Middle East 5:45 AM 12/4/2013
Jewish World 1:15 AM 12/4/2013
Middle East 3:44 AM 12/4/2013
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.
Listen, O ye lovers of Israel. Take Heed! If you truly want to be righteous gentiles, you will read this book, "Heaven's Door," again and again , and study its lessons! Craig Peters is everyman, and the truths he learns from Saba Yosef are eternal. It isn't enough to declare one's love for Israel, a person seeking the true "Golden Path" must live his life in a moral fashion, as set down by the great Sages of Israel. Therefore my friends, cherish this little book. Take it with you wherever you go as a reminder. Send it to friends and spread its special blessings. For only $10 - that's right, my friends - only $10 dollars, the price of a movie and popcorn, you can send someone this little book of miracles and bring true godliness into his life.
And now, the next-to-last chapter:
Chapter Fifteen – A Night to Remember
“I’m going to send an email to your daughter,” Saba Yosef said, standing up from his desk.
“An email to my daughter?” I inquired.
Seeing the unworldly expression of the old man, I understood his meaning.
“You mean a spiritual email. I get it.”
“Afterwards, they are picking me up to take me to a class, where some students are learning Kabbalah. You get some sleep. I will see you in the morning.”
He walked across the room to the other side of the study, flicked on a light switch, and opened a door.
“This is a guest room. You can sleep here. There’s a bathroom and a shower, if you like.”
Then he walked toward the small dark synagogue and pushed open one of the glass doors. “Liela tov,” he said in Hebrew, wishing me goodnight.
After a few seconds, the light in the study went out, save for a small night light by his desk. In the dimness of the synagogue, I could see him standing by the opened ark, facing a Torah scroll. At the top of the ark, a small light shone on a plaque depicting the Tablets of the Law which Moses had received on Mount Sinai.
The guest room was neat with plain furnishings, a curtain on the window, and a few pictures of forest landscapes on the walls. After a visit to the bathroom, I sat down on the bed, but I felt too agitated inside to sleep, so I returned to the darkened study. The synagogue was empty. Quietly, I walked over to the glass doors and peered inside. Saba Yosef wasn’t there. The ark was closed. Outside, I heard a car-door shut and a car drive off. I was alone in the cottage. Not knowing if I was doing anything wrong or not, I stepped into the small sanctuary and sat down in the pew directly in front of the elaborately carved wooden ark. Perhaps it was the late hour, or the dizzy tiredness of the journey and the whirlpool of events, or maybe it was caused by a light shining into a window, but when I gazed up at the plaque of the Ten Commandments, some of the Hebrew letters seemed to shine on and off, like the neon sign on the roof of an all-night pub. If I had ever learned what the Ten Commandments were, I had forgotten them long ago, and I didn’t want to guess which ones were flashing now to remind me of my wrongdoings. All I knew was that I felt soiled inside through and through. I wanted to submerge all of my life in the mikvah I had immersed in upon my arrival in Safed, what seemed like months before, and cleanse myself in its purifying waters. It was a crazy idea, but I didn’t feel like sleeping, the books in the study were all in Hebrew, so I had nothing to read, and, in the middle of everything, I wanted to make sure that the rental car was still where I had left it. Figuring it wouldn’t be hard to find my way down the mountain road to the Old City of Safed, I left the cottage to embark on an adventure that would have seemed to me totally irrational and bizarre just a few days before.
The rain had ended and there was a feeling of spring cleanliness in the air. I followed the forest road back to the highway, where the mystical city of Safed spread out across the hillside. Even though it was in the middle of the night, several cars passed, momentarily framing me in their headlights before speeding by. Reviewing the lessons that I had heard from the old man, I made my way along a sidewalk leading down the slope to the village square at the entrance to the sleeping hamlet. A sign in English pointed the way to the ancient cemetery where the mikvah was located. Sure enough, the rental car was right where I had left it, not far from my hotel. I put the tape recorder inside, figuring I would drive back to Saba Yosef’s cottage. With the familiarity and confidence of a mountain gazelle, as if I had traveled over the hillside dozens of times before, I made my way through the alleyways leading down the slope, bounding over shattered stairs and uncertain terrain, until I left behind the silent artist’s quarter and the old houses in the midst of restoration.
Suddenly, around a corner and down a few more stairs, I came to a dead end, and there, down the steep mountain slope, lit up by floodlights, was the ancient graveyard. At the bottom of a long flight of steps was the cave which housed the supernatural immersion pool. Remembering how cold the water had been during the day, my body involuntarily shivered, thinking how freezing it must be at night. But I was determined to take a plunge, sensing that’s its mystical waters were the gateway to my redemption.
As if compelled inexplicably forward, I hurried on toward this strange, middle of the night rendezvous, or maybe battle, with the demons of my past. Suddenly, my foot slipped recklessly on one of the rain-drenched stairs, and I toppled headlong forward, completely out of control, down the cold and wet stairway, banging my head again and again and again against indifferent slabs of rock and marble. My first surprised shout echoed over the mountains. It was as if I could see myself tumbling over and over, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. Vainly I tried to shelter my head with my hands, but my arms wouldn’t stay in one place for more than seconds. My cell phone fell out of my pocket and tumbled alongside me down the slippery descent. Five, ten, fifteen stairs, I couldn’t count how many. My skull caved in like a soda can. I heard myself groan with anguish. Then I felt my spine crack at the back of my neck, a terrible, terrible pain, and then a terrifying numbness. By the time I hit the bottom, I didn’t feel a thing.
Immediately, I knew I was dying. The strange thing was that my analytical, mathematical brain was still intact, observing the whole scene from above my twisted body, as it lay stretched in all directions on the pavement. A trickle of rainwater carried my blood down the descent toward the cemetery. I hovered nearby, watching it all, like a cameraman filming a story.
A Hasid emerging from the mikvah discovered my lifeless form. “Oy vay, oy vay,” he repeated, starting to pray. Bending down, he wrapped his towel around my head to stop the bleeding. Fortunately, he had a cell phone. In Israel, everyone does, I noted, rather matter of frankly, as if all this was happening to somebody else. As the minutes ticked by, waiting for an ambulance to arrive, another Hasid on the way to the mikvah appeared, followed by another and yet another until soon there was almost an official prayer minyan of ten. I supposed their supplications and Psalms are what kept my soul lingering over my body - and the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of bearded youth dressed in a soldier’s uniform. At intervals, he pounded on my chest to keep my heart beating. Finally, I was rolled onto a stretcher, an oxygen mask was placed over my mouth, and medics, along with my religious saviors, carried me up the long ascent of stairs to the waiting ambulance.
On the screeching, unsteady ride to the hospital, the siren probably woke up the whole city, unless the war-wearied Israelis were accustomed to things like that. I know that I wasn’t, and the high-pitched wail was unbearable, as if it were coming from the center of my brain. It could be that anywhere else on earth, the ballgame would have been over, but Israel is well practiced in emergencies, and a full staff of nurses and surgeons was waiting for me by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital. As a longtime coach of the little leagues, I appreciated their professionalism and training as they inserted all sorts of tubes into me in all kinds of places.
