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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.
The Torah portion, “Bechukotai,” is known as the portion of rebuke. The portion begins with the Almighty’s promise that if the Jews observe the commandments of the Torah, then prosperity, blessing, and peace will be their joyous lot. However, if they turn away from the holy Brit (covenant), G-d warns them that terrible curses and sufferings will be their fate - they will be pursued and ravaged by their enemies and forcibly expelled from the land into exile where they will be relentlessly persecuted and killed:
“But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all of these commandments, and if you shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that you will not do all of the commandments, but that you break My Brit, I also will do this to you: I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that shall consume thy eyes, and cause sorrow of heart, and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it…. And if you will not be admonished by Me as a result of these things, but you will walk in contrariness (keri) to me, then I will also walk contrary to you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge My Brit; and when you are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy...” (Vayikra, Behukotai, 26:14-25).
The saintly Tzaddik and holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera, grandfather of the holy Baba Sali, explains this entire Torah portion as referring to sexual transgression, known as blemishes of the Brit:
“As is known, someone who blemishes the holy Brit, even though he observes all of the Torah, his doings are for naught. As the holy Zohar writes, a person who does not have fear of sin in matters of the Brit, has no fear of G-d in anything he does. This is because his body which performs the commandments is blemished. Thus, everything which he does is blemished.
“According to the holy Zohar, the verse: ‘Be afraid of the sword, for wrath over sins brings the sword’ (Iyov, 19:20) refers to this. Both the Rishonim (early rabbinical authorities) and Achronim (later rabbinical authorities) have stated that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through pestilence, the sword, or famine result from transgressions to the Brit.
“And whatever mitzvot and good deeds that a person does, as long as his Brit is blemished, it all goes to the Other Side (the forces of evil), may G-d have mercy.
“Whoever blemishes the holy Brit is considered to have been false to the seal of the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He. This is the meaning of ‘We have not been false to your Brit.’
“Therefore, a person who comes to serve G-d should first rectify any blemish to the Brit in the proper fashion, and afterward begin to serve G-d.
“For the matter of transgressing the Brit, and all of the sufferings that stem from this, is referred in this rebuke (in Bechukotai). So that when the verse says: ‘But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all of these commandments, and if you shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that you will not do all of the commandments, but that you break My Brit...,’ it does not mean to say that they do not do any of the precepts, or that they do not occupy themselves with Torah; but rather, they do occupy themselves with Torah, and they do perform the commandments, but the main thing is missing, for the Brit, which is the principle matter, is blemished and has not be rectified. Since the Brit is blemished and has not been rectified, everything is canceled and considered naught.
“Therefore, whoever desires to do t’shuva, let him first rectify blemishes to the Brit, and after that the things he does to please G-d will succeed.”
(From the book, “Abir Yaacov,” section, Pitochei Chotam; Bechukotai)
One of the things that most blemishes the Brit is improper Internet viewing habits. From the letters we receive at jewishsexuality.com, it is clear that no one is safe from this danger - adults, teenagers, children, teachers, and rabbis.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank readers who sent donations toward the printing and free distribution of the Hebrew “Shmirat HaBrit” pamphlet in Israel to soldiers, yeshiva students, youth groups, high school students, and educators. Many prominent rabbis have enthusiastically endorsed the project. We still need funds to increase our printing and outreach, so I urge everyone to send a donation in order to give Internet victims the tools they need to climb out from the cavern of impurity and addiction into which they have fallen.
Donations can be earmarked for the non-profit Israel charitable organization, “Am K’Lavi” and marked for “The Brit Book.” Please send checks to “The Brit Book” 19 Shoshana Street, Jerusalem, Israel 96149. To receive U.S. tax exemption recognition, donations over $500 should be made out to the Central Fund For Israel and mailed to the above address. May the All Merciful bless you from Zion.
For those of you who haven’t done so already, you can download the English version of the “Shmirat HaBrit” pamphlet at jewishsexuality.com.
On Israel Independence Day, just two weeks before the Six-Day War, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook stood up in the study hall of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and gave an unforgettable speech. Several weeks later, after all of the miraculous events which brought Jerusalem and the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria back into our hands, students remembered with wonder all of the prophetic words which the Rabbi had spoken.
