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      Hollywood to the Holy Land
      by Tzvi Fishman
      Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Creativity and Culture

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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.

       

      Shevat 23, 5771, 1/28/2011

      Good News for the Jews!


      A year ago, a Rosh Yeshiva phoned me, asking if I would meet with a depressed and troubled yeshiva student who had sought out his help in a private matter. The youth confessed to him that he had a big problem with masturbation. Before coming on aliyah from America, he had been to several Sexaholics Anonymous meetings, but it hadn’t seemed to help. The Rosh Yeshiva asked me to bring my book, “Secret of the Brit,” and sit and learn with the boy.

      Every now and again, I receive similar phone calls. Although the problem is very widespread, most people are embarrassed to speak about it. The fact that this lad had the courage to admit his addiction was a good sign that he really wanted to be cured. Confessing one’s transgressions to a Torah scholar is a powerful step forward in the pathway of t’shuvah. The shame that the penitent feels effects a great cleansing. Since G-d is always willing to forgive those who return to Him in sincere repentance, the boy had already achieved a big chunk of his atonement. Like so many others, he simply needed a ladder to clutch onto, in order to climb out of the abyss into which he had fallen.

      Though I have a long and impressive beard that may even seem formidable to some, I can still speak the language of the “chevre,” so I was able to put the boy at ease and make him feel that his problem was a common one that could certainly be overcome. Like so many others, he was a victim of Internet pornography, not the hard stuff, but the girly photos and clips that are everywhere available in cyberspace.

      Nothing disconnects a person from G-d more than sexual wrongdoing.
      mk

      Typically, while the 20 year-old baal t’shuva had given up cheeseburgers and bacon, he was still addicted to pretty women and spilling semen in vain, considered to be among the gravest of sins. Many times, offenders simply don’t know the gravity of their wrongdoings, since the matter is not openly taught. So I explained to him many of the devastating blemishes which masturbation causes, including the feeling that one is caught off from the Torah, prayer, and everything holy, a feeling that he readily confirmed.

      After getting an idea where he was holding and what remedies he could handle, we worked out a t’shuva program to help reduce the powerful sexual tensions which brought him to succumb again and again. First, he agreed to download an Internet filter without knowledge of the code, so he couldn’t by-pass the blocking of all erotic content. He also agreed to increase his Torah learning; immerse in a mikvah twice a week; followed by the recital of the “Tikun HaKlali” and a session of “Hitbodadut;” and to recite once a week the midnight lament, known as “Tikun Hatzot,” over the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, to increase his giving of charity, according to his means, and to faithfully follow a daily work-out routine of jogging, push-ups, and any other exercise which he enjoyed. Finally, we spoke a little about the benefit and beauty of marriage, as the ultimate tikun.

      A strong and healthy body is needed to overcome the hurdles.
      mk

      During the time we learned together, I explained to him the practical and mystical importance of these measures, and the importance of exercise in the battle against the “yetzer hara,” a struggle that demands a strong and healthy body to win the fight. After that initial meeting, he phoned me a few times with questions, and then I didn’t hear from him again.

      B’kitzur, to be concise, he called me this week with the good news that he has been clean now for more than half a year and that he had gotten engaged!

      It’s a difficult battle, but it’s a battle which can be won. Now, during the time of Shovavim, it’s a good idea for everyone to pick at least one of the items on the list and add it to his spiritual repertoire. Our Sages tell us that even the righteous amongst us are prone to fall in this area, so don’t pretend that you don’t need to do any t’shuva. Doing a little extra reading at www.jewishsexuality.com is a good place to start.

      There’s only two more weeks to “Shovavim,” so if not now, when?

      Shabbat shalom.          







      Shevat 21, 5771, 1/26/2011

      I Love Netanya


      Another mitzvah brought my wife and myself to Netanya. After we finished our mission, we strolled along the seaside park overlooking the ocean, enjoying the cool wind and sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

      Netanya is probably the holiest seaside resort in the world!

       

      Netanya is located a half-hour drive north of the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. It doesn’t suffer from the car pollution that clouds the larger city, and it has a much more resort-town atmosphere. Usually when we have a vacation, the choice is between Netanya or the forests of the Galil. We both love the sea, and for me, the Hasidic community of Sanz is a short car hop away from the hotel, with its shteibel of minyans and a refreshing morning mikvah for only 5 shekels.