The after-life foray that followed was not at all lighthearted, nor fun, but I will try to relate it in a gentle manner, leaving out many of the terrifying details, knowing that my readers would never believe me, or think that I am either crazy or making it up, if I were to describe it exactly as it was.
The results of a CT were discouraging. I didn’t understand what the doctors were saying, but I could tell from their eyes. On the operating table, while they were draining my shattered skull and battered brain of blood with a suction tube that made a rattling, deathlike noise, the monitors went flat. The fragile, beep - beep - beep of my life fell silent, my soul ceased hovering like a helicopter around the operating theater and shot up like a rocket into outer space.
I knew that I was dead, and that my soul had been released to find its own way, like a tourist without a map. My soul traveled at a frightening speed up through a long endless tunnel. Far in the distance was an incredible light, brighter than a thousand suns. I was being taken toward the light, I don’t know by whom, like the medics who had carried me up the graveyard stairway to the ambulance. Suddenly, it felt like someone had turned up the heat. As we sped onward through the furnace-like tunnel, my parents and grandparents appeared, calling out my name, reaching out their arms to embrace me. But no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to reach them.
Faces, horrible faces, peered out at me from the darkness of the tunnel, rushing forward to scratch out my eyes, like the demons and ghosts in an amusement-park House of Horrors. I didn’t know who they were, but I felt a terrible shame, as they called out, “Wicked man! Sinner!”
It seemed like a long time before Saba Yosef arrived at the hospital. With his hooded white gown, he didn’t look too different from the masked and gowned doctors in the operating room. No one seemed to mind that the old man was there. As far as they were concerned, their work was finished. My brainstem was gone. There was nothing more they could do.
Fortunately, Saba Yosef was not about to throw in the towel. He stood alongside my body and started some surgery of his own. When he rested his hands over my head, my whole being trembled, as if the scattered, jigsaw-puzzle pieces of my spine and skull were flying back into place.
Suddenly, with what sounded like a screeching of brakes, my express ride through the darkness began to slow down, and the furnace inside the tunnel began to cool down, as if a heat shield of love had been jettisoned into place. With closed eyes and a look of atomic concentration, the holy man prayed for my soul. As for me, I was in the center of a tug of war, being pulled in opposite directions.
Finally, my invisible escorts let go, and I was catapulted forward into the infinite light, a light that was more than light, an indescribably radiant pool of kindness, healing, and love. But I was only given a momentary taste, as if to briefly experience the eternal heavenly bliss that I had forfeited forever by pursuing ephemeral earthly lusts. Then, I was hurled into a terrifying empty void where I was standing in outer space with nothing under my feet to prevent me from falling.
Hearing the thundering crash of a judge’s gavel, I turned to see the incredibly holy figure of Maimonides, presiding over a tribunal of sages, their beards flowing behind them like rivers into the golden gardens of Paradise. I didn’t see anything that looked like God, but I felt His presence everywhere, filling me with an unbearable shame.
Poised over the terrifying dark abyss, about to plummet into oblivion, I was treated to a movie of my past, where all of my deeds, and words, and thoughts, and wasted moments flashed by in an instant, portraying every single moment of my life, my childhood, high school, college, marriage, everything I ever did, with all of my stolen pleasures and adulteries graphically filmed in a “This Is Your Life” youtube that filled me with a feeling of horrible shame, much worse than the fires of hell.
“But I didn’t know!” I protested. “No one ever taught me!” I cried out in self-defense.
“He didn’t know,” the Maimonides concurred, speaking up in my defense. “Furthermore, he has expressed his sincere repentance.”
Suddenly, my hovering over oblivion ended, leaving me on the floor of a celestial courtroom.
“Because of his repentance, his punishment in the afterworld is waved,” an evil, menacing voice declared. “Nevertheless, he is sentenced to death. You can take him into the Garden.”
Up on the movie screen behind the tribunal of judges, I saw my funeral in a New England cemetery with manicured lawns. I saw my friends, some grown-up little-leaguers, my colleagues from school, the one-armed principal standing beside my wife - only my daughter was missing as a hired minister eulogized me, saying all kinds of exaggerated fables about what a wonderful person I was, a model to the community, an inspiring teacher, and all the other generalities and falsehoods that eulogizers are wont to say at funerals. The platitudes and evasions filled me with shame, realizing that all of the judges in Heaven, and the Ruler of the Universe, knew the realities of my life, and the paucity of my truly altruistic deeds.
“It’s not true, it’s not true, the things they are saying,” I called out, embarrassed to the depths of my being, unable to look at the screen.
Then the hooded image of Saba Yosef appeared before me, like a counselor for the defense.
“You can go straight into Heaven, right now, if you choose,” he informed me. “Your repentance has opened the gates.”
Sure enough, the towering gateway to Paradise was opened, as if waiting for me to enter.
“I want to go back to my wife,” I told him. “I don’t want to die. I want to live a better life. I want to prove to all of the people at my funeral, and to all of you, that I can be a better person. Isn’t that what you were trying to teach me?”
The loving light, and an irresistibly beautiful music, reached out toward me from the Garden, as if enticing me to change my decision.
“Are you certain?” the old man asked like a friend.
“The decision has already been rendered,” the evil voice interrupted. “The case is closed. The death sentence stands.”
“Take me instead,” Saba Yosef called out.
The proceedings froze. Everything in the celestial courtroom stood poised to hear the verdict. The silence lasted forever.
“I will deposit my soul with this tribunal,” the old warrior saint continued, “on the condition that you give the accused a second chance. If he reverts to his ways, then my soul is yours for the taking. But if he keeps true to his promise to live a better life, then we both remain free amongst the living.”
Even Maimonides seemed surprised at the unusual offer. For over ninety years, the Angel of Death had been waging all of his powers and skills to remove this holy Jew from the world, but permission had never been granted. Now, to save me, the old man was putting his own life on line in barter.
“Request granted!” Death’s booming voice consented.
The sound of Maimonides’ gavel echoed throughout the universe. I was lifted up by a powerful suction and swept away, back through the dark tunnel at an incredible speed until I was back in my body. Once again, the monitors started to beep. The nurses still in the operating room stood frozen. All eyes gazed up at the screens. Heartbeat normal. Blood pressure normal. Oxygen level normal. Brain waves steady.
“Open your eyes, my friend,” Saba Yosef said. “You can get up now. Everything is fine.”
With tubes sticking out all over me, I started to rise.
“Doctor Friedman! Doctor Friedman!” a nurse screamed, rushing forward to hold me down.
Saba Yosef went home. The startled doctors took another CAT scan, but didn’t find anything wrong. My skull, my brain, my spinal cord, everything was one-hundred percent normal. Even so, they kept me in the hospital for the entire day, so they could keep an eye on me and measure my vital functions. No one could explain what happened. Some nurses attributed my recovery to Saba Yosef, as if it were another ordinary happening in the mystical city of Safed. But there was no medical explanation for the miracle that had occurred. An elderly Sefardi woman, visiting another patient in my room, commented, “God is great.” That said it all.
