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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.
What can you do? Some people are simply lost cases. It doesn’t matter what I write, they’ll insist the opposite. If I say the sky is blue, they’ll reply that it isn’t really blue – it’s a spectrum of colors that looks blue due to atmospheric conditions…. If I say that a person needs water to live, they’ll say that research proves that a person can survive on carrot juice and goat’s milk. If I write that Jewish babies can’t result from homosexual couples, they’ll answer that babies can be bought in Thailand and converted to Judaism. If I say that G-d wants us to live in Israel, they’ll protest that if G-d wanted us to live in Israel, He wouldn’t have sent us into galut.
Other people are confused about things simply because they haven’t learned. Or because the things they have learned are filled with errors and misconceptions. This is especially true when it comes to Torah. When the Jewish People were exiled from the Land of Israel, the Torah was shrunken into “four cubits of halachah” (Berachot 8A). Without a land and country of our own, the national framework of Torah was shattered, and we were only left with a handful of ritual commandments, like kashrut, tefillin, shofar, and Shabbat, sort of like the leftover bones of a smoked salmon after Sabbath morning kiddush.
Our rabbis instructed us to continue to perform these mitzvot in the Diaspora, even though the commandments were given to be performed in Israel, as the Ramban (Vayikra, 18:25) and the Kuzari (5:23) make clear. This was enacted so the commandments wouldn’t be forgotten and seem new when we returned to the Land of Israel, as Rashi and other sources explain (Rashi, Devarim, 11:17-17; Sifre).
Thus, in the exile, the focus of Torah studies was placed on the limited day-to-day mitzvot that still applied in our wandering status, and on the worship of the individual Jew, rather than on the all-encompassing Torah of Eretz Yisrael which focuses on the nation, in all of its aspects of Jewish statehood, and the service of G-d by the “Clal,” by the nation as a whole, through which the name of G-d is sanctified in the world.
Giving this miniaturized focus of Torah learning, and the prolonged exile from our Land, it wasn’t long before the national essence of the Torah was forgotten.
This situation was exacerbated by the pernicious influence of the gentile cultures where we lived, most specifically by Christianity, whose doctrines slowly crept into our psyches and altered our understandings of Torah. For instance, exiled amongst nations who believed in a separation between religion and state, we too began to view Judaism as merely the performance and celebration of religious rituals and holidays. True, we had more commandments than the gentiles, but other than that, we looked upon Judaism as a religion like any other, the mere practice of religious customs and laws. Matters of government, security, agriculture, economy, and the like, were taken care of by others, as if none of these things had anything to do with Judaism at all.
As generations passed, and we became accustomed to this sad and shrunken state of affairs, little by little, our longing for our own Jewish kingdom and nationhood in our own Jewish Land - the essence and goal of the Torah - became, at best, a dream, or a jingle about Mashiach, or, more often, a seemingly irrelevant matter that had no practical bearing on our lives (Orot, 1:1).
Nonetheless, the Torah is not just a list of religious deeds and holidays for the individual Jew, as many people still believe, clinging out of habit, and out of a lack of learning to this myopic and mistaken view, which stems from the darkness of the exile and the influence of foreign religions and creeds.
For instance, take a look at this week’s Torah portion. It begins talking about the role of “shoftim and shotrim,” Jewish policemen and judges. Rashi explains that the role of Jewish policemen is to make sure the commandments are kept by the populace. There may be a Jewish cop or two in New York, but he can’t give you a fine or drag you to jail for selling bread on Passover. Obviously, we need our own Jewish homeland and society to keep this aspect of Torah. And while the policeman and judges in Israel today don’t yet fulfill this function in all of its Torah aspects (and very often act in defiance of the Torah as many of you are fond of noting) this is a passing phase in the evolving process of shedding the mentality and cobwebs of galut, and gradually returning to our true Torah lifestyle, little by little, so that all segments of the nation can participate in the national enterprise of Redemption, religious and non-religious alike, as part of G-d’s great game plan in restoring the Jewish People to Zion.
Similarly regarding the prohibition of idol worship, which follows in this week’s Torah portion, if a Jew in America wants to go to church and bow down to a wooden statue, there is no one to stop him. To enact this guideline of Torah, you need your own Jewish national Land, with your own legal enforcement system. This should be obvious to everyone.
