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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.
Believe it or not, chocolate chip cookies were one of the things that made me realize that a Jew’s true place is in Israel. When I started to learn about Judaism in Hollywood, someone told me that a Jew has to say a blessing before and after eating, in order to thank G-d for the sustenance He gives us. For instance, after eating a chocolate chip cookie, one says the following:
“Blessed art Thou, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, for all of the nourishment and the produce of the field, and for the lovely and spacious Land which You didst grant to our fathers as a heritage to eat of its fruit and enjoy its good gifts….”
My friend explained to me that the Land which G-d had given to our forefathers was the Land of Israel.
That’s strange, I thought. I mean, since I was in America, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to thank G-d for California, or for the wheat fields of Kansas? But that’s not what the blessing said. A Jew was to thank G-d for Eretz Yisrael. The blessing said we were “to eat of its fruits and enjoy its good gifts.” That was funny, I thought.
The blessing after eating cookies continues:
“Have mercy, L-rd our G-d, on Israel Your nation, on Jerusalem Your city, on Zion the abode of Your majesty, on Your altar and on Your Temple.”
Hmm, I thought. That’s interesting too. Why didn’t it say, “Have mercy on America Your nation, on Los Angeles Your city, on Hollywood the abode of Your majesty, on MGM Studios and on Grauman’s Chinese Theater?”
The blessing after eating cookies continues:
“Rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem speedily in our days. Bring us there and gladden us with the restoration of our Land; may we eat of its fruit and enjoy its good gifts; may we bless you for it in holiness and purity.”
Wow! That was really a mindblower. I mean, be honest. Look what the blessing says. After eating some chocolate chip cookies in LA, or a slice of pizza in Toronto, or one of those big salty pretzels off a push cart in New York, we ask G-d to rebuild Jerusalem and to bring us to the Land of Israel! We ask G-d to make us happy “with the restoration of our Land.”
Wow, I thought. America isn’t my land. My Land is the LAND OF ISRAEL.
As far as I knew, no one had put any hashish in the chocolate chip cookie, but it blew my mind all the same!
A Jew was supposed to eat the fruits of the Land of Israel and enjoys its good gifts – not the gifts of America, Australia, Canada, or France! Israel was our Land. America, Australia, Canada, and France were meant for the goyim.
Also, I couldn’t help but notice, a Jew was also supposed to bless the L-rd in holiness and purity, in the Holy Land – not in the impurity of foreign countries!
And if the message wasn’t clear, the end of the blessing repeated it another two times, “Blessed are You, O L-rd, for the Land of Israel and for the food.”
All that I learned from a chocolate chip cookie!
The Sages enacted special restrictions and signs of mourning on Tisha B’Av, and the Three Weeks preceding it, to remind us that the longing for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and for the ingathering of the exiles should always be the center of our lives.
The “Pele Yoetz” states:
“It is true that mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple is something that should be expressed in outward actions, especially during the Three Weeks, when one should put ashes on one’s head at the place where one lays tefillin, and sit by the doorway day and night to recite Tikun Hatzot. Still, the main thing is not the outward actions, but the feelings one has in one’s heart. One should feel brokenhearted, shed bitter tears, and sigh mournfully over the pain of Heaven. This depends on one’s level of knowledge and insight, one’s love of G-d, and the purity of one’s soul.
“It may be true that today we have fallen to a very low level, and no one understands the full extent of what we are missing and what we have lost, what we have caused because of our sin, and what the exile of the Shechinah really means. Our very lack of understanding and sensitivity should fill us with anguish. Even so, each person is obligated to do what he can. One should imagine how he would feel if his mother was swathed and garbed in black, and was crying bitterly and shrieking, ‘The pain in my head! The pain in my arm! I brought up children, I raised them, and they rebelled against me!’ One should focus one’s mind and heart on similar bitter images and pour out one’s soul in a bitter cry, and then one may be worthy of seeing the consolation of Zion and the building of our Holy Temple in all of its glory, soon in our days.”