After I was released from the hospital, I drove back up the forest roadside to the rural cottage to thank Saba Yosef and wish him goodbye. When he came out to the porch, I bent down to kiss his hand as I had seen others do. But he pulled his hand away and gave me a big hug, as if I were an old friend. Startled, I could feel his almost skeletal frame.
“Remember,” he said. “If you revert back to your old ways, you will not only be jeopardizing your life, you will be jeopardizing my life as well. Just make sure that you guard over the lessons we learned and keep to the golden path.”
I promised him that I would.
He walked with me out to the car.
“Can I ask you one last question?” I inquired.
“If you only have one question after all that happened to you, I must be a very bad teacher,” he said with his half-toothless grin.
“Do you think I am doing the right thing by going back to America? Maybe I should stay here near you.”
Saba Yosef glanced around, as if appreciating his home in the forest.
“Yes, it is very beautiful here,” he concurred. “Nevertheless, Maimonides writes that complete penitence is when a person returns to the same place that he was, and being presented with the same temptation, turns away from it, not because he fears punishment, or because he no longer has the strength, but because he is truly penitent over the misdeeds of the past.”
I nodded, apprehensive about letting him down.
“If you were tested in the past, you are going to be tested a hundred times more now,” he warned me. “A man’s evil inclination is an old-time warrior, even older than I am. Be on the lookout for him. Don’t ever drop your guard. He has many different disguises. Sometimes, he can appear as an enemy, and sometimes as a friend.”
A car drove up the road and stopped. A family climbed out, and the mother guided a youth who looked to be blind. Like most people in the world, I thought.
“Remember,” the old man said. “You’re out on probation. The stakes are much higher now.”
He put his hands on the top of my head and blessed me. Once again, I felt the same loving shield of invincible, protective rays that I had experienced in the hospital.
“May the Lord bless you and watch over you,” he said. “May the Lord shine His countenance upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord raise His providence upon you and grant you peace.”
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As I mentioned, I have recently started to post messages on Facebook, hoping to spread the word about Shmirat HaBrit and Aliyah. To my great dismay, I am overwhelmed by the number of single Jewish people that are still floating solo through cyberspace, without finding their soulmates, may Hashem have mercy. And the number of divorced people is saddening as well. Chevre! Brothers and sisters! We have to build our Nation. The Nazis, may them and their sympathizers be erased, and all of the other "gentil" gentiles who, over the centuries, joined in the evil plot to do away with G-d's Chosen People, don't need us to help them. We have to marry and bring Jewish babies into the world, who will grow up to be rabbis and soldiers in the army of Hashem!
So before we continue with the concluding chapter of "Heaven's Door," here's 2 important dvarei Torah from the Kabbalist, Rabbi Leon Levi, shlita, that I ask you to share with friends in cyberspace, men and women alike, to give them an added push to get married to a fellow Jew.
“And G-d blessed them, and G-d said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill up the land.” (Bereshit, 1:28.)
The very first commandment of the Torah is the mitzvah “to be fruitful and multiply.” This obligation precedes all of the other commandments of the Torah. For the Divine Presence does not descend to illuminate its earthy branches except through the decent of heavenly souls into this world. For this reason, a man must be fruitful and multiply, in order to bring celestial souls into this world. For when a soul is brought into this world, an exalted heavenly light spreads forth below. Thus, this is a very great mitzvah, immeasurable in its worth, and all other commandments are dwarfed beside it.
For this reason, a man who has not yet married and started a home, it is like he has not yet achieved anything. For this mitzvah is the foundation of the world, and all of the other commandments do not come to life except through this commandment, since everything else is dependent upon it, since through it all of the other commandments may be observed in all of their wholeness.
There is no way for any Jew in the world to ascend the ladder of holiness and to enter its inner chambers until he is married. This can be seen in the life of our forefather, Yaacov, as we learn from our holy Torah, “I sojourned with Lavan and I kept the 613 commandments.” This means that it was Lavan the Arami who caused Yaacov to observe all of the mitzvot by giving him his daughters to Yaacov in marriage, even though Lavan did not intend it for Yaacov’s spiritual advantage. Getting married was what caused the celestial gates to be opened for Yaacov, enabling him to enter the treasure house of Torah and to observe G-d’s commandments with love and endearment. When Yaacov had children and multiplied, the Shechinah attached itself to him in every place and every moment. Even Lavan, who was a powerful and evil sorcerer, could not harm Yaacov, for the L-rd was with him.
Therefore my cherished son, what a serious self-accounting you must undertake starting today in order to enter the halls of holiness. Be fruitful and multiply - all in a spirit of holiness and purity, with the pristine awareness that in your marriage relations you bring down priceless souls from the upper realms into this world. In doing this, your reward will be multiplied greatly by the Master of the Universe. Great blessing will be granted you, and you will not lack anything, as it says regarding our forefather, Yitzhak, “And the man grew great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great.”
The foolish individual who does not busy himself with having children, and who deceives himself with facetious arguments, saying, “What does the Rabbi want from me – I don’t have an apartment spacious enough for a wife, nor a big enough salary,” and other vain and selfish excuses; this won’t save him at all. Let him ask his forefathers with what hardships they brought him into the world, and yet he is healthy and living a good life. Only a fool does not understand that it is precisely because he is procrastinating in this, and sinking in a deep slumber by not getting married and not bringing children into the world that he is not blessed . For this reason, he is passing his days without true joy and struggling to earn a good livelihood. People who purposefully delay from fulfilling this mitzvah, may G-d save us from this sin, exist without Torah, wisdom, happiness, wealth, and without a fear of Heaven. They cause their fortune to fall, and bring it about that blessings are withheld from them. They are banished in the eyes of Heaven, and the Celestial Hosts bring accusations against them. They weaken G-d’s supernal chariots, and transgress the Torah, and bring Heavenly judgments down on themselves.
Behold, with all of Hezkiahu’s righteousness and saintliness, these attributes did not come to his aid at all when he refused to marry. And concerning Nadav and Avihu, when they brought an offering before G-d and died, the verse emphasizes, “and they did not have children,” implying that if they had had children, they would have been saved. We see from the lives of these righteous individuals the great obligation to be married and to have children. In doing so we give strength to the upper spiritual worlds, as it says, “Give strength to G-d.”
May Hashem be with you in being a valiant warrior in His service. May all those who take heed to my words be blessed with saintly wives, holy marital relations, a prosperous and proper Jewish home, and with righteous children.
Dear daughter of Israel, more precious than pearls, know that you embody within yourself a reflection of the highest spiritual worlds. Therefore, come and heed the word of G-d. Please be aware that the entire purpose of your marriage is to fulfill the commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply,” to bring children into the world, in order to raise and educate them in the path of the Torah and the commandments, and to lead them on the holy and time-honored path of spiritual elevation fostered by our holy Forefathers. It is precisely in fulfilling these precepts of having children and educating them properly, along with other holy commandments, that you will come to great reward in this world, and will merit the ever-multiplied reward which the Blessed One has prepared for you in the world to come.
