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Ask the Rabbi
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.
Av 10, 5770, 7/21/2010
Now that summer is in full swing, it's time for some good summer reading. So here's the first draft of a short novel I have recently finished. Every few days, I'll post another chapter. I don't know if I'll serialize the whole thing. I have been warned that blog readers don't have an attention span of more than a thousand words. I think that's an exaggeration. Six hundred words is more like it. Anyway, you don't have to read it all. At least it will keep certain people from arguing nastily with each other, and that has value in itself. For those of you who have the patience to actually read a novel, I hope you enjoy it. If you would like to comment, b'vakasha. I will try to incorporate the talkbacks that make sense into the final draft.
You may find it strange that an angel is writing a book, but that’s my only way out of this mess. Angels can do just about anything – with God’s permission of course. Well, to be exact, He tells us what to do, and we do it. We are His messengers. We don’t decide things on our own. In fact, we can’t do anything unless we get an order. Unless you are a Fallen Angel like me. What is a Fallen Angel? It’s an angel who decided to do things on his own. When that happens, one of his punishments is that he has to stay in the world with humans until he can make amends. Usually, we angels are sent down to Earth on short-term missions, like destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, or saving some poor guy from drowning - if he has enough good deeds to his credit to merit all the trouble that a rescue operation causes in Heaven. That was the case with me. I was sent down to warn Harry before the proverbial candle was snuffed out from Above. But we’ll get to that in a minute, after this short introduction.
In addition to saving lives, angels do a lot of things that people don’t usually associate with angels. For instance – inspiration. Usually, scientists take credit for new inventions, but it’s really angels that give them the idea. When God decides that it’s time for something new in the world like a telephone or electricity, he shoots one of us down to Earth in the form of an idea, and plants us in the brain of Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison, and the result is a new discovery. It’s the same thing with artists. It wasn’t just Beethoven who composed all of those symphonies – it was an angel friend of mine. That’s how the Almighty brings progress into the world. Except that He does it incognito, in the disguise of inventers, writers, artists, and statesmen, but it’s really Him and His army of angels, pulling the strings, working invisibly behind the headlines of the day.
But I had the chutzpah to do some things on my own, so I’m down here, and the only way I can get back up to Heaven is by doing something good for the world. That’s why I’m writing this book. To wake people up to the dangers of going astray, so they’ll become better people during their short stay on this planet, before they’re taken up to the real world, the world of souls, where the lucky people live on and on forever, becoming almost like angels themselves, enjoying the genuine good life, and not merely the Madison Avenue “good life” down on Earth.
That’s right. That’s pretty much the whole secret. This world, my friends, is like the slight-of-hand of a magician. One minute it’s there, and the next minute it’s gone. As the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” Not the money, nor the fame, nor all the most beautiful women in the world. It’s all an illusion, like a cloud of smoke that you grasp, only to discover that there’s nothing in your hand at all.
So why does God put people down here in the first place, you ask? Well, to explain very erudite mysteries in a simple way, life here on Earth is a test. A person can follow his eyes and his passions, and chase after all the temptations in this world, or he can heed the Voice of his Maker, by being a righteous person, helping the next guy, and taking from this world only what he needs to get by. Just like with the story of Adam and Eve. But I’ll get to that later.
Like I said, the lucky people, after their time is up in this world, assuming they accomplished what they were sent here to do, they get to live on in Heaven forever. The sad truth is, if you counted the number of people that have made it to Paradise since Creation, they wouldn’t even fill up Yankee Stadium. So you see, getting into Heaven isn’t so easy. What about all the others, the vast majority of people, including the richest and most famous celebrities in the world? Well, after their sins are burned off in Hell - and let me assure you, from the screams coming out of that place, it certainly isn’t a like a Caribbean vacation – after what seems to them like a thousand years in purgatory, measure for measure, where the miserable wretches are made to suffer for all of their illicit pleasures, thieveries, nasty words, jealousies, back-stabbings, and all the rest – they are sent back to this world for another chance. In a different body, of course, and not knowing who they were in their previous reincarnations. People keep getting recycled, again and again, until they get their acts together. The quick learners only need to come back down to Earth once or twice. Others may need a dozen journeys to this world before they fulfill their missions. While other poor devils keep coming back a hundred times and more until they catch on to the game.
