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Ask the Rabbi
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.
Since many of our readers don’t have a yeshiva background, I don’t often write blogs discussing halacha. However, because there are still devotees of galut who don’t understand the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism, and who believe that the mitzvah of living in Israel is some unsubstantiated Zionist folklore, I will try to summarize a basic halachic idea that the Torah giant, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, of blessed memory, would teach his students at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
While lovers of Brooklyn and Monsey may have learned a Gemara here and there, it wouldn’t hurt them to deepen their horizons and try to grasp this vital concept.
The Rambam himself emphasizes the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism in his treatise, “Sefer HaMitzvot,” concerning the positive commandment to sanctify the new month (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precept 153). In a lengthy discussion, he makes it clear that it is the Jews of the Land of Israel who constitute the Jewish Nation. Even if the majority of Jews were exiled from the Land, it is not the Torah centers outside of Israel which make up the heart of the Nation, but the Jewish farmers and peasants who live in Eretz Yisrael. This is illustrated by the calculation of the Jewish calendar, which can only be established by the Jews in Israel, irrelevant of their status in Torah.
The calculation of the new moon, and hence of all the months, years, and dates on which the holidays fall, can only be done in the Land of Israel (Ibid. Also, Berachot 63A and B; Sanhedrin 11B; Devarim, 12:5). This was performed by witnesses, who upon observance of the new moon, would travel to Jerusalem to testify before the Beit Din (Mishna, Rosh HaShana, 1:3-3:1). When the Sages saw the foreign persecution and rule over Israel threatened to disrupt the line of rabbinic ordination (smeichah), handed down from Moshe to the Torah leaders of each generation, they sanctified for all time the calendar which we use today (Rambam, Laws of Sanctify the Month, 5:3).
The Rambam makes clear that this can only be done in Israel:
“Know! This accounting of months which we calculate today, which tells us of the beginning of the months and the holidays, is not allowed to be made, except in the Land of Israel, exclusively… and here lies a very great foundation from the axioms of our belief, which was not known or understood except among the deep learners of Torah…. We only make this accounting today to know the day that the Jews living in Israel established, for from their accounting we calculate the months today, and not by our observation of the new moon. We base our calculation on their fixing and not upon ours. And our accounting is nothing more than the substantiation of their words (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precept 153).
The Rambam adds:
If we could suppose, for example, that the Children of Israel disappeared from Eretz Yisrael, G-d forbid the Almighty ever do this, since He had already promised not to totally erase or uproot all signs of the NATION – then our reckoning of the months would not help us at all, in any way whatsoever, because we are not empowered to make the reckonings outside of the Land of Israel, as we explained, ‘From Zion shall go forth Torah’” (Ibid).
The Torah authority, the Chatam Sofer, explains the deep import of what the Rambam is saying:
“If, G-d forbid, a single Jew wasn’t living in Israel, even if there were Jews living outside the Land, this would be the destruction of the entire NATION, G-d forbid…. The Rambam asserted that the times of the years, and the months, and the holy days which the Rishonim calculated were valid only if there were at least vine growers and farmers in Israel who would determine when the time had arrived. And if this wasn’t so, then the reckoning and sanctification of the early Sages would have no effect, and the entire Torah would be null, G-d forbid, and there wouldn’t be any NATION of Israel, G-d forbid, and our existence as a NATION would be utterly destroyed, G-d forbid. But our Creator promised us that this would never be (Responsa, Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, 234).
Not only did the Rambam believe that living in Israel was a mitzvah, he felt is was a mitzvah on which the whole Torah was based!
So the next time you think you’re right in the center of things in Brooklyn or Monsey, put that in your gefilta fish and smoke it!
The very first thing G-d commands Avraham is to go to Eretz Yisrael. That’s because the Land of Israel is the foundation for all of the Torah. The Children of Avraham are to be a great NATION, with their own Jewish land and government and army, and not scattered individuals living amongst the gentiles, speaking foreign languages and pledging allegiance to heathen regimes. Eretz Yisrael is the first, most central foundation of true Torah Judaism. That’s why G-d instructed Avraham to go there. Anyone who denies this basic truth doesn’t understand what Judaism is really about.