Therefore, you should know, holy queen, righteous one, daughter of the Blessed One Holy Be He, that an unthinkable thing has occurred. Many young married women have postponed having children, so that they could live a life of great personal enjoyment after their weddings, without the disturbance of children. A few years later, when they felt that the time and circumstances were right for them to raise a family, time betrayed them. To be more exact, the Heavenly Court decreed otherwise, preventing them from having children because of various sexual transgressions performed with their husbands during the period they chose to remain barren, which caused a great wasting of semen, including engaging in unnatural relations, and having relations in immodest, brazen positions, all without shame, without reflecting for even a moment that the honor of G-d fills the world, and that He sees all of man’s doings. Therefore, these women were left barren all of their lives without the ability to bring offspring into the world.
Additionally, there have been other couples who tried to have children after refraining for years, who did these same mistakes, and who also ignored the commandments of the Torah, and were accordingly punished by the Heavenly Court, may G-d have mercy, in such a manner that they could no longer have children. It is important to understand the punishment that befell these women who made a conscious decision to postpone having children in order to insure themselves greater personal pleasures and joy. One can ask, since joy in marriage is a positive thing, why were they punished by the Heavenly Tribunal?
The answer is that these couples, and many others like them who avoid having children, decide from the start that children will not be born from their marital relations. Thus they perform their marital relations in a spirit of levity, lacking the proper holy intention that the marriage union deserves. In this absence of holy reverence, semen is often carelessly spilled in vain, and this causes great anguish to the souls of the Jewish People, as these souls fall into exile, imprisoned in the realm of spiritual impurity.
Transgressions of this nature bring about a state of exile to our emotional and physical beings, causing severe illnesses. Through these harsh sufferings, the Heavenly Court collects its dues for the pleasures these couples engaged in, turning their ONEG ענג (Hebrew word for pleasure) into NEGA נגע(Hebrew word for plague). Only after this painful exculpation of suffering and sickness will their fortunes be transformed for the better, in true pleasure and blessing and joy.
Another sorrowful outcome of the decision to postpone having children is that Jewish souls are prevented from coming to this world. This delays the coming of Mashiach and prolongs the exile, bringing upon our people even greater tribulations than we have suffered until now. Therefore, my precious daughter, your mistaken judgment brought you to severe transgression, which damaged all of your physical being, and darkened the ladder of spiritual worlds that you are attached to, causing great anguish in the upper celestial realms, and causing our Father, our King, to sit and weep over his holy daughter, more precious than gold.
All of this came about from a lack of knowledge and some foolish, unthinking behavior, in that you did not seek the counsel of righteous rabbis and genuine Kabbalists who understand these matters, who could have helped you to elevate your thinking to a more exalted level. In this way, you could have come to a proper course of decision-making, and learned how to arrange the turmoil in your head and overcome confusing thoughts. In lieu of this, you brought upon yourself a profound spiritual and moral descent, all because you failed to understand why you have come into this world. For you have been brought into this world to improve the world, and not to damage it. Furthermore, you forgot that there is a Law, and there is a Judge, and all of your deeds are recorded. Thus it was your own doings that caused your fall, in that you did not seek to fathom G-d’s sublime moral way.
Therefore, please, honored women and daughters of Israel, don’t err and fall away from the path of the Torah, specifically in these matters. May it be the will of our Father in Heaven that the Jewish People be fruitful and multiply, and be blessed with good health, and that the Blessed One Holy Be He, in His great mercy, overturn the Heavenly decree that befell these mistaken women and immediately grant them sons who will grow up to serve Hashem, “for all of the people have fallen into mistaken ways.” Amen, may it be G-d’s will.
Friends, brothers, fellow Jews, lend me your ears. I come to bury the Diaspora, not to praise it. Before getting back to the final two chapters of our serialization of “Heaven’s Door,” take a look at what the holy Zohar teaches about the resurrection of the dead in parshat Chayei Sarah:
“Come and see, it has been established that all of the dead of the Land of Israel will be the first to rise to resurrection, because the Holy One Blessed Be He will shed upon them the spirit of life from Above and grant them renewed existence. Regarding them it is written: “Your dead shall live” (Isaiah, 26:19). This refers to the dead of Eretz Yisrael who will rise to life first.
“In contrast, what follows in the verse, “My dead shall arise” (Ibid,) refers to the dead of the others lands. Of them it is not written that they “shall live” – rather they “shall arise.” The spirit of life will only enter their bodies in the Holy Land of Israel, and for that reason, regarding those who die in the Diaspora, it is not written “shall live,” but “shall arise.” Therefore the dead of the Diaspora will arise without the spirit of life, and then they will be made to roll in underground tunnels all the way to the Land of Israel, and only there will they receive their souls, and not while they are in the Diaspora where the impure rule of the Sitra Achra (Other Side) holds sway, so that they will be resurrected only in Israel in the fitting manner” (Zohar 131A).
Dear friends! Our Sages warn us that the long underground roll to Israel will be very painful indeed, in order to purify the individual from the uncleanliness that he acquired while living in foreign lands. Why put yourselves through such unnecessary anguish when you can simply hop on an air-conditioned jet and come home now? You too can be among the first when the resurrection arrives. If it was a new Star Wars movie, you’d rush to be the first in line to buy a ticket. Isn’t your soul a little more important?
Chapter Fourteen – An Unwelcome Discovery
As we drove back to Safed, I couldn’t tell whether Saba Yosef was meditating or sleeping, so I didn’t ask the questions I wanted to ask.
Reaching the cottage, Baruch spoke briefly to someone over his cell phone, and then said goodnight. It turned out to be a changing of the guard, since the family didn’t like leaving Saba Yosef alone. Within a few minutes, another great grandson, or great great grandson, entered the cottage and kissed his Saba’s hand. The old man patted him on the head and gave him a flick, sending him back on his way. The young night guard hesitated, glanced at me uncertainly, and only retreated when the old man assured him with further waves of the hand that everything would be all right.
“One of the children always stays here with me during the night,” the old man explained. “Not because they are worried that I might fall down and break a hip, God forbid, but because it is written in the Torah, ‘It is not good for a man to be alone.’ According to the Kabbalah, when a man is alone in his house at night, a female spirit called Lilith comes to sport with him while he sleeps, to make him impure.”
At first, his explanation sounded weird, but I was reminded of times when my wife was away, when I was drawn at night to the computer, exploring “adult” sites on the Internet for hours until it was suddenly dawn.
“Are you tired?” Saba Yosef asked me.
I blushed, hoping he wasn’t reading my thoughts and seeing all of the X-rated movies I had watched. “Not at all,” I replied, eager to continue our conversation. Back in New England, it was still only afternoon, seven hours earlier than Israel, and my biological clock hadn’t yet made the change, so I didn’t feel like sleeping. Plus, you might say I was spiritually charged, and I wanted to take advantage of the time I still had with him. I wasn’t sure when he would ask me to leave, and no doubt a long line of people would show up in the morning, seeking salvation from their problems.
