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

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      Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.


      Nisan 20, 5770, 4/4/2010

      The Greatest Movie Ever Made!

      Tonight, we reach the climax of the Pesach holiday with the triumphant and miraculous splitting of the sea. With today’s cinematic technology, what a great movie it would make if some billionaire Jews would come up with the money for me to direct it! 


      In my movie, he'd wear a kippah!


      The Torah tells us that the Jews went “hamushim” or “armed” out of Egypt. Rashi explains the Hebrew word to mean that only one out of every five Jews let Egypt. The rest died in the plague of darkness for not wanting to come on aliyah (Shemot, 13:19).  Sound familiar?


      Next, the Torah mentions that in the middle of all the excitement and “balagan,” Moshe took the bones of Yosef out from Egypt with the Jews who escaped, to teach us the great respect due to our ancestors.


      Then an interesting thing happens. On the fourth day of freedom, G-d suddenly orders Moshe to lead the Jews back toward Egypt! What a stunning turn of events! Only a few days before, after 210 years of painful slavery, have the Jews miraculously gone free, under incredible stress and danger, and now they are told to return! How are we to understand this devastating setback in the course of our Redemption?


      Rabbi Dov Begun, the Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir in Jerusalem, explains that this ziz-zag is the way of Redemption. This is the way that G-d brings the Redemption about – with lightning leaps forward and with seeming retreats and setbacks along the way. Just like with our Redemption today. After a period of great settlement and rebuilding, the evacuation of Gush Katif and the international pressures over Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem make it look like we are going backwards. But, just like in the days of our Exodus from Egypt, this seeming retreat is like a pole vaulter’s steps backwards before he dashes forward to catapult over the bar. Just like in those days of yore, we are on the verge of a sudden sprint that will carry us forward like a shell shot out of a cannon to shatter our enemies and conquer all of our Biblical homeland, from the Nile to the Euphrates.


      Get ready, Jews, for the incredible leap forward!


      Finally, duped by our seeming retreat, the armies of Pharoah chase after us in a mad frenzy and trap us at the shores of the dark and thunderous sea. Tonight, in midnight gatherings all over Israel, congregations will assemble to sing the triumphant song that we sang at the far banks of the sea when our victory and freedom were complete.


      In the Hallel prayer that we have been reciting all week, we say, in giving thanks for the great miracle of splitting the sea, “the sea saw and fled.” The commentaries ask, what did the waters see to make them spread open and flee before the Jews? They answer that the sea saw the coffin of the righteous Yosef which Moshe brought out of Egypt. In his merit, the sea miraculously split apart and stood upright like a wall. How do they know this? Because the word “fled” appears in the Torah in another context, when Yosef “fled” from the temptations of Potifar’s wife. We learn from this that someone who overcomes the evil inclination and bridles his sexual passions will have miracles performed for him. In overcoming the sea of sexual passion, he elevates himself above the natural world. This high and holy grade is what distinguishes the Jewish People from the lust-filled nations of the world.


      It turns out that every time a person is tempted to look at a forbidden image on the Internet and bridles his passion by clicking on something else, or by closing the computer down, he is literally shattering the forces of evil in the world and adding a tremendous infusion of holiness and blessing to himself and to all of Am Yisrael! He is giving power to the Jewish People to overcome its enemies! He is bringing down Divine blessing and protection on himself and the Nation of Israel to stand strong against our enemies and retain sovereignty and control over our Biblical homeland.  He can do all of this at home, or at the office, just by saying no to the evil urge and keeping his eyes, and his heart, and his mind pure in faithfulness to the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People.


      In the merit of Yosef, and Moshe, and all of our brave ancestors in following after Hashem, may we have the strength to continue our mission of doing everything we can, each in his own way, of bringing the Redemption of Israel forward to its triumphant completion, soon, in our time. Amen.              

      Nisan 17, 5770, 4/1/2010

      Next Year in West Jerusalem Only!

      Unlike the one night Seder in the Land of Israel, Jews in the Diaspora need to go through the Passover Seder on two consecutive nights in order for its message to sink in. And even then, a majority don’t internalize the Seder’s main teaching, which is “Next Year in Jerusalem (or “Next year in West Jerusalem Only” if Obama and the other Jew haters of the world have their way, G-d forbid.)


      Diaspora Jews can stuff themselves with gefilte fish, and flavor it with horseradish until it drips out of their noses like blood, and chop away at matzot all Yom Tov long,  constipating themselves until Shavuot, another seven weeks away, and still the message of the holiday doesn’t penetrate their macarooned-out brains. Why? Because no one teaches them the truth. No one teaches them that the goal of Passover, and of Judaism, is to live a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, as it says in the Haggadah: “It was not only our fathers that G-d redeemed, but He also redeemed us with them, as is written: ‘And He brought us out from there, so that He might lead us and give us the Land which he had promised to our forefathers.’”


      The Land that the Haggadah is speaking about is not America, or Canada, or Australia, or South Africa, but Eretz Yisrael. But instead of teaching their congregants the true understanding and goal of Judaism, educators in the Diaspora teach that, in order to fight the tzunami of assimilation, Diaspora Jews have to strengthen Jewish observance and the Jewish communities in the exile. This approach made some plausible sense before G-d established the State of Israel. But now it is no longer relevant. In fact, it only lengthens the punishment of exile and leads to greater assimilation, because the longer we sink in the quicksand of exile, the more intermarriage there will be. This is a clearly discernable tragedy.


      True Jewish life is impossible outside of the Land of Israel. Yes, Jews can eat gefilte fish to their heart’s content, but they can’t observe the commandments of the Land. They can’t experience the beauty of raising children to speak Hebrew from grade one. They can’t have the pride of a Jewish army. They can’t perform the Torah command of coming to Jerusalem on the Festival and seeing the Temple Mount. They can’t have a Sanhedrin, not the Beit HaMikdash, or any of the national elements of true Jewish life.


      Just like the backbone has been taken out of the carp in making gefilte fish to make life easier for the Jews, so too has Diaspora Judaism taken the national backbone of the Jewish People out of the Torah.


      Only in Israel


      It is impossible to compare the joy and magnitude of the holidays in Israel to their mini celebration in exile. For instance, only in Israel can a mother and father experience the incomparable joy of having a son come home on a holiday furlough from the army. In the Diaspora, Jews don’t serve in the army. Why should they? The places they live aren’t their real country. Why should a Jew go to war for the goyim?


      In America, Smokey the Bear won't let you


      Take burning chametz as another example. Years ago, when I tried to burn my chametz outside of my apartment building in New York, within a few minutes a police car showed up and I was given a fine. In Israel, wherever you go on Erev Pesach, the streets are filled with the smoke of burning chametz, and the police are there to help you to make sure you do a thorough job.


      Planet Hollywood


      And going to the Kotel on the holiday! There is nothing like it anywhere in the world! Even though in Israel, the Kohanim bless the congregation every day (only on the Festivals in the Diaspora because of the absence of holiness there) the sight of hundreds of Kohamim raising their prayer shawls in blessing, and the unified chant of their prayer, is an incredible spiritual high.


      And the presence of Torah Sages is staggering. Nowhere is there such an abundance of holy tzaddikim and talmedei chochamin as in Israel today!


      Rabbi Leon Levi at the Kotel


      So, this time around, act on your words, make “Next Year in Jerusalem” a reality. Even if Obama and all the goyim in the world insist that we change our Haggadahs to read “Next Year in West Jerusalem Only!” the hell with them all. May the fate of Pharoah and his evil kingdom be their fate as well.     



      Nisan 11, 5770, 3/26/2010

      Pesach Samaoch!

      Nisan 9, 5770, 3/24/2010

      Exodus From America

      Ancient Egypt, like America today, was the spiritual and cultural cesspool of the world. Promiscuity, adultery, and sexual perversion were the norm. When our Sages write that no foreign nation in Egypt ever escaped from the land, they mean it in a spiritual sense, as well as the physical. The clutches of temptation and sin were so powerful that no people, in the natural course of events, could shake off the shackles of lust that marked Egyptian life.


      Egypt 2010


      After living 210 years in such a sexually polluted environment, we plummeted to the 49th degree of impurity and would have been immediately destroyed if G-d had not miraculously interfered and rescued us with the utmost haste, speeding our exodus from the corrupted and sexually immoral land.


      We survived Pharoah - we will survive Obama as well.


      Our Sages tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt due to the merit of the two mitzvot which G-d commanded us to perform on the eve of our departure – the korban Pesach and the brit milah. Both of these commandments were designed to free us from our spiritual slavery to the lusts of the body, and liberate us to true freedom as servants to G-d. Among a cornucopia of bestial doings, the Egyptians worshipped the lamb. Among the domestic beasts, sheep are known for their fecundity.  In a similar manner, licentiousness was an integral part of this idol worship. Our Sages teach us that the Jewish People only worshipped idols as an excuse to engage in the sexual debauchery that went with it. In commanding every Jewish household in Egypt to take a lamb, the Egyptians’ god, and slaughter it for the Pesach offering, G-d was commanding us to slaughter the physical lusts in ourselves that lead to the perversion of the holy marital union, and to the pollution of the holy life force of our nation. Interestingly, we were commanded to tie the lambs to our bedposts, not to the door, or the window, or kitchen table, but to our beds, precisely to drive this point into our individual and national consciences that we are to be a holy people, separated by the purity of our sexual lives from all of the other nations in the world.


      In the merit of the Brit, we were saved from Egypt.


      Rav Leon has 14 children. Today he was the sandak at the Brit of a newborn grandson.


      The foundation of a holy nation.


      This is the very same lesson of the brit milah. Only a man who was circumcised was allowed to partake in eating the Passover lamb. The removal of the foreskin both symbolizes, and physically effects, the removal of the impure physical lusts that accompany the marital union. On the eve of our departure from the bondage of Egypt and from our servitude to its debauched and immoral culture, we were called to renew the Brit of our Forefathers, the founding Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, whereby we safeguard the purity of our sexual lives, symbolized by the brit milah, and G-d, for His part, promises us the Land of Israel as our eternal inheritance. Thus the Zohar teaches that in the merit of the blood of the slaughtered Paschal lamb (the korbon Pesach) and the blood of the brit milah, we were redeemed from the spiritual dungeon of Egypt.


      This mixture of blood was to be splattered on the doorposts of our houses, as a sign to G-d that a Jew lived within, when G-d came to slaughter the firstborn of Egypt and to lead us out of slavery. It was this renewed commitment to sexual purity that protected us from the plague of death that struck the houses of the uncircumcised Egyptians that evening.


      This separation from sexual immorality is the essence of the Jewish People, “a nation of priests and a holy nation.” Only when we rose above the sordidness and pollution of Egyptian culture could we escape from the chains of its bondage.


      Rabbi Leon Levi explains the Kabbalistic meaning of our painstaking search for bread crumbs and leaven before the holiday of Pesach begins:


      “Some people think that by scattering ten pieces of bread around the house, representing the ten foremost evil spiritual forces (kleipot), and by burning them in the morning with their chametz, they have gotten rid of all of their chametz. They don’t realize that their houses are still filled with the evil spiritual forces that they themselves have created in their very own bedrooms due to their wrongful doings. This is the spiritual chametz which we are commanded to oust from our homes along with the physical chametz. When a man burns his bread crumbs, he should cry out to G-d in tears, recite the "Tikun HaYesod" prayers, and beg G-d to forgive him for his errant ways and all of the blemishes he caused to the Brit. Then he can sit down to his evening Seder with a clean heart, prepared to receive all of the transcendental spiritual treasures of the night.”


      Some “Tikun HaYesod” prayers, including the “Tikun HaKlali” of Rabbi Nachman, can be found in the Kabbalists section of our jewishsexuality.com website. Studying the articles on the site is another excellent way of rectifying sexual sins. But the most important thing is to make a serious commitment to change one’s errant ways and mistaken habits for the better.