What’s the purpose of the test? Simple. To get people to recognize their Maker. All Adam and Eve had to do was to recognize that God was the King and follow His bidding, and everything would have been honky dory after that – no wars, no sickness, no death. But they blew it.
If you’re smart and do what God wants you to do on Earth, you go straight into Heaven. But if you make a god out of yourself, and follow after your own selfish cravings during your fleeting sojourn on this planet, then, like I said, you are going to be spending lots of time in the Great Microwave in the sky. And after that, you’re going to have to go through all of the unnecessary hassle of life once again, until you get it straight in your next reincarnation.
Of course, within the big picture of coming to know the Creator, everyone’s personal mission is a little bit different. A guy who blew it in his initial appearance by stealing has to return what he’s stolen and stop being a thief. And another guy, who shacked up with someone else’s wife in the first go-around, has to get through the second visit to Earth by keeping his hands to himself. Or, it may be that someone neglected to perform some good deed, like helping out his aging parents, so he has to come back again to be a good son to his new mom and dad. It’s as simple as that.
Simple on paper, at least. In practice, you wouldn’t believe how many earthlings mess their lives up completely. Not only the first time they’re here, but time after time. Take my word. I’m an angel. I’ve been around since Adam and Eve. I’m seen millions and millions of people, many with good character traits and solid potential, who sooner or later screwed up.
What did you think? That you were invested with a Divine soul just to eat hot dogs at the ballpark, watch stupid shows on TV, smoke a little dope, have a few affairs on the sly, and steal whatever other cheap thrills you can from this ephemeral world? Wrong. Your soul doesn’t get high from those follies and frills. Material things don’t get the soul excited, because the soul is a spiritual essence. Connection to God is what turns on the soul. But people generally don’t pay any attention to God - or they pay lip service by going to church on Sundays, or to the temple on the Sabbath day, while behaving like uncivilized primates the rest of the week.
Allow me to play devil’s advocate. Let’s say that a guy is fantastically successful, makes a lot of money, and allows himself to enjoy all of life’s pleasures – can he take them with him when they lower him into the grave? When he arrives at the gateway to Heaven, he won’t have his checkbook and credit cards to bribe his way in. And even if someone has billions in this world, who can escape all the tribulations of life – the sicknesses and troubles that everyone suffers – battles with spouses, painful divorces, aggravations over the children, dishonest business partners, the death of loved ones, to mention just a few? No one is let off the hook.
I know from first-hand experience. In addition to helping people get out of all kinds of jams, it’s us angels who are sent down to this world to inflict people with all kinds of tragedies and pains. It’s all out of God’s love, to wake them up to their errant ways and give them the chance to repent before it’s too late, before the ticker runs out, before the unexpected car crash, the sudden heart attack, fatal disease, or drug overdose. Believe me, when the Almighty’s patience wears thin, and He decides to turn on the heat, He has no shortage of methods to let arrogant humans know that they are as vulnerable as newborn babies. That’s when He sends us into action, so that the blind of this world have a chance to wake up from their slumber, by paying allegiance to their Maker before the sand trickles out of the hourglass, and the worms in the grave begin their work of chomping inflated egos down to size.
Most people think that sicknesses and sufferings befall them for no reason at all, as part of the happenstance workings of nature. But that’s not the case. God sends afflictions to warn wrongdoers that it’s time to put on the brakes. Lucky are those who take heed!