“I have some prayers to say,” he said. “Let’s take a ten minute break before we resume.”
After he stepped into the small adjoining synagogue, I walked out to the patio to fill my lungs with the cool forest air. Except for the light on the porch and a lamp at the gate of the yard, the surroundings were dark. In the distance were the lights of Safed, playing hide and seek amongst the pines of the forest. Overhead were splotches of stars. I thought about calling my wife, but I decided against it, not wanting the reality of my life back in America to impinge on the mystical world I had entered. I was afraid that the practical, down-to-earth voice of my Miriam would act like a pin, bursting my bubble.
When I returned inside the darkened cottage, Saba Yosef was back at his desk, carefully pouring oil from a small vial into a larger bottle. Only a lamp lit the study, filling the room with a Rembrandt-like glow.
“What do you use the oil for?” I asked him.
“Olive oil is good for all kinds of aches and pains,” he answered.
“To use as an ointment. Especially when its warm. ”
“Can I speak to you frankly?” I asked.
“Of course. About whatever you like.”
“I don’t want to offend you.”
“I think I’ll survive.”
“Well, it’s just that, we’ve learned so much. To apply these things to my life, I’ll have to change almost everything.”
Once again, he opened the large volume of Maimonides in front of him and read:
“To a person who is sick in body, the bitter tastes sweet, and the sweet tastes bitter. Similarly, those who are sick in their souls say that evil is good, and that good is evil, turning darkness into light, and light into darkness. What is the best medicine for their soul? To go to the wise, who are physicians of the soul, and they will heal their maladies by instructing them in the ways that will restore them to the proper path.”
“I am certainty glad that I found you,” I said.
“You have found the Rambam and wisdom of the Sages. I am just repeating their words.”
“What’s left to learn?” I asked.
“Look at all of the books in this room,” he replied, motioning with his hand. “A person could learn all his life and still be just beginning.”
There were literally hundreds of books, cramming the bookshelves around the room. All of them were in Hebrew. I waited for him to continue, hoping to get an abridged Reader’s Guide version for American tourists.
“For one thing, a person should learn to appreciate the value of silence. Telephones and cell phones are wonderful inventions, but when overused, a man has no free time to think. Radios and television have made the brain obsolete, turning it into a vestigial organ.”
Briefly, the aged and wizened scholar glanced down at the book.
“Speech is a gift of God, distinguishing us from the animals, so a person must watch over his tongue. Idle conversation leads to gossip and slanderous talk. Even in our daily needs, we should not talk too much. As one wise scholar said, ‘I have found no better remedy for the body than silence.’ Words should be few, but full of meaning. Even when teaching. Students should be spoken to gently, not with shouting. King Solomon said, ‘The words of the wise, spoken softly, are heard.’ Flattery and smooth talk are to be avoided. A man’s inner and outer self should correspond. We must deceive no one. A person must always value the truth.”
His words were punctuated by a sudden flash of lightning, and then a tremendous clamor of thunder. Instinctively, I glanced toward the window.
Saba Yosef recited something in Hebrew. “Blessed be He who answers prayer,” he said with a happy smile. “Even though our rainy season is over, if it rains now, it will be a favorable sign from Heaven.”
Sure enough, a strong wind rattled the trees outside, and a heavy rain started to beat against the planks of the house, as if it wanted to force its way inside. Something fell down outside on the porch, and a chair tumbled noisily across the yard. For a few seconds, another crackle of lightning blackened the electricity in the study, and another outburst of thunder shook the cottage walls. Rain battered down on the house.
“Baruch Hashem. Baruch Hashem,” the Rabbi said in reverent thanksgiving. “Thank the good Lord for His never-ending kindness.”
“It sounds like your prayers were a roaring success,” I quipped, glad for his happiness.
“The prayers of my students and all the people who joined us. I am only a gardener with the responsibility of taking care of the plants in my yard.”
Another bolt of lightning burst with such force, it could have lit up the world. With the accompanying blast of thunder, it felt like the eye of the storm was directly above the house.
“Nonetheless,” Saba Yosef continued, referring back to the book, “even though silence has many virtues, you shouldn’t get the wrong impression. While an indulgence in the temptations of this world will certainly lead to no good, total abstinence from what a man needs is equal folly. A person should not say that since all of the temporary pleasures of the world are vain, I shall not converse at all, I will give up meat and wine and forsake getting married, nor will I dwell in a respectable home and wear presentable clothes. This man is a sinner as well. A person is only to refrain himself from things which are not permitted. Thus practices such as abstinence from marital relations, excessive fasting, all sorts of self-mortification, and turning oneself into a hermit are to be shunned.”
I was sure glad to hear that. My tape recorder made a clicking sound, indicating it was time to change tapes.
“Every man must strive for holiness, according to his level, and direct his doings toward the knowledge of his Maker. Thus a man should not engage in exercise just to have a fine-looking body, but in order that his body and soul be healthy to know and serve God, for it is impossible to understand deep esoteric matters when one is ill and aching. And a man should not engage in an occupation to amass great wealth, but to provide for his basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, and the necessities of raising a family. So too, when he eats, drinks, and has relations with his wife, his goal should not be to obtain his personal gratification, but to maintain his body in health and vigor. Instead of partaking in everything that he craves, like a dog or an ass, he will choose foods that are healthy, and will avoid eating things that are harmful, even though they may taste sweet.
“Likewise with cohabitation, he will not indulge himself whenever lust consumes him, but he will set his heart on having righteous children, on pleasing his wife, and on giving his natural functions their proper measure so that he will be healthy and fit to serve God. Even when he sleeps, if he does so to rest his body and calm his mind, so he will be healthy to serve his Maker, then his sleep also becomes the service of God. This is what King Solomon said in his wisdom, ‘In all of thy ways know Him, and He will straighten thy paths.’”
“I am still a bit curious about cohabitation,” I said, not at all sure I could transform myself into the holy man that Maimonides had in mind. “You mean to say that a man can only have sex with his wife?”
“I understand that extra-marital affairs may not be the most upright behavior in the world, but I thought that the adultery in the Bible meant having sex specifically with another man’s wife. But what if the woman is divorced, or a widow, or single?”
“Absolutely not. The Master of the Universe has sanctioned cohabitation strictly in the context of marriage between husband and wife.”
He paused before he continued, as if to give me the time to reflect on my past and let the weight of his words sink in. He wasn’t only the oldest man in the world – he was the holiest. Facing him, I felt like I was strapped into an electric chair, and that all of the rain in the world couldn’t extinguish the fiery current that was enveloping my soul.
“Even with one’s wife, a husband should behave with modesty and strive to sanctify the act. He should not always be with her like a rooster.”
“For the last few years, I have hardly had relations with my wife at all,” I said.
“That isn’t proper either,” he replied. “A man is commanded to please his wife and fulfill her needs. Do you want to hear more?”