The Torah portion continues with the injunction that legal questions must be decided by the Jewish supreme court in Jerusalem. Even the people who are obsessed with disagreeing with everything I write will have a hard time explaining that Jerusalem can just as well be in Texas or Chile, and that the Torah’s use of the expression, “the place that I have chosen” means not necessarily Jerusalem, but any place that there is a thriving Jewish community, even in Melbourne or Cape Town.
Next the Torah portion speaks about the Jewish king. Imagine a Jewish king in Paris, London, or the White House! Especially when the Jewish king is called upon to enforce Torah law over the kingdom where he rules. Obviously, this part of the Torah can only come to fruition in the Land of the Jewish People. Also, please note that the affairs of the king refer specifically to the Jewish NATION in the NATIONAL framework of the Torah. It isn’t a private mitzvah for every Jew to declare himself king. Imagine what chaos that would lead to:
“I’m the king!”
“No, I’m the king!”
“What do you mean? Both of you are imposters – Elvis is the king!”
Obviously the Torah is telling us that Judaism is much more than a list of ritual precepts – Judaism is the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION of the Jewish NATION. And that can only come about in the Land of Israel.
Then this week’s Torah portion goes on to discuss the allotments awarded to the Kohanim and Leviim. Once again, all of these matters of Torah concerning priest dues and tithes only apply in the Land of Israel.
Then comes the rules that apply to prophets. While there may be many would-be prophets wandering around the streets of Monsey, New York, and Vienna, Virginia, prophecy is one of the unique specialties of the Jewish People restricted to the Land of Israel, or concerning the Land of Israel, as in the example of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the land of Kasdim, which continued because it started in Eretz Yisrael and concerned the return of the Jews to Israel (Kuzari, 2:14).
Next in the Torah portion comes the designation of “cities of refuge,” where accidental murderers can flee. Once again, the Torah is not talking about Miami Beach, Las Vegas, or Chicago, even in the heydays of Meir Lansky and Bugsy Siegel.
And then we come to commandments about the Israeli armed forces and war. With all due credit to the JDL, how long do you think a Jewish army, or even commando unit, would last in Russia, Germany, or the good ol’ USA? Obviously, to have a Jewish army you need your own Jewish country. I think even the biggest adversaries of aliyah can understand that.
All of these things are vital parts of Judaism and the Jewish People: policemen, judges, Jerusalem, Jewish kings, priestly tithes, cities of refuge, prophecy, armies, and wars.
Finally, the Torah portion ends with the mitzvah of “eglah arufah,” should a murdered body be discovered on the outskirts of the city. Once again, if you live in Brooklyn or Monsey, this doesn’t apply to you, so you can continue to relax.
It turns out that the Torah portion is completely concerned with Jewish life in the Land of Israel. The Torah we have in the exile is an “itsy bitsy teeny weeny” Torah when compared to the all-encompassing national Torah of Eretz Yisrael.
G-d commands all of us as Jews to establish this national Torah constitution and perform its laws in the one and only place on Earth where this is possible – in Eretz Yisrael. This is a national mitzvah, incumbent on all the nation, the establishment of the Jewish Nation, according to our Torah constitution, in Israel. Perhaps nobody ever taught you, but this is what Torah is all about. Right now it is called Medinat Yisrael. If in the future it is called something else, like “Medinat Moshe,” or “Medinat David,” or “Medinat Yehuda,” who cares? Right now, G-d, in His infinite kindness, has given us Medinat Yisrael, and it is up to us to build it and to do our share in steering it more and more toward the path of the Torah. To do that, we have to be here.
In the hope of inspiring others to take advantage of the special closeness to G-d during the month of Elul, I will try to describe how I, a totally assimilated screenwriter in Hollywood, made the long, exhilarating, challenging, humbling, and, joy-filled journey back to G-d, to Torah, and to Eretz Yisrael.
It is a voyage from depression to happiness, from emptiness to fulfillment, from darkness to light.
You can make it too.
While old-time readers may be familiar with my magical mystery tour, new readers are sure to find some benefit in hopping onboard my yellow submarine for the journey. I will try to include some new insights and illustrations along the way to make the adventure interesting to veteran travelers as well.
35 years ago, there was a popular TV mini-series called ROOTS, about the Blacks in America. Likewise, my mini-tale may be called, “SHORASHIM,” which means roots in Hebrew, for, all in all, it was a journey back to my roots, to where we all came from, and who we all are.
