Inside Israel 5:14 AM 6/19/2013
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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.
Cheshvan 18, 5772, 11/15/2011
What Makes Bernie Run?
Since it is Rabbi Meir Kahane’s yahrtzeit today, we thought it fitting to interrupt our serialization’s of “Heaven’s Door” and repost one of his most powerful essays, “What Makes Bernie Run?” Unfortunately, its scathing message is as true today as it was back then, almost 35 years ago.
We have written about programs like Birthright in the past. Sure it’s a great thing to send young Jews to Israel for an inspirational visit. If even one Jew ends up marrying a Jewish mate because of it, and coming on aliyah, then all of the millions of dollars are worth it. But, after these kids return to their college campuses and their enticing shiksa classmates, their experience in Israel will all too often turn into a fond memory with snapshots they can show to the non-Jews that they marry. If he is still charged up from his visit, maybe Bernie will insist that Brigette undergo some worthless conversion. Maybe he’ll get her to light Sabbath candles and tell their kids that they’re Jews. And when they grow up, maybe Bernie’s gentile’s children will pass themselves off as the real thing and get some Jew to marry them. What a mess it will be! There will even be “Jewish” weddings where both the bride and groom are gentiles. Soon in America, you won’t be able to know if the person you are marrying is really a Jew, or if he or she innocently believes they’re Jewish because that’s what their parents told them, and the rabbis and temples and Jewish establishment all went along with the charade.
Prophet that he was, Rabbi Meir envisioned it all. Here is his article. It’s long, but it’s an incredible, dynamite piece of writing that tells the truth in the brilliant, straight-to-the-jugular way which characterizes the Rabbi’s writings. May his memory be an inspiration and blessing to all of Am Yisrael. Once again, I’d like to recommend the incredible set of the Rabbi’s writings, “Beyond Words,” edited by David Fein and available at at Amazon Books.
To order in Israel, call 02-5823540.
WHAT MAKES BERNIE RUN?
Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy"D
(Federal prison, Manhattan, Lag Ba'Omer, April 29, 1975)
Once there was a television program, which centered about the theme of intermarriage. The heroes of the piece were named Bernie and Brigitte. The American Jewish Establishment put great pressure on the particular network that televised the series and the program was ultimately dropped. Bernie and Brigitte were no longer. They had been canceled...
How relatively simple it was to cancel Bernie and Brigitte on television and how much more difficult to struggle against the curse and cancer of intermarriage and assimilation that exists in real American Jewish life. How simple to picket a television series to death and how hard to stamp out the disease that afflicts us daily in the real-life existence that is the lot of American Jewry. lf we no longer find Bernie and Brigitte strolling hand in hand across our television screens we need only look at our campuses, at our streets at our neighborhoods, Bernie is alive and well.
What makes Bernie run? What makes Bernie run after Brigitte? What makes Bernie run away from Judaism and cut the chain of generations? What makes Bernie run away from the Judaism that his great-grandfather clutched at the risk of loss of happiness material wealth and so often very life? What makes Bernie run? This is the question that drives the American Jewish Establishment to frantically set up committees, study groups, surveys and commissions. This is the question that drives them to study the problem again and again and then again. This is the question to which they allocate so much time and so much communal money. This is the question that is at the top of their puzzled order of priorities, over which they scratch their collective well-groomed heads: What makes Bernie run?
The puzzled shepherds of the American Jewish communities can close down their study groups and their commissions and their committees: they can put an end to the learned and expensive surveys. They can stop spending Jewish communal funds. What makes Bernie run away from Judaism? Who created that Bernie who turns from Judaism in disgust or in indifference? Who created the Bernie who pants after a shiksa or who marches for Jesus or Trotsky or Arafat or for nothing Jewish? Who created a Bernie who finds Judaism as unimportant as the color of his hair?
Why, the answer is obvious: The very same Establishment groups who are busily creating the committees, commissions, study groups and surveys to find out the answer to these questions. Who made Bernie run away from Judaism? The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the B'nai Brith, the federations on every level and in every locality, the temple rabbis and Bernie's most intimate Establishment figures- his parents.