“Yes. I’ve come here to learn.”
“Remember, these are the words of Maimonides, whom your school is named after. That implies that you recognize his wisdom just as much as I do.”
“I never knew he wrote about things like this.”
“He wrote about everything. For instance, marital relations should take place, not at the beginning of the night when the stomach is full, but in the middle of the night, after one’s meal has been digested, and when the husband won’t hear other voices and perchance think about other women. Neither of them should be intoxicated, sad, or in a state of weakness. The husband is not to force her if she is unwilling, but only with her consent, in loving desire and joy. They should cover themselves out of modesty, have relations in a darkened room, and not engage in immodest practices that upset the order of the universe. Whoever conducts himself in a holy manner, not only sanctifies and purifies his soul and refines his mind, if he has children, they will be comely, modest, righteous, and intelligent in nature, while all of those who carry on in an unruly fashion, like savages who walk in darkness, will have unruly children like themselves. This is what happened with your daughter.”
“My daughter?” I responded off guard.
“You don’t have a daughter?” he inquired in surprise.
“Why, yes, but what does she have to do with this?”
“The moment of conception doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” he explained. “If a man has holy thoughts when he is with his wife, and behaves in a holy manner, then the child that is born will draw down a holy soul. On the other hand, if he is consumed by mere animal passion, pursuing his selfish pleasure, or if he is thinking about some other woman, or conducts himself in a bestial way, then the child who results from such a beginning will be born likewise, with a fiery, rebellious spirit and a nature pulled toward everything unholy, and very often with physical problems as well.”
I felt like a pinball machine which went TILT!
BING! BING! BING! chimed the bells in my brain.
Give me a break, I wanted to say! Did the Computer in the Sky record everything, measure for measure, like an exact mathematical equation that won’t vary down to the billionth decimal point? Even when it came to the intimacy of a man and his wife in their bedroom?
When I looked at the old man, it was the first time that he returned my gaze directly, peering into my soul, with eyes that weren’t eyes, but mirrors, eyes that had witnessed more than four-thousand years of wars, and births, and sicknesses, and famines, and persecutions, terrorist bombings and rockets, eyes that had labored over thousands of holy books, studying all their secrets and truths. His eyes answered my thoughts with an absolute, “Yes, G-d takes note of everything.”
“Your daughter is very unhappy,” he said. “And she hasn’t been feeling well. She has been doing things that she shouldn’t be doing, her mind is confused, and she doesn’t have any money. If you like, I will pray for her tonight, and ask God to get her to call you. Don’t agree to wire her money. Instead, tell her you will give her money when she comes home. If you give her lots of love, God willing, you will see a change for the better.”
The truth was that I hadn’t spoken to the rebellious girl for months. The last time, I had gotten angry on the phone, saying that I didn’t want my daughter working as a waitress in LA and ending up a cheap lay for every producer who promised her a role. So I didn’t give much chance to her calling.
“Is my wife healthy?” I asked, figuring I might as well get an entire family readout.
The hooded figure glanced to the side, staring off into some profound inner space. Then his head tilted in another direction as if he were navigating a plane. Taking a deep breath, he completed his reconnaissance mission and refocused back to the room.
“Can I tell you the truth?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said immediately.
“Are you sure?” he repeated.
“Absolutely,” I said, mustering up my courage to hear the diagnosis.
“You won’t be angry at me?”
“No. Certainly not.”
“You live in a house with two stories, and half of the roof slants down like this?” he asked, making a motion that paralleled the slant of our split-level house.
“That’s right,” I said.
“And there’s a sundial on the front lawn and a feeder for birds?”
“You drive a large car, like a Safari or some kind of large jeep?”
“No,” I responded. “Both my wife and I have little Toyotas.”
“Maybe it’s a neighbor’s,” he said, taking another look into his wireless Google-Earth. “It’s a little down the street.”
I waited anxiously as he seemed to be receiving a new updated printout.
“Do you have some kind of animal in your house?” he asked.
“No,” I responded. “My wife doesn’t like pets.”
Pausing, he shut his eyes. His forehead pulsed with profound concentration. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“They’re showing me an animal, something larger than a dog.”
I wondered what he meant by “they,” but I didn’t ask.
“It’s lying on the floor,” he added.
“Oh my God,” I muttered. “We have a bearskin rug in our bedroom with its mouth wide open and its head still attached.”
The old sage nodded.
“Do you know someone who has only one arm?” he continued.
His question took a moment to register. Then I felt a ripping uppercut punch to my stomach, and a dizzying blow to my head, as if I had been clubbed with the hard-hitting leather of a heavyweight boxer’s glove.
“The principal of my school,” I answered.
“I’m sorry, but he’s in bed with your wife right now,” Saba Yosef said.
How can I describe it? It was the worst feeling I had ever had in my life. A combination of shock, of anger, of helplessness and rage. My good friend, my boss, in my house, in my bed, making love to wife, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Like the helplessness a person must feel when an earthquake splits open the ground beneath him. Everything wobbled. The foundation of my life, and everything I believed in, quivered, like that fateful moment on September 11 when everything in America had collapsed.
Was it their first time together, I wondered? Had she had other affairs before him? For how many years? How long had this betrayal been going on?
Another ominous, more distant sound of thunder rumbled through the night. Time seemed to stand still. The old rabbi sat with his head lowered, not looking my way. I couldn’t tell if he was sleeping or receiving another heavenly SMS.
Could I ever paste the pieces of my marriage back together and trust in my wife once again?
Slowly, I recovered my senses. I remembered that Hal, the principal of my school, drove a Land Rover, which he had obviously parked down the street from our house. The old man saw everything.
“Oh, no,” I sobbed, not knowing how I would get out of this mess. One sob followed the next until I was crying like a baby. I hadn’t cried like that in years. In decades. Never like that.
Maybe it wasn’t her first lover. Maybe she had more. Maybe she was as unfaithful to me as I had been with her all through the decades of our marriage. Suddenly, all of my being felt exposed and corrupted, reeking with a trail of girlfriends, lovers, adulteries, and secret affairs.
“It’s good,” the sage said softly. “The crying will cleanse you.”
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed.
“It is good that you are sorry. Now you will be able to get closer.”
“Closer to who?”
“To God. And maybe to your wife and your daughter.”
“How could she do it?” I said.
“You know how she could do it. You’ve done it yourself. Everything comes full circle. The sun rises and sets, then returns to where it rose. What a man does to others comes back to him. Remember what we learned. The things that happen to us, happen because of us.”
His words made me sob even more. I felt lost and abandoned, cheated and betrayed, disgusted with the deceit of my life.
“Forget about your ego,” he said. “Accept the pain as an atonement for all of your past.”
Eventually, I calmed down. The storm outside had also abated. It was now only drizzling outside. What was the point of being angry, I thought? What could I do? I was here, and she was there. The rabbi was right. Hadn’t I brought it all on myself with my own betrayals and sins? It was coming to me, I knew. Miriam’s unfaithfulness was in the cards all along. And I myself was the dealer. The rabbi, or fate, or whatever force you want to call it, had uncovered my shame.
I wanted to jump in a mikvah. To wash off the dirt and come out a new man. I even thought about never going back to America.
Should I serialize the last chapter or not?
While you're ordering your copy of "Heaven Door", check out other books that make great Hanukah gifts as well.
You don't have to have ruach hakodesh to understand why the world loves "spiritual" bestsellers that don't connect you with G-d. They don't commit you to anything. They're non-threatening. They pretend to offer "spirituality" when they are really leading people astray from G-d. It's like the tale of the king in "The Kuzari". He keeps trying all kinds of things in order to get closer to G-d, but nothing helps. Then an angel appears and informs him that his efforts are pleasing to G-d, but not the means that he has been pursuing. The angel tells him to seek out the actions which are pleasing to to the Creator. So the king sets off to speak with a philosopher, then a bishop, than a sheik. Unsatisfied with their superficial answers, he decides to meet with a rabbi, even though the Jews are at the lowest strata in exile. Finally, via his discussions with the rabbi, the king realizes that the Torah and its mitzvot are the only true G-d given way to make contact with the Almighty. So he converts to Judaism and converts all of his nation with him. But for most people, the Torah and commandments are "too heavy," so they embrace all sorts of make-believe religions, living out their lives in imaginary delusion, mistaking darkness for light as thy stumble blindly down bookstore shelves of empty and deceitful paths. So, with this introduction, here's the next installement of "Heaven's Door," a unabashedly honest spiritual journey that brings the seeker to the Torah and the one and only G-d of the Jews.
Chapter Thirteen – The Surprise of My Life
After the main course of the meal was served, Saba Yosef rose and headed for the exit of the hall. Baruch motioned for me to follow, and we hurried out to the street where his car was waiting.
“Saba doesn’t stay long at parties,” his great grandson noted. “He keeps to his schedule of study and prayers.”
I sat silently in the back seat, afraid to open my mouth, not wanting to disturb the old man in the event that he was praying. Instead of going straight home, Baruch sped through the sharp turns of a dark mountain road until we arrived in the village of Meron, some fifteen minutes away from Safed. All the way up a small hillside were loudspeakers blasting festive music, and booths selling hippie-looking clothing and religious paraphernalia. Pilgrims made their way on foot up the incline, religious and non-religious alike, children, soldiers, young people and old. Leading his great grandfather into an old domed building, Baruch explained that it was the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the “Zohar,” the esoteric “Book of Splendor,” which was the gateway to the secrets of the Torah.
“On ‘Lag B’Omer,’ the day marking his death, nearly half a million people come here to pay their respects,” Baruch said.
Seeing Saba Yosef, all of the devotees at the crowded and lively site either bowed in respect or rushed over for a blessing. The vaulted mausoleum was jammed with religious Jews of all kinds, who studied and prayed with ecstatic fervor. The intense spiritual energy in the place reminded me of the Kotel. Once again, women were separated from the men, on the other side of a wall.
The crowds parted like the Red Sea as Saba Yosef approached, letting him reach the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, who had learned the secrets of Torah from the Prophet Elijah during the twelve years he had spent in a cave, hiding from Caesar’s legions, who were seeking to execute him for refusing to honor the Roman conquest of the Israel. Extending his arms and prostrating his upper body over the tomb, Saba Yosef said a long silent prayer.
Caught in the pushing and shoving, I felt claustrophobic. To me, it was like a crowded, standing-room-only, subway car, traveling up to the Yankee Stadium on a hot summer’s day. Though there were large fans on the walls, I felt that I didn’t have any air. So I pushed my way toward an arched doorway that led to another, less crowded chamber which housed the tomb of Rabbi’s Shimon’s son, Eleazar, who had spent the 12 years in the cave with his father, learning the secrets of Torah.
It was here that I received the shock of my life.
Sitting on a bench by a table was my father, who had died thirty years before! But he wasn’t the sixty-five-year old man who I had seen for the last time in a hospital bed, but rather, he was my father, the way he had looked when I was a kid. The exact image and replica of my father.
At first, I thought it must be a freak coincidence, to find a perfect double of my father here in this holy cavern in Israel. I stared at the young, thirty-year-old Hasid before me, still not believing my eyes. He sat learning from a big book, like the tome of Maimonides that I had been learning with Saba Yosef. He bobbed back and forth in concentration, the way Jews do when they pray, like a candle flame trying to stay attached to its wick. He had a skullcap, curly side-locks, and a beard, but he was my father. His eyes, his brow, his cheeks, his nose, his mouth. I don’t know how else to describe it.
To make sure, I took out my wallet and slipped out an old photograph that I hadn’t looked at for years – a photo of my father proudly holding his baby son, Craig, in his arms while my mother looked on happily from the side. There was no question about it. The man in the photograph was the same man who was sitting in front of me in the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Now you can say that I was hallucinating. Or you can say it was because of the fast. But I had already eaten a filling meal. True, the religious ecstasy in the place was intense, and I suppose that I had been getting more and more caught up in the unworldly atmosphere that surrounded Saba Yosef, but what followed next was absolutely real.
When I sat down at the table beside him, I heard my father’s voice say, “Hi, son.”
The Hasid didn’t pick up his head. He didn’t move his lips. The voice just came out of him, the voice of my father, as clear as could be, as if a ventriloquist was hiding under the table. I must have been the only one to hear it, because the young man didn’t pay any attention. Busy with his studies in the hectic, noisy room, he may not even have noticed that I was there.
“Dad? Is that really you?” I asked.
“Yes, Craig. It’s me,” the familiar voice responded.
It was my father. There was no other voice like his in the world.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Certainly, anywhere else, people would have thought it strange to see someone talking to himself, but here, in the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, with everyone praying rapturously toward the ceilings and walls, nobody seemed to notice or care.
“It’s a good place to be,” he replied. “This devout fellow is my soul’s reincarnation, only he doesn’t know that he was me. That’s the way it goes here.”
The young man was my father. Only he didn’t know it. I felt like hugging him all the same.
“I paid my dues in the afterworld,” the incorporeal voice lamented.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“I’m not allowed to tell you, but I learned my lesson.”
“What lesson, Dad?”
“Listen to Saba Yosef. He will teach you. Everything he says is true.”
“Is this why I came to Israel?” I asked him. “To meet you? Did you arrange this all?”
My father didn’t answer. He was gone.
“Dad? Dad?” I called.
But his voice didn’t return. Finishing a page of his learning, the young man looked up and saw me staring at him.
“Shalom,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Shalom,” I answered, not knowing what else to say.
He closed the cover of his book and stood up. It was amazing how his face was the face of my father’s. Except for his smile. My father had never smiled very much. Not that I could remember. At least not in the last years of his life when his Parkinson’s had made his face muscles and expression as frozen as ice. Maybe that’s why his soul had to come back to this world again. To learn how to smile. To learn to be happy with what he had.
Still smiling, the man started walking away. That’s when I freaked out. Once again, it was like my father was walking out of my life.