This blog is excerpted from the book, “Torah Eretz Yisrael,” which I had the honor of writing, editing, and publishing with the esteemed Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Hopefully, with G-d’s help, people will soon be able to purchase the book online. Certainly, it is one of the most important Jewish books of our time in setting forth Rabbi Kook’s profound Torah understandings as they relate to our time of Redemption.
Rabbi Kook began his speech to the crowded assembly by recalling the night in November, nineteen years before, when the United Nations voted to partition the Palestine of the British Mandate into a truncated Jewish State. The gentile nations of the world were negotiating in New York on the allocation of Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews. Radios all over Israel were tuned to the broadcast. Suddenly, Rav Kook, said, the announcement came….
The Rosh Yeshiva paused in his speech. His emotion filled the hall. That night nineteen years before, when the announcement had come over the radio, a spontaneous joy had swept over the country. Men, women, and children rushed out of their homes to dance in the streets and celebrate the news that after nearly two thousand years of exile, Israel would have its own State. Yet HaRav Tzvi Yehuda had a different reaction. As he recounted the UN decision, his voice echoed with pain:
“The connection to the Holy Temple,” he began. “The connection to the Kedusha, to holiness, and to the life, and to the soul….”
He couldn’t finish the sentence that spoke of the dividing of Jerusalem. The memory overwhelmed him. He wept as he stood before the students and guests of the Yeshiva, who had come to celebrate Israel Independence Day. The connection to Jerusalem, and to our Holy Land, our life and our soul, had been severed by the decision in New York to partition our Land. Eretz Yisrael, the eternal inheritance of our Forefathers, had been cut into pieces. Portions of the country had been placed into foreign hands. In that hour, when the multitudes were celebrating on the streets of the country, Rav Tzvi Yehuda sat alone in his father’s old room in Jerusalem. Even nineteen years later, the pain of the memory was etched on his face.
“I couldn’t leave the house,” he said. “How heartbroken I was. I couldn’t go out to join the festive celebration on Jaffe Street. I couldn’t take part in the rejoicing.”
“I sat alone. Distressed. It weighed so heavily on me. In those first hours, I couldn’t come to terms with what had happened. The word of Hashem had come to pass – ‘They have divided My Land!’ (Joel, 4:2). With all of my effort and strength, with all of my soul and my spirit and willpower, it was impossible for me to go outside.”
“How could it be that I didn’t go out?” he rhetorically asked.
“THEY DIVIDED MY LAND!” he shouted. The forcefully, he cried out, “WHERE IS OUR HEVRON?! DO WE FORGET THIS?! AND WHERE IS OUR SHECHEM?! DO WE FORGET ABOUT THIS?! AND WHERE IS OUR JERICHO?! DO WE FORGET THIS TOO?! AND WHERE IS OUR OTHER-SIDE OF THE JORDAN?! WHERE IS EACH BLOCK OF OUR EARTH?! EACH PART AND PARCEL OF HASHEM’S LAND?!”
“IS IT IN OUR HANDS TO RELINQUISH ANY MILLIMETER OF THIS?!” he shouted, and answered, “G-D FORBID!”
Everyone in the Yeshiva was silent. People had gathered to celebrate our Independence, but Rav Tzvi Yehuda wanted everyone to know and to feel that our triumph was still incomplete.
“And so I couldn’t go out to the street,” Rav Kook continued. “I couldn’t in this situation, when I was so utterly wounded, when I was so cut to pieces. THEY DIVIDED MY LAND!”
“THEY DIVIDED THE LAND OF HASHEM! Because of political considerations!”
“I couldn’t go out and dance and be merry, the way we dance and are joyous today. That was the way it was that night, during those hours.”
The Rosh Yeshiva’s anguish over the partitioning of Eretz Yisrael was shared by Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Harlop, a student and close friend of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s father. The day after the UN announcement, he came to visit HaRav Tzvi Yehuda in Rabbi’s Kook’s old house on Jaffa Street. They sat in the same room which Rabbi Kook had used as his study, and huddled together, shattered over what had occurred. Then, finding encouragement in each other, they quoted the verse of Hallel, “This is the L-rd’s doing; it is wondrous in our eyes.” Only then, Rav Tzvi Yehuda told the crowd, did he find the strength to go out to the nation.
“That first night, I didn’t go out to dance in the streets, because I felt that I, like the Land of Israel, had been cut into pieces and wounded in my heart. But afterward, with faith in Hashem, I knew that we would overcome the difficulties. I began to go out each year to dance on Yom Haatzmaut – out of recognition of Hashem’s Providence, which is active in all of the events of our time.”
Rav Kook’s love for Hashem caused him to mourn the tragic state of affairs that not all of the nation celebrated the day as a holiday, nor recognized the miracles which the Almighty had performed for us in gathering our exiles back to Zion and leading us to renewed sovereignty in our Land.
“In the early years of the State, I used to go out and wander about the streets of Jerusalem for several hours to be with the joyous nation, the multitudes of young men and women. I saw this as a mitzvah, as an obligation, as it says, ‘Let Israel rejoice in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King,’ (Tehillim, 149:2). To my sadness, each time, I was filled with regret by something which borders on a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d. The Elders, the Gedolei Torah, they didn’t appear. Why weren’t they out on the streets of Jerusalem? Each year, how I longed to see them.”
Today, dear blog readers, we can learn from Rav Tzvi Yehuda what our orientation should be toward Israel Independence Day, in light of the disturbing events of our times. Yes, we have problems in Israel, and setbacks, and painful losses, and cause for tears – but we must remember that everything that transpires in our cherished Holy Land is the workings of Hashem, “This is the L-rd’s doing; it is wondrous in our eyes.” Our principle feeling should be joy in our Statehood and thanks to the Almighty for bringing it to pass after an exile of 2000 years.
As HaRav Tzvi Yehuda said:
“Our joy on this day is the joy of a mitzvah. We have merited to sanctify Hashem’s Name in the Land. We have merited to fulfill the Torah commandment of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael, as taught by the Ramban, through his own example of aliyah to live in Israel, and through his halachic ruling that dwelling in Israel is a positive commandment of the Torah – that this Land be in our hands, in a national sense, and not in the hands of any other nation.”
“It is true that there are shortcomings, and matters which have to be changed. We don’t hide our eyes from the things which need to be improved. This is not to be questioned. Rather, we expect that as the years pass, the problems will be solved.”
Rav Kook reminded his students of one of the Rambam’s principles of faith regarding the Mashiach: “Even though his coming is delayed, even with all this, I will wait for him.”
“We have faith,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda said, “even with all of the problems that his coming involves. “For there is no doubt that the problems will all be healed in the perpetual process of perfecting the souls of our nation.”
“The intrinsic value of the State of Israel is not dependent on the number of Orthodox Jews who live here. Of course, our aspiration is that all of our people will embrace the Torah and its mitzvot. However, the Statehood of Israel is holy, whatever religious level it has. Anyone who refuses to recognize that State of Israel does not recognize the return of the Divine Presence to Zion.”
Only a child expects his desires to be fulfilled at once. Rav Kook emphasized that the Redemption of the Jewish Nation was a gigantic, world historic undertaking of colossal dimensions, which unfolds “Little by little, like the dawning of the sun” (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot, 1:1).
“Patience,” he said, “is not surrender. True patience, the patience of holiness, is bind to the call for perfection. There is no contradiction between the drive for perfection, in all of its force, with patience which understands that perfection is achieved in gradual stages, from year to passing year.”
The Talmud asserts that the Land of Israel is acquired through suffering (Berachot 20A). Difficulties, wars, advances and setbacks are all a part of G-d’s plan. Our Sages compare the Redemption of Israel to a gazelle bounding over a mountainside. Sometimes the gazelle leaps into sight, and other times it seems to vanish, until it leaps into view once again
“The setbacks we face are temporary,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda assured. “All steps backwards are transitory and passing. Just as there are stages in everything, there are stages of conquering the Land of Israel. Advances sometimes come in hidden stages. But these are only temporary delays. One shouldn’t be juvenile. One must look at the global upheaval involved in bringing us back to our Land and recognize the Divine unfolding of, ‘When the L-rd brought the exiles to Zion’ (Tehillim, 126:1). Because of its staggering scale, the process naturally undergoes difficulties and problems. The greater a thing is, the more complicated it is. The unfolding of our Redemption is a historical event of colossal proportions. Anything which stands in the way of our inexorable march to fulfillment is merely a brief delay of, ‘His anger is only a moment’ (Tehillim, 30:6). All of the disturbances are trivialities which have no lasting substance in this sweeping historical process. It is true that there are occasionally difficult and trying situations, but we shall overcome. The actions of the gentiles, or of the superficially thinking Jews, which oppose this Divine historic plan, carry no weight whatsoever. These become null and void in the light of the Torah and Hashem’s Providence over His people.”
So don’t worry. Be happy!
Happy Yom Haazmaut!
Anyone who says that he doesn’t look at improper things on the Internet is either a genuine holy tzaddik, or not telling the truth. I’m not talking about INN readers, of course, but about your run-of-the-mill Internet surfer. You don’t have to have Divine Inspiration to realize the sad state of affairs. There are plenty of studies that show that from 70 to 90 percent of men on the Internet are spending regular portions of their computer sessions watching all kinds of erotic material.
This Shabbat’s Torah portion of “Kedoshim” begins: “And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the L-rd your G-d am holy” (Varikra, 19:4).
Rashi explains that “you shall be holy” means “to be removed from sexual immorality and from sexual sin, for wherever you find a fence against sexual immorality, you find holiness.”
The commandment, “You shall not stray after your heart and your eyes,” includes not only hardcore porn, but also all those wholesome looking bikini girls, fashion models, Hollywood celebs, youtube babes, and all the other sugar-coated smut you can find all over the Internet.
Therefore, in order to help yourselves be holy and removed from sexual transgression, download a solid Internet filter and give someone else the code. Also, if you haven’t already downloaded the pamphlet “Shmirat HaBrit,” posted on the jewishsexuality.com site, then do it before Shabbat, and send the link to all of your friends.
The Torah’s warning, and Rashi’s explanation, holds true not only for Internet viewing, but also for marital relations.
Today marks eleven months since the death of the Torah giant, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, may his memory be for a blessing. Special learning and prayers were held all last night in his synagogue in Kiryat Moshe. His halachic treatise, “Darkei Taharah,” explains the laws regarding marital relations (translated on the jewishsexuality.com site.) On the Torah’s injunction “Be holy!” he writes:
“This holiness is expressed not only by distancing yourselves from forbidden relationships, but also in distancing yourselves from things that are permitted. For the Torah has not come to grant those driven with lust the room to wallow in their lechery and to be degenerate with the permission of the Torah” (“Darkei Taharah,” Laws of Modesty, Pg. 178).
Rabbi Eliahu continues:
“However, someone who does not need to have relations in order to quiet an aroused sexual passion, since his urge is not pressing him, but rather purposefully arouses his desire and excitement just to fill himself with the lusts of this world, then his behavior is not a mitzvah. The opposite – this is the counseling of the evil inclination. From the permitted he comes to the forbidden, as it says, ‘Whoever purposefully arouses his sexual organ to excitement will be banished’ (Niddah 13A). This resembles a man who is satiated, but nevertheless eats and drinks in abundance until he is drunk and vomits up what he ate.... Thus a man must strengthen himself, and overcome his passions, and battle to save himself by subduing his lusts, so that his soul will reign over his animal nature which knows no limits in seeking to fulfill its lusts” (Ibid., Pg. 182).
Our holiness is what distinguishes the Jewish People from the rest of the world – precisely in these matters.
Just as every serious Jew exerts himself to pray three times a day, keep kosher, and guard the laws of family purity, he should certainly also strive to perform the all-encompassing mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael. True, packing up one's family and one's belongings, and moving to the Land of Israel is a mitzvah of gigantic proportions, dwarfing all other mitzvot, but the capability of raising ourselves to this exalted level of Emunah (faith in G-d) is our genetic heritage from our forefather, Avraham, who was commanded by G-d to leave his country, his homeland, and his father's house, and journey to the Holy Land, the only place on the globe where the nation of Israel can fulfill its Divine mission of bringing the word of G-d to the world, as the Prophet declares, “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.”
Rabbi Kook taught that it was not an accident that when the Jews left Egypt, before entering the Land of Israel, they had to kill the King of Heshbone. The Hebrew word "Heshbone" means to make an accounting. Rabbi Kook said that in order for a Jew to come to Israel to live, he first must kill all of his accountings, deliberations, reasonings, and worries, whether about learning a new language, or making a living, or serving in the army, and simply come with a firm faith in G-d.