All of these are the criminals. All of these had a hand in murdering Bernie as a Jew. All of these robbed him of his heritage, of the beauties of his inheritance. All of these make Bernie run. The Jewish Establishment groups - The AJCommittee, the Congress, the B'nai Brith, the federations, ALL the spokesmen for the American Jewish community - the ruling clique, uniformly marched down the American road with a melting pot under their arms, beating it over and over again and shouting forth the Eleventh Commandment to the American Jew: Thou shalt melt!
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt amalgamate, thou shalt be an American as all others. They beat the drums for interfaith, exchanging pulpits with ministers enthusiastically, in a frantic effort to prove to Christian and Jew alike that there is essentially no difference between them. They were partially successful - the Christians were not convinced but the Jews were.
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt Americanize thyself and so they raised high the banner of the public school and fought, with a zeal no one knew that they possessed, the one weapon that might have given Bernie knowledge, and a sense of pride and roots. In fear and with hostility, they declared a holy war against the Jewish Day School, the parochial school, and the yeshiva. They piously rationalized their struggle on the sacred grounds of separation of church and state but the real reason for their war (and they took the lead among all Americans in fighting the slightest aid to parochial schools) was their fear and consequent hatred of the parochialism and separatism of the yeshiva. The yeshiva threatened them with too much Jewishness! What would the gentile say if Jews were too Jewish, If they looked and behaved too differently, if their profile was not properly low? How did one mix easily with gentiles in the non-kosher country clubs they were so eager to join; how did one assimilate if Jews did not learn to drop the embarrassing customs, habits and old ritual baggage?
The public school! This was the way to equality, to uniformity, to mixing and assimilating. And so, they urged their flock to send Bernie to the public school (and the flock, as eager to mix as the shepherds, needed little urging). Bernie went to public school.
And today as the shepherds run frenziedly about surveying Bernie and asking him, where did you meet Brigitte? He calmly answers: "Why, in the public school in the public school; in the public school to which you sent me!"
Who made Bernie what he is? Who made Bernie run? The Establishment groups, and leaders who took a Judaism of particularism, of separatism, of uniqueness, of DlFFERENCE, and who- in their fears, insecurities and ignorance- created an American brand that leveled all uniqueness, 'proved' that Jews and Christians were no different, and eliminated every logical and moral reason to be different. They created Bernie: they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from Judaism? Who else made Bernie what he is and is not? The massive, gaudy mausoleums that dot the landscape of every Jewish suburb. The temples. The temples whose senior rabbi is the caterer. The temples that perform human sacrifice rites each Sabbath morning and they call them, The Bar Mitzvah.
The Bar Mitzvah, that is not the beginning of a Jew but his end, his spiritual death. The Bar Mitzvah- that culmination of an empty, vapid, childish, shallow Jewish "education," taught by men and women whose ignorance and lack of Jewish content makes them superb vehicles for the "education" they pass on. The Bar Mitzvah, that obscene cult of ostentatiousness, the ultimate in Jewish status seeking, the competitive drive to bankrupt that pathetic and hapless "father of the Bar Mitzvah." The Bar Mitzvah where the young lamb babbles the words he neither understands nor cares to, to the accompanying nachas, pride, of beaming women and men who would not know a correct word from a mistake, whose ignorance is sublime and whose disgusting display of conspicuous vulgarity sends G-d fleeing from the mausoleum in wrath...
The Bar Mitzvah whose necessary "religious" interlude long ago was subordinated to the piece-de-resistance of the entire immorality play - the "reception." The sickening waste of money and degrading of Judaism, where materialism runs amok in the guise of religion, where drunks and half-dressed women dance and give praise to the L-rd, with African dance, American tunes, and universal abomination. The Bar Mitzvah where the assimilationists, ignoramuses and despoilers of Judaism, beam with patronizing pleasure as the decrepit grandmother- Bubby- is resurrected from her nursing home or Miami Beach condominium and trotted out to light a candle to the applause of the go-go girls and dirty comedians waiting to do their act.