In many ways, it was like a voyage back through history in a Jules Verne time-tunnel ship, smashing through barriers of time and place, shedding generations of foreign identities, and peeling off layers and layers of foreign cultures, foreign values, foreign aspirations, and foreign ideas, to break on through the Matrix of the Truman Show bubble we live in, to get to the other side, to the roots of my soul, back, back, back through 2000 years of exile, in order to discover my true self and forge a steadfast attachment to G-d, to Torah, to the saga of the Jewish Nation, and to Eretz Yisrael, where my, and your, great great great great great grandfather was born.
To discover all these new (old) treasures, I had to give up many things. I had to give up my inflated ego, my arrogance, and my preoccupation with myself. I had to give up my false identity as an American with all of its impure and fleeting aspirations of achieving fame, money, and success. I had to give up the need to be in constant intellectual control, in order to let change happen and make room for G-d in my life.
Before discovering the truth of the Torah, I was the center of my existence. Afterward, G-d became the center. Before my enlightenment, I always did what I wanted to do. Afterward, I realized that we were put here on Earth to do what G-d wants us to do. Before I boarded the tshuva ship, I lived for myself and used my talents to further my own selfish interests. Afterwards, I realized that G-d had given me talents for the sake of the Torah and the Jewish People, to share with others the insights that He so graciously sent my way.
I remember sitting on a beach in Santa Monica and saying to myself, “You have to take off your screwed-up, neurotic American head, and put on the head of King David instead.”
I grew up in the “Fifties” in a typical assimilated Jewish family of the time. In those days, the reform movement wasn’t quite as watered down as it is today. We lit Hanukah candles, and Xmas lights (so I wouldn’t feel different from the other boys on our block.) We ate matzah on Passover, and hid Easter eggs like the gentiles. Hearing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah was a part of our yearly cycle, along with a respectful visit to the temple on Yom Kippur. But while my parents always fostered a pride in being Jewish, being an America came first.
To me, going to Hebrew school meant having to miss basketball practice and being different from my friends. When bar mitzvah time came around, our temple was under construction, so I led my bar mitzvah service in the local Unitarian church. That’s right – a church. To me, that’s a perfect metaphor for Jewish life in America – it’s like being bar mitzvahed in a church!
After that, I had nothing more to do with Judaism for almost two decades. It wasn’t a part of my consciousness at all. During my high school years at the prestigious Philips Andover Academy prep school, I tried my hardest to be a WASP like everyone else. On Sundays, while the “chosen” were praying upstairs in the beautiful New England church on the campus, we handful of Jews were allowed to hold an alternate service in a small room in the basement of the building.
Apparently, I was born with a sensitive soul, and even then I felt estranged from the constant patriotic American message of you-have-to-wear-tassled-penny-loafers-and-get-into-Harvard-at-any-price which Holden Caulfield expressed so wonderfully as “Andover bullshit” in the “Catcher in the Rye.”
My sense of not belonging at the prestigious gentile boarding school led me into becoming a prankster, hated by the Dean, who made sure that I was turned down at all of my top college choices. So I enrolled in the NYU Film School to spend the next four years watching movies. By the time I graduated, I had sold my first screenplay to Hollywood and was about to publish a novel with a big NY publishing house.
To make a long story short, I lived a hippie, bohemian life in Greenwich Village, going to off-Broadway plays, and reading all the Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Philip Roth, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe novels, in pursuit of the American Dream of becoming the next GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST. As the song says, I was Lenny Bruced, Great Gasbyed, Jim Morissoned, and Playboy Magazined out of my mind.
I lived with another lost and sensitive Jewish soul who was trying like me to be an “artist.” He used to see a shrink once a week and lay on the couch of his office without saying a word, for months on end, at $500 a pop, to please his father, who didn’t understand why his son was so depressed. Tragically, he ended up marrying a very nice gentile Jennie before ever having discovered that his problem was simply trying to be someone he wasn’t, turning his back on his exquisite Jewish soul to be just as American as everyone else.
Like my American ancestors before me, I heeded the call, “Go West, young man,” ready to take my place amongst the stars. My first pad was not far from the famous HOLLYWOOD sign.