As Rabbi Eliezar Paapo, the “Pele Yoetz,” makes clear, it isn’t easy to rise up to the level where you can experience actual anguish over the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. To help myself, I think about the Jews in the Diaspora, my brothers and sisters who are dwelling in the darkness in Toronto, New York, LA, Manchester, and Johannesburg. I picture them going happily about their lives, lost, ignorant of their true situation, unconcerned or indifferent to the Shechinah’s terrible pain that her holy children are living amongst the heathens in the far corners of the earth. I think about all of my dear brothers who have married gentiles and unknowingly abandoned their souls. This awakens in me a profound sadness and sorrow, and then I can recite the Tikun Hatzot with true feeling, if not with the flowing tears that I’ve seen in the eyes of genuine Tzaddikim.
May our brothers and sisters, in all of their exiles, all return soon, on their own, ahead of the ever-increasing assimilation, and persecutions, that will surely come, with the speedy rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and Jerusalem. Amen.
Realizing that readers were right in protesting my use of the expression "Potato Heads" to describe my detractors, I have deleted my original introduction to today's blog, in the spirit of promoting brotherly love, which is a more fitting response to nasty talkbacks during this period of the Three Weeks. As initial talkbacks suggested, the real Potato Head is me.
As I wrote, I take comfort in the hope that at least one Jew somewhere in cyberspace has learned something from even one of my blogs, and, in consequence, came closer to G-d. If that one anonymous Jewish soul, wherever he or she may be, is a holier and happier person now, it will have made all of the time I have spent on this blog, and the abuse that I have taken, worthwhile.
Getting back to Tikun Hatzot:
The “Shulchan Aruch” is the code of Jewish Law. It begins by discussing the practice of rising at night to offer lamentations to G-d, saying, “It is fitting for every G-d fearing person to feel grief and concern over the destruction of the Temple” (Orach Chaim, 1:1-3). The “Mishnah Berurah,” there, also praises the benefits of this practice in its explanation of the details of the prayers. The recital of Tikun Hatzot is not an absolute duty. Rather, as Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum explains, “It is not so much a duty as a labor of love for those who truly yearn to know G-d, and feel pain and anguish over His concealment, and over the stain on His glory as long as the Holy Temple is in ruins (“The Sweetest Hour,” pg. 8).
The saintly, Rabbi Eliahu Lopian began rising regularly for Tikun Hatzot in his later years. When one of his students asked him why, Rabbi Lopian answered, “When I leave this world and come before the Heavenly Tribunal, they will ask me if I kept the Shulchan Aruch, and presumably I will say I did. They are sure to say, ‘Let’s check,’ and go through the Shulchan Aruch section by section, law by law. If they catch me on some detail after two hundred sections, I might be able to come up with an excuse. But what am I going to say if they catch me on the very first section?” (“The Sweetest Hour,” pg. 12).
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the "Baal HaTanya," writes: "The way to come to repentance is through Tikun Hatzot. Someone who is unable to do this every night should still be sure to do so, at the very least, once a week" (Igeret HaTeshuvah, 10).
In the “Siddur of the Shelah HaKadosh” it is written:
“A person who gets up regularly for Tikun Hatzot is a tzaddik. A thread of mercy is stretched over him to save him from all accusers. He is considered a member of the Court of the King. His livelihood is assured. He is called G-d fearing, a lover of the King, a son of the Holy One. It is about him that King David says, ‘G-d is close to all who call upon him.’”
It is written in the holy Zohar:
“If the Jewish People were careful to get up for Tikun Hatzot, their enemies would be subdued and would not impose any decrees against them. All our suffering in this bitter exile is caused because of not getting up to study Torah and sing songs of praise after Hatzot,” (Zohar, Bereshit 77).
If you say in all humbleness, “Who am I to pay over the destruction of Jerusalem?” the “Mesilat Yesharim” has already answered this contention:
“If one would say, ‘Who am I and what am I worth that I should pray for Jerusalem etc... Will the exiles be gathered in and will Salvation sprout because of my prayer?’ his answer awaits him. As we learned (Sanhedrin 37a) ‘Man was created individually so that each man should say: The world was created for my sake.' It is the Blessed One's pleasure that His sons desire and pray for this. And though their desire may not be fulfilled because the proper time has not yet arrived, or for some other reason, they will have done their part and the Holy One Blessed Be He rejoices in it (“Mesilat Yesharim,” Ch.19).