Let me give you an example. Everywhere around the world, when people want to know what’s happening with the Jews, they look toward Israel. They eyes of all the world are turned to the hills of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. No one cares about what’s happening with the Jews in Brooklyn, Toronto, or LA.
That’s why news sites like INN and the Jerusalem Post are so popular. Imagine there was a site called “Brooklyn National News.” Who would bother to read it? Nobody. Why? Because Jewish destiny is unfolding in the Land of Israel. Brooklyn is totally irrelevant.
I am are not coming to negate any true form of religious piety and fear of G-d that can be found in the Diaspora, but only the nefarious notion that rejects the centrality of Israel to Jewish life.
For the fun of it, let’s take a look at some headline stories at Brooklyn National News.com.
“NEW YORK JEWS HAIL HISTORIC MILESTONE VICTORY”
Sam Abrams, Director of Jewish Affairs for the Mayor’s Office, announced in a packed press conference that alternate-side-of- the-street parking will be suspended for the duration of the upcoming Hanukah holiday.
“This is a proud moment in the history of the Jewish People,” Abrams asserted. “In the struggle for Jewish rights, it is as great as the Maccabee victory itself!”
“JDF IN ANOTHER DARING RESCUE!”
The Queens division of the Jewish Defense Force arrived at the scene minutes after receiving an emergency call that Sandy, the famous cat of the Main Street Synagogue, was stuck in a tree.
Defense Force captain, Steve Friedman, made the daring climb up the ladder to save the terrified pussy. Letters of appreciation have been flooding into JDF headquarters from cat lovers around the world.
"FAMOUS HISTORICAL LANDMARK DESECRATED"
"We are shocked that this could happen here!" said Brooklyn City Councilman, Sam Abrams, standing in front of the swaztikas scrawled over the walls of Nathan's Hot Dogs in Coney Island, America's most famous Jewish landmark.
"The animals responsible for this shocking desecration will be brought to justice!" he promised. New York's most famous restaurant features sea food and clams alongside the famous weiners. But not everyone shared Abrams sadness and indignation. Chabad spokesman, Rabbi David Greenblattensteinman said, "It serves them right for advertising their products as kosher style. Kosher style my tuchis!"
“ORTHODOX UNION OF GEFILTA FISH MANUFACTURERS GEARS UP FOR RECORD BREAKING SALES”
The Brooklyn based OUGFM is expecting revenues in the billions this year after record breaking holiday sales. “With so many Yom Tovim, one after the other, American Jewish housewives have stopped cooking and are serving gefilta fish instead at every meal,” reports OUGFM senior executive, Sam Abrams. To give the traditional dish a new and exciting look, manufacturers are marketing strawberry and banana flavored gefilta fish, shaped to look like the fruit itself. The look is so real that the monkeys in the Central Park Zoo who were tested always reached out for the gefilta fish bananas over the real McCoy.
In an effort to attract more potential buyers, the OUGFM sponsored a World Championship Gefilta Fish Eating Contest last week in Madison Square Garden. The winner was Kyota Mitzibushi, a reform rabbi from Tokyo, who ate 1000 gefilta fish balls in an hour.
The booming gefilta fish market got an additional boost from two unexpected sources. In order to regain a big drop in Jewish support, U.S. President Obama announced that he was substituting gefilta fish instead of turkey for his main course this coming Thanksgiving. This strategy isn’t new to Obama who modeled for Levy’s Rye Bread as a boy to convince Jews that he wasn’t a Moslem.
Gefilta fish also made world headlines when liberal American Jewish billionaire, Jerry Jerrison, tried to break through the Israeli sea boycott of Gaza by sending a freighter loaded with gefilta fish to the starving Palestinians. “Let them eat gefilta fish!” he exclaimed. The Israeli Navy stopped the ship, but allowed the food supplies to reach Gaza via Egypt. Instead of eating the fish, the Arabs inserted gunpowder into the gefilta fish balls, along with fragments of the shattered glass bottles, and are using them as homemade grenades against Israeli vehicles traveling through Judea and Samaria.