Using a pen name, I sold two more original screenplays that were made into films. I had money, a new and cool apartment by the beach, a sexy sports car, a membership at a health club filled with beautiful California girls – in short the American Dream. In the morning, I used to work out in the weight room with Arnold Schwartzenegger, who was just starting his movie career. After slimnastics class with Susie, Wendy, Cindy, Sally, and Jane, I’d spend the afternoon at the beach, working on my tan. Nights were spent prowling the discos, may the Almighty forgive me. When in Rome do as the Romans do. But the truth is that I wasn’t happy. With each new conquest and success, I felt that something was missing. I thought maybe if I sold a script for more money, or bought a fancier car, then I would be happy. But it didn’t help.
Each new acquisition left me feeling empty. Now I know the reason for my darkness – even though I was wallowing in physical pleasures, I wasn’t giving any nourishment to my soul. Then I became physically ill with something called ulcerative colitis.
I would have to race to the bathroom with a diarrhea attack twenty times a day, and only blood would pour out. It blew my mind completely. Here I was, rocketing up the ladder of success in Hollywood, and I had to spend half my day in the bathroom. I had to take large doses of cortisone, which blew up my face like a beach ball. Seeing myself in the mirrors of the health club, I didn’t recognize the monster staring back. Try making a pass at a UCLA cheerleader when you have a face like Quasimodo. After a month of cortisone, the bleeding dried up, but the minute I got off the drug, the bleeding returned, more furious than before. At that time, I hadn’t heard about Rabbi Akiva, and I didn’t realize that my bleeding was all for the best – a Heavenly wake-up call, so to speak, warning me that I was on a glamorous track to hell. For almost another year, even though I was bleeding my guts out, I kept on living my same sordid Hollywood life.
After two years, when the medicine failed to cure me, I started out on a spiritual quest. I tried everything. Health food, macrobiotics, holistic massage, yoga, I Ching, acupuncture, gestalt, Tarot cards, not to mention a variety of mind-expanding drugs. One day, I was sitting on the beach when a friend asked me why I didn’t know anything about Judaism? The question hit me like a sledgehammer. I had studied world history. I had read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Kant, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Thoreau. I had studied the sciences, the arts, literature, and had checked out books about Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like. But I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. During my shrink period, I had read dozens of books about psychology, and I had studied enough Sigmund Freud to know that if you avoid something close to you, that means you have a psychological block, a deep inner fear which paralyzes you from facing what you are trying to avoid.
His question blew my mind. The same day I bought a Bible and started to read: "In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth." When I read those words, my gaze shot up to the sky. "Oh, no!" I thought. "G-d really exists, and I haven’t paid any attention to Him since my bar mitzvah." I kept turning pages as if I were reading the screenplay of an action adventure. G-d tells Avraham to go to the Land of Israel. Then He tells Moshe to free the Jews and take them to the Land of Israel. Over and over again, G-d tells the Jews that He is given them the commandments of the Torah to do them in the Land of Israel. The Land of Israel, the Land of Israel, over and over. At the time, I knew nothing about Eretz Yisrael. Sure, I had probably had heard about the Six-Day War, but as a super assimilated Jew, Israel was simply not a part of my weltanschauung. Yet according to the simple, straightforward reading of the Bible, it was clear that G-d wanted His People to live in the Land of Israel, and not in Los Angeles or New York.
By the grace of G-d, I understood with a flash of crystal clear knowledge, with those first head-spinning, sparkling rays of tshuva when G-d enters your life with a thundering ROAR, and lights up your life like the sun, that in order to hear the voice of my long silent soul, to my discover who I really was and find healing for my ailing body and spirit, I would have to chase after G-d with the same passion that I had been chasing after bimboes and fame.
In a flash of revelation, I understood that all of the world, with all its lusts and enticements, was merely a mask hiding the presence of G-d. The world, in Shakespeare’s words, was a stage. As fake as a studio back lot of Dodge City.
G-d hid Himself behind the curtain of the material world, whether in Hollywood or New York, letting people think they were in charge of show, but when G-d pulled open the curtains for me, I realized that He was behind everything, pulling the strings, like the director up in the control booth in the movie, “The Truman Show.”
In a split second of piercing awareness, like when the sea was split for the Jews leaving Egypt, and the sky was opened for everyone one to see the Divine Hand behind nature and history, I understood that G-d was behind everything.
I bought a book about the foundations of Judaism. Rosh HaShanah was coming, and I read about Tashlich. So on Rosh HaShanah day, I walked down to the beach and threw my cortisone pills into the Pacific Ocean.
"Please G-d," I begged. "Accept these pills as my sins and please heal me without any more medicine."
