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News & Call-In with Tamar Yonah
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.
People can stop reading my blog if they like. They can unfriend me on Facebook and remove me from their groups, but I will continue to write the truth. Believe me, I don’t write to upset my fellow Jews. I write, bezrat Hashem, to help them to see through the darkness that surrounds us in foreign lands.
Once again, let me try to explain. The plague of darkness in Mitrayim is described as darkness “mamash,” meaning darkness so thick and tangible that you could literally reach out and physically feel it. Up until the plague, there was darkness in Egypt, the usual darkness of the galut, but the Jews had become so accustomed to it, they didn’t sense it anymore. So Hashem had to turn it into a physical darkness as thick as glue to remind them that they were in an impure place where they didn’t belong.
Why were they blind to the darkness? Because when people grow up in darkness, they don’t experience it as darkness at all. That’s what they’re used to. In fact, to them it seems like light. If you tell them they’re living in the dark, they are liable to get angry. “What do you mean?” they exclaim. “It isn’t dark here at all. You’re crazy. You don’t know what you are talking about. You’re an agitator, that’s all.”
How do I know that the exile is darkness? Because I lived there, and now that I’m in Israel, I can see the enormous difference. And also because that’s what our Sages teach us regarding chutz l’Aretz (outside of the Land), as it says in the tractate Sanhedrin, on the verse in the Book of Lamentations, “He has set me down in dark places, like those who are long ago dead (Eichah, 3:6) – “Rabbi Yirmeya said: ‘This refers to the learning in Babylon,’” which doesn’t have the same illumination as the Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 24A).
Yes, my friends, there can be a Torah learning that is shrouded in darkness. For example, the Spies in the wilderness were the leaders of their tribes, the most prominent Torah scholars of the nation, but they didn’t understand that Eretz Yisrael is the foundation upon which the entire Torah and the Nationhood of Israel stands, as the Gemara teaches: “There is no greater bittul Torah (nullification of Torah) than when the People of Israel are removed from their place” (Chagigah 4B). The Gaon of Vilna teaches that this same myopic understanding of Torah, which denies the centrality of the Land of Israel to the life of the Jewish Nation, is a sin which reappears in every generation, and even Talmidei Chochamin are caught in its darkness (“Kol HaTor”, Ch.5).
And should you ask, “Who is Tzvi Fishman that I should believe what he writes?” The answer is that it isn’t Tzvi Fishman at all. In our time, there were three great visionaries who taught us to see the truth of the Torah in the events of our times. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook; his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook; and Rabbi Meir Kahane, may their memories be for a blessing. Certainly, many other Rabbis shed light on our era, but along the path of my return to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael, these three Torah giants have been shining beacons of wisdom and truth, illuminating the world’s confusion and darkness. Each had his own style and individual stamp, with differences of emphasis and approach, but each one taught the Nation to see the Redemption that was taking place in our time, and the great light of Torah and tshuva contained in the ingathering of the exiles, the abandoning of galut, and the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. It is a synthesis of their teachings that I am expounding, in my own inadequate way, and it is their genius in Torah, not mine.
My friends, King David didn’t pen these words as just a pretty poem. On the wings of Divine Inspiration, he is teaching us that our love for Jerusalem is to be the guiding principle of our lives, even greater than the joy of our wedding, more cherished than our spouses, families, our villas, our Audis and Mercedes, more valued than our bank accounts, professions, and university degrees. We are to set Jerusalem above our chiefest joy, to struggle in its behalf, and to dedicate ourselves to its holy rebuilding.
“How can we sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land?” King David asks.
The answer is that we can’t.
To sing the L-rd’s song, you have to sing it in Israel, as Shir HaMaalot teaches: "Our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with ringing song" (Tehillim, 126:2).
"When the L-rd brought the exiles back to Zion" (there, verse 1).
May our complete Redemption come soon.
For Jews, the first month of the year is the month of Nisan. New Year’s is Rosh HaShanah, a day of judgment and prayer. Celebrating January 1 as the beginning of a new year, in the manner of the gentiles, is following after their ways, and a practice that all pious Jews should avoid. After all, for a Jew, counting the years from the birth of the founder of Xtianity is absurd, to say the least, and sadly schizophrenic. Think about it. Why count the years from the birth of Jezeus? The world was around a long time before he appeared. Why mark that as the beginning of history? Why identify with Xtians? Why should the calendar start with them?
