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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Nisan 27, 5769, 4/21/2009
As Israel Independence Day approaches, it is an appropriate time to review some basic understandings and laws that are often neglected in the Diaspora. This neglect is due to the fact that for nearly 2000 years, we were scattered over the world, without a national homeland of our own, and without a state of our own. We lived as individuals and unconnected communities. The emphasis of Judaism became focused on the private mitzvoth that we could still perform in the exile, rather on the true national character of the Torah.
However, the Torah is not just a list of individual commandments affected a person’s daily life – it is the national constitution of the Jewish Nation. Thus, the life goal of our greatest spiritual leaders, like Moshe Rabanu, Yehoshua, and King David, was to establish the nationhood of Israel in Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (center) just after the conquest of the Old City
This national essence of the Torah was emphasized by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and by his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, and became the distinguishing feature in their teachings as the Jewish Nation began to return to its homeland during the last century. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda would stress that G-d created the world and apportioned the lands to the different peoples He created. In doing so, He created one special Holy Land and gave it to the Jews. Eretz Yisrael is our Land. This is where G-d wants us to be. The Torah can only be truly fulfilled here.
Therefore, when G-d chose Avraham to be the founder of a unique holy nation, He commanded him to go to Israel. G-d’s master plan is that His word to the world come, not just through chosen individuals, but through a chosen NATION. Everyone can understand that a nation needs its own land. Therefore, the Jewish Nation and the Jewish Land go hand in hand.
"Get yourself forth to the Land"
“A single man can drift from place to place,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda taught, “but a people, a nation, has to be rooted in a fixed, permanent position on the globe. Therefore, the Almighty told Avraham to journey to Eretz Yisrael, which would become the eternal homeland of the great nation that Avraham would father.”
Thus, when G-d leads the Jewish People out of Egypt, He commands Moshe to bring them to Israel. In preparation for beginning their new life as an independent nation, Moshe gives the Jews a review of the Torah, the Book of Devarim, known as the “Mishna Torah.” Moshe begins by recounting everything that has happened until then, and then he explains the Torah with his own unique illumination, as it says, “Moshe began to explain this Torah.” What is the first thing that Moshe tells them?
“The L-rd our G-d spoke to us in Horev, saying, ‘You have dwelt long enough in this mountain. Turn and take up your journey! Go and posess the Land!” (Devarim, 1:6-8).
This true understanding of Torah that the Jewish Nation is Divinely commanded to live in the Land of Israel faded during the long and bitter exile from the Land. It wasn’t possible, so it wasn’t learned. The focus of Torah learning became on the individual commandments and not on the commandments affecting the Nation in Israel – subjects which comprise over two-thirds of the Mishna.
Thus Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook reminded his students that living in the Land of Israel was the fundamental basis for the entire Torah:
“It is well known that the Ramban establish a fundamental halachic ruling that living in the Land of Israel and conquering the Land are commandments of the Torah which apply in every age (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Command #4). Among the supporting he cites is the verse, ‘Rise up and possess the Land.’ The Ramban emphasizes that this is a command. In contrast to this, the rejection of the precept is a rebellion against Hashem, as the Torah itself states: ‘And when the L-rd sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and possess the Land which I gave you, and you rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not believe in me, and did not listen to My voice,’ (Devarim, 9:3). They didn’t listen to Hashem in conquering and settling in the Land. Settling the Land is a mitzvah, and the opposite is a rebellion against Hashem.”
The Torah is eternal. The Torah doesn’t change. The commandments in the Torah do not depend on who happens to be the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, or on how many religious politicians sit in the Knesset. What was true in the time of Moshe is true for us today. For 2000 years, we didn’t have the physical possibility of re-establishing the nation in Israel, so we were prevented from doing the mitzvah, but the moment the opportunity returned with the establishment of the State of Israel, then the commandment to live in Israel returned in all of its force.
I know. It is inconvenient to learn these matters. It is easier to bury one’s head in the sand and pretend things are otherwise. It is more comfortable staying put where one is in Vienna and Brooklyn and clutching on to hundreds of excuses and less challenging interpretations of the Torah.
As Israel Independence Day approaches, just open your eyes and see that it is G-d who has done this miracle of rebuilding in Israel. Why not hop aboard? Come along on the ride of your life! This is your destiny. As a member of the Jewish People, this is what you were created for.
(To be continued)
Nisan 26, 5769, 4/20/2009
If the recent six day overdose of Yom Tov and Shabbat weren’t enough to get Diaspora Jews to move to Israel, with its force-feeding of gefilta fish day-after-day, until fish jelly dripped out of their noses and horseradish dripped out of their ears, I don’t know what it’s going to take until they are fed up with practicing Judaism in a jar.
Judaism in a Jar
Since we are on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, let’s go back to the Shabbat of Chol HaMoed Pesach and take another look at the Haftorah. Our Sages explain that the Dry Bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy represent the Jewish communities in the exile, which the Prophet pictures as a grave:
“Then He said to me, son of man, these bones are the House of Israel” (Ezekiel, 37:11).