      Sanz Mikvah, Netanya. Try it, you'll like it!

      Plus there is a very nice beach for men only, where I can go for a swim, and enjoy an added mikvah in the sea, without damaging my eyeballs.

      Whenever I'm in Netanya, I always go down to the beach and thank G-d for rescuing me from LA.

      I have a special love for the beach because that’s where Hashem hit me over the head with a thunderbolt and gave me the Jewish brain transplant that set me off to Israel. Decades ago, I was sitting on a beach in Santa Monica, when an Israeli friend, who was trying to make it as an actor in LA, asked me why I didn’t know anything about Judaism. He himself had grown up in a traditional Moroccan family, and while he was taking a hiatus from the mitzvot in Hollywood, he still had a great love and respect for the religion. His question blew me away. I had studied and read up about everything, from philosophy to yoga, art history, world literature, psychology, and the I Ching. But I had never learned anything about Judaism! I remembered that Freud wrote that a person who avoids something close to him has a psychological block and must confront his unconscious fear head-on, in order to break on through, break on through, break on through….

      The view from my pad in Santa Monica, when I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism.

      So that very day, I purchased a Jewish Bible and returned to the beach, and started to read. “In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth.” Uh oh, I thought! There’s a G-d, and I haven’t been paying any attention to him! I continued reading, flipping pages as if it was an exciting screenplay. First G-d tells Avraham to go to Israel. Then he tells Moshe to take the Jews to Israel. Then he tells the Jews over and over to take the Torah, pack up their bags, and live out its teachings in Israel.

      At first, I was confused. I mean, Hollywood is swarming with Jews. So either the Bible wasn’t right about Israel being the Land of the Jews, or the Jews in Hollywood weren’t living where they were supposed to.

      Anyway, to make a long story short, as Sholom Aleichem would say, I asked G-d to give me a sign what to do? Should I move to Israel or stay in Hollywood and try to write stories about the Bible and Jews? The very next morning, when I left my seaside apartment, I saw a travel brochure in my mailbox. It was addressed to me and the Kotel was pictured on the cover with the caption, “Jerusalem My Chosen!” I got the goose bumps all over.

      "Jerusalem, My Chosen!"

      Not only had G-d answered my prayer, He had known in advance that I was going to ask, because He had to arrange someone to send the mind-blowing brochure to me so that it would appear in my mailbox the very morning after I asked for a Heavenly sign!

      I bought a ticket to Israel that day.

      So that’s an added reason why I like Netanya, where I can walk down to the beach and thank G-d for the great miracle He did for me by opening my eyes to the truth of the Torah, and pulling me out of the cesspool of America and the make-believe world of being a Jew in a gentile land.

      But even without that, Netanya is a wonderful place. So be sure to visit it when you get here!     







      Shevat 19, 5771, 1/24/2011

      I Love Tel Aviv


      My wife and I went to Tel Aviv this morning to pay a condolence call. The family sitting “shiva” lives near the seashore, a few blocks from Dizengoff Street, so afterwards, we strolled around to enjoy the summer weather and change of atmosphere.

      They all speak the Holy Tongue!

      What’s amazing about Tel Aviv is that everyone speaks Hebrew! At first glance, it doesn’t seem like the most religious place in the country, but everyone there, no matter how weird or secular he looks, speaks the Holy Tongue. Even a drunk who approached us for a handout spoke to us in Hebrew! The only people we met there who didn’t speak Hebrew was a busload of kids from the Birthright program.

      Tel Aviv is filled with beautiful boutiques, sidewalk cafes, theaters, and art galleries. Its architecture along the seaside is very modern and creative. It has a bohemian, Paris-like feeling about it. My wife noted that the women were very beautiful and fashionably dressed, though modesty wasn’t one of their strong points. I kept my glance down at my shoes, so I can’t confirm her report. I know there are many devout Diasporians who are always screaming “Gevalt! The immodesty in Israel is terrible! Gevalt!  There are so many heretics there! Gevalt!  Tel Aviv is worse than Las Vegas!”      

      There is an interesting Midrash in “Yalkut Shimoney, Eichah” that describes G-d’s great anguish that His people are in exile, dwelling amongst the gentiles. “Gevalt!” G-d moans. “If only My children were with Me in Eretz Yisrael, even if they contaminate My Land with their sins.”

