell in the land and possess it, because it was given to them, and that they should not despise the inheritance of Hashem…. Here we are commanded with this mitzvah, for this verse is a positive command” (there). Elsewhere, the Ramban states, “Behold we are commanded with the fulfillment of this mitzvah in every generation.”
As I have said, I realize that aliyah is a hard and very demanding mitzvah. For those people who would like to come, but simply cannot for whatever valid reason, their situation prevents them. But that does not mean pretending it isn’t a mitzvah to ease their consciences. Living in Israel remains a mitzvah. It’s simply a mitzvah that they are not able to do.
But for all those who can come, but don’t, especially our young people in the foreign lands of galut, rejecting aliyah is a tragic mistake. These unfortunate souls are victims of all sorts of mistaken views and of the people who expound them. Even for those who insist that there is no obligation from the Torah to come on aliyah today, living in Israel is still a mitzvah, and there is no rabbi in the world who will say otherwise. And certainly, everyone who wants to please Hashem and observe all of the mitzvot as best as he can, will do all he can with the means at his disposal to come on aliyah too. After all, this is the meaning of a “Hasid,” as the book “Mesillat Yesharim” explains on the trait of Hasidut/Saintliness:
“The root of Saintliness is epitomized in the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Berachoth 17a), "Fortunate is the man whose toil is in Torah and gives pleasure to his Creator." The underlying idea is this: It is known which mitzvot are binding on all of Israel and to what extent one is bound by them. However, one who truly loves the Creator may His Name be blessed, will not endeavor and intend to fulfill his obligations by means of the duty which is acknowledged by all of Israel in general, but will react in very much the same manner as a son who loves his father, who, even if his father gives only a slight indication of desiring something, undertakes to fulfill this desire as completely as he can. And though the father may air his desire only once, and even then, incompletely, it is enough for such a son just to understand the inclination of his father's mind to do for him even what has not been expressly requested. If he can understand by himself what will bring pleasure to his father, he will not wait to be commanded more explicitly or to be told a second time.
“We notice at all periods and at all times, between all lovers and friends - between a man and his wife, between a father and his son, in fine, between all those who are bound with a love which is truly strong -that the lover will not say, ‘I have not been commanded further. What I have been told to do explicitly is enough for me.’ He will rather attempt, by analyzing the commands, to arrive at the intention of the commander and to do what he judges will give him pleasure. The same holds true for one who strongly loves his Creator; for he, too, is one of the class of lovers. The mitzvot, whose behests are clear and widely known, will serve as an indication to him of the will and desire of the Blessed One. He will not say, ‘What has been explicitly stated is enough for me,’ or ‘In any event I will discharge my obligations by doing what is incumbent upon me.’ To the contrary, he will say, ‘Since I have seen that God's desire inclines towards this, I will use it as a sign to do as much as I can in relation to it and to extend it into as many areas as I can envisage the Blessed One's desiring its being extended into.’ Such a man may be called ‘one who gives pleasure to his Creator.’
“Saintliness, then, is a comprehensive performance of all the mitzvot, embracing all of the relevant areas and conditions within the realm of possibility” (Chapter Nineteen).
While living in Israel is a Torah commandment, even for those who say otherwise, someone who wants to be saintly in his service of G-d will surely do everything he can to come here.
Tammuz 26, 5771, 7/28/2011
We are in the “Three Weeks” period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day marking the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. During these three weeks, certain customs of mourning are observed to emphasize our great sorrow. For instance, weddings are not conducted, and listening to happy music, dancing, and playing musical instruments are not allowed. There is one thing, though, that you could call a break, and that is the recital of Tikun Hatzot, the “Midnight Lamentation,” can now be said in the afternoon before Mincha. For people who find it difficult to recite the Tikun Hatzot supplications late at night when they are tired, this is a chance to recite this very powerful rectification with all of one’s concentration and feeling.
Many people think that Tikun Hatzot is something for Hasidim and mystics, but the practice is mentioned on the very first pages of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura. “If one is able to rise at midnight and perform the midnight service, there is nothing more praiseworthy than this, as it says, ‘Rise, cry out, in the night at the beginning of the watches, pour out thy heart like water before the presence of the L-rd’” (Lamentations, 2:19). Our Sages tell us that at this time, G-d says, “Woe to My children on account of whose iniquity I destroyed My House, burnt My Temple, and exiled My children amongst the nations” (Berachot 3A).
