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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.
Iyar 28, 5769, 5/22/2009
Tens of thousands turned out for the annual Jerusalem Day march through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel. Along the way, we stopped outside the American Consulate on Agron Street for a mass protest rally against US President Hussein Obama’s pronouncements about dividing the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, G-d forbid.
The flag of American waved on the roof of the Consulate building behind the protest bandstand, where a large sign proclaimed: GOD GAVE ISRAEL TO THE JEWS! After Meir Indor, head of the Algamor Terror Victims Association spoke of the dangers of any further territorial compromise, speakers read a Declaration of Allegiance to a united Eretz Yisrael and a united Jerusalem, in Hebrew, English, French, and Arabic. As a oleh from America, I was asked to address President Obama in English. Holding a Bible in hand, I read out the following declaration:
Meir Indor, head of Almagor Terror Victims Association
JERUSALEM DAY DECLARATION
We have gathered here today, citizens of the State of Israel, to pledge our allegiance to Jerusalem, our eternal united capital, and to pledge allegiance to the entire Land of Israel. On this day which marks the reunification of Jerusalem, 42 years ago during the Six Day War, we proclaim to the President of the United States, to the people of the America, and to all the nations of the world, that we will not budge from our Holy City and our Holy Land!
In the words of our holy Rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, spoken to reporters on that very day, “We announce to all the world that by wondrous kindness of G-d, we have returned to our home, to our holy city. From this day forth, we shall never budge from here! We have come home!”
The L-rd God of Israel bought this day about. It was G-d who returned us to our Land and Holy City, and no man, no mortal of flesh and blood, however powerful he may be, Mr. President, can take these gifts of G-d from us.
Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish People, and the Jewish People alone. Jerusalem is the city of our kings, of King David and King Solomon, Jerusalem is the city of our HolyTemple, Jerusalem is the city of our prophets, the prophets of Israel, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel.
In the words of Rabbi Kook, “We have come home through the wondrous acts of G-d. And the pinnacle of our homecoming is in our return to Jerusalem. All of the rulers of the world cannot alter this Divine historic fact. “The counsel of the L-rd endures forever!”
We make this declaration of loyalty to our beloved Holy City and to our G-d given homeland in affirmation of the word of G-d to the Jewish People as set down in the Bible, as it says: “And G-d appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the Land that I have given to you. Live in this Land, and I will be with you and I will bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all of these Lands, and I will keep the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.’”
This book is our deed to the Land of Israel. The Bible - the eternal word of G-d. G-d gave this Land to the Jewish People. Therefore, on Jerusalem Day, we call out to the President of United States, and to the people of America, and to all the believers in the Bible the world over, to stand by us, the people of Israel, in defending the unity of our ancient capital, Jerusalem, and the indivisible unity our ancient, Promised Land.
President Obama, in the words of a great American, Martin Luther King, we call out in a loud, united voice, “WE HAVE A DREAM!”
We have a dream, Mr. President – a dream of 2000 years, as the Psalmist King David proclaimed in the Bible: “When the L-rd brought the exiles back to Zion, we were like those who dream.” For 2000 years the Jewish People dreamed of returning to our Holy City, and now that G-d has brought us back, we will never budge from here! We will never budge from here! We will never budge from here!
Therefore, we, the People of Israel, call out in a loud united voice, just as King David proclaimed in the Book of Psalms: “If I forget Jerusalem, may I forget my right hand; may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I don’t remember and set Jerusalem above my greatest joy.”
On this joyous day, during our celebration of the unification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty, we appeal to United States President Obama, and to our friends and allies, the American people, with a holy request and a warning. Help us fulfill the promise of G-d to the Jewish People. Stand by us in making Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish People forever. For, as the Bible promises, whoever blesses the Jewish People will be blessed, and whoever wrongs them will be damned forever.
G-D GAVE ISRAEL TO THE JEWS!
Iyar 26, 5769, 5/20/2009
The book, “Mesilat Yesharim,” known as “The Path of the Just,” is universally recognized as a classic in Torah scholarship. Written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, who made aliyah in 1744, and whose yahrtzeit was honored yesterday, the text is studied in every yeshiva, whether Ashkenazic or Sefardi, whether Chabad, Satmar, Hasidei Gur, Breslov, or Rav Kook.