But that’s what happens when a Jew is cast out from his own Jewish Land and compelled to wander amongst the gentiles. He begins to identify with the culture around him. It’s a sad but natural phenomenon. That’s what happened to the Jews in Egypt too. They descended to Egypt just to sojourn there during the famine, but they ended up staying. That’s what happens.
We learn this from the end of this Shabbat’s Torah portion of “Vayigash.” The verse tells us: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; they possessed property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied” (Bereshit, 47:27).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would say, “They settled and sank,” referring to our propensity to get stuck in galut. Citing the commentary of the “Kli Yakar,” Rabbi Kahane explains that this verse is a condemnation of their behavior. Hashem had told Avraham that his descendents would be temporary “aliens” in a foreign land, but they sought to become permanent settlers by acquiring property and building villas for themselves – just like we see today in many Diaspora communities.
Interestingly, the Hebrew for “they possessed property in it, “ויאחזו” is written in the passive form, literally meaning that “they were possessed by it.” That is the situation in galut. We become possessed by the foreign lands and cultures where we live. We come to identify with foreign languages, customs, values, and nationalities – very much like the Jews who were slain in the plague of darkness in Egypt, a staggering 80% of the Jewish community, because they didn’t want to leave Egypt and go on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
While Yaakov only came to Egypt to temporarily sojourn in the land, his descendents let themselves become gripped by it. This is why Yaakov gave his children the order to bury him in Israel – so they would never forget that Eretz Yisrael was their homeland, not Egypt, America, France, Canada, Mexico, or Australia, and that Rosh HaShanah was their New Year’s and not January 1st.
I can understand how an assimilated Jew who doesn’t study Torah could come to love a foreign place – but for a religious Jew who believes in the Torah, I simply cannot understand it at all. Can you?
Before we say goodbye to Hanukah, there is another thing which all of us, including our beloved brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, can learn from the Macabbees – and that is their great miserut nefesh, or spirit of self-sacrifice, placing the greater welfare of the Nation over their individual comforts, with the readiness to give up one’s life for the Jewish Nation, for the Torah, for the Land of Israel, and for the honor of G-d.
Is Israel more dangerous for a Jew than the Diaspora, as many people claim when they cite their reasons for not making aliyah? I’m not sure that it is. Certainly, when it comes to spiritual danger and assimilation, Israel is far far far safer. Yes, here and there, a case of intermarriage occurs, and there is a problem that Jewish girls are sometimes seduced (and emotionally kidnapped) by Arabs. But the numbers are tiny compared to the wholesale wipe-out that goes on in the Diaspora where 60% plus of our People are marrying outside of the faith.
I don’t deny that aliyah is a challenge. Yes it's difficult. Coming on aliyah from Western countries demands a change of lifestyle, culture, and language. Often new olim have to make do with a less material life and less creature comforts. Even Jews who aren’t used to wealthy living find the more modest and pioneer lifestyle in Israel difficult to adjust to. Plus, the move to a new place, and to possibly a less prestigious and high-paying job, where the new immigrant is a greenhorn who speaks with an awkward accent, when in the past he was a bigshot who knew his way around – this is often a blow to the ego, something which demands a resiliency and humility that not everyone has [our Sages tell us that this ego-smashing process is actually beneficial for a person, breaking down walls of pride that distance him from G-d, and thus the Biblical name for Eretz Yisrael, Canaan, has the meaning of poor and humble, something which the Land of Israel helps us to achieve].
In other words, aliyah demands a willingness for self-sacrifice, which is not a particularly popular trait in the Diaspora. People are loath to give up what they consider to be “the good life.” How far away they are from the spirit of self-sacrifice that the early Zionist pioneers had in their willingness to roll up their trousers and wade into malaria-infested swamps in order to rid the plague-filled land of disease – knowing that 50% of them would contact malaria in the process and die! Still they did it – for the generations that would come after them. How this noble spirit is missing from today’s young generation in Western lands! Yes, here and there, a brave youth comes to Israel and joins the army to do his share in the fight for our homeland – a burden that every Jew should rightfully share, but the great majority act as if the rebuilding of our homeland is strictly for the Israelis and not for them.