It is the time when the Divine Presence (the Shechinah) weeps for having been cast into the exile with Israel. The Zohar compares this to a King who cast his whoring son out from the palace into exile and sent the Queen )the Shechinah) along with him to guard him throughout his wanderings. How painful it is for the Queen to be sullied in the foreign impure lands where she must remain with her son until he returns to the palace. So at midnight, we sit on the floor (some don sack cloths), and cry out over the pain of the Shechinah in exile, over the disgraced and exiled Jews, over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. Our Sages ordered the prayers to instruct us how we should feel in our outcast humiliation, exiles from our Land, dispersed amongst the goyim:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim 137).
America is a foreign land. Canada is a foreign land. England is a foreign. A Jew in America and Canada and England and France and Australia and South Africa is supposed to feel the terrible pain and disgrace of his ignominious and ignoble situation.
How much agony and anguish we are to feel over the exile! We are to feel pain for the disgrace of the Shechinah. Pain for the disgrace of the Jews in exile in foreign lands. We read the verses that our Sages composed and we cry. Shattered by our fallen condition in exile, outcast from our Land, and with hearts burning in shame for G-d, who is mocked by the goyim who say, “These are G-d’s children and they are cast out of his Land,” as if G-d doesn’t have the power to keep his promise to Israel to safe keep them in their Land. So our Sages instruct us to pray for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, so that the honor of G-d will be restored in the world and the terrible Chillul Hashem of galut be erased.
For make no mistake about it – the exile is the greatest desecration of G-d that there is.
It is not easy to feel this deep pain and shed real tears, day after day, when saying Tikun Hatzot. After all, the destruction of Jerusalem happened almost 2000 years ago, and for someone who lives in Israel, with the Kotel only a short ride away, and Jerusalem wondrously rebuilt, and with the ingathering of millions of exiles a present-day reality, and a thriving Jewish State once again sovereign in the Land, it is difficult to enter the mind set necessary to feel the pain of the Shechinah in exile.
So to help me feel the terrible loss and disgrace, I look at pictures. I look at pictures of Ishmaelites turning their butts toward the site of the Temple as they pray facing Mecca. I look at pictures of New York, and Toronto, and Miami Beach, and Paris, and London. I imagine the Jews there, my brothers and sisters, and I cry over their exile from Israel, over their captivity amongst the goyim, over their shame and disgrace. “These are G-d’s children and they are cast out of his Land!” I cry bitter tears when I think about my fellow Jews in exile. I cry over their darkness and the tragedy that so many are oblivious to their abominable situation and to the terrible agony and shame of the Shechinah who has been cast into exile with them. When I look at the pictures of New York and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, London and Antwerp, I cry and pray with all my heart that G-d open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, so that they will yearn to return home to the palace, so that the Shechinah may find comfort once again with the King, and Rachel find solace in the return of her children to their borders.
May the day come speedily, O Father, that you open our eyes and give us new hearts to feel our terrible shame and disgrace of our exile, that we return to our own Holy Land, wipe out all those who rise up against us, and rebuild Your Holy Dwelling Place that You destroyed because of our sins.
Tammuz 25, 5771, 7/27/2011
Dear Richard, thank you for your question. While I believe we spoke about this topic in former blogs, a review is always welcome for new readers and to deepen our basic understandings.
“In our prayers, we ask Hashem to gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth. Doesn't this imply that Hashem will do the gathering Himself and that we are to stay in galut until He brings us to Israel? That's what some learned people in Toronto have told me when I asked.”
We begin the Shemoneh Esreh prayer by saying, “L-rd, open Thou my lips, that my mouth may declare Thy praise.”
Obviously, we don’t stand still and wait for G-d to open our lips so that we can pray. We do it ourselves. While we understand that the power to speak comes from G-d, we realize that He gave us the ability to do so on our own. So we pray without waiting for Him to move our lips like a ventriloquist operating a puppet.
Here’s another example. Also in the Shemonah Esreh, we ask G-d to grant us knowledge, understanding and insight. Once again, to attain this, we don’t just sit around and wait for G-d to miraculously put a encyclopedia computer chip into our brain – we go to yeshiva, open Talmudic texts and study.