I had tried everything else, and I was convinced that my separation from G-d was the source of my problems. But without the medicine, I became sicker and sicker. I started bleeding profusely. Within a short time, I lost twenty pounds. Finally, I had to be hospitalized. They gave me the cortisone intravenously, but the minute I got out, I stopped taking the pill once again. I figured that by relying on the cortisone, I would never get down to the source of the problem. Once again, I started to bleed. One evening, I became really scared, thinking that if I kept up this insanity, either I would bleed to death, or I would have to have my colon surgically removed. That night I had a dream. I was in a second-hand clothes shop, looking at old clothes when I spotted a door to another room. Curious, I stepped inside. The inner room was filled with books in Hebrew, four walls of bookshelves stacked with holy Jewish texts, like the study hall of a yeshiva. I couldn’t read Hebrew at that time, but I was filled with a profound sense of peace and inner calm. I just wanted to stand there and soak in the holiness of the books. But the shop owner appeared and said he wanted to close the store. I begged him to let me stay another five minutes, just to stand there and look at the books. Grudgingly, he agreed. That’s when I saw another door to yet another inner room. Venturing forward, I stepped inside. The room was empty except for a huge black box in the center of the floor. It was a giant tefillin, looking like some gigantic oversized tefillin in a Woody Allen movie. Gazing at it, my heart swelled with love. Man how I wanted that tefillin. Suddenly, I heard a tremendous thunderous Voice From Above, like a Voice Out Of Sinai, proclaiming, "THIS IS THE ANSWER! YOU HAVE TO ATTACH YOURSELF TO G-D!" I awoke startled. My heart was pounding. The Voice still rang in my ears. It was the clearest, truest, most real experience I had ever heard in my life.
The dream made me understand that rejecting the world and becoming an ascetic wasn’t the path. That might be good for the first stage of tshuva, and for phony monks and swarmis, but G-d doesn’t want us sitting alone in the Himalayas, separated from mankind and leaving people to drop dead from disease and starvation. For a Jew, spirituality is bringing G-d into the world at every moment, to sanctify all of existence and raise it to perfection and tikun.
I realized that to enter the world of the Judaism, to understand its teachings, I would have to put aside all of my previous false and superficial notions of life, put aside, for the moment, all the books I had read and courses I had taken, and follow the Psalms of King David as my reliable guidebook, and accept the words of G-d in the Torah as absolute truth.
I realized that I would have to learn anew how to look with my eyes, how to hear with my ears, how to act.
For a Jew, the instruction manual is the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and that the way to get close to G-d is by doing the mitzvot, just like He commanded the Jewish People at Sinai.
The next morning after my dream, I went to an Orthodox shul and asked the rabbi to show me how to put on tefillin. He happily agreed and told me to say the Shema Yisrael prayer, which I still remembered from Hebrew School. But even though I would return to the synagogue every morning to put on tefillin, I was still bleeding profusely. Finally, I decided that to stay alive I had to continue taking the cortisone. That very same morning, my uncle phoned, asking if I could drive him to the hospital. He had to have laser surgery on a cataract, so he needed someone to drive him home afterward. Since my aunt was a doctor, I asked him if she could write me out a prescription for the cortisone, because I wanted to avoid the tortuous medieval examinations I always had to suffer whenever I went to the gastroenterologist. When I met my uncle later that morning, he handed me the prescription. At the hospital, all during his treatment, I stood outside the operating room and prayed the same mantra over and over, "G-d, please heal my uncle. G-d, please heal my uncle." For forty-five minutes straight. Thank G-d, the laser treatment was a success. When I returned to my apartment, I headed straight to the bathroom, as was my usual custom. But this time, there was no bleeding! The blood had vanished. Disappeared! For the first time in weeks. Without any medicine! The bleeding never came back. Even then I knew it was over. I felt like G-d had reached out a finger and healed my colitis. I was astounded.
I was absolutely dumbstruck by the miracle. "Am I hypnotizing myself with all of this religion business?" I thought. But the bleeding didn’t return. No doctor has ever been able to explain it. The cortisone had always taken ten days to turn off the bleeding, and here the bleeding stopped without taking cortisone at all.