      Our Sages tell us that G-d cries out at midnight with pain that His children are in foreign lands. “Woe to the father that has exiled his children!” In contrast, G-d is happy when His children are in Israel. Look what He has done in returning us to our borders! The city of Tel Aviv began as a sand dune. Today it is a booming modern metropolis, spreading for miles and miles in every direction. G-d has done all this!

      Founding of Tel Aviv, 1910

       

      Look what G-d had done! Tel Aviv today.

      I know there are people who aren’t happy with this state of affairs. They don’t agree with the way G-d is bringing about the Redemption. If they were G-d, they would do things differently. For one thing, they would limit the Redemption to religious Jews only. But G-d loves all Jews, the religious and the not yet religious. So in his great love and wisdom, He decided to give the secular Zionists the great mitzvah of resettling and rebuilding the Land of Israel after an exile of nearly two thousand years, a mitzvah that is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah!

      The sad truth is that the majority of religious Jews didn't know how to hold a shovel, let alone a rifle. And very few of them were willing to roll up their longjohns and risk their lives drying up malaria infested swamps. So Hashem gave the great honor to the Zionists. 

      I had a wonderful afternoon knowing that G-d loves Tel Aviv too! Look how He has raised it up out of the sand dunes and turned it into such a thriving dynamic city, filled with so many of His children, whom He has gathered together from the four corners of the world!

      I Love Tel Aviv!

      I can’t wait to go back there to visit!  

       







      Shevat 16, 5771, 1/21/2011

      Advice for the Tongue Tied


      This Shabbat, we read about the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. We’ve mentioned that during these weeks of “Shovavim,” we rise from the 49th degree of impurity in Egypt to the 49th degree of purity, and the transcendental summit of the “Gate of Kedusha,” with the acceptance of the Torah.

      This is the level of sexual purity, known as “Shmirat HaBrit.” If you haven’t already started, the final three weeks of “Shovavim” is the best time to pour out your souls to G-d, asking for His forgiveness over all of the holy energy, and holy life force, and holy souls, which we have squandered through our sexual wrongdoing.

      Hitbodedut

      Some people find it difficult to pour out their hearts to Hashem, as if their heart is like stone, preventing them from crying and expressing their remorse. One of the foundations of Rabbi Nachman’s teachings is the importance of “Hitbodedut” in serving G-d. The essence of Hitbodedut is pouring one’s heart out in personal prayer before one’s Maker. Rabbi Nachman emphasizes that this practice should be practiced in seclusion, and that it is especially effective when conducted outdoors in a field or a forest. In his books, “Likutei Tefillot,” and “Torot and Tefillot,” Rabbi Nachman’s devoted student, Rabbi Natan, presents many examples that can help every Jew rise to more fervent outpourings of the heart. Here is one such example which may help release all of the pain and yearning for G-d that is bottled up inside your heart:

      “Please, most honored and awe-inspiring G-d, honored King, You who created the entire world for Your blessed honor, as is written, ‘Everything I created and formed and made, for my Name and My honor I created,’ help me in Your great compassion, that I merit to increase and elevate your praise and honor.

      “Help me to nullify myself completely before You, and to diminish my own honor, that my own honor be as if void and non-existent. Help me that I do not raise myself up to declare my own honor in any way, but rather that I only endeavor to enhance the honor due You, and that all of my doings and thoughts and desires be directed exclusively to Your great and blessed honor alone.

      “Assist me in your great mercy to shatter and remove all feelings of arrogant self-pride from my heart, that there shouldn’t rise in my heart any trace of conceit at all, and that I merit to achieve true humility. Give me the intelligence and wisdom so that I can find the way to true humility, and to flee from false humility, from humility which is really to win honor from others. Please help me in Your great mercy and kindness that I merit to attain true and absolute humility.

      “Please, G-d, in Your infinite mercy, have mercy on Your creation, and open my mouth in prayer that I be able to pour forth my speech before You in a manner that awakens Your mercy to extend over me, that You have compassion on me this very moment and that You aid me to sanctify and purify myself in the holiness of the Brit, that I may be saved from this moment onward from every transgression against the Brit in the world.