Knessset member Yaacov Katz “Ketzele” was quick to condemn America for arming the Arabs against Jewish settlers. He called for Obama’s immediate impeachment.
"BNN.com Signs on New Editor"
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Alfred E. Neuman is to become the new Editor of the BNN news desk.
Best known for his controversial bestseller, "Israel Isn't My Homeland," Neuman is married to Palestinian actress Arbella Abbas. During Benjamin Netanyahu's last visit to Washington, Neuman was taken into custody for throwing a gefilta fish ball at the Israeli Prime Minister. He promises to bring balanced reporting to events in the Middle East.
We are back to the Torah portion “Lech Lecha,” and once again I am totally baffled and stumped. We read the Torah over and over again, year after year, to internalize its messages. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Now what’s the very first thing G-d says to Avraham, the father of the Jews?
“Get thee forth to the Land of Israel!”
G-d doesn’t even bother to say, “Hello, I’m G-d. Nice to meet you.”
He doesn’t tell him to observe Shabbat, or keep kosher, or put on tefillin. He doesn’t tell him to eat gefilta fish, or bagels and lox. He doesn’t even tell him to be a doctor or a lawyer. Right off the bat, G-d tells him to go to Israel!
Obviously, we are to learn from this that G-d wants the Jews to live in Israel. Avraham is the father of the Jewish People. What’s true for the father is true for the son. Not only that. G-d could easily have arranged things so that Avraham was born in the Land of Israel and not in Ur Kasdin. After all, Adam and Eve were here, and Cain and Abel fought over who would inherit the Land, and Noah came here after he got off the boat. Avraham could easily have been born here. But G-d chose to set him first in the Diaspora to teach us that wherever a Jew might be born, G-d wants him to immigrate to Israel, just like with Avraham.
At least this is clear to me. I don’t see any other way you can read it. But then I thought that maybe my great love for Israel makes me prejudice, so to test things out, I asked my teenage daughter:
“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked her.
“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” she answered.
Maybe, I thought, she heard me say that to guests from America during some Shabbat meal. So I decided to ask my ten year old boy.
“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.
“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered without even pausing to think.
“Hmmm,” I thought. Maybe he heard me tell someone too. So I went next door to the neighbor and asked their eight-year old kid.
“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.
“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered just as fast as my son had.
Just to be sure, I hung out on the street to ask some random passerby. We live near the Institute for the Blind, and pretty soon a blind person came by, feeling his way with a cane.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.
“So all Jews will know that G-d wants us to live in Israel,” he answered without batting an eye.
Maybe it’s only Israelis who think that way, I thought. So to make the test as fair and scientific as I could, I walked over to the nearby Renaissance Hotel to ask a tourist. The first person I met was a tall African man dressed in a colorful tribal garment who had come to Israel as part of “Pastor Wayne’s Kenyan Jerusalem Mission.”
"Excuse me,” I said. “Do you speak English?”
“Quite well,” he answered with a friendly smile that lit up his face.
“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham in the Bible is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.
“To teach the Jewish People that G-d wants them to live in the Promised Land,” he replied in a deep, resonant voice that echoed through the lobby like a jungle drum.
Well, that pretty much proved that the reason was obvious not only to me, and that I haven’t been exaggerating or making things up in my blogs.
Seeing another guest wearing a baseball cap and speaking very basic Hebrew in a distinctly American accent, I decided to ask him as well.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked.
“Beats me,” he answered with a blank look on his face. Then turning away, he called to his wife, “Sheila! Go back to the room and bring the suntan cream. The sun here is murder!”
That’s interesting, I thought. But just for the benefit of the doubt, I decided to ask another vacationer.
“Hi, shalom, where are you from?” I asked him.
“New York,” he answered.
“Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?” I asked him.
“It's a great place for a vacation, but it’s expensive as hell. I could have seen all of Italy at half the price.”