I was blown away. How could I continue on with my bohemian life of beaches and Hollywood discos after that? The next night, after not having bled the whole day, I prayed a heartfelt bedtime prayer. "Dear G-d," I said. "I don’t know why you have come into my life and done this great miracle for me. But I am certainly grateful, and I would like to make You happy some way in return. Tell me what You want me to do, and I will do it. When I read the Bible, it seems clear that You want the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel. So if You want me to go there, give me some kind of sign and I’ll go. If You want me to stay here in Hollywood, I’ll do that too. Maybe I can write Jewish movies, or get a job at some Jewish newspaper. Just give me a sign from Heaven, and I’ll do it."
The very next morning, when I was leaving my apartment, I noticed that I had mail in my mailbox. It turned out to be a large travel brochure. On the cover was a big picture of the Western Wall. The caption read: "JERUSALEM, MY CHOSEN." I got goose pimples all over my body. The very morning after I asked G-d for a sign whether to go to Israel or not, I found this travel brochure in my mailbox! Never in my life had I ever received any kind of Jewish mail from any kind of Jewish organization. Remember, I was totally assimilated. Once again, my head started spinning in circles. "There is a director greater than Steven Spielberg," I thought. Not only had G-d answered my prayer for a sign, He had obviously known in advance that I would make such a request, because He had to arrange that someone would mail me the brochure, so that it would arrive in my mailbox the very morning after my midnight request!
That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel.
Dear Reader, if you are looking to be happy, and in harmony with yourself, with G-d, and with the universe, the answer is t’shuva.
Since the new month of Elul is the month of t’shuva, let’s take another look at the meaning of t’shuva.
While t’shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, the root of the Hebrew word t’shuva means “return.” T’shuva is a return to the source, to one’s roots, to one’s deepest inner self.
Rabbi Kook writes:
“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principal t’shuva, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to G-d, to the Soul of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence....” (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:10).
One can readily understand that to reach fulfillment and happiness, a person must be true to himself. In modern times, this basic understanding has been corrupted into a “do your own thing” attitude. Rabbi Kook is advocating a deeper, inner search, far beyond the surface passions and emotions which often lead people to express their every desire and lust under the supposed justification of “This is who I am.”
I remember how unhappy I was when I was living in LA. Yes, I had a nice sports car, money, membership in a sports club filled with beautiful people, but I felt miserable and empty inside. A terrible anxiety followed me wherever I went. Even though I was surrounded by people, I was so looooooooooooooonely and confused. Another bar, another disco, another joint, another stranger, don’t you just love them when they’re going out the door?
Why wasn’t I happy? After all, I had all the good things in life. What was missing?
After a long and painful quest back back back back through layers and layers of disguises and deceits, back back back to WHO I REALLY WAS, back to G-d and to Torah, I realized that up till that exhilarating, ecstatic, mind-blowing return to my soul, I had been living a lie, the BIG AMERICAN LIE, squeezing myself into the straitjacket of trying to turn myself into a Hollywood poster boys, doing everything I could to hide my Jewishness in order to fit in and be like everyone else.
Of course I was screwed up and miserable in America. I was desperately trying to be somebody who I wasn’t. I was living in a land where I didn’t belong, trying to mold myself into a perverse and empty culture, speaking someone else’s language, wearing other people’s clothes, trying to squeeze my face into the face of James Dean.
It is no secret that there is great darkness, confusion, and pain in the world. Diaspora bookstores are filled with self-help books on how to be happy. Layman’s guides to psychology line shelf after shelf. Our generation has been called “the age of anxiety.” People often live out their lives plagued with depression, sickness, a sense of dissatisfaction and constant unrest. Psychiatrists and psychologists have become the prophets of the moment, proposing dozens of theories to explain man’s existential dilemmas.
Whether it is because we suffer from an Oedipus complex, or from a primal anxiety at having been separated from the womb, from sexual repression, or from the trauma of death, mankind is beset with neuroses. Vials of valium and an assortment of anti-depressants and “uppers” can be found in the medicine cabinets of the very best homes. Not to mention the twenty-four-hour bombardment of work, television, pick-up bars, computer games, Internet pornography, discos, and drugs which people use to blot out the never ending angst that they feel.
Rabbi Kook understands all of this darkness and anguish. He sees its source not in external causes, nor in the traumas of childhood. He looks beyond social, cultural, psychological, and family dynamics to shed spiritual light on the world’s confusion and pain.
“What is the cause of melancholy?” he asks. “The answer is the over abundance of evil deeds, evil character traits, and evil beliefs on the soul. The soul’s deep sensitivity feels the bitterness which these cause, and it draws back, frightened and depressed” (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).