“Lo, I will open your graves and cause you to come out of your graves as My People, and bring you home to the Land of Israel” (Ezekiel, 37:12).
Can anything be clearer than this? The Prophet clearly states that it is G-d’s will that His People rise up from their graves in Vienna, and Monsey, and Australia, and Japan, and come home to Israel.
Valley of Dry Bones
Isn’t this exactly what happened in the wake of the Holocaust? Can there be a clearer picture of the Jewish People miraculously rising from their graves to return home to the Land of Israel?
Make no mistake my beloved and deluded brothers, the exile is a grave. Don’t be deceived by the beauty of your cemeteries, the manicured lawns and towering monuments – the lands of the Diaspora are graveyards.
Valley of Dry Bones, East
The Jewish communities there are dry bones, scattered, dislocated, discombobulated, disintegrated, withered, sapped of life, “a valley of bones – exceedingly dry” (Ezekiel, 37:2).
Those who have broken away from the Torah to find sanctuary amongst the goyim have decomposed beyond recognition, turning into gefilta fish without bones; and those who bravely cling to the tenets of the Torah have only its dry, crumbling skeleton to cling to, without being graced with the life-giving spirit of the Land of Israel inside.
The establishment of the State of Israel out of the graves of the Holocaust is the greatest Sanctification of G-d that there is!
Graveyard of Galut
The Greatest Sanctification of G-d
Just as the Prophet declared:
“And I will lay ligaments upon you, and I will make flesh grow over you, and cover you with skin, and put breath into you, and you will live, and YOU WILL THEN KNOW THAT I AM G-D” (Ezekiel, 37:6).But just as there are people who deny the Holocaust, there are people who deny the State of Israel. I don’t see any difference.
Nisan 9, 5769, 4/3/2009
Before beginning the search for chametz on the night before Pesach, we scatter 10 pieces of bread, or cookies, or crackers, around the house. The practice was instituted by the master Kabbalist, the Arizal, so those of you who are frightened or ignorant of the secrets of Torah - beware!
Rabbi Leon Levi
The saintly Kabbalist, Rabbi Leon Levi, explains that the ten pieces of chamatz represent the 10 levels of spiritual impurity (kelipot) in the world, corresponding to the 10 sons of the wicked Haman. Chametz symbolizes the evil inclination in man (the yetzer hara) which we are to uproot from our lives before the start of the holiday. We should have this goal in mind when we burn the chametz in our pre-Pesach bonfires. To help people attain this lofty aspiration, most prayer books contain a Kabbalistic prayer which is beneficial to say after the burning.
“Nevertheless,” Rabbi Levi said this morning to a group of 300 married Torah scholars, “many people deceive themselves into thinking that by burning their chametz they have finished the job, when in fact their homes are still filled with destructive spiritual forces and kelipot which they themselves have created in their bedrooms by succumbing to the wiles of the yetzer hara.
In simple terms, our good deeds create good angels, or positive spiritual forces, and our transgressions create bad angels, or negative spiritual forces.
Therefore, Rabbi Levi stressed, before burning one’s chametz, a person should recite special prayers, called “tikunim,” which are designed to deepen a person’s repentance and combat evil spiritual forces – the impure kelipot that he has created by his transgressions.
Tikunim do not come to replace the standard requirements of repentance, which include confessing ones sins before G-d, heartfelt regret over them, and a commitment not to repeat them in the future. Rather, Tikunim are additional ammunition in the battle against the yetzer hara which can help a person wipe out spiritual stains and blemishes that are difficult to rectify. This is especially true in the case of spilling semen in vain (zera l’batelah) which results from an assortment of sexual transgressions. Wasting and misusing sexual energy is like desecrating a Torah Scroll, Rabbi Levi explained, because contained in the zera are the 22 letters of the Torah that G-d used to create the world.
Without going into details, note the same number of 22 chromosomes in the photo, and the resemblance between the DNA double-helix and the “Tree of Kabbalah.”
DNA Double Helix
Hebrew letters and Kabbalistic Diagram
Tikunim like Rebbe Nachman’s “Tikun HaKlali,” Rabbi Aharon Rota’s “Tikun HaYesod,” the “Tikun HaYesod” of the Ben Eish Chai, and Rabbi Leon Levi’s “Tikun HaYesod Yeshuat Eliahu,” are structured to help a person understand the extent and gravity of his transgression, and to rectify the souls that were lost through the spilling of seed in vain. This is because G-d infuses every drop of semen with a soul.
Myriads of souls are lost with every transgression
This holy soul is a living vitality of its own, the source of life, cherished by G-d, who has commanded us not to waste it in pursuit of selfish personal pleasure. In addition, each soul possesses the potential to develop into a complete human being. For this reason, the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish Law, states that masturbation is the gravest transgression (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 23:2). Each microscopic drop of semen is more than a “potential” life – it is already a living soul (Niddah 13A).
The gravest transgression
In addition to helping a person undertake a sincere and heartfelt course of repentance, Tikunim contain Kabbalistic codes that are designed to rescue the lost souls from the realm of the kelipot and return them to their Heavenly source, making a person’s t’shuva complete, and erasing the spiritual blemishes he caused to himself, his family, and G-d’s creation.
The seed of life
All of these matters can be found in the writings of the Arizal. We follow his advice when it comes to the 10 pieces of chametz that we scatter around the house. Why not follow his teachings and the teachings of our holy Sages during the burning of chametz too?
Nisan 9, 5769, 4/3/2009
This year at our national Seder, one of the sons will be missing.
Funeral of Shlomo Nativ
Nisan 7, 5769, 4/1/2009
Let’s apply the famous Four Sons of the Pesach Seder to the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel. Here’s what is written in the Haggadah:
“The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not know how to ask.
The wise child, what does he say? ‘What are the symbols, rules, and laws that the L-rd our G-d commanded you?’ Then you shall tell him the laws of Pesach up to: we do not taste anything after the Afikoman.”
When the wise Jew looks at modern history and sees that G-d has brought about World Wars and international treaties to bring His scattered children back to the Land of Israel after an exile of nearly 2000 years, and sees the incredible rebirth of the previously barren Land, and the miracle of rebuilding, technological development, military might, and sees how Israel has become once again the center of Torah learning for the Jewish People, he seeks to understand what is taking place and how he can place his life in line with G-d’s will for the Nation. Faced with the clear realizations of ancient prophecies promising the ingathering of the outcasts and the resettlement of the Land, and the tangible rebuilding that everyone who visits the country can see, he understands that it is G-d’s unfolding game-plan that Jews abandon the Diaspora and come on aliyah.
So he seeks to learn how he can best perform the mitzvah. He does this by asking the Sages in Israel who can explain these matters to him, by reading the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, by studying books like “The Kuzari,” “Am HaBanim Semicha,” the writings of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and by listening to Torah lectures on websites like Yeshivat Beit El and Machon Meir. Part of his wisdom is his humility. In realizing that he does not have all the answers, he seeks explanations from people who do. He longs to be a part of the great national Jewish undertaking that he sees unfolding before his eyes in Israel, and he longs to join with those who are working with G-d to bring about the promised Redemption by coming to live in the Land.
The Haggadah continues:
“The wicked child, what does he say? ‘What is this service to YOU?’ To YOU, but not to me! Because he removes himself from the community, he denies everything. Thus, you should also give him a blunt answer and say, ‘Because of this, G-d did things for me – but not for YOU! If you had been there, you would not have been saved.’”
These wicked children are the scorners, the talkbackers who always find things wrong with Israel. This wicked child removes himself from the wondrous ingathering that G-d is bringing about because it is not to his liking. It doesn’t match his way of doing things. He doesn’t agree with G-d. He would do things better. In the meantime, he’s staying put in Vienna, England, Cyberspace, and Japan. Once again, we are not talking about Jews who can't come on aliyah because of pressing financial, health, or psychiatric problems, but about those who could but don't and discourage others from coming as well.
Regarding this child, the “Me’am Lo’ez” commentary on the Haggadah writes: “By excluding himself from the observance, this child is considered to have denied the essence of Judaism. You must therefore give him a blunt answer as to set his teeth on edge. He is not allowed to taste the Pascal lamb. Let him watch you eat the fragrant, tasty lamb, and sit there grinding his teeth. G-d did this for me – for me and not for YOU. If you had been in Egypt, you would not have been delivered. A wicked person like you, who does not believe in the commandment of the holy Torah, would certainly have died during the three days of darkness. During those days, many people like you died. G-d does not perform miracles for people like you.”
The Haggadah continues:
“The simple child, what does he say? ‘What is this?’ You shall say to him, ‘With a strong hand, G-d took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves.’”
The simple child has good intentions. He sees that G-d is indeed bringing the Jewish People back to the Land of Israel from the four corners of the globe. He is interested to know more about it. He hasn’t learned these things in the past, and he isn’t accustomed to Torah learning, so you answer him by telling him the full historical story, from our beginnings as a People, how G-d gave us the Land of Israel, and how we lost it due to our sins, how we suffered in the exile at the hands of the gentiles, and how G-d is bringing us back now, through the developments of modern history and the establishment of the State of Israel.
The Haggadah goes on:
“And as for the one who does not know how to ask, you must begin for him, as it is written, ‘You shall tell your child on that day, Because of this, G-d did things for me when I left Egypt.’”
This child is so out of things that he knows absolutely nothing. He never learned. No one ever taught him. To him, Israel is no different from New Zealand or Thailand. To stimulate his imagination, you have to tell him about the miracles of the Exodus, how G-d overturned all of the laws of nature to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt to the Land of Israel. Once he is interested, you can encourage this child to learn more about his Jewish identity and his G-d given destiny.
And then, as the holy Rebbe of Chabad explained, there is the fifth child, who doesn’t show up at the Seder at all. He’s either stoned out of his mind in some disco in Bangkok, or busy hiding Easter eggs for his gentile children to find after the parade.
May Hashem have mercy on us and redeem us from all of our screwed up notions, both here in Israel and abroad.