      “And for all of the blemishes in which I blemished the holy Brit until now, please forgive me, please forgive me and cleanse me in Your towering mercy and kindness, in everything that I blemished by my thoughts, and my speech, and my deeds, by looking at forbidden things, and hearing unholy matters, smelling unholy smells, and in all of my feelings, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether willfully or unwillfully. In every way that I blemished the Brit, please forgive me and have compassion on me, and shatter, and weaken, and subdue, and nullify all of the ropes and knots and chains binding me to the Sitra Achra (Other Side), which were strengthened because of my numerous sins, which overcome me at every moment and seek to pull me from sin to sin, and not allow me to purify myself as I should, keeping me far from guarding the Brit in true holiness, as a Jew should, a son of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, whom You chose.

      “Master of the World, may it be Thy will that all of my transgressions be transformed into merit through my t’shuva, even though I have not even begun to return in true repentance. Even so, grant me the gift of Your forgiveness as a gratuitous gift, and have mercy on me in Your great mercy, and rescue me from the trials and tribulations that pursue me at every moment.

      “And even if I myself am my worst enemy, for indeed I have free choice, and no one can force me to stray from the true path, and I confess that I am guilty, and that I myself am responsible for my transgressions, but what can I do for I am weak, and I don’t know how to escape from my pursuers, nor how to overcome all of the lusts and evil fantasies that overwhelm me at every moment. I have no hope if not for Your infinite compassion, that You help me and grant me the strength to overcome all of the lusts and fantasies, to subdue them and cast them into the dust, to shatter them and expel them from my mind, from this moment and forever after, that absolutely no evil fantasy enter my mind or thoughts at all, rather that my mind and thoughts be holy and pure at all times to the utmost measure of sanctity.

      “And help me in Your great mercy to purify and sanctify myself, that I be able to sanctify myself in things that are permitted to me, and that I merit to add more and more holiness to my life until I achieve true holiness and separation from all evil things, that through me all the worlds be unified... may it be Thy will, amen.”

      (Abridged from, “Torot and Tefillot,” Tefillah L’Torah, 11)

       

       







      Shevat 14, 5771, 1/19/2011

      Happy Tu B'Shvat!


      How could I not write a blog about Tu B’Shvat? This is the holiday of Eretz Yisrael! I suppose next to my love for Hashem, I love the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish Nation is shattered, and the Jewish People are small scattered communities that always have to cow-tow to the gentiles. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Torah is a shrunken truncated mini-version of the complete Torah of Eretz Yisrael. Without Eretz Yisrael, G-d Himself is reduced to a second-string Diety, seemingly not strong enough to keep His Chosen People in the Land He gave them, for there is no greater desecration than the Name of G-d than the exile (Ezekiel, 36:20). Without Eretz Yisrael, there is no prophecy, no Beit HaMikdash, and the Divine Presence doesn’t appear in the world.

      "The Land that the eyes of the L-rd watches from the beginning of the year to the end."

      I’m not the only one who loves Eretz Yisrael. G-d also loves the Land of Israel with a towering love, watching over it like a favorite child, from the beginning of the year to its end.

      I love Eretz Yisrael so much, I never want to leave it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. If I was forced to, it would be a terrible punishment. The worst punishment there could be. Just like a man who loves a woman wants to be always with her, so too a Jew should actively yearn, every single minute, to always be in Israel. It’s part of being a Jew. It’s the integral part of keeping the Torah. It’s the main part of serving G-d completely. Living a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael is what Judaism is all about.   

      On Tu B’Shvat we eat the fruits of Eretz Yisrael as described in the Torah, “For the L-rd your G-d brings you into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and date honey; a land where you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it…” (Devarim, 8:8). During the festive meal celebrating the holiday, our Sages instruct us to first eat the fruits which appear in the Torah verse closest to the word “Land.” From here, Rabbi Kook writes that the person who is closest to the Land of Israel, and who exerts himself the most in its settlement, is the closest to perfection, and he will be blessed first in the World To Come.     

      What an incredible blessing and honor and privilege to live here!

      For all of you who are still in the impure lands of the gentiles, go out and buy yourself some fruit and wine from the Land of Israel. Make a party! Bless Hashem for the good Land He has given us, and for its fruits and overflowing bounty. As it says in the Gemara, the surest sign of the end of the exile is when the trees in the Land of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance (Sanhedrin 98A, see Rashi there). That time is now!

      May you all be blessed from the Land of Israel and merit to be a part of it as soon as you can.