T’shuva comes to light up the soul and transforms depression into joy.
My dear friends, the remedy from unhappiness, pornography addition, lonely nights wasted on the Internet, homosexuality, arrogance, personal frustration, anger, and living in places and cultures where you simply do not belong is t’shuva.
This month of Elul, may we all merit to return in complete t’shuva, to ourselves, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel, and to G-d. Amen.
We write a great deal about Israel, so, to take a peek at the other side of the coin, let’s have a look at what’s happening with the Jews in America.
In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of neurotic, unmarried Jewish singles who keep getting older every year without bringing new Jewish progeny into the world, not to mention Jewish homosexuals whose life is like a shooting star, fireworks that light up the sky for a fleeting moment, leaving no trace at all whatsoever.
An old friend wrote me an email recently, asking me if I would write to his son, who refuses to bar mitzvah his 13 year old boy. The grandfather is willing to pay for everything, but boy’s father still refuses, calling a bar mitzvah, “a meaningless ceremony.” Unfortunately, in America, all too often, it is exactly that, with the synagogue prayers that no one understands, the rabbi’s obligatory speech, and the expensive noisy party with Michael Jackson and NASA space agency themes.
Another friend sent me an email about the Jewish Heritage Month celebration at the White House, where the great baseball pitcher, Sandy Koufax, was one of the guests.
Sandy Koufax sanctified the Name of G-d by refusing to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur day, but I don’t recall that either of his wives was Jewish, and I don’t think he ever had children to pass on his outstanding Jewish pride.
At the White House party, some black woman who calls herself a rabbi read Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “A New Colossus,” which is inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and goes something like this:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
So that I can destroy the Jews at my golden door!"
This all fits in with Israel Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar’s, letter to the New York Times on Friday to America’s Reform and Conservative Jews, warning them that their attempts to influence the laws of conversion are causing great damage to Jewry. In America, at a Jewish Community Center dance, it’s impossible to tell who is a Jew anymore. Sally says she’s Jewish, and Peter says he’s Jewish, and most of the bar-mitzvah boys and girls aren’t really Jews at all.
The situation has reached disaster proportions and is growing like an uncontrolled oil spill. In my extended family back in America, and amongst my old friends, almost everyone has married out of the faith. Over ninety percent without exaggeration.
So stop squawking about the problems in Israel. Assimilation doesn’t exist here. On the other hand, Diaspora Jewry is on the ropes, like a terminal patient on the way out, as it should be.
The Diaspora (read exile) is a long, passing curse that isn’t meant to last.
The only future for the Jewish People is in Israel, just as G-d said it would be.
That’s the truth and there’s no getting around it. As they say, “People who live in crumbling houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
[PS - if you don't see your talkbacks posted, apparently there is some type of mechanical failure that is holding up the reader talkbacks on my blog. Sorry for the mysterious inconvenience.]
Today we have the distinctive pleasure of interviewing INN's always fun and controversial, all-star blogger, Tzvi Fishman.
Q: Can you please tell us why you are so gung-ho on living in Israel? You write about it all the time.
A: I don’t understand the question. I am a Jew, and Israel is the Jewish homeland. G-d gave Africa to the Africans, and China to the Chinese, and Israel to the Jews. Can anything be more straightforward than that?
Q: There are many Jews in the world, and they don’t all live in Israel.
A: I can only speak for myself. I don’t want to live in someone else’s country. I don’t want to live with gentiles. I want to live with Jews.
Q: There are those who say you harp on the subject too much.
A: G-d harps on the subject. He told Abraham to go to Israel. He told Moshe to bring the Jews to Israel. Over and over again in the Torah, God commands the Jews to keep the Torah in the Land of Israel. The whole pageant of Biblical history unfolded in Israel. For 2000 years, we have been praying and dreaming to return here. For the last hundred years, God has orchestrating world wars and world history to bring his exiled children home. The truth is that I don’t harp on the subject enough.
Q: How did you become so in love with Israel?
A: When I realized that there was a G-d, and that He is the King of the world, and that we are on earth to do His will, and that He wants us to keep the Torah, then, because I wanted to get as close to G-d as I could, and do everything I could to please Him, the way a dutiful son wants to please his father, of course I came to Israel. This is where G-d wants us to live, as He says again and again in the Torah.
Q: There are those who say that they will come to Israel when Mashiach comes.