More on Tikun Hatzot to follow.
There are those who complain when I write about the importance of sexual modesty. Others complain when I write about aliyah. So to make everyone happy, we are going to change the subject during the Three Weeks and write about Jerusalem, the Temple’s destruction, the pain of the Shechinah, and the exile.
Everyone can understand that to rectify Jerusalem’s destruction, it must be rebuilt, and that’s just what we are doing today. To rectify the destruction of sovereign Jewish nationhood in Israel, then Jewish nationhood in Israel must be reestablished, and that’s just what we are doing today. To rectify the scattering of the Jews to the four corners of the globe, they must be re-gathered in Israel, and that’s just what we are doing today.
All of these things help to soothe the anguish of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) which mourns over the destruction of her holy abode and the exile of her children. For a person who has not been privileged to actually physically participate in these rectifications by returning to Israel and helping to rebuild the nation, or by financially supporting people and organizations that do, he can participate in Brooklyn, Toronto, or LA, by rising out of bed at night to recite Tikun Hatzot – the Midnight Lamentation.
The next few blogs will focus on this important aspect of serving G-d. During the Three Weeks, the custom is to recite the prayer not only at midnight, but also in the afternoon, to give extra comfort to the Shechinah which cries out in even greater pain at this time of the year. Both Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah can be found online, along with some of the laws regarding their recital.
The following is an essay by the holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, to get our learning underway:
“Rising up at midnight is essential for every Jew, to weep and lament over the destruction of the Temple, and to afterward recite the praises of the Jewish People who are afflicted with great tribulation. My cherished friend, you should know that all of the sorrows that our holy Jewish People suffer in the violent and bitter exile, indescribable horrors and grave sicknesses that strike with a frightening constancy, and especially the carnage and murder of our time, all of this stems from the fact that we don’t feel in our hearts the need to rise at midnight to participate in the anguish of the Shechinah.
“Alas at the shame and reproach when a mother is suffering and gravely ill, and her son sleeps peacefully in his bed, luxuriating in a deep slumber, not at all concerned with his mother’s plight. The behavior of a son like this towards his mother borders on a grave transgression, seeing that she slaved and sacrificed herself days and nights for his sake, in caring for all of his needs, and what is her reward? Close to nothing!
“No, my dear friend, it is the Shechinah that upheld us and toiled over us unceasingly day after day, night after night without respite, and you, her son, are obligated to honor her and to participate in her tribulation over the destruction of her Temple, over the diminishing of her Heavenly unifications, over the sufferings of her children which come upon them from all sides, over the evil forces that sap her strength, and over the evil decrees that fall upon her children each day and month – and all of this is due to our many sins.
“And you, my son and friend, a servant of G-d, lay comfortable in your bed, bundled in your blanket, in a sea of bliss, first lounging on this side, and then on the other, for another minute, another hour more, without giving up on your comfort. In so doing so, you have without thinking become a partner of the Destroyer. You have fallen into the web of the evil inclination, the Satan, who causes you to sin and who brings death in his wake, to remove you from this world as soon as he can, so that he might cast you forth into the suffering of the next world where you will have to give an account of why you wasted your precious time in this world for nothing - for the vain and illusionary comforts of sleep, instead of having paid attention to the most important thing of all, to return to the love and service of G-d, “For these are our life and the length of our days, and in them we will contemplate day and night.”
“Had you understood this, you should have torn your heart in twelve places, and cried out and wept with all of your strength to your Father in Heaven, that He have compassion on our life-giving Shechinah, and on the Jewish People who are drowning and anguishing in every type of tribulation, evil decrees, and sicknesses. You should have cried out in tears that Hashem be zealous for all of His people, and for His land, and immediately rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace of the Shechinah, that He redeem us with a total and true redemption.
