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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.
Nissan 15, 5771, 4/19/2011
It’s so great to be a Jew! We are still in the midst of the fantastic high of Pesach and we are already gearing up for the next great high of Shavuot – and the giving of the Torah. So let's take a look at Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer). Like all of the other commandments, Sefirat HaOmer is loaded with Kabbalistic significance. Without the Kabbalah, we would not know what we were doing when we put on tefillin, wave the lulav, or blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Yes, there are simple explanations, but someone who only familiarizes himself with pashat, or simple understandings, resembles a swimmer who is afraid to put on a mask and stick his face in the water. If you tell him there is a whole beautiful, marine world below the surface, teeming with all forms of life, he won't believe you because he has never experienced this deeper, inner world for himself.
When it comes to Sefirat HaOmer, look in your prayer books. At least in the major league prayer books in Israel, you will see adjacent to each day of the counting, two mystical words like Hesed of Hesed, Tiferet of Gevorah, or Hod of Tiferet. These words are from the Kabbalistic world of the Sefirot (channels of spiritual blessing).
Each day of the counting, we are called upon to rectify another sefirah. This is an integral part of the process of inner purification that we are to undergo as we approach the holiday of Shavuot. We are not only to mention the day, but also to undertake the detailed, laborious toil of perfecting our character traits and the channels of celestial blessing that are directly parallel to them, just as a marionette puppet is connected to the hand above, or just like the keys of a piano are connected to the chords inside the piano's lid. Each time a key is hit, a different sound is produced. So too, each time we improve a character trait, a channel of blessing is cleansed in the spiritual worlds above, releasing a flow of blessing to our world below.
If this inner process is just some Kabbalistic mumbo jumbo that doesn't exist, as some unfortunate souls have the arrogance to claim, then why is it written in every prayer book, at least in Israel, the following recitation:
"May it be Thy will before You, our L-rd, our G-d, G-d of our Forefathers, that in the merit of Sefirat HaOmer which I counted today, that all the damage I have done to the sefirah of (such and such day) will be rectified, and I will be purified and sanctified by the holiness of the upper world, and through this, a great flow of blessing will go forth to all of the spiritual and physical worlds, and will rectify our physical and emotional drives, our intellectual spirits, and our Divine souls from all of their pollutions and blemishes, and leave us sanctified with Your exalted holiness, Amen, Sela."
Obviously, as Bob Dylan, used to sing: "Something is going on Mr. Jones, and you don't know what it is."
As we have explained in the introduction to the book, “Secret of the Brit,” posted on the jewishsexuality.com website, the spiritual channel of “Yesod” is associated with the holiness of our sexual lives. The Hebrew word “Yesod” means foundation. As we approach the exalted holiness of Shavuot, and the giving of the Torah, now is the time to make an honest appraisal of our sexual lives and to begin to put things in order. Many times, as years go by, we forget the laws we learned in preparation for our wedding. These laws should be relearned since they are the foundation of Jewish life. We should also be honest with ourselves in seeing what “extras” and “frills” we could do away with in the bedroom to insure the sanctity of our relations. Without going into the mystical side of the matter, what goes on in the bedroom, or in a rented hotel room, or in front of a computer, or with the girls in the office, determine the state of our mental and physical health, our livelihood, our marital happiness, and what happens to our children.
The “Nefesh HaChaim” explains that the cautioning of our Sages, דע מה למעלה ממך “Know what is above from you” - the decrees from Above affecting your life – they are all ממך "from you.” How we behave in this world brings down the blessings or their opposite which befall us. Not everything stems from sexual sins. Things like arrogance, anger, and lashon hara can wreak havoc on our lives, but very often, sexual transgressions lay at the root of our problems. During Sefirat HaOmer, when we are called upon to rectify our character traits, setting our Yesod-Foundation in order should be at the top of our list.
Nissan 11, 5771, 4/15/2011
One of the central mitzvot of Seder night is to recount the story of the Exodus to our children, as the Torah commands: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, It is because of this which the L-rd did for me when I went out of Egypt” (Shemot, 13:8). To help us carry out this all-important mitzvah of passing on our heritage to our children, thereby instilling in them the great faith in G-d that is inspired by recounting how He freed us from Egyptian bondage with wonders and miracles, our Sages composed the Haggadah, which we dutifully and joyously recite on Pesach night. We are commanded not only to relate to our children the wondrous events that G-d brought to pass in making us His chosen Nation, but also to incorporate the lessons of the story into our lives.
"This year, I want you all to make aliyah."