The Divinely inspired treatise sets down the ideal path in reaching the love and fear of Hashem. In its concise and clear style, it explains that there is a proper path and a mistaken path in serving Hashem. Using the teachings of our Sages, the text highlights the differences between the two paths by carefully guiding the reader up the ladder of character improvement and Torah observance.
Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Harlop, a close friend and student of Rabbi Kook, taught that in our generation of revival and redemption, students should begin by studying Chapter 19, which deals with Saintliness, in order to understand the true goal of Judaism.
An excerpt of the chapter is presented below from the Feldheim Edition, translated by Shraga Silverstein, available online at shechem.org.
“It cannot be said that one who is motivated in his Divine service by a desire to purify his soul before his Creator so that he can come to sit in His presence together with the just and the Saintly, to see the pleasantness of God, to dwell within His Sanctuary and to receive the reward of the World to Come - it cannot be said that such a person is badly motivated. On the other hand, we cannot say that his motivation is a very good one either. For as long as a person is concerned with his own good, his Divine service is also performed for his own good.”
In other words, a Jew should not be solely concerned with his own personal journey in getting close to Hashem. There is a higher service of Hashem that should be the goal of the saintly.
“The true motivation, which is common to Saints, who have exerted themselves and persevered to acquire it, is to serve solely for the purpose of magnifying and extending the honor of the Lord Blessed Be He, may His praises be magnified and spread. One will serve for this end only after he has grown strong in love for the Blessed One, and longs and lusts for the magnification of His honor, and is pained by anything which detracts from it. He will hope that he is at least doing his part towards magnifying the honor of the Blessed One and he will wish that all others possessed this aspiration. The shortcomings of others in this respect will pain and grieve him, not to speak of his own unintentional and accidental lapses and those resulting from his natural weakness, which makes it difficult for him to constantly protect himself against sin, as it is stated (Ecclesiastes 7:20), ‘A man is not righteous in the land, who will do good and not sin.’”
In other words, the goal of the true saint should not be to amass as many private “mitzvah points” for himself that he can in this world, but to magnify the honor of Hashem. The shortcomings of others in this regard should cause him actual pain.
“The Saintly attitude we are discussing has been set forth in “Tanna d'bei Eiiyahu” (Chapter 4): ‘Every Sage in Israel who possesses the words of Torah according to their true significance and grieves for the honor of the Holy One Blessed be He, and for the honor of Israel all his days, and lusts and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and of the Temple, and for the swift flowering of salvation and the ingathering of the exiles, attains to the infusion of the Divine spirit in his words...’”
Notice that there are two types of Sages - those “who possesses the words of Torah according to their true significance,” and those who don’t. And the true Sage will grieve over the honor of Hashem, which is dependent upon the standing of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the ingathering of the exiles, may it be completed soon.
If I don't set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
“This, then, is the proper frame of mind for one to cultivate, removed as it is from all considerations of personal pleasure, directed only towards the honor of the Presence and towards the sanctification of His Name, which is sanctified by His creations when they do His will. In relation to this it is said (Zohar, Mishpatim), ‘Who is a Saint? One who is Saintly with his Creator.’ A Saint of this kind, aside from being motivated in the proper manner in relation to the performance of mitzvot in pursuance of his Divine service, must, without doubt, constantly feel actual pain over Jerusalem and the Destruction because of their tendency to minimize the honor of the Blessed One, and will lust for the Redemption so that the honor of the Blessed One may grow. As stated by the aforementioned ‘Tanna d'bei Eliyahu:’ ‘And he lusts and feels pain for the honor of Jerusalem and prays constantly for the Redemption of Israel and for the restoration of the honor of Heaven to its former pre-eminence.’"
In other words, a Jew is to constantly feel actual pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and exile, which minimize the honor of Hashem in the eyes of the world. Even during sisterhood meetings, lavish Kiddushes, Sunday brunches, golf games, and trips to the Caribbean.
Grieving over Jerusalem
“Mesilat Yesharim” continues:
“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. The Prophet stormed over the absence of this attitude (Isaiah, 59:16) ‘And he saw that there was no man, and he was amazed that there was no contender’ and (Ibid. 63:5) ‘And I looked and there was no helper, and I was amazed and there was no supporter,’ and (Jeremiah, 30:17) ‘It is Zion; no one inquires after it.’ Commenting upon this verse, our Sages of blessed memory said (Sukkah 41a) ‘This shows that it needs inquiring after.’”
In other words, every Jew has to do his share in uplifting Hashem’s fallen honor by participating in the ingathering of the exiles, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the revival of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael. In his book, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” Rabbi Yissachar Teichtal explains that for nearly 2000 years we could only pray. But now, in our generation, when we have the physical capability of actualizing our prayers, we must actively participate in the return to Zion. Just as a person understands that to have a baby, it is not enough to pray, but he must also perform the necessary deed.
You have to do more than pray.
So too "inquiring after Zion” means working to re-establish the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael by praying, reading Arutz 7, making financial contributions to organizations in Israel, coming on aliyah, encouraging others to follow, educating Diaspora youth to the set aliyah above their chiefest joy, and studying, working, defending, and raising one’s children in the Land. This is how Hashem’s honor is raised.
I remind you, dear readers, this is not some religious Zionist propaganda, or the wild invention of Tzvi Fishman, but the holy words of “Mesilat Yesharim,” which is learned in yeshivot throughout the world (assuming they keep learning until Chapter Nineteen).
Rabbi Luzzato concludes:
“We see, then, that we are duty-bound in this respect. We cannot exempt ourselves because of our inadequate strength, for in relation to all such things we learned (Avoth 2.16) ‘The work is not yours to complete, but you are not free to abstain from it.’ And the Prophet says elsewhere (Isaiah, 51:18) ‘She has no one to lead her from among all the sons to whom she has given birth; no one to hold her hand from among all the sons she has raised.’ And the verse (Ibid. 40:6) ‘All flesh is grass and all of his kindness is as the blossoming of the field,’ which our Sages of blessed memory interpreted (Avodah Zarah 2b) as meaning that all of their kindnesses are performed for their own sake, for their own good and pleasure, that they are not governed by this pure motivation and do not seek the magnification of God's honor and the redemption of Israel. The honor of God can grow only with the redemption of Israel and the growth of their honor, the one, in reality, being dependent upon the other, as may be seen in the aforementioned ‘Tanna d'bei Eliyahu:’ ‘And he grieves over the honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He and over the honor of Israel.’"
In other words – let “Mesilat Yesharim” be your yardstick. Are you grieving over the honor of Hashem? Are you doing everything you possibly can to advance the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael? Are you teaching your children that the goal of the Torah is to magnify the honor of Hashem by living a life of Torah in Israel? Are you planning your own aliyah? For those who can’t come, are you encouraging others to make moving to Israel their life’s supreme ambition?
On Jerusalem Day, have you set Jerusalem above your chiefest joy?
Iyar 25, 5769, 5/19/2009
A few years ago, someone read an article I wrote about the importance of “Shmirat HaBrit,” and wrote me an email, asking if he could speak with me on the phone. It turned out that he had developed a serious illness, and doctors advised him to undergo a difficult and risky operation. In addition, their only child had developed some sort of psychosis, may Hashem have mercy on us all.
On the phone, he insisted that he and his wife were careful in following the laws of Taharat HaMishpachah (family purity), and that they behaved modestly in their conjugal relations, and that he didn’t watch pornography on the Internet. Since it was during the beginning of Sefirat HaOmer when Rabbi Leon doesn’t meet with people at his yeshiva, I suggested he make an appointment to speak with Rabbi Moshe Ben Tov, the well-known “Mezuzah Rabbi.” After studying their mezuzahs, Rabbi Ben Tov addressed his comments to the wife. He showed her that on the holy parchment where the “Shema Yisrael” prayer is inscribed, the Hebrew word for “your children,” had been eaten away by a worm. He told her that their troubles stemmed from the fact that she was using a diaphragm as their method of birth control.
Unlike other forms of birth control, like IUD’s and the pill, that Rabbis are wont to recommend in selected cases where birth control is warranted, the use of a diaphragm and foam, and the wholesale slaughter of sperm which it causes, is a serious halachic problem. Here is not the place for a detailed investigation of birth control devices and the weighty and detailed rabbinical considerations that surround their use. Only personal consultation with a qualified Orthodox Rabbi can lead a couple to a proper decision if it is allowed in their situation, what form it should take, and for how long a time.
The point of the story is, sure enough, when the couple stopped using the diaphragm, the husband’s medical problems gradually disappeared with the aid of medicines and prayer alone, and their son began to act normal once again.
In a similar case, a man was brought to despair when his business went sour and he faced bankruptcy. Rabbi Leon explained that the source of his problems stemmed from his bedroom. In engaging in all kinds of immodest acrobatics with his wife, he was spilling semen in vain. This was clogging the spiritual channel which brings blessing and prosperity to a person.
Remember Someone is always watching and all of your deeds are recorded on the Hard Drive in the Sky.
In another case, a husband and wife met with Rabbi Leon because of constant marital quarrels that were leading toward divorce. With his spiritual periscope, Rabbi Leon saw her surfing on the Internet and rendezvousing with a man who she admitted meeting through a cyberspace chat “just out of curiosity.”
Another time, a husband and wife came to Rabbi Leon, wondering if they should risk having another child, since both their first two children were born with seriously impaired eyesight. Once again, the problem stemmed from the bedroom, because the husband would look at his wife’s private place.
The horror stories go on and on. Most of them are caused by a lack of education, or by the difficulty in overcoming the age-old evil inclination which is so strong in the sexual arena.
Today in the Counting of the Omer, we have reached the sefirah of “Yesod of Yesod.” As we have written, the spiritual channel of “Yesod” is associated with the holiness of our sexual lives. The Hebrew word “Yesod” means foundation. As we approached the holiday of Shavuot, now is a good time to make an honest appraisal of our sexual lives and to begin to put things in order. Many times, as the years go by, we forget the laws we learned in preparation for our wedding night. These laws should be relearned since they are the foundation of Jewish life. We should also be honest with ourselves in seeing what “extras” and “frills” we could do away with in the bedroom to insure the sanctity of our relations. Without going into the mystical side of the matter, what goes on in the bedroom, or in a rented hotel room, or in front of a computer, or with the girls in the office, determine the state of our mental and physical health, our livelihood, our marital happiness, and what happens to our children.
The “Nefesh HaChaim” explains that the cautioning of our Sages, דע מה למעלה ממך “Know what is above from you” - the decrees from Above affecting your life – they are all ממך "from you.” How we behave in this world brings down the blessings or their opposite which befall us.
While there are talkbackers who don’t like being confronted with this subject, over the course of this blog, many readers have heeded this message and thanked me in private emails for shedding light in times of darkness, when they didn’t know what was going wrong with their lives. Not everything stems from this, of course, but more often than not, it’s at the root of the problem.
Iyar 24, 5769, 5/18/2009
US President Obama has named the month of May – Jewish American Heritage Month. What a proud achievement for the Jewish People! I am sure that all of you feel the same joyous swelling of the heart that I do. We made it! The signing of the Presidential declaration, and its ratification by Congress, are official proof that the goyim have accepted us! Could there be any greater achievement and honor than this?
Jewish Americans or American Jews?
Finally, we have joined the list with the Irish Americans, Italian Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, Eskimo Americans, Spanish Americans, and Palestinian Americans. Shecheyanu, V’keyemanu, V’higeyanu Lazman Hazeh!
Notice the wording. Jewish Americans. Not American Jews. Jewish is an adjective describing the main noun of the phrase. That means that we have finally been recognized as true-blooded Americans. We are Americans first. Our Jewishness is our religious persuasion, a secondary matter that will no longer get in the way of our acceptance as being full-fledged American citizens, like everyone else.
To play a part in this historic milestone and this shining hour of the Jewish People, I would like to single out a few of the many Jews who helped lead us to this outstanding recognition of our heritage.
Simon and Garfunkel
Sammy Davis Jr.
Just to cite a few.