The temple, where man thinks up G-d rather than admit that He made him. The temples, where the Jew can create any kind of religion that he cares to and call it Judaism. The temple, where things too difficult are junked and where from the Board of Directors shall come forth Torah and the voice of the L-rd from the approving Sisterhood membership. The temple, run by men whose ignorance of Judaism is exceeded only by their arrogant insistence on saluting it. The temple, where Bernie visits "G-d" and meets "Judaism" and flees from it in horror. The temples: they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run from Judaism? The temple rabbis. The kept theologians who knowingly preside over fraud and grotesque jokes. The well-paid functionaries whose salaries are payments to hold their silence and to declare light, darkness and darkness, light: to give their stamp of kashrut on the impure meat that their temples serve up as "Judaism." The bribe takers whose eyes are blinded and consciences dulled by kavod, the honor of sitting on the pulpit before the eyes of the congregants, and by the comfortable salary augmented by the offerings of thankful beneficiaries of weddings, funerals and unveilings. The false prophets who hold their silence as Judaism is twisted, perverted, turned into a humorless joke and who, knowing their own corruptness and fraud of soul, rush to justify the fraud by 'rabbinical' or lingo that pronounce them "good." The temple rabbis who take a Judaism of Divinity and truth and go about Reconstructing it and Reforming it and making a mockery of Conserving it.
The temple rabbis who took the age-old axiom of Revelation, real Revelation, upon which is built the Divinity of Torah and junked it. The temple rabbis who made Judaism the product of ''wise men" (and if so, are there not wise Christians and Buddhists and atheists) and thus removed any sacredness and necessary reason for observance. The temple rabbis, so many of whom do not believe in G-d, who took the real and awesome Jewish G-d of history who made man and Created all and who rewards and punishes, and exchanged Him for a "god" who is "the spirit within man," indistinguishable from indigestion...They are the models of Jewish "religious" leadership we give unto Bernie, these empty vessels whose greatest fortune is that their congregants know even less, about Judaism than they do.
These are your rabbis, Oh Bernie, and then we wonder why he refuses to enter the temple over which they preside. Only they themselves know what frauds they are; only they, in their hearts, know what a life of lies they lead: only they, in the inner recesses of their being, know the self- hate and contempt they feel for themselves each day that they have to perform acts of faith they no longer believe in and teach a religion that long ago they secretly began to doubt. The temple rabbis; they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from the embrace of Judaism into Brigitte's waiting arms? The parents, the good Jewish parents. The loving Jewish mother who took off her golden nose rings and made a Golden Calf, which she worships avidly. The Golden Calf called "success'' and "money" and "making it" and "my son-the-doctor." The Golden Calf of material success before which she burns incense and for which she threw the G-d of Jewish values into the trash cans of medieval obscurantism. The Jewish father whose values are those of the garment center and the racetrack and bagels and lox on Sunday morning before taking the family out to the Chinese restaurant on Sunday after-noon. The Jewish father who tries to think like a gentile, act like a gentile, dress like a gentile, drink like a gentile, and curse like a gentile and then demand that Bernie marry a "nice Jewish girl."
The Jewish parents whose credo is upward and upward in wealth and status and who created a comfortable Judaism that would accommodate their needs. Who moved to the suburbs and created a suburban Judaism, and a suburban G-d, ethical and cultured and nice- a vaguely Jewish Santa Claus. Who turned down the Orthodox synagogue of their parents, grandparents and generations beyond because it was too Jewish and too out of step with modern times and too difficult and too outmoded and not compatible with the new pagan-Jewish lifestyle they were creating. Who turned either to the Reform that gave both status (how familiar their Christian friends would find it if ever they stopped by) as well as license (one could be almost anything and do the same in that incredible anarchy known as Reform or -better still- to that new and upcoming movement known as "Conservatism."