A: Why wait? Why get to the movie theater in the middle of the film if you can be there at the beginning? Putting on tefillin isn’t connected to the Mashiach’s coming and neither is living in Israel. Millions of Jews are already here. The doors are open.
Q: A Jew can keep the commandments anywhere. Why should he come to Israel?
A: First of all, you can keep many more commandments in Israel. Also, as the “Kuzari makes clear, the commandments can only be complete in the place that was especially designed for their performance. In the Holy Land. Everywhere else, as our Sages explain, we do them as reminders, so we will remember how to perform them when we return to Israel. Furthermore, outside of Israel the Torah is truncated into a private individual Judaism without any national element. It becomes a practice of rituals like with other religions. The true intention of the Torah is different. The Torah is the national constitution of the holy JEWISH NATION. We are not meant to be a minority in someone else’s land, immersed in foreign cultures. We are meant to have our own country and national format. That’s how we become a light to the nations.
Q: That sounds very grandiose. How does that come to expression in your day-to-day life?
A: Every morning when I wake up, I am overjoyed to be in Jerusalem. I am filled with gratitude to G-d for having brought me here to His Holy Land and Holy City. Whenever I want to pray at the Kotel, it’s only ten minutes away. When I visit Beit-El, I get shivers knowing that I am actually in the place where my forefather, Yaacov, dreamt of the ladder to Heaven. When I visit Hevron, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, I am overwhelmed with an exalted feeling of closeness to G-d. When I watch my children growing up speaking Hebrew and identifying 100% with their heritage as the Children of Israel, I am incredibly thankful that they don’t have to suffer the schizophrenic, dual identity that I grew up with as an American Jew. When I buy something at the supermarket, I know I am bolstering the economy of the Jewish people in Israel. When I did army service, and when my sons serve in Tzahal, I feel proud to do my share in defending the Jewish Nation. When I put money aside for the marriages of my kids, I know I am building the Jewish Nation in Israel and fulfilling the promises of our Prophets of old. My Judaism isn’t just the performance of individual mitzvot, like it would have been if I had stayed in America – rather, it is an all-encompassing national Jewish experience 24 hours a day and the realization of the ingathering of the exiles in our time.
Q: You paint a rosy picture, but what about all of the real problems in Israel, like constant security threats, social inequality, religious tension, media bias, governmental and judicial corruption, destroying settlements and surrendering land, to name just a few.
A: What about them?
Q: Where do they fit in with your great love for the Land?
A: One thing has nothing to do with the other. Every place has problems. That’s life. In addition, the greater the undertaking, the greater the problems which arise. In rebuilding Israel, we are involved in a world historic undertaking of colossal proportions. The joy of living in the Land of Israel isn’t lessened by the problems and challenges we face. Not at all. Remember, G-d told Abraham to come to Israel when idol worshippers filled the Land. G-d told Moshe to bring the Jews to Israel when the seven hostile nations and giants ruled over the Land. All of our great forefathers had lifetimes filled with problems and trials. Problems, even temporary setbacks and tragedies like Oslo and Gush Katif, don’t annul the commandment to live here. Just like G-d tested our forefathers, He tests us with all kinds of trials to see if we really set Jerusalem above out chiefest joy. The Gemara teaches that the Land of Israel is acquired by sufferings. The problems and challenges are all a part of G-d’s plan. They come to make us stronger.
Q: Still, when you open a newspaper or a webpage, Israel is beset with problems.
A: It all depends where you put your focus. Rabbi Kook explained that the problems are like a smokescreen, hiding the great light that is getting stronger every day. Israel has never been stronger economically, technologically, and militarily. The baal tshuva movement is gaining new adherents every day, and there has never been such a boom of Torah learning. The religious community is growing at a high-speed rate, and soon the religious will be the clear majority in the country. The Almighty could have created the universe in one day, but He created it in seven days instead to teach us patience. Only a juvenile thinks that things should be complete all at once from the start. Also with the Redemption of Israel, the Gemara tells us that it unfolds little by little, stage after stage, like the dawning of day.
Q: Many people have genuine difficulties which prevent them from making aliyah. What do you say about that?
A: Aliyah isn’t always a possibility for everyone. But certainly, all Jews should do whatever they can to encourage aliyah, especially amongst the young. The focus of Jewish education and philanthropy in the Diaspora should be on building Israel and not on strengthening Jewish life in the exile. It should be obvious to everyone that the future of the Jewish People is here.