“Dad!” I called out. “Dad!”
I ran after the Hasid and grabbed him before he got to the exit. I couldn’t just let him walk away like that. I had to get his phone number, or address, or something, so we could keep in touch.
“Dad!” I cried, hugging him. “I’m your son!”
I suppose it looked pretty strange. After all, I was almost sixty, and he was half my age. Taken by surprise, he tried to break away from my bear hug, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I grasped him with superhuman strength. There was a commotion around us, and people started to pull us apart.
“He’s my father!” I tried to explain. “A reincarnation of my father! The voice of my father just spoke to me now!”
“TAZOV OTEE!” the man shouted in Hebrew. “Leave me alone!”
Finally, I tired, and an army of hands pulled me away.
“Hu meshugah!” someone said.
“He’s crazy,” another person said in English. “He’s flipped out.”
Suddenly Baruch appeared. He grabbed me and dragged me away from the crowd.
“Ani atepel bo,” he assured them. “It’s all right. He’ll be all right.”
Outside the building, he led me to a long basin with faucets for washing hands by the lavatory, and splashed water on my face. I sobbed on his shoulder. Everything was so frigging intense. I just blew my cool, that’s all. It certainly wasn’t like me. But so much had happened in the last few days during the spiritual roller coaster that I was on.
Calming down, I apologized for my outburst.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Baruch said. “I was afraid you had gotten lost.”
On the way back to the car, I told him what happened and how I had spoken to my father.
“It sounds like Miriam’s Well is working,” he noted, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “What did your father tell you?”
“He told me to listen to Saba Yosef.”
A crowd of people were gathered around the car, where the old sage sat patiently waiting.
I realized it was the best advice anyone could have given me, and I had to take advantage of it now.
Let's get back to the concluding chapters of "Heaven's Door." After that, maybe we'll serialize Part One of "Tevye in the Promised Land," or "Fallen Angel," or "The Discman and the Guru," or maybe my new novel, "Dad," or the short stories from "Days of Mashiach." I haven't yet decided. They all make great gifts for Hanukah, and you can have them shipped anywhere in the world.
Chapter Twelve - A Most Important Lesson
The bar mitzvah party of Saba Yosef’s great, great, great grandson was held in an attractive, Safed catering hall, which was divided by a decorative bamboo barrier to keep the men and women separated. Baruch explained to me that religious Jews sat separately, not only in synagogue, but also at festive occasions where there was music and dancing. Not only was actual adultery forbidden, but another one of the Ten Commandments forbid coveting another man’s wife, even in one’s thoughts. So the separation was enacted to keep the evil inclination at bay, since the sexual urge was man’s most powerful passion.
For the celebration, Saba Yosef had changed into a new, white robe that gave him a more regal appearance. He walked toward the waiting crowd, bent over, with his head lowered, gazing down at the floor, not because his age caused him to walk that way, but in order not to see the women, some of whom were dressed in showy, low-cut dresses. Apparently not everyone in the family was as religious as its patriarch. While his precaution and excessive modesty seemed over-exaggerated to me, especially considering his years, he later told me that he was able to see things which other people couldn’t see because he didn’t look at things which other people looked at.
Raising a hand, he gave the gathering of women a general blessing without glancing their way. A band played a lively welcoming song at his entrance, and the women made loud ringing sounds with their tongues, like you might expect in some Arab country. He had out-survived all but one of his fourteen children, so it were his grandsons, great grandsons, great, great grandsons, and great, great, great grandchildren who rushed over to greet him as he crossed the hall. They led him to a corner table where he sat, half facing the wall, handing out blessings, one after another, to the long line of men and children who patiently waited for the holy saint to place his hand upon their heads.
Baruch came over and sat me down at a table, saying that his great grandfather wanted me to feast like a king. In answer to my question, Baruch explained that the loud, festive music was “Mizrachi,” in the custom of Sefardi Jews who had settled in Mediterranean countries upon the expulsion of the Jews from Israel 2000 years before. His family, he said, had settled in Persia. They had returned to the Holy Land six generations ago, at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
For me, the spicy Middle Eastern dishes were a novelty and quite delicious. Because it was the Passover holiday, matzah was served instead of bread. Since it was impossible to scoop up humous and techina with matzah, special leaven-free pitas had been baked for the party. Baruch kept pushing exotic dishes my way, wanting me to taste everything, and have second helpings as well. But having learned Maimonides’ rules for a proper diet, I was hesitant to eat too much.
Frankly, I was overwhelmed by demonstrative outpourings of family love that I saw all around me – all of the hugging and kissing between the men, and the lively chatter of the women. How different it was from the staid and formal, New England parties that I was used to, that instead of centering around the people there, centered around all kinds of ridiculous themes like Hawaiian Luau Night, Michael Jordon Night, and the annual President’s Day Corn-on-the-Cob Barbeque. And because the women were by themselves, there was no need for all of the “how do I look?” poses, and Hollywood innuendos, not to mention dancing with other men’s wives, always with the thought that it might lead to something more. In short, there was a wholesome genuineness to the gathering that I had never experienced before in my life. Without his having to say a word, I understood that Saba Yosef had invited me to the bar mitzvah to teach me another important lesson – the importance and value of family.
Seeing all the beautiful, immaculately dressed, energy-packed children around me, made the lesson ever so clear to me now. Family meant happiness. Family meant belonging, meaning, continuance, and love. Perhaps it was a lesson that that had come too late in my life, but I could still try to undo the damage I had caused by always placing my needs before the needs of others. After all, besides some distant relatives that we hardly ever saw, my family consisted of only my daughter and my wife.
After assembling for a ten-minute prayer, the men danced in circles on one side of the latticed barrier, and the women on the other. When Saba Yosef stood up to dance with the bar- mitzvah boy, everyone else stopped to gather around. Breaches appeared in the module barrier so that the women could watch as well. Remembering that my cell phone took videos, I recorded a few angles to show the folks back at home. Holding the boy’s hands, Saba Yosef walked him back and forth in a traditional Sefardic tango. There was an elegance to his movements, like that of a king dancing at a royal celebration, and I had the impression that it was an inauguration of sorts, initiating the boy into his family’s noble heritage and the age-old traditions of the Torah. Then, placing his hands on the boy’s skullcap, he blessed him with a long and heartfelt blessing, as a microphone was brought over so that all of the gathering could hear.
When the dancing continued, Baruch dragged me into the celebration. Around and around to the music we went, holding the hands of people who were strangers, but who I felt I had known for a lifetime. A young boy folded a newspaper into a cone, lit it with a match, and circled around the hall, balancing the conical torch on his nose. Then a dozen of the bar-mitzvah boy’s friends formed a human pyramid until the fat kid on the bottom collapsed. I probably looked a little strange, the clean-shaven foreigner, flailing his arms and shaking his hips with the disco moves he was more familiar with from America, but everyone had smiles on their faces, adopting me as one of the family. I can only say that the evening filled me with a far greater feeling of acceptance and warmth than I had ever experienced in my life.