How many Jewish refugees from Brooklyn and the Bronx arrived in their new status symbols in Massapequa find themselves surrounded by strange natives known generally as "goyim" with large tribal groups called "Protestants?" How many of the Jews, in panic, fearing that Bernie would come home with a Mary rather than a Shirley banded together to build a quick temple of "Jewish Center" to save their precious ones? How many of them who did not know a Jewish concept from a Catholic catechism decided to call it 'Conservative' because Orthodox is 'too old-fashioned' and Reform is 'like a church?' And how amazed was the minuscule, unimportant Conservative movement to be suddenly besieged with requests for 'Conservative rabbis' that did not exist? And how many Conservative temples were suddenly hiring Orthodox rabbis who prostituted themselves to the Long Island god of gold? And how true it is that it was not the Conservative movement (sic) that built all the new temples that suddenly made them so prominent but the ordinary, ignorant Jews who bought a temple just as they bought any other commodity they needed and who set the terms of the deal. Bernie's Parents bought their temple and their rabbi and proceeded to create Judaism and G-d in their own image. The garment center knew exactly how to cut a suit to fit...
Judaism, but not too much, If Bernie was sent to that vast cultural wasteland known as the "religious" or "Hebrew" school which he so despised, it was not so much that he become religious as so that he might acquire 'culture.' (At least enough to let him babble the proper words on the great day of Bar Mitzvah initiation rites.) lf he came home and mentioned something about Sabbath observance or a ban on ham and bacon, his parents smiled and told him that "we are not sending you there for that" or "you do not have to listen to everything the teacher says." They played games with Bernie and thought that they could deceive him never realizing in their own stupidity, that no one can ultimately deceive a child. They created a fraud and thought that they could foist it on their Bernie. They created a Judaism that was created in their own image- a Cohenism or a Goldbergism or a Schwartzism and tried to pretend that it was Judaism. They defrauded themselves because it so suited them and thought that Bernie would grow up to be as fraudulent, hypocritical, materialistic and disgusting as they. But he did not. That which makes Sammy run does not necessarily affect Bernie.
They thought that Judaism was a faucet that could be turned on and off at will. They wanted to give up the uncomfortable and the inconvenient things but still keep the 'important' things, like marrying a Shirley. Bernie was honest. He took the whole thing and junked it. He turned on the faucet all the way and Judaism spilled out in to it. He married Brigitte to the wailing of his parents who shrieked to one and all: Where did we go wrong??
Where did they go wrong??
Where did they go right??
When one thinks about it, the gall and the arrogance of Bernie's murderers are stupefying. All of them- sleek Jewish Establishment organizations and their portly leaders; the million-dollar temple-mausoleums; the temple rabbi-functionaries; the pitiful and hapless parents. All those whose yardstick was "what will the gentile say" and who proceeded to tailor their 'Judaism' to fit not the Jew but the gentile; all those spiritual schizophrenics who did not know whether they were Jews or not, fish or fowl, meat or milk; all these now point their grubby accusing fingers at Bernie and shout indignantly:
"Why are you such a bad Jew? Why are you a traitor to your people? Why can't you marry a nice Jewish girl, Iike your mother? Why do you want to marry Brigitte the shiksa?"
The hypocrisy is nauseating and amusing at the same time, but Bernie listens and finds nothing humorous in it. "Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not? She is good looking, polite and doesn't nag. Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not?
What is a nice Jewish girl like my mother? One who desecrates the Sabbath like my mother? So does Brigitte. One who eats non-kosher food like dear Mom? So does Brigitte. One who comes to synagogue three times a year to parade about it in our version of Eastern parade? Brigitte has the real thing."
Of course, what Bernie is really saying -- NO, CRYlNG OUT -- is: "Tell me someone. Why should I be a Jew? Why is it so important to be a Jew? What difference does it make? Why not knock down the barriers between religions, nations and groups once and for all? What is there to Judaism that is so unique and special that I should adhere to it faithfully and marry within my faith? Why be a Jew!!!