No, my friends. Not for this life of hardship and suffering on Earth were you blessed with celestial souls that are capable of soaring higher than satellites and transcending all barriers of time and space. You were granted your heavenly souls in order to forge a bond with your Maker and enjoy the indescribable spiritual pleasures of the World to Come. But to get there, to reach the final stop and ultimate destination, your souls were “morphed” and beamed down to this world first, the corridor before the palace, so to speak, to be tested and refined. To put it in the language of the layman, you have to carry the proverbial football of your soul across the gridiron of this world, dodging a team of enemy tacklers, and then set it down over the goal line, without any mud on the laces, in order to score a winning touchdown. But if you fail, by letting one of the tacklers grab a hold of your jersey and drag you down to the mud, then TILT, you’ve lost the contest and have to play the game all over.
That’s what this book is about. You might call it my penitence and rectification. It’s my way of picking myself up out of the mire where I’ve fallen, because when temptation came my way, I forgot all these basic lessons, and strayed away from my mission to save Harry. The autobiographical tale I am about to relate is my way of teaching others, to open their eyes to the truth, so they won’t make the mistakes that I made, nor suffer needless reincarnations again and again like Harry had to. If I succeed in this, then with the grace of God, I hope to atone for my own inexcusable blunders and climb my way back to the Garden, to resume my place as a favored angel just like before. For God is always eager to accept the penitent in heart, those who strive to correct their ways and start life anew.
Of course, I cannot disclose all the secrets. That would be the greatest error of all. So I will have to tread carefully, changing names and places, and deleting many details, especially the horrifying description of the judgment that lies ahead for the stubborn of heart - for this would only serve to scare readers away. And while I may seek to soothe painful truths with flourishes of humor, let not the laughs be conceived as irreverence, God forbid. For woe to those bestselling authors who, for a few months on the bestseller list, made fun of Divine matters during their brief seventy years in this world, without thinking to give praise to their Creator, may God have mercy on their suffering souls.
This then is the story of Harry Walsh. That isn’t his real name, of course. I don’t want to embarrass him, which would be a big sin in itself. Harry is an everyman name, because this is an everyman’s story. In a sense it’s a fable, even though it’s as true as can be.
Basically, Harry had a good soul, but as we shall see, to the extent that a person has a pure holy soul, he has a corresponding evil prompter to test him wherever he goes. That’s the rules of the game. To make things clearer, let’s call the evil prompter Satan. At first, Satan was an angel like me, but after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the evil fellow became a part of man’s essence. It’s always at war with man’s better self. While it’s really a part of the person, it’s easier to picture it as a little red devil with a pitchfork, whispering in a person’s ear. In summary, life is a tug of war between the good inclination and the bad, as they battle for control.
Harry, like zillions of other people, kept listening to the misleading advice of the crafty old devil with the pitchfork, so he ended up sabotaging his reincarnations again and again. His soul was one of my charges from the very beginning of Creation. That’s why I remember his history particularly well.
So, to get on with the story, one bright heavenly day, not long ago, I was whisked down to Earth to enlighten Harry in order to save him from messing up his life once again. He had already flunked a dozen reincarnations, and God’s almost infinite patience was fast running out. But before hurling a lightning bolt from out of the blue, and short-circuiting Harry completely, God decided to give him one final chance. That’s how this whole story started.
Av 5, 5770, 7/16/2010
Rabbi Kook writes that the heart must be filled with love for all: for all of Creation, for all mankind, and, in ascending order, for the Jewish People, in which all other loves are included, since it is the mission of Israel to bring all the world to perfection. All of these loves are to be expressed in practical action, by pursuing the welfare of those whom we are bidden to love, and to seek their betterment and advancement.
The highest love of all is the love of G-d. When it fills the heart, this spells man’s greatest happiness. Consequently, one cannot but love the Torah and its commandments which are so intimately linked to the goodness of G-d.
This message is especially appropriate as Tisha B’Av approaches. Our Sages teach that the Second Temple was destroyed by senseless hatred. Rabbi Kook writes that the Temple will be rebuilt through gratuitous love.