Nonetheless, one of the foundations of Judaism is miserut nefesh, the willingness to sacrifice ourselves for our Torah, our Nation, our Land, and our G-d. It's imbedded in our genes, as our inheritance from Avraham, who was willing to sacrifice his life, and his son's, for Hashem. Here is how Rabbi Kahane describes self-sacrifice in his book, “The Jewish Idea.” Tomorrow is the yahrzeit of his son, Binyamin Zeev, and his daughter-in-law, Talia, who were murdered by Arab terrorists, may Hashem avenge their blood, along with the blood of all of the murderers of our People. They, along with Rabbi Kahane, gave the ultimate in the transcendental mitzvah of rebuilding the Land of Israel. May these words of Torah be a blessing to their memories.
Most certainly, when G-d does not just promise something but decrees that we must perform some deed, one must not look for reasons, however pious they may be, not to do that deed. Rather, if G-d or Jewish law requires us to fulfill some decree, then we must sanctify His name and sacrifice our lives for it, this being the fullest expression of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d) and bitachon (trust). It says, (Lev. 22:32-33), “Do not profane My holy name. I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel. I am the L-rd Who is making you holy and bringing you out of the Land of Egypt,” and our sages comment (Torat Kohanim, Emor, 9), “Sacrifice yourself and sanctify My name,” and (Ibid.), “I took you out of Egypt on condition that you sacrifice yourselves to sanctify My name.”
Self-sacrifice is the ultimate proof of trust in G-d, it is bitachon in its fullest form. Let a Jew not evade his duty, claiming that today there is no Divine revelation, no heavenly voice or prophecy of any other sort by which G-d could decree the need for an act of self-sacrifice. Surely, the whole Torah, all the deeds of our ancestors and of the judges and prophets, and the words of our sages, were meant to be a lamp unto our feet and to show us the path we must follow. These deeds and G-d’s ways were set down in our sages’ homiletics as eternal guidelines, presenting our duty regarding how we must act when there is no Divine Revelation.
Here then, to our great chagrin, is the cause of the tragedy and trouble that beset the Jewish People, despite the proliferance of Torah study and yeshivot: G-d demands complete bitachon — bitachon that expresses itself not just in lectures on moral refinement, but in deeds of self-sacrifice to sanctify G-d’s name, so as to prove our faith and trust in Him. Woe to our orphan generation, in which even Torah scholars have learned how to evade sacrificing their lives for Kiddush Hashem, with the miserable claim of “pikuach nefesh,” that they are avoiding “danger to life.” With this, they have already set firmly in our hearts the fear of the non-Jew and the fear of danger, in effect nullifying the need and duty to endanger ourselves and sacrifice our lives for G-d’s name. There is no greater proof of the weakness of bitachon and the smallness of faith which reigns in this generation, a generation in which, “we are become orphans and fatherless” (Lam. 5:3).
Both Joshua and Caleb demonstrated trust in G-d. Even so, when G-d swore that Israel would not enter the Land, it says, “The only exception will be My servant Caleb, since he showed a different spirit and followed Me wholeheartedly. I will bring him to the land that he explored.” Why was Joshua’s name not mentioned here, when he, too, stood firm in his bitachon? It also says, “Only Caleb son of Yefuneh will see the Land.... since he followed the L-rd wholeheartedly” (Deut. 1:36). Why, again, was Joshua omitted?
The answer is inherent in G-d’s comment, in both Num. 14:7 and Deut. 1:36, that Caleb “followed Him wholeheartedly.” Here we learn once more the need to have full bitachon. Our bitachon must express itself in readiness to sacrifice our lives to sanctify G-d’s name, and this was evinced by Caleb but not Joshua. After the ten spies issued their bad report about Eretz Yisrael and incited the people, it says, “Caleb quieted the people for Moses and said, ‘We shall surely go up and inherit it’” (Num. 13:30). He silenced them and began to express ideas which ultimately opposed those of the majority. He did not hesitate, although he knew the people’s mentality and was aware of their stubbornness and what they had done to Chur. He — not Joshua — was the first to rise up and try to blot out the Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d), and in doing so he took a risk and was ready to sacrifice his life. Caleb “followed G-d wholeheartedly,” thereby surpassing Joshua and meriting to be mentioned alone by G-d. [End of “Jewish Idea” excerpt]
So let’s all try to muster up a little more spirit of self-sacrifice. For the Jews of the Diaspora it may be the key to a new life in Israel.
You probably won’t understand because I lack the skill to explain this all-important matter in an adequate fashion. But I’ll try anyway. Even if you catch the idea a little, it’s a very worthwhile thing in understanding just what Torah is all about.