Despondent, I walked over to the bar and ordered a double scotch. I just couldn’t make any sense of it. I mean, children understand it. A blind person understands it. Gentiles understand it.
“What’s the matter?” the bartender asked. “You look like your wife kicked you out of the house.”
He was an Arab.
“Let me ask you something,” I said. “Why do you think the very first thing that G-d says to Avraham is to go to the Land of Israel?”
“To teach the Jews that he wants them to live in Israel,” he answered.
Even he knew the answer!
Was I ever crestfallen I still am. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. I just can’t figure it out.
I am aware that this blog deals with a controversial topic. There are many people who believe matters like mast@@bation and s&xual transgression should not be addressed in a public forum. On the other hand, the widespread immorality of our times, the lack of modesty on the street, and the rampant dangers of Internet pornography that have insidiously crept into every home and cell phone, demand that the subject be confronted, in order to give people the understanding and ammunition they need to counter the terrible threat.
The holiness of the Jewish People rests precisely on the holiness of our sexual lives. This is why the brit milah, symbolizing the Covenant between the Jewish People and G-d, is stamped on the s&xual organ.
In addition, under the Seven Commandments of the Children of Noach, the gentile nations of the world are prohibited from indulging in mast@@bation and s&xual transgression.
This is the reason we initiated the jewishsexuality.com website, which is filled with information on these crucial topics.
Recently, a doctor from Los Angeles ordered 400 copies of my book, “Secret of the Brit,” to distribute throughout his community, saying the situation was completely out of hand and no one talks about it. He regularly gives his patients a questionnaire to fill out and one of the questions concerns hobbies. He reports that youths unabashedly include watching pornography on the Internet as one of their main pastimes.
At the end of the Torah portion “Bereishit,” G-d sees the widespread transgression of mankind and repents for having created them: “And the L-rd saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and all the impulse of the thoughts of man’s heart was only continually evil” (Bereishit, 6:5). The Zohar explains that the meaning of evil (“ra”) in this verse has the same meaning of the word “ra” which appears in a verse about the sons of Yehuda, who were stricken to death by G-d for spilling semen in vain: “And Er, Yehuda’s firstborn was evil (ra) in the sight of the L-rd” (Bereishit, 38:7).
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai explains that there is nothing in the world that so arouses the wrath of G-d as s&xual transgression, teaching that the Generation of the Flood was not considered completely guilty until mankind s&xually corrupted its ways upon by earth by spilling their semen in vain (Zohar, Bereishit 57b). As the Torah records: “And G-d looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” (Bereishit, Parshat Noach, 6:13). The Hebrew word “corrupt” (“shichat”) is also mentioned in reference to Yehuda’s son, Onan, for having spilled his seed in vain (Bereishit, 38:9). At the time of Noach, people would commit this sin openly in public for everyone to see. Thus, measure for measure, just as they destroyed their seed, they were destroyed, and just as they sinned through the illicit pleasures of misusing their holy s&xual fluid, they were destroyed by the scalding hot waters of the flood (Zohar, Bereshit 56A; 61B).
Only the righteous Noach, who guarded the Brit, was saved.
It is forbidden to spill semen in vain. This is a graver sin than any other mentioned in the Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 23:1). Jewish Law furthermore stresses the prohibitions surrounding looking at images and engaging in fantasies which trigger a sexual arousal. Sperm contains the life-force and genetic blueprint of man, and the soul which is destined to come into the world. When these are wasted though sexual transgression, the Shekinah is cast into exile and mankind alienates itself from its Maker (See Niddah 13A and B).
Thus we can see how potentially dangerous Internet surfing can be. Another instance of spilling semen in vain can come about in the sanctity of marriage. In the throes of passion, if a husband embraces his wife and has an emission before the marital act, this too requires soul-searching and repentance. Also, if he should have relations with his wife in an unholy manner that brings about the wasting of semen, he must rectify the spiritual damage he caused. (See the book, Darkei Taharah, by Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, Pg.198) It is precisely in this regard that we are commanded, “You shall be holy!” Our Sages teach us that a person should strive to sanctify himself even in that which is permitted to him. (Ibid, Pg.178. Yevamot 20A).