Rabbi Kook teaches that hatred may be directed only toward the evil and filth in the world. We must realize that the kernel of life, in its inherent light and holiness, never leaves the divine image in which mankind was created, and with which each person and nation is endowed.
Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself – on the contrary, it strengthens it. “For it is not because of the dimension of evil clinging to a person that we include him in our love, but because of the good in him, which our love tells us is to be found in everyone. Since we separate the dimension of the good in him, in order to love him for it, our hatred for the evil becomes unblunted and absolute” (Midot HaRayah, Ahavah).
Rabbi Kook continues: “It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a divine image, it is proper to love him. “We must also realize that the precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that developed in him through circumstances.”
To bring these lofty teachings down to earth, we can disagree with a fellow talkbacker and even despise his opinions, but we should love him all the same for his sincere and heartfelt concern for the Jewish Nation. A radical leftist may be willing to hand over chunks of Eretz Yisrael to enemies, while being ready to fight them on the battlefield out of his patriotism to the country. Or, to use another example, the evil actions of a homosexual or child molester should be loathed as abominations, but the person himself should still be loved for the divine image he shares with the rest of mankind. If, for instance, a rabbi or a politician succumbs to a pressing evil inclination and sickness of the soul that drives him to engage in sexual transgression, his evil actions should be despised, but this should not negate our love for the good that surely exists in him as well. For example, in my personal life, homosexuals have helped me on several occasions, in a variety of ways - in high school, a gay English teacher inspired my love for literature; a homosexual TV writer rented me his apartment in LA; and another kindhearted acquaintance lent me money when my funds were low.
Our love for mankind should extend to gentiles, and even Arabs as well. Not for the evil of their ways, which should be hated with an absolute hatred, but for the divine image that they share as well.
So let’s try to be a little more tolerant of each other, and love one another, even though the things we write can make one and other ill.
Av 2, 5770, 7/13/2010
This week, as we once again begin the Book of Devarim, we are in store for a special treat. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, would tell his students each year that while there are many commentaries on the Torah, the Book of Devarim is the commentary of Moshe himself, as it says, “Moshe began to explain the Torah… (Devarim, 1:5).
Rashi tells us that Moshe explained the Torah in seventy languages. Knowing that Jews would one day speak English, French, Russian, Spanish, and the rest, Moshe wanted to be sure that they understood. And what is the very first thing that Moshe seeks to make clear?
“Moshe began to explain the Torah, saying, The L-rd our G-d spoke to us in Horev saying, You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn and take up your journey….”
Where does he tell them to go? To the Land of Israel. Rabbi Kook emphasized that in this very first lesson of Moshe, we are taught that the Torah is NOT meant to be practiced outside of the Land of Israel. Rather, the Torah and its commandments were given to be performed in Eretz Yisrael, as G-d declares: “Behold I have set the Land before you, go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, to give to them and to their seed after them” (Devarim, 1:8).
The language, “go in and possess the Land,” is a commandment of the Torah – the commandment to conquer and settle the Land of Israel.
What is the first thing that Moshe stresses when he begins to explain the Torah? Not Shabbat. Not synagogue services. Not Torah study, all of which are essential to Judaism. Moshe begins by telling us that the Land of Israel is the foundation of all of the Torah and the foundation of the life of the Jewish People. G-d gave us the Torah to keep it in Israel. Why is the Land of Israel so important? Because the Torah is much much more than the observance of individual mitzvot like putting on tefillin and keeping kosher. The Torah is the constitution of the Jewish Nation, the Nation that is to bring the word of G-d to the world, not merely through righteous individuals, but through the doings of all the Nation, in its holy NATIONAL format of Jewish soldiers, Jewish farmers, and Jewish kings. Everyone knows that to have one’s own nation, one needs one’s own land. And the holy Jewish People need a special Holy Land that enables prophecy and the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Everywhere else we are a minority in someone else’s land, living in a foreign culture, at the mercy of the non-Jews.