Yesterday, I took my youngest children to visit the burial site of the Macabbees, near the rebuilt city of Modiin. I explained to them that the modern hi-rises, erected on the very site where the Hanukah rebellion began, almost 2000 years after the gentiles ousted us from our homeland, was a greater sanctification of G-d than all of the menorahs in the world. I am not talking about the menorahs of Modiin, rather the city itself. Because the return of the Jewish People to Israel is the greatest Sanctification of Hashem that there is, as it says: “And I will sanctify My Name, which was desecrated among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the goyim shall know that I am the L-rd, says the L-rd G-d, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes; for I will take you from amongst the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own Land” (Ezekiel, 23-24).
For all of you who may have missed the boat, this prophecy has come true in our time with the ingathering of our scattered exiles from all over the world to Israel, and with the miraculous rebuilding of our homeland which has stunned all of mankind.
It doesn’t matter that many of the inhabitants of Modiin and the neighboring community of Macabbeam are not religious. Of course, there are also religious people in Modiim and in the largely religious community of Hashmonean, just up the road. Standing by the graves of the Macabbees, one can also see the hi-rises of Modiin Ilit, a large and growing Ultra-Orthodox city. Baruch Hashem, whatever your religious persuasion happens to be, you can find it in Israel. The point is that this great national sanctification of Hashem, the rebuilding of Israel, as promised by G-d through His Prophets, is a towering light to the world, proclaiming that the G-d of Israel has not abandoned His Chosen People, as the gentiles claimed for the last 2000 years.
Unfortunately, some of our dear brothers and sisters are critical of the way that G-d has chosen to bring this Redemption about. The modern State of Israel isn’t kosher isn’t for them. To their tastes, there are too many non-religious Jews involved the enterprise, who, along with their disdain for the Torah, throw settlers out of their homes, make traitorous agreements with enemies, and a long list of other grievances. Yes, these things are not pleasant. But that’s the way life is. Nothing is perfect at the start. It is our task to work to improve things. The fact that there are problems in Israel does not lessen the mitzvah of living here, in any way, shape, or form.
Let me give an example. Would anyone say that the First Temple wasn’t official because King Solomon ended up embarrassing himself and the nation with his 1000 wives? Certainly not. And would anyone say that the Second Temple wasn’t the Second Temple because Herod slaughtered all of the rabbis, save one, whom he merely blinded? Of course not. The Second Temple was the Second Temple, period. Nor do we look down at the Hashmonian rule at the time of the Macabbees, even though they were Kohanim and not from the ruling tribe of Yehuda. As the Rambam writes, we celebrate their great victory in re-establishing Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel for more than 200 years.
Yes, yes, yes, there are people who are temporarily exempt from making aliyah because they have to care for sick relatives. And others may suffer from genuine problems that make such a big change impossible for them, depending on each individual case. But not liking this or that Israeli government isn’t one of them. Nor is being afraid that there might be a war or a terrorist attack on a bus. The mitzvah of conquering and settling the Land of Israel is what is called a “milchemet mitzvah” and the danger of war doesn’t exempt Jews from taking their part in the mitzvah, since danger and a willingness of self-sacrifice (masurat nefesh) is a part of any war. Furthermore, the halachic authority, the “Pitchei Tshuva,” which gathers all of the early and later Torah authorities, has already determined that since merchants regularly travel to Israel on business, the excuse of danger doesn’t apply (Shulchan Oruch, Aven HaEzer, 75:6). This was the position of the Chofetz Chaim as well.
A commandment is a commandment. Its observance isn’t up to us. You can’t say that I’m not going to put on tefillin because they make me look funny; or that I’m not going to keep Shabbos because I want to drive to the beach; or that I won’t eat matzah on Seder Night because it makes me constipated. The Rosh Yeshiva at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, would remind young people visiting Jerusalem from the Diaspora that we don’t pick and choose the mitzvot we like, saying “this one pleases me, so I’ll do it, but this one is too tough.” We do all the commandments we can with complete emunah and put our trust in Hashem. If a mitzvah seems too difficult, then say it’s too difficult – don’t start finding fault with the mitzvah and created excuses not to perform it, like insisting that the government in Israel is worse than the Cossacks. Remember, G-d commanded Avraham to come to Israel when savage idol worshippers filled the Land, and the situation was no better when G-d commanded Moshe and Yehoshua to bring the Jews to Israel. You can’t even begin to compare the barbarianism of their time to what goes on in modern Israel today.