What are the lessons of the story that we are to pass on to our children? Certainly, one of the messages is our faith in G-d. Another lesson is our role as His chosen Nation, and out task to teach the world that He and He is along is the one G-d and King of the world. And we are also to teach our children that we can only carry out this Divine mission as a free People in Eretz Yisrael, as it says: “And He brought us out from there that He might bring us in to give us the Land which He swore to forefathers” (Devarim, 6:23).
We are to teach our children that the purpose of the Exodus was to bring us into the Land of Israel, the only place in the world where we can be a free independent Nation, as it says at the very beginning of the Haggadah: “This year we are here (in the exile of Brooklyn, Toronto, and Paris) – next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves (in Brooklyn, Toronto, and Paris) – next year free men (in Eretz Yisrael.)”
On Pesach night, we are to teach our children that our real place is in the Land of Israel, the place where G-d wants us to be, and that the goal of living in Israel should be a pinnacle goal of our lives.
It is our duty as Jewish parents to make this clear to our children. Thus, it behooves the father of the family to explain:
“Children, because of the tragedy of the exile, I am here in Brooklyn, Toronto, Paris, Melbourne, or Mexico City. For 2000 years, the Jewish People longed to return to our homeland, to the Land of Israel, but we lacked the means. Then, when G-d in his great kindness, established the State of Israel, and all Jews could finally return, my parents, your grandfather and grandmother, found it too difficult to pick up all of their belongings and immigrate to Israel, and they raised me as if I were an American, or Canadian, or Frenchmen, and that’s how I grew up. And for me too, when I became of age, I believed America or Canada was my home, and the thought of moving to Israel seemed so impractical, since I would have to learn Hebrew, and serve in the Israeli army, and start all over again in a new profession, and leave my parents behind, and now I’m stuck here in this gentile land, with a mortgage to pay, and your grandparents are getting older, so how can I leave them, and I am too old to find decent work in Israel so that I can send you kids to college and grad school. But I want you to know on this Seder night that the words and teachings of the Haggadah are true – America is not our real place. G-d wants us to be in the Land of Israel. Only there can we be a free Nation. Only there can we truly be ourselves. Only there can we really keep the Torah. So you, my beloved children, while you are still young with all of your lives before you, before you become weighed down by commitments and obligations and bills to pay, I want you to know that your real place is in the Land of Israel. Your mother and I encourage you to build your lives there. We want to help you realize the dream of 2000 years, so that the hope of “Next year in Jerusalem” will become a reality. Don’t worry about us. We will be fine. We will come to visit, and maybe one day, we too will make aliyah. But know without any doubt or question that as Jews your life is in the Land of Israel, and not here in exile. With G-d’s goodness, the time has come when all Jews can return to our homeland, and if, because of whatever circumstances and reasons, your mother and I haven’t been able to merit the supreme mitzvah of carrying out the teachings of Seder night and leaving America to start a new, true Jewish life in Israel, we want you to do it. This year, make “Next year in Jerusalem” a reality. Go. Call Nefesh B”Nefesh. Or just hop on a plane. There are grad schools in Israel. There’s a solid economy. We will be proud to have our son enlist in the Israeli army. Go. That’s where you belong. Go to Israel. Build your lives in the Jewish Land and give your talents to the rebuilding of our Nation, as we have dreamed and prayed for 2000 years.”
This is what every parent should teach his children at the Seder. This is what every rabbi should teach his congregation. This is what every head of every Jewish organization should make as his number one priority, to let the Jews of America, and Canada, and France all know that the time has come to abandon galut and go to the Land of Israel. And if the elders are too ensconced to make a new beginning, they must rise up and tell their children to go in their stead, to break free from the chains of their small egotistical lives in exile to become builders of the Jewish Nation in Israel, just like G-d commanded the Jews of old, and just as our Sages teach us on Seder night – “Next year in Jerusalem!”
This Seder night, teach your children the truth. Pesach Samaoch to all. See you, or at least your children, this year in Jerusalem!
Nissan 9, 5771, 4/13/2011
To me, the prohibition against having chametz in the house on Pesach is absolutely amazing. Because bread and cake crumbs get scattered to all four corners of the home, in order to make sure that the house is chametz free, you have to do a super cleaning job the week preceding the holiday. This forces every Jew to undergo a mini-experience of back breaking work, resembling the “avodat parech” which the Jews were forced to endure in Egypt. Compared to real the bondage of our forefathers, this “virtual” exercise is small, but because it is so tiring, irritating, and seemingly never ending labor, it recreates the Pesach drama of old, and puts us in the mindset to identify with our ancestors, so that we too can experience the feeling of freedom once Seder night begins.
The most important thing is to look out for the biggest chametz of all – anger. Given the hard, painstaking work, and the tiredness and irritation that comes with it (usually do to a person’s pride in thinking that why should such an important person as he, or she, have to do such menial work as cleaning the house for stupid cookie crumbs?) it only takes a small spark to set off a volcanic outburst of anger.
Our Sages have warned us against the terrible consequences of anger. Unlike other sins, which cause a specific blemish to one aspect of ones spiritual blueprint, anger pollutes the entire system. The Zohar explains that when a person gets angry, his Divine soul leaves him, and an animal soul takes its place. This is why people looked like wild beasts when they get angry. Not only does their soul leave them, but all of the mitzvot and Torah learning that they had previously accomplished, all that leaves them also. Even if the person is otherwise a big tzaddik with a great deal of good deeds and Torah learning to his credit, it all leaves him when he gets angry. And unlike other sins that are erased through the spiritual cleansing of repentance, anger is different. Because one’s entire soul has been replaced by an impure imposter, an incredible amount of tshuva is needed to get it back. And if a person is prone to get angry at short intervals, for all kinds of stupid things that rub him, or her, the wrong way, that person will never be able to make any spiritual progress at all, because the anger will always wipe out the good that he’s done and bring him back to point zero, over and over again, every time he gets angry.
"I finished cleaning the kitchen, sweetheart."
So this Pesach, as you go about cleaning your homes, watch out for anger. If you want to save your soul, just as you wouldn’t eat a cheeseburger on Seder night, don’t get angry and take a slug at your wife. And ladies, brooms were meant to sweep the floor – not to break them over your husband’s head, no matter how insensitive and thick skulled he may be.
Nissan 3, 5771, 4/7/2011
1. If Jonathan Pollard were freed from prison today, he would want to spend Passover this year in Washington D.C., in Toronto, or in the Land of Israel?
2. If Rashi came back to life, he would want to spend Passover this year in Paris, in Brooklyn, or in the Land of Israel?
3. If we could ask Moses where is the best place to celebrate Passover this year, he would answer in Cairo, in the Sinai Desert, or in the Land of Israel?
4. If Mashiach revealed himself this week, he would want to spend Passover on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, at a swank Catskills Hotel, or in the Land of Israel?
5. If all of the Jews who were slaughtered in the Holocaust could have spent their last Seder in a different place, they would have preferred to stay right where they were, spend the holiday in Berlin, or in the Land of Israel?
6. If the Spies in the wilderness were given another chance to say where they wanted to live, they would still choose to remain in the wilderness, immigrate to America, or journey on to the Land of Israel?
7. If a creature from outer space wanted to experience the most joyous Passover Seder on Earth, he would land his spaceship in Brooklyn, at Brandeis University, or in the Land of Israel?
"Can you plese give me directions to Boro Park?"
8. If a gentile wanted to experience the most genuine Passover Seder he could, he would make arrangements to be in Monsey, at a Miami Beach Hotel, or in the Land of Israel?
9. What would make Hashem the happiest – that all of His children celebrated the Seder in Brooklyn, or in five star luxury resort hotels around the globe, with golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, international glatt kosher cuisine, and guest lectures on Yiddishkeit, or in the Land of Israel?
The Holiday of Freedom. Glatt kosher Pesach in Hawaii!
10. Where would you rather spend Passover this year, in the exile or in the Land of the Jews?
If you answered the Land of Israel to all 10 questions, your head and your heart are in the right place. Now all you have to do is get the rest of you over here. Hashem is waiting.
Nissan 1, 5771, 4/5/2011
Several years ago, Ester Pollard phoned me and asked me if I would write something about Jonathan. She said that he loved my novel, "Tuvia in the Promised Land," and had slept with it under his pillow for two years in his prison cell. After meeting with her, I said I would be honored to write a biography of such a Jewish hero. After doing some research, I decided to write a dramatic one-man play in which the character of Jonathan would tell his own story. I started the writing, but a misunderstanding arose that prevented me from continuing. Nonetheless, it allowed me to have a more inside glimpse at the man behind the bars. One very revealing thing that moved me deeply was Jonathan's account of how he waged a daily battle to preserve his holiness in the less-than-holy atmosphere of the prison. Other inmates were always trying to lure him to join in their unholy activities, and he staunchly refused, even though it meant suffering their contempt and rebuke. In this regard, he was truly like Yosef the Tzaddik. In the merit of his great love for Torah and the Land and Nation of Israel, may the Almighty free him from prison this Pesach, just as He freed Yosef the Tzaddik from his unjust incarceration, and the Jews who were imprisoned in Egypt, the America of Biblical times.