It is an agonizing cry from the souls of tens of thousands of young Jews who assimilate, integrate and disappear into the outer space beyond Judaism. It is THE cry, THE question. It is asked by young men and women who have seen the emptiness and the vapidness of the Judaism they grew up with. It is asked by young Jews who have seen the ugliness and the vulgarity of their empty temples and the fraud and bankruptcy of their temple rabbis. It is asked by young people whose 'Judaism' gives nothing, absolutely nothing, in terms of ideals, self-sacrifice and meaning. It comes from those who equate the 'Judaism' they know with ostentatious wealth, fat and contented leaders paying lip service to G-d and 'religion' and the reality of that religion in the form of rabbis who do not believe in the Divinity of Torah or (increasingly) in G-d and in lay people whose ignorance of anything Jewish is compensated for by Hadassah and UJA checks.
Those who murdered Bernie took a Judaism of their ancestors that was strong and powerful enough to withstand inquisitions and Crusades and pogroms and Kishinevs and Auschwitzes, big and small. It was a Judaism that lived because its adherents were ready to die for it. It was a Judaism of the zeyde who believed in G-d and proved it by observing His commandments. It was a Judaism that came from G-d and not from man. It was a Judaism whose rabbis and leaders knew Torah, not the latest best-selling book list and who did as they said, setting a supreme example for the Bernies of old who knew why Judaism was different, who never for a moment thought of Brigitte.
The murderers took this and threw it away, exchanging it for 'American Judaism,' a grotesque mixture of Myron Cohen jokes, Miami Beach, UJA checks, Hadassah membership, Jewish food and Moshe Dayan eye-patches. It was a 'Judaism' that was stripped of all non-essentials so as to lighten the burden on the long-distance Jewish swimmer through the American waters of assimilation, equality and brotherhood. It was a "Judaism" whose adherents beamed as their leaders got it down to "ethics." Ethics! As if that was the beginning and end of Judaism. As if Christians and Shintoists could not be ethical, too. As if Brigitte was necessarily less ethical than Shirley. Ethics- intoned the well-paid rabbi from his magnificently furnished pulpit. Ethics- that is Judaism. lf that's all there is, then Bernie knows that Judaism has lost any exclusive hold on him. Everyone, today, is ethical. George Meany is ethical and Nelson Rockeffeller is ethical and Rev. Moon is ethical and Prince Sihanouk is ethical and the late King Faisel was ethical, as are his un-countable sons. Is that all there is to Judaism? lf that is all there is, then stop lecturing Bernie as he marches into the sun with his ethical shiksa. Bernie wants to know what is exclusive about Judaism, what is unique, what is special, what it has that others do not. Bernie wants to know this and those who murdered him have no answers for him. The head of the B'nai Brith has no answer for him. The temple caterer has no answer for him, nor the Board Chairman, nor the Sisterhood president. The temple rabbi has no answer for him. Mother and father surely have no answer for him. All of these have no answers for him because all of these have no answers for themselves.
Judaism lives or dies on the unique fact that G-d Revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave the Jew a truth that no one else has. Judaism lives or dies on the fact that the Bible and the Talmud with their laws, commandments, statutes and ordinances were divinely revealed and that the only way to holiness and true goodness comes from the observance of Torah laws. This is what kept Bernie's zeyde and bubby Jewish; nothing else. This is a reason for being Jewish. This is a reason for not marrying Brigitte. All the rest is fraud and buff. Poor Bernie, victim of the worst kind of robbery - the taking of his heritage and reason for being. lf only he would realize that the 'Judaism' that he saw his entire life was anything but that. lf only he realized that he was the victim of the worst kind of spiritual swindle. How fortunate he would be. How joyous and happy and how meaningful would his life become if he rediscovered the Judaism of his ancestors that was sold on the American continent for thirty pieces of dross. Jewish is beautiful if you do not play games with it- or with yourself. lf only Bernie understood. How fortunate he would be. He could then turn in his Brigitte for a reason for being.
A reason for being Jewish.
Rabbi Meir Kahane
Cheshvan 16, 5772, 11/13/2011
Hat's off to Arutz 7. Where else could you find some of the classics of Jewish literature in serialized format? It is a great tribute to the people running Israel National News that they realize that a revived Jewish literature is a necessary ingