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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Shevat 3, 5770, 1/18/2010
“I’m singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain, what a wonderful feeling, I’m happy again!”
Singing in the rain!
Last Thursday night at the “Shovavim” tikun, in the wee hours of the morning, when everyone returned from the pre-dawn mikvah, Rabbi Leon opened the ark, and with shofars blaring, beseeched Hashem to join our prayers with the prayers of all the Jewish People for rain.
Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi leading the prayers
Last night, the Heavens opened with a symphony of thunder and lightning, and the channel of the “Yesod” poured forth its blessings. After reciting Tikun Hatzot and learning a little Zohar, I retired to bed, opening the door to the adjoining terrace so that I could hear the splattering of rain on the aluminum roof. What a wonderful sound! What a wonderful feeling! All night the clatter of raindrops sounded on the terrace roof like the clinging of coins in a beggar’s cup. “Raindrops keep falling on my head…. Nothing’s worrying me!”
Tomorrow, G-d willing, we will be traveling with the Rabbi up north to the Hermon to continue to pray for rain. So if you haven’t removed your winter boots from the closet, you’d better do it now!
While we are humming some movie tunes, the last item on the morning news was something about the Globe Awards in Hollywood. But before I say a few words about that, I have to mention another interesting thing. For the last few days, the first news item has been about the earthquake in Haiti. A proportionally large segment of the radio news has been given to the distant disaster, and Israel’s medical and rescue teams, showing how much the Jewish People in Israel care about the wellbeing of the world. I called a few relatives and friends in the States to speak about the earthquake, thinking it would be an opportunity to touch base with them on a general humanitarian issue. I was startled to learn that they had less idea of what was going on in Haiti than I did. It seems that, in general, they pay scant attention to the news, and go about their lives disconnected from the rest of the world. Whereas in Israel, we keep in touch with all the latest developments. That’s because Israel is the center of the world. In the language of the “Kuzari,” we are the heart of the nations. Israel is the heart, brain, soul, and control center of the universe. Thank G-d I’m here!
So, getting back to Hollywood. Like I’ve written in the past, I haven’t seen a movie in years. I couldn’t care less. I don’t have any patience for them whatsoever. Besides their as non kosher as pork. Chances are that a man who watches a movie is transgressing the commandment not to stray after your heart and your eyes. For instance, once I was asked to give a talk to a group of young DVD Jews from South Africa. When they showed up late, I asked where they had been? They answered that they had just returned from watching the film “Titanic” at a theater in town.
“The ‘Titanic’!” I exclaimed. “Watching a movie like that is worse than eating pork!”
The dangers of mixed dancing
They all groaned and booed, but I wasn’t kidding. When a Jews eats forbidden food, he pollutes his “nefesh,” the lower level of his spiritual make-up. But when he sees a forbidden image, since his eyes are connected to the highest spiritual worlds of “chiyah,” he pollutes his very soul. Now I hadn’t seen the movie “Titanic” but I had spent enough time in Hollywood to know that there was bound to be a pretty girl and handsome boy on board, and what else is there to do when you run into an iceberg and only have another two hours to live?
Some months later, I took one of my sons to visit a yeshiva in Mitzpe Ramon. We spent the night at a local lodge and he noticed that the movie, “Titanic” was playing on TV. So I said let’s watch a few minutes to see what all the fuss was about. Sure enough, the very first shot of the film is an underwater shot as the camera moves toward the wreckage and enters through a porthole into a cabin where the furniture looks to still be in order. Slowly, the camera moves in toward a framed photograph on the dresser, into a close-up of a naked girl. BING! BING! BING! BING! And this was the film that every thirteen year old was watching!
“What’s the big deal?” you say.
Worse than eating pork!
I’ll tell you. When a man sees a provocative photo of a naked woman, or cheesy lingerie photo on E-Bay, or a tease clip on youtube, he pollutes his holy soul and short-circuits his connection to G-d. If he is a DVD, Saturday- Night-at-the-Movies type of guy, he has burnt up his transistors completely, and all of his davening and Torah learning won’t have any juice in them at all. He may go through the motions of putting on tefillin, but if he has googled his heart and his brain with visual traf, the tefillin won’t do a thing for him. They might as well be empty boxes.
Today is the yahrtzeit of the holy “Baba Sali.” He said that he could see things that other people couldn’t see because he didn’t look at things that other people looked at.
This morning, when I was driving home from the mikvah, while I was waiting at an intersection, an attractive woman passed in front of my car. Even though it was raining, she was wearing a mini raincoat and boots that begged you to take a second look. My eyes began to stray in her direction, but I caught myself and turned away. Still, the brief glance shook me up completely. Cars behind me started honking when the light changed and I was still trying to regain my vision. Yosef overcame the temptations of Potifar’s wife, but immediately afterward, he was thrown into prison. Certainly this isn’t the reward that his righteousness deserved. So why was he punished? Rabbi Leon explains that although Yosef didn’t let the temptation overcome him, but ran away instead, nonetheless, he thought about succumbing to her requests, and he was thrown into prison for that.
So guys, the next time you think of surfing around youtube, or watching a movie, no matter how many awards it has won, unless it’s the “Lion King” without little Walt Disney mermaids – think twice before you fry your holy souls and barbecue your Jewish brains.
Until the next time, yours truly, just singing and dancing in the rain.
Tags: Inside Israel
Tevet 28, 5770, 1/14/2010
If there is still a witchdoctor in Haiti, it won't help. Earthquakes Are From Hashem. They don’t occur without rhyme or reason. Rather, they strike with pinpoint accuracy, like everything else in G-d's world.
The time ran out for Haiti
Our prayers go out to the survivors of the devastating earthquake.
I know many readers think I’m a Chicken Little for my stressing the importance of rectifying transgressions to the Brit. Nonetheless, the generation of the Flood was wiped off the face of the globe for this very sin, Israel was exiled from its Land for being too lax in this matter, and now Haiti has experienced a ten-second burst of Divine retribution - as a warning to other lands.
Here is a newspaper report about Haiti, published a year ago, before the quake:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Dieula sits in a circle of women on the tiled floor of a dimly lit room here, discussing the sexual violence that makes HIV infection an ever-present danger for Haitian women. "The woman in Haiti doesn't have rights," she says. "Our misery increases every day."
Less than two hours by plane from Miami, Haiti has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Caribbean. Ten percent of those living with HIV in Haiti are children, and in 2005 there were an estimated 400,000 orphans, many of whose parents died of AIDS.
Traditional voodoo continues to play an important role in Haiti. Voodoo priests and priestesses are considered to be traditional healers. Catholicism is the official religion, but it is said by many that voodoo is the national religion.
Fighting Aids in Haiti has meant confronting traditional beliefs in magic and tackling a culture in which many children start having sex around the age of 12.
In the early 1980s Haitians were held responsible for the spread of the disease in the United States and other developed countries.
But Dr Marie Deschamps, co-director of the Gheskio infectious diseases clinic in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, says the truth was the opposite - it was foreigners who brought the disease into Haiti.
"From what we observed, in the beginning it was mostly bisexuals, foreign men who came from the United States, from Canada and from France. They would come to Haiti to meet with the bisexuals here just for money," she said
In the 20 years since then, HIV and Aids have spread through the Haitian population, both bisexual and heterosexual.
"The majority of Haitians are aware of Aids now. We use radio and TV to get our message across. The real challenge now is to get people to change their behavior. Sometimes their beliefs mean they don't want to behave differently."
The fact is that many Haitians, especially the five million who live in the countryside, believe that many illnesses, including Aids, are caused by magic rather than microbes.
Because of this magical view of life and sickness, Haitian peasants suffering from HIV or Aids are more likely to go and seek help from their local voodoo priest than from a government clinic.
Perhaps even more of a challenge for the authorities is the predominance of sexual activity at an early age in Haiti.
The average age for young people to begin sexual relations is 12, with many young boys and girls starting to have sex as early as eight years old, according to Dr Deschamps.
This, plus the fact that half of Haiti's eight million population is under 20, makes it even more urgent that the authorities' education and prevention campaigns hit home as quickly as possible. (end of report)
Unfortunately, time ran out for Haiti.
Tevet 27, 5770, 1/13/2010
Running the jewishsexuality.com website brings me a lot of interesting emails and queries. A fair share relate how the addiction to Internet pornography has ruined their lives. Others asked me all sorts of questions that I try to answer personally, or pass on to the Torah scholars who assist me. There are other questions that I bring to the Kabbalist and Torah Sage, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, to get his direct, unique, and always profound answer.
"I'm not worried about falling."
For instance, because the sexual urge is so strong and cunning, husbands often look for all kinds of justifications for engaging in a variety of sexual gymnastics, instead of the “missionary position” recommended by the rabbis.
Since we are connected to the highest spiritual worlds by invisible strings called “sefirot,” our actions have a direct impact on these upper worlds, for good or for bad. The influences that we trigger above set off a chain of reactions that return back down to our world like a ricocheting pinball, also for good or for bad, depending on our deeds.
Playing pinball with your life.
Rabbi Levy explains that sexual gymnastics upset the natural blueprint of the universe and bring down harsh judgments to the world (especially on the gymnasts and bedroom gymnasium where they take place) instead of bringing down loving-kindness and blessing.
Another very serious concern is that the holy life-force of man is often spilled in vain during bouts of bedroom acrobatics. If this blemish isn’t rectified, the main channel of spiritual and material blessing becomes damaged, with all sorts of unpleasant consequences to the family, may G-d have mercy.
As we have recently written, the six-week period of “Shovavim” is designed to rectify these blemishes. Therefore, my readers are encouraged to learn about these very important matters and undertake some of the suggested remedies. For those of you in Israel who can come to one of Rabbi Levi’s Thursday night “Tikunim,” there’s nothing more uplifting and cleansing. You needn’t worry about feeling embarrassed, as one talkbacker wrote, fearing that everyone would know his secrets. We all fall down in this arena, so you don’t have to get all bent out of shape. Plus if your day-to-day Judaism needs a pick-up, the electrifying all-night gathering is just what the rabbi prescribed. This week’s Tikun will begin Thursday night, Jan 14, at 11pm at the “Yeriot Shlomo” Synagogue in Rosh HaAyin, 1 Yeriot Shlomo Street.
Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi leading the prayers
Blowing away the kelipot
Oops. I got sidetracked from the email I wanted to share with you in the hope that you can help out this struggling soul. I wrote him an answer based on my experience in the old days in Hollywood, but maybe you can give him some additional tips more up to date. I told him to keep an eye on the blog for your comments.
I have a small problem....
Here’s the email:
“I’ve smoked marijuana for years and I feel it affects my spirituality in a negative way. I want to quit but it is hard for some reason. I was wondering what does Torah or Kabbalah say about marijuana and if there a prayer or a technique that will help me to abstain from smoking. I think it will help others too because lately almost everywhere I go, people in our communities smoke marijuana, young and old. Thanks in advance and I am waiting.”
Tags: Jewish World
Tevet 26, 5770, 1/12/2010
In our previous blog, we wrote that Jews in the Diaspora have a distorted understanding of Judaism. Since this statement triggered some backlash, I’d like to explain in more depth.
Perhaps “distorted” is not the right word. Maybe I should have said that Diasporinians (like Floridians) have a “mistaken” understanding of Judaism, or that they live a “truncated” Judaism, or that they have been “improperly taught” what Judaism is all about.
For instance, everyone readily understands that there are levels of measurement and performance. Some people have a higher IQ than others. Some people are stronger than others. Some cars can drive faster than others. There is Major League Baseball and there is the Little League. There are magnificent championship golf courses and there is miniature golf.
The Real Thing
In the same way, there is a difference between the Judaism of the exile and the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael. Not only quantitatively, in the greater number of mitzvot a person can perform in the Land of Israel, but also qualitatively, in the deeper understanding of what Torah is all about, which a Jew receives when he studies the Torah in the proper fashion.
Let me cite an example that I’ve mentioned in the past, especially for the benefit of new readers. Once, I was in the city of Toronto to raise money for a kiruv program in Israel. Invited to speak at a large Orthodox shul, I arrived early and had time to browse through the local Jewish weekly. On the cover was a big picture of the skyline of Toronto. The headline read: “Looking Forward to the Next Decade of Jewish Life in Toronto.”
I took the newspaper into the auditorium and held it up for everyone to see.
“What is going on here?” I asked in amazement. “Everything I learn says that a Jew is supposed to look forward to the next decade of Jewish life in Jerusalem. I have a feeling that if the Mashiach were to come, he would mess up your plans.”
The point is that when a person has the proper understanding of Judaism, he or she longs to live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel. He or she longs for Redemption from the exile, for the ingathering of the exiles, to take a part in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel in its Land, just as we request in our prayers three times a day. This is the whole goal of the Torah. Without it, Judaism is a dry, lifeless impersonation of the real thing. No matter how pleasant the Jewish community in Toronto may be, it’s not the real thing. It’s just a shell of Judaism, like the Dodge City of the MGM movie studio lot, it’s a façade without real Torah Judaism behind it.
Of course, throughout the long and painful generations that we were outcast from our Land, the Judaism of the exile was all that we had and its value was beyond all measurement, preserving the Nation and its sacred heritage until we could return. But now that we can come home, why linger on, clinging to Toronto and Dodge City for a few dollars more?
For a few dollars more.
This isn’t a new phenomena. In the upcoming Torah portions, Rashi will reveal that eighty percent of the Jews in Egypt refused to leave the foreign flesh pot for the Land of Israel, and were subsequently punished with death in the three days of darkness, so that the Egyptians wouldn’t see our shame and the terrible affront to G-d when His children turned their backs on Him preferring to remain in Egypt instead. They too, like the Spies in the wilderness after them, didn’t understand that building a Torah ideal in the Land of Israel was what Judaism is all about.
Another time, I was in Boca Raton visiting my parents before they made aliyah. Entering a synagogue to pray, I noticed a flyer on the bulletin board. It featured a photo of WDC and the headline read: “This Summer Visit Our Nation’s Capitol with the Rabbi.”
If I forget thee O Jerusalem
Now if the rabbi of the shul is teaching his congregation and its kids that their nation is America and that their capitol is Washington, and not Jerusalem, how can you expect them to have a proper understanding of Judaism?
I remember when I was a boy, my grandfather would take me on trips to Lake George in upstate New York. On the way, there were all kinds of attractions for tourists like “Frontier Town” and “Indian Village.”
Eretz Yisrael is more than a Jewish Disneyland
Now, the Birthright Program is a wonderful thing in affording young Jews to visit Israel, but instead of teaching young Jews that Israel is their one and only true homeland, and the place where they should be living, they use the Land of Israel as a giant “Jewish Village” to strengthen feelings of Jewish pride and identity. This approach cheapens the real value of Eretz Yisrael and totally misses the essential foundation upon which all the Torah rests – that Eretz Yisrael is the Land of the Jews, and that America is a place you can go to for a ten day vacation (if you can find a valid halachic reason for leaving the Land.)
For those of you who find my style jarring, here’s pretty much the same message from Rabbi Kook in more scholarly garb:
“The thought regarding Eretz Yisrael that it has merely a peripheral value to facilitate the subsistence of the unified nation; even when it comes to fortify the concept of Judaism in the Diaspora, in order to preserve its form, and to strengthen the belief and fear of Hashem, and to strengthen the performance of the commandments in a proper fashion - this orientation toward Eretz Yisrael is not worthy of lasting fruition, for its foundation is rickety in light of the towering, unshakable holiness of Eretz Yisrael” (Orot, 1:1).
Eretz Yisrael is more that a Jewish Disneyland Park to bolster Jewish identity for ten days before flying back to Toronto and NYU.
Someone who thinks that Jewish life in Toronto or Brooklyn or Monsey is all roses and dandy, and “who cares that Jews are assimilating everywhere else,” does understand that Judaism doesn’t just concern itself with the happiness of the individual, but rather Judaism concerns itself with the welfare of the “Clal,” the Jewish Nation as a whole, and that the plague of assimilation can only be stopped when all Jews live in Israel, amongst Jews, and not mingling wherever they go in Toronto with the gentiles, no matter how gentle Canadians pretend to be. Diaspora Dreamers, who don’t understand what true Judaism is all about, are deluding themselves into thinking that their future is secure. As our history has taught us the hard way, and as the Talmud attests, when a brushfire breaks out amongst the weeds, it isn’t long before the winds carry it along to sweep up the haystacks. The haystacks are the Torah scholars and the flourishing Jewish communities.
"Everything is fine and dandy here!"
Rabbi Leon Levi, in exhorting us to go out and teach others, warns that this self-centered galut understanding of Judaism brought about the extinction of European Jewry, when a distraught Jew would run to one of the great yeshiva rabbis, saying that the Jews from the next town were assimilating. “So what?” was too often the answer. “Everyone in our yeshiva is a big tzaddik. Everything is wonderful here.” But when the fires of anti-Semitism erupted, they didn’t stop with the weaker communities, they burnt up the stronger, more righteous communities as well.
Tags: Jewish World
Tevet 24, 5770, 1/10/2010
The last few Shabbats, the Birthright/Mayanot Program has been sending guys over to our house for the morning meal, as part of their free, ten-day tour of Israel. Yesterday, after waiting a half hour, when they failed to show up, we started to eat. I was describing to my children what happens if a child turns away from the Torah, G-d forbid, after his family has guarded it for thousands of years. Since it is a man’s mission in life to pass the Torah down to his children, if a child abandons the teaching of his father and marries out of the faith, then in a very real sense, the father has failed in his mission. Since the father has failed, then the grandfather has failed, and the great grandfather after him. I gave an example of dominoes, whereby one falls and knocks down all the others. The family chain is cut off. The line of generations upon generations is broken. Thousands of years of love and allegiance to Torah is lost.
To drive the point home, I let out a scream, the scream of generations, the scream of grandfathers and great grandfathers and great great grandfathers all the way back to Yaacov and Yitzhak and Avraham. I screamed at the table, at the top of my lungs, for almost a minute.
Just at that moment, the three young Birthright visitors arrived at my doorstep. Startled by the scream, they were afraid to knock. When the terrifying scream continued and continued, they were about to bolt. Just then, the son of a neighbor came by and knocked on the door. When I opened it, I found the three Birthrighters standing outside, tongue tied. With a warn handshake and bear hug, I herded them in. After guiding them through Kiddush and HaMotzei, and filling up their plates with mountains of home-cooked food, I explained to them why I had screamed. Repeating the story, I screamed again, just as loud and long as before, to get the point across to them what their estrangement from the Torah was doing to their grandfathers and grandmothers in Heaven.
The Tragedy of the Diaspora Jew
Then I told them about the Jungle Story, about the shipwrecked boy who is raised by apes and grows up thinking he is an ape too. That’s what happens to Jews like them who grow up in America – they think they’re Americans and forget that they’re Jews. It could be that their parents told them they were Jews, and they’ll say that they’re Jews, but they don’t know what being Jewish is all about. That’s why the Birthright founders send them to Israel – to give them an adrenaline shot of Jewishness in the hope that they won’t marry gentiles. But they don’t mention the Torah on the trip, so I have two hours with them to jam four thousand years of Jewish history and Torah down their throats along with my wife’s potatoes and chicken. (They knocked off a bottle of wine while I was at it.)
I show them my picture from Hollywood
Then, so they don’t think I’m some crazy old man with a beard, I show them my cheesecake glossies from Hollywood when I tried to look as gentile and American as Paul Newman, to let them know I was there once upon a time where they are today, in no-where’s land, and that my kids are growing up speaking Hebrew in Israel because in addition to touring the country, I deleted the movie-screen reels of American lies and refilled my brain with the hundreds of holy Jewish books on the shelves of our living room library, especially the shelf with the volumes of books written by Rabbi Kook which explain how the tiny Torah of galut has been transformed into the colossal Torah of Eretz Yisrael in our time with the re-establishment of NATION OF ISRAEL in the LAND OF OUR FOREFATHERS.
Surprisingly, at the end of the meal, they always thank me and tell me what a great time they had learning what hapless dummies they are. Now I know that Americans are polite and they’re trained to say things like that, but these guys really mean it. Why? Because, finally, someone told them the truth. At least most of them seem to truly appreciate my efforts. There are always the diehard Americans who are totally shocked and appalled by my non-stop bombardment, which makes Israeli air strikes on Gaza look like the cheap Chinese fireworks that they are.
The truth is, even though these poor jungle boys don’t know anything, and even after four years in the best American colleges, studying all kinds of books, they have never seen a Chumash or Gemara in their lives. Most of them can’t read Hebrew, and they know nothing about the Israeli-Arab conflict, since it literally plays absolutely no part in their lives, but even with all of their innocent ignorance, they are still a lot closer to true Judaism than the readers of this blog who think they know what Judaism is all about from the mind-warping distortions they’ve learned in the Diaspora. At least the heads of the Birthright visitors are blank. Once you get them to realize that they’ve been duped by their parents and forced fed non-kosher American sausages and bacon all of their lives, once they realize they are as American as the Chinaman who runs the corner fruit stand, once they realize that they don’t know who they really are at all, at least then you have something to work with. Once you blow away the house of cards of their phony American identity and make them realize that George Washington isn’t their forefather, and introduce them to Avraham Avinu and the rest of the glorious tribe, then you can teach them what real Judaism is. But for someone who thinks he already knows, and believes that Judaism is a religion like Christianity and Buddhism with its private, ritual service of G-d, and who rejects coming to Israel because it would mess up his game plan, well you can talk to him until you’re blue in the face and write hundreds of blogs, but his head is so polluted with his solipsistic foreign ideas and aspirations, he’ll never catch on that Judaism isn’t just another religion but a NATIONAL CONSTITUTION for a HOLY NATION that has its own HOLY LAND, and that it involves a lot more than eating bagels and gefilta fish in America and getting picked drunk after shul on Shabbat.
Our Birthright isn’t visiting the Land of Israel. It’s living here. It isn’t reading Israel National News. It’s making Israel National News by being here.
I hope you understand the difference.