When someone wrote Rabbi Kook, asking if it was a mitzvah to settle in Israel, Rabbi Kook answered, "I am amazed at the question. How can one possibly have a doubt about this fundamental principle? We plainly see throughout all of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Oral Torah, the immeasurable devotion to Eretz Yisrael, to its settlement, its acquisition, and its building. Rabbi Kook continued his lengthy 24-page response by citing hundreds of verses from the Torah, Scriptures, and the Talmud expressing the Jewish People's eternal bond and commitment to Eretz Yisrael ("Hazone HaGeula," Pgs. 10-34).
The Torah giant, the Ramban (Nachmonides) writes that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel is a positive mitzvah of the 613 commandments of the Torah. He explains that we are commanded with two duties: first, to possess the Land through conquest, and secondly, to dwell in the Land:
"We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaacov; and not to abandon it to any other nation, or to leave it desolate, as He said to them, ‘You shall dispossess the inhabitants of the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to possess it' (Bamidbar, 33:53), and He said further, ‘To inherit the Land which I swore to your forefathers,' behold, we are commanded with the conquest of the Land in every generation" (Ramban, Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Mitzvah #4).
The Ramban continues: "In my opinion, this is a positive commandment of the Torah, decreeing that they should dwell in the Land and possess it, because it was given to them, and they should not despise the inheritance of Hashem. And the proof that this is a commandment is this: They were told to go up (to the Land) in the matter of the Spies, ‘Go up and conquer as the L-rd has said to you. Don't fear and don't be discouraged.' And it further says, ‘And when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and possess the Land which I have given to you.' And when they didn't go up, the Torah says, ‘And you rebelled against the word of G-d, and you did not believe in me and did not listen to My command'" (Devarim, 9:23. Ramban, ibid).
This ruling was confirmed by all of the early (Rishonim) and later halachic authorities (Achronim) as set forth in the "Pitchei T'shuva," Even HaEzer, Section 75, Sub-section 6.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen would often explain that the Ramban clearly determines that conquering and living in the Land of Israel is the milchemet mitzvah of the Torah. This precept continues in every generation, and the Ramban emphasizes this three times in his "Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam," Positive Commandment #4:
"This is what our Sages called "milchemet mitzvah"...and don't err and say that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations...This isn't so...This Land is not to be left in their hands, or in the hands of any other nation, in any generation whatsoever."
"Behold we were commanded with conquest in every generation."
"This is a positive commandment which applies in every time."
The Ramban also emphasized that the commandments only reach their full value when performed in Eretz Yisrael, saying, "The essence of all of the precepts is that they be performed in the Land of Hashem" (Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra, 18:25).
So central is the Land of Israel to the true and proper observance of the Torah that Jewish Law rules concerning a husband and wife living in the Diaspora, that if the wife wants to move to Israel and the husband does not, then the Jewish Court forces him to grant her a divorce and give her full divorce payment as set forth in their Ketubah marriage contract. If he wants to go on Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and she does not, then she must agree to a divorce with no Ketubah payment (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 85:3).
In summary, as Rabbi Elazar Azkari writes in the "Sefer Haredim,"
"Every Jew must cherish the Land of Israel and flock to her with a great yearning from the far corners of the earth, as a child rushes to his mother's embrace, for our initial transgression, which caused us tears of tribulation for generation upon generation, was in our rejecting the Land, as it says (of the Spies and the generation of the Wilderness), 'They despised the pleasant Land'" (Tehillim, 106:24).
Since we’re right in the middle of the Pesach exodus drama, approaching the Red Sea on our way to Israel, we can ask the question - why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in Egypt where they were?
In fact, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? What did they lack?
In their eyes, it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!
And so, we ask the question they asked - what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frummer Jews.
Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Hashem wanted to teach them. Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Moshe was talking about, a Torah that, in addition to keeping kosher, included serving in the Israeli army, and going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws like bringing the Omer, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Because Hashem doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build other people’s lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building THEIR OWN LAND – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel. Hashem wants His People to serve Him as a JEWISH NATION, in its own JEWISH HOMELAND, and not as scattered individuals and communities around the world interspersed amongst the goyim. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be good frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the NATION OF ISRAEL in the LAND OF ISRAEL because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can.
That’s the meaning of Pesach. Hashem chose us to be His Holy NATION, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, in order to bring us to His Holy Land.
Is that so hard to understand?