This understanding is especially important during the Nine Days leading to Tisha B’Av. Our Sages tell us that the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of the Nation, had its roots with the Spies in the Wilderness who didn’t want to journey on to the Land of Israel.
How are we to do tshuva over this cataclysmic sin? By loving the Land and settling its borders. That is the way to bring the cursed exile to an end and to hasten the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel – so that the Kingship of G-d will be established over all the earth, may it be soon.
Tammuz 8, 5770, 6/20/2010
A few months ago, the famous golfer, Tiger Woods, entered a rehab clinic to overcome his addiction to sex. Inspired by his story, I figured that if Tiger could give up womanizing, then I could give up my addiction to blogging. So to break the habit, I went cold turkey and stayed off the web for a month.
You can beat your habit too!
In the battle against the evil inclination, the Chofetz Chaim teaches that by simply resisting the urge on three consecutive occasions, a person can break free of his addiction to sin. Triumphing over the evil inclination on three consecutive occasions, whether it be in not stealing, or in not talking badly about people, establishes what is called a “chazakah” or a precedent that has the power to change a situation for the better.
(This also, he explains, works the other way. The first time a person commits a sin, he feels bad for having violated the Torah. The next time he repeats the sin, it already doesn’t seem so bad. The third time he does it, he thinks he is doing a mitzvah!)
This practical, three-steps to tshuva, can be applied to everything, whether it be an addiction to masturbation, watching pornography on the Internet, homosexuality, speaking bad about the Land of Israel, denigrating Torah scholars, and the like.
Just say no three times and you’re free! This doesn’t mean that the evil urge will go away forever, but the three time “chazakah” will establish a solid base of operation, proving that you can overcome your evil “yetzer” inclinations if you wish. Because you won the battle three times, you can win the battle forever.
Just as I stopped blogging for a month, we took down the jewishsexuality.com site for renovations. During the past month I received several emails saying how important the site was to people, and how much they had gained from it. There were a few heartbreaking, true-confession stories about how internet porn destroyed people’s lives. So if you still haven’t downloaded an anti-porn filter, or signed up with a secure server like “Rimon” in Israel, then do so today! And don’t trust yourself with the code. Give it to your wife and don’t be ashamed. As our Sages teach, “There is no righteous man who does good and doesn’t sin,” where the inner meaning of doing good, “tov,” means in sexual matters.
So take it from an ex-compulsive blogger, life is better off without addictions, and you are only three easy steps away!
Sivan 11, 5770, 5/24/2010
Diaspora Jews are incredible. I have nothing but respect for them. I mean it. They are a lot stronger than I am. To avoid sinking in the melting pot of America, I had to get out of there as fast as I could once I realized that Eretz Yisrael is the land of the Jews, not Los Angeles or New York.
I know that in the past, out of my great love for my Diaspora brethren, I wrote pretty harshly about life in the Diaspora, in order to shock Jews into recognizing the dangers of living in gentile lands, surrounded by foreign cultures that, in the words of the Gaon of Vilna, eat away at Jewish life like worms. But now that I am trying to turn over a new leaf and be a kinder, more gentle person, I want to express my admiration for their ability to hold on to their Jewish identity while living amongst the heathens. Kol hakavod! I could never have done it.
I am not referring to those tragic souls who have assimilated. Not that I blame them. Who can stand up to all the temptations? After all, in a land where everyone is equal, what’s the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew? That’s what a kid is taught ever since grade school, so why not marry a Cindy or a Patty? It breaks my heart, but I don’t blame them. Unless someone is attached to the Torah, intermarriage is bound to happen.
I am talking about those Diaspora Jews who understand that a strong Jewish identity is a vital part of their lives. These are the people who read Arutz 7, have a keen interest in Israel, attend Israel Day concerts, observe the Jewish holidays, study Torah whenever they can, and play a part in strengthening their local Jewish communities. To me they are heroes who are doing their best to keep the sinking ship from disappearing completely.