      Distributing food to the poor at Rabbi Leon's yeshiva


      Another powerful rectification is giving charity to poor people before Pesach, helping them to meet its considerable costs, so that they can enjoy the holiday. This is a rectification for the selfish pleasure a person experiences during sexual transgression – instead of thinking only of himself and his pleasures, he gives of his own monies to insure the pleasure of others.  


      Pesach samaoch!

      Nisan 6, 5770, 3/21/2010

      What Made Izzy Tick?

      When Rabbi Leon spoke tonight at the Kotel, I kept thinking about Izzy Kaplan, who was laid to rest last week in the Land that he so dearly loved.


      At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the word ‘Vayikra” is written with a tiny letter alef. This is a sign of Moshe’s great humility, Rabbi Leon said. Moshe didn’t think of himself – his only concern was the welfare of the Jewish People, as the Torah tells us, “Moshe ‘gadal’ and went out to see the plight of his brothers.”  The word “gadal” means to grow up. But it also means greatness. The greatness of Moshe can be seen in his great compassion and concern for his suffering brethren. Though he had all the world’s comforts in the palace of the Pharoah, he gave it all up to share the plight of his brethren and to help them however he could.


      I don’t mean to make a saint out of Izzy, but he too had the greatness that comes from devoting one’s energies, resources and talents toward the welfare of the Jewish People. Izzy gave away so much of his money to causes in Israel, his family had to take away his power of signing checks. When he could no longer give his own money, he paved the synagogues, streets, and office buildings of Toronto, persuading others to donate in order to help the people of Gush Katif and Sederot, and many other worthwhile causes.


      Rabbi Leon spoke vehemently about the plight of poor people in Israel who didn’t have the money to cover Passover expenses this year, demanding that the government awaken from its apathy and open warehouses of food for the needy. Boxes of matzah that cost ten shekels to produce are being sold for up to eighty shekels! If Izzy could hear this, I thought, he would immediately begin a campaign to supply matzah free to the poor people of Israel, even if it meant waking up every rich Jew in Toronto from bed.


      Visiting the Kaplan family as they sat shiva, I asked Izzy’s son what made Izzy tick? What was the “Rosebud” behind his great passion for Israel? He told me two things. First, Izzy’s mother had been a victim of pogroms in Russia. Finding refuge in Toronto, when the time of the year came for the Jewish National Fund drive, she would stand on a street corner and literally grab passersby by the collar, exhorting them to contribute to the cause. Apparently, this made a deep impression on young Izzy.  


      Another $100 could have saved another child.


      Nevertheless, his intense sense of mission and activism on behalf of the Jewish People in Israel only awakened during the Oslo Agreement and the years leading to the explusion from Gush Katif. What ignited the flame? His son answered that his father spoke of the final scene in the film “Schindler’s List,” when Schindler is confronted with the ghostly sight of the survivors of the death camps. Mumbling, he realizes that if he had sold his watch, he could have saved another five Jews, and if he had sold his gold ring, he could have bought freedom for another ten, and if he had sold his expensive car, he could have saved another fifty.


      That scene had a profound effect on Izzy. What was he doing, he asked himself, to help the Jewish People? How could he continue to think only about himself and his family when so many Jews were faced with pressing hardships? How could he continue to enjoy the good life in the isolated fairytale bubble of Toronto when the Jews in Israel were putting their lives on the line for the future of the Jewish People?


      Certainly, not everyone can be a Moshe Rabanu, or even an Izzy Kaplan. Not everyone is gifted with an oversized soul that encompasses a burning love for all the Jewish People. But we can all work to stretch our little ordinary souls just a little bit more, in order to reach out to our brothers on the front lines in Israel.


      Like the Four Sons of the Passover Hagadah, there are people who don’t really care about Israel at all. And there are those unfortunate souls who are so estranged from Judaism that they don’t even know they are supposed to care in the first place. And there are others who care and write critical talkbacks without doing a darn thing to help. And there are people like Izzy who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and actually join in the great struggle and Divine enterprise of rebuilding the Jewish Nation in Israel, in order to actualize the opening words of the Passover Seder, “This year we are slaves in exile, next year may we be free men in the Land of Israel.”