Next, we call upon G-d to return us to Him in repentance. Once again, we are to do the work. Our Sages have set down guidelines how we can return to G-d in repentance, and we are to follow their concrete teachings.
We also ask G-d to heal our illnesses and wounds. Everyone understands that we are not just to pray for health, but to actually go to the doctor and do everything we can to find the right medical treatments for our problems, trusting that G-d will help bring them to pass since all healing is His and He gives physicians and medicines the ability to heal.
The same holds true for eating and making a living. We ask G-d to grant us sustenance, but we do the hard work of planting vegetables and harvesting them, and going to work at our jobs to make a living, and actually putting food into our mouths without waiting for G-d to miraculously fill up our bellies.
All of these examples are clear and self evident. But then something happens. Suddenly, when we get to the request for deliverance from the exile, some people forget everything they know and expect G-d to do all the work. Instead of calling up Nefesh B’Nefesh for a free ticket, or simply buying a ticket to Israel ourselves, packing up our belongings and saying goodbye to galut, some of us expect G-d to send a flying carpet and whisk us miraculously to Israel like in a Walt Disney movie for kids.
Suddenly people, even learned people, are blinded by the light. They become deaf and don’t hear that the “great shofar for our freedom” has already been sounded by G-d via Medinat Yisrael. They don’t see that the “banner to bring our exiles together” is the blue-and-white flag of Israel. They don’t see that G-d has already gathered millions of our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth by His down-to-earth vessels of the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh, and the aliyah of Jews from all over the world, some by boat, some by plane, others by foot across scorching deserts. All of the olim in Israel today heard this great shofar and came.
So, Richard, why trouble G-d to do all the work Himself in a miraculous fashion with flying carpets and waves of His magical wand? He’s already gathering the exiles home to Zion. He has been doing it, in the down-to-earth way that He has chosen, for the last hundred years. G-d can do anything He wants. He doesn’t need Mashiach to bring us home. Just open your eyes and look. It’s happening! Mashiach isn’t just our long awaited king, may he come soon. Mashiach is a Divine historical process that is happening now with the rebuilding of the Jewish Nation in Israel! Like we say, “the DAYS of Mashiach,” and “TWO THOUSAND YEARS of Mashiach.” That time is happening now!
That’s the meaning of the Shemonah Esreh prayer: “May our eyes behold Thy return in mercy to Zion.” G-d has been restoring His Divine Presence to Zion for the last 100 years.
Richard, you don’t have to wait for Mashiach to come home to Israel. G-d isn’t waiting to bring us home. Why should you?
Tammuz 24, 5771, 7/26/2011
Last night I took my youngest kids to the beach for a picnic. At that hour, you beat the heat and the bikinis. Around the fire, I told them a little about Greece and Rome across the sea. I told them how America was the continuation of the empire of Rome and how terrible I had felt growing up in a gentile land. When I started to roll in the sand, they asked me what I was doing. So I told them about some of our great Talmudic Sages. The Gemara relates that when Rabbi Abba would reach the border of Eretz Yisrael, he would kiss its stones, due to his tremendous love for the Land (Ketubot 112A and B). Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda, in his great love for the Land, would roll around in its dust to fulfill the verse: “You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for it is time to favor her; for the set time is come. For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Tehillim, 102:14-15).
So they rolled in the sand alongside me. Then we all jumped into the cool ocean waves for a refreshing mikvah. Rolling in the dust of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah, as the Rambam writes: “The great Torah scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and embrace her stones, and roll in her dust, as the verse says, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10).
I’d post a photo, but my photo poster on the blog still isn’t working.
Then I told them about two great Talmudic Rabbis who were on their way to the Diaspora. When they reached the border of Israel, they broke into tears and declared: “The settling of the Land of Israel is equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avodah Zara 4,3; Sifri, Reah, 53).
On the way back to Jerusalem, when we approached the Ben Gurion Airport, I pulled off to the side of the road. Every time I pass by the airport, I thank G-d that I’m not on one of the planes leaving the Land. I got out of the car, fell down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground. I felt so thankful to be in Israel. My sons didn’t bother to ask what I was doing – they’ve seen me do the same thing many times before. How happy I was when they climbed out of the car and kissed the ground too, just like our Sages of old!