Iyar 23, 5769, 5/17/2009
The first thing G-d instructed our forefather, Avraham, was to leave his birthplace and come to the Land of Israel. This was to be an example for the Jewish People for all time, as our Sages teach us, “The deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children.”
This was at a time when there were only dangerous heathens and idol worshippers living in the Land. Nonetheless, Avraham came, without hesitation, without complaining, and offering excuses, even though there were no kosher restaurants in Israel, no synagogues with Saturday Night Bingo and Sunday mornings breakfasts with all the bagels and lox you could eat. Avraham came because living in the Land of Israel is not dependent on what kind of government is in power, or how many religious Jews live there, or whether you can find the kind of beer you prefer. A Jew is commanded to live in the Land of Israel – period – because it is the Holy Land. As the classic book, the “Kuzari” attests, someone who truly wants to serve G-d in the most complete fashion will do everything in his or her power to go there (Kuzari, 5:23).
The second thing that our forefather Avraham was commanded was to live his life in sexual purity, as exemplified by the commandment of circumcision. Along with living in Israel, this commandment came to distinguish the Jewish People among all other peoples on earth. Living in the Holy Land and living a holy life go hand in hand. Just a few weeks back, we saw in the Torah portion, “Achre Mot,” that the punishment for sexual transgression is exile from the Land.
This connection is highlighted in the Torah portion we read this Shabbat. Perhaps the foremost of the great Moroccan rabbis was the saintly, Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera, the grandfather of the holy Baba Sali. In his commentary on the Torah, he writes that all of the terrible curses of exile that are described in the portion, “Bechukotai,” stem from sexual transgressions, known as transgressions to the Brit.
The Torah states:
“But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all of these commandments, and if you shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that you will not do all of the commandments, but that you break My Brit, I also will do this to you: I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that shall consume thy eyes, and cause sorrow of heart, and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies; they that hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when none pursue you.... And if you will not be admonished by Me as a result of these things, but you will walk in contrariness (keri) to me, then I will also walk contrary to you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge My Brit; and when you are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy...” (Vayikra, Bechukotai, 26:2-25).
Rabbi Abuchatzera writes:
“As is known, someone who blemishes the holy Brit, even though he observes all of the Torah, his doings are for naught. As the holy Zohar writes, a person who does not have fear of sin in matters of the Brit, has no fear of G-d in anything he does. This is because his body which performs the commandments is blemished. Thus, everything which he does is blemished.
“Both the Rishonim (early Rabbincal authorities) and Achronim (later Rabbinical authorities) have stated that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through pestilence, the sword, or famine, result from transgressions to the Brit. And whatever mitzvot and good deeds that a person does, as long as his Brit is blemished, it all goes to the forces of evil, may G-d have mercy.
Transgressions to the Brit include forbidden sexual relations, pre-marital relations, sexual relations with gentiles, and beasts, homosexuality, masturbation, improper marital relations that lead to spilling semen in vain, watching pornography on the Internet, and the like.
Over and over in the Torah potion of “Bechukotai,” we are warned not to relate to G-d in “keri.” The standard English translation implies that we should not relate to G-d in a contrary, happenstance manner, as if He isn’t always overseeing our lives and expected us to fulfill His commands. However, the Hebrew word “keri” קרי also means a forbidden seminal emission. This is why Rabbi Abuchatzera attributes the frightening punishments in the Torah portion to sexual transgression. We are warned that if we don’t safeguard the holiness of the Brit, “Your strength will be spent in vain,” where the Hebrew for “spent in vain” is ריק whose letters are an inversion of the word קרי.
This week, our counting of the Omer brings us to the sefirah of Yesod, which is identified with holiness and the proper use of sexual energies. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov also teaches, anyone who wishes to put his life and character traits in line with the Torah must sanctify his sexual life, which is the foundation of our nation ever since the time of Avraham Avinu. This is why he called his rectification for sexual sins the “Tikun HaKlali,” or the “all-encompassing rectification.”
Get yourselves out of the doghouse!
Now that we have posted the “Tikun HaKlali” on the Internet, along with other helpful tikunim and guidelines for living a healthier sexual life, there’s a ladder for everyone who needs help to make a new start.