We are to perform the commandments which G-d gives us, and G-d will help with the rest. This is exactly what the prophecy of Ezekiel teaches, that the Redemption will come gradually, in stages, first with the ingathering of the exiles, and then with a Divine purification from Above and a national return to Torah, as it says: “I will bring you to your own Land. Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean, from all of your uncleanliness, and from all of your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you… and I will cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep my judgments and do them. And you shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My People and I will be your G-d” (there, 25-28). First the exiles return and the physical side of the Land is built to create the vessel to hold the great hidden light, and then the spiritual revolution takes place, little by little, like the breaking of dawn over the mountains to make the Redemption complete (Talmud Berachot 1:1). Sure. you can let others do all the hard work of rebuilding for you, but when you finally decide to come, there may not be anymore room on the plane.
Some me readers accuse me of having a lack of love for my fellow Jews when I point out the shortcomings of Diaspora Judaism. But the truth is the exact opposite. It is precisely out of my great love for them that I write what I write, to turn them on to the far more complete life of Torah that is found in Eretz Yisrael.
I am not blaming them for staying in foreign gentile lands when they could come live in the Land of Israel. By and large, no one ever taught them what the Torah is really all about. For 2000 years, without the physical possibility of returning to Israel to rebuild our Jewish State, we had to make do with the exile. In order to strengthen their communities, rabbis and Jewish educators concentrated on the handful of commandments that could still be performed, like kashrut, Shabbat, tefillin, the holidays, tzedaka, good character traits, joining the sisterhood and coming to Hebrew school. Lacking our own Jewish Land, Judaism became the performance of ritual commandments, in many ways, a religion like any other, stripped of the Torah’s encompassing national foundation. Wandering in foreign lands, our identities as Israelites was lost. We became Germans and Moroccans and Yemenites and Frenchmen and Americans who practiced the religion of Judaism, the small remnants of the Torah that we still had in the lands of our dispersions. But that isn’t what Torah is. Torah is the national constitution of the Israelite nation, filled with the national commandments of conquering the Land of Israel, establishing a Jewish monarchy, a Sanhedrin, a Jewish army, a Jewish police force, and a Jewish economy based on the unique agricultural laws pertaining to the Holy Land. The goal of the Torah is not just to perform ritual mitzvot, but to establish a Torah State in the Land of Israel. This is what we have been praying for ever since we were exiled and scattered to foreign lands – to return to Zion and Jerusalem in order to rebuild our fallen Israelite Kingdom. This is the Redemption we long for – at least the Redemption which we are supposed to long for.
To cite two examples I used in the past: once I was in Toronto to raise money for a yeshiva in Israel. A synagogue graciously invited me to speak to the congregation, and I held up that Shabbat’s local Jewish newspaper. The headline read: “Looking Forward to the Next Decade of Jewish Life in Toronto.”
“Something seems to have gone wrong,” I told them. “A Jew is supposed to yearn for the next decade of Jewish life in Zion. I have the feeling that if the Mashiach should come today, he would mess up your plans.”
Another time, I was in Boca Raton visiting my parents before they came on aliyah. A flyer on the synagogue bulletin board announced: “THIS SUMMER COME ON A TRIP TO OUR NATION’S CAPITAL WITH THE RABBI” Underneath the headline was a photo of the Capitol Building in WDC. Now when Jewish kids are educated to believe that WDC is their nation’s capital, and not Jerusalem, it isn’t any wonder that they end up in Boca all of their lives.
Finally, to use the Hanukah story to make the matter clear. The Macabbees didn’t risk their lives so that Jews could eat jelly donuts in Sidney, Australia and Palm Springs, CA. They risked their lives to purify the Land of Israel of foreign influence and rule, so that the Jews could be free to keep the Torah in their own sovereign Jewish Land.
Now, I ask you. If the Macabbees lived in Brooklyn today, or in Los Angeles, Miami Beach, Montreal, Melbourne, Cape Town, Paris, Manchester, Mexico City, Buenos Aries, or Berlin, would they continue to live there, or would they rush home to the Land of Israel?
Be honest. Of course, they would leave everything behind and hurry to catch the first flight that they could. More than that. If they had been living in Europe or America one hundred years ago, when the Zionist movement was gaining momentum, would they have stayed behind in gentile lands, or rushed to volunteer in the fight to re-conquer and rebuild the Land of Hashem? The answer is obvious. Lovers of G-d like the Macabbees would have rushed back to Israel at the very first opportunity without finding 101 reasons for staying in Greece.
Now is the matter clear?