“This is what a loving son should do, and if, G-d forbid, he does not do this, knowing that all that we have written is true, then the pleasure that this world of vanity brings him will be transformed, G-d forbid, into a plague, and he will have to make an accounting fore this when in some future time he will lay on his bed in sickness and terrible sufferings, may Hashem have mercy, until he will have paid for all of the pleasures that he enjoyed for himself in his transitory life, when he slept comfortably in his bed and did not take to heart the anguish and pain of the Shekinah.
“Thus, a son who honors his Father in Heaven will get up at midnight and recite the Tikun Hatzot. If he can learn Torah afterwards, how well and good. If it is difficult for him to rise at midnight, at least let him rise some time during the night, wash his hands in the proper fashion, say all of the morning blessings, and afterwards recite the Tikun Hatzot with tears. For everyone who rises at midnight to say the Tikun, a thread of G-d’s kindness will be drawn over them, and their doings will be recorded in the King’s book of remembrance for goodness, for blessing, and for salvation, may it come soon.”
Do you think it coincidental that the Torah portion describing Israel’s whoring after the daughters of Midian fell during the week of the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which marks the beginning of Jerusalem’s destruction of yore?
The Torah portions of Balak and Pinchus which describe the calamity go something like this:
“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with their filterless computers. And the anger of the L-rd was kindled against Israel. And the L-rd said to Moshe, Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up before the L-rd against the sun, that the burning anger of the L-rd be turned away from Israel. And behold one of the Children of Israel came and brought to his brethren a filterless computer filled with photos and videos of Midianite women in the sight of Moshe, and in the sight of all the congregation of the Children of Israel. And when Pinchus saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the computer. So the plague was stayed from the Children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were 24,000.”
If you think I am exaggerating when I write about the dangers of immodesty and harlotry, the Torah informs us that G-d was about to “consume the children of Israel in its entirety” for this transgression, until Pinchus rose up and rectified their sin before the eyes of all of the nation (BaMidbar, 25:10).
Even though only Zimri openly committed the act, 24,000 Jews were slain for bringing the immodest gentile women into their homes. The situation is no different today when filterless computers are brought into Jewish homes with their galleries of Midianite strumpets. Looking at them is a sin. Fantasizing about them is a sin. And spilling semen in vain is considered the gravest transgression in the Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 23:1).
And if you want to say that the Torah isn’t talking about Internet pornography, and that immodesty had nothing to do with the destruction of Jerusalem, then take a look at the prophesy of destruction in the Book of Isaiah:
“Moreover the L-rd says, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and ogling eyes, walking an mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet, therefore the L-rd will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the L-rd will lay bare their secret parts… and it shall come to pass that instead of the sweet smell of their perfumes, there shall be a stench… and thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war, and the gates of Jerusalem shall both lament and mourn….” (Isaiah, 3:16-4:5).
Once again, to be fair, our hapless Jewish men and wonderful women are not to blame. They have been duped by modern Bilaams, the evil cultures, fashions, and mores of western society that have swept through Jewish homes around the world like swine flu. Bilaam knew that the natural trait of the Jewish People was modesty, as it says, “How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov” (BaMidbar, 24:4, see Rashi). He also knew that the G-d of Israel hates licentiousness (Sanhedrin 106A). Unable to curse us with words, or defeat us on the battlefield, his plan to draw us away from, and pollute, our unique Torah culture by infiltrating the immorality of Midian into our midst so that we would no longer be “a people that shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (BaMidbar, 23:9). We have been repeatedly warned against this in the Torah, as is written: “Do not walk in the ways of the nations” (Vayikra, 20:23), and “Do not walk in their ways” (Ibid, 18:3), and “Take heed lest you be ensnared after them” (Devarim, 12:30.) The Jewish People are to keep themselves separated from the gentile nations, by living in our own Land and by guarding our own language, customs, and laws, as it is written. “For I have set you apart from all peoples” (Vayikra, 20:26).
Each and every one of you can help in the battle against Bilaam and his followers of today by dressing modestly, by safeguarding the sexual laws of the Torah, and by downloading an anti-porn Internet filter today.
Aren’t you glad that I’m back from vacation?
[The photo of Tzvi in the jacuzzi was removed by popular request.]