One must know that with all of the gravity that s&xual transgression involves, penitence (tshuva) is certainly possible, as the Rambam states: “There is nothing that stands in the way of repentance.” (Laws of Tshuva, 3:24)
Furthermore, a person should not think that because of the great number, or because of the seriousness of his sins, he can never start anew. This is not true, as the Rambam makes clear:
“Let not the penitent suppose that he is prevented from attaining the degree of the righteous because of the iniquities and sins that he has committed. This is not so. He is beloved by the Creator, and desired by Him, as if he had never sinned. Moreover his reward is great, since through having tasted sin, he renounced it and overcame his evil passions. The sages say, ‘Where penitents stand, the completely righteous cannot stand.’ (Berachot 34B) This means that the degree attained by penitents is higher than that of those who had never sinned, since the penitent has had to put forth a greater effort to subdue his passion than he who has never sinned.” (Ibid, 7:4)
The Talmud teaches that the penitent not only cleanses himself of transgressions, his penitence brings blessing to all of existence: “Great is penitence for it brings healing to the world, and an individual who repents is forgiven, and the whole world is forgiven with him.” (Yoma 86A)
Tshuva is undoubtedly one of the most uplifting experiences in life. Nonetheless, because of the pain involved in facing past errors, and the need to make real changes in order to set one’s life on a healthier, holier path, the challenges facing the penitent are not easy. This is especially true when it comes to redressing s&xual transgression where the penitent is called upon to redirecting life’s most powerful urge from an egotistical quest for personal pleasure to a fervent love and attachment to G-d.
Paths of penitence over sexual sins are outlined in the section “Secret of the Brit,” on the jewishsexuality.com website. Readers may also find the section “Pornoholics Anonymous” of value in overcoming the many pitfalls of the Internet. The article “Keys to a Holy Marital Union,” can serve as needed reminders and safeguards for husbands and wives.
Like in the days of Noach, to save ourselves from the tsunami of immodesty that is flooding the world, everyone has to build his, and her, own ark and seek shelter inside. For us, the ark is the Torah, its commandments, and the wise and holy teachings of our Sages. Only by clinging onto these lifesavers can we spare ourselves from the serious and omnipresent dangers we face.
If you have trouble guarding your eyes, you are not the only one. The problem began a long long time ago with Eve in the Garden of Eden. Mankind has been suffering the consequences ever since.
The account of her tragic error is found in the very first portion of the Torah, “Bereishit,” as it says:
“And the woman SAW that the tree was good for eating, and that is was a DESIRE TO THE EYES….” Just like with the temptations of the Internet.
Too bad that Eve didn’t have a filter on her computer. The world would be a lot better place today.
After Eve convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit with her, the Torah relates:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked.”
The Torah commentator, the Sforno, explains that previous to their sin, the sexual act was performed to fulfill the Divine commandment to be fruitful and multiply. But now they felt shame in their sexuality and nakedness in that the primary function of their sexuality became the selfish satisfaction of sensual desire. They now displayed a desire for every base pleasure, despite its harmfulness.
Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsh writes that man need not be ashamed of his sexuality, as long as it stands in the service of the Almighty, as set down in the laws of marital relations. But when this condition is lacking, man feels ashamed in his nakedness, awakening the Divine voice within us, reminding us that we are not meant to be beasts.
Preceding their transgression was another example of the dangers of following after one’s eyes, in the wickedness of the serpent, the world’s very first pornographer. The Torah states that “the serpent was cunning beyond any beast of the field.” Rashi explains the lust and jealousy of the serpent was aroused when he SAW Adam and Eve engaging in marital relations, unashamed and unconcealed, “in the eyes of all” (Bereishit, 3:1, Rashi).
The jealous lust of the serpent led to the downfall of mankind, just like the pornography on the Internet destroys thousands of lives today. Adam and Eve were subsequently expelled from the Garden, and man has been trying to return ever since.
So if you still haven’t installed an anti-porn filter on your computer – do so today. For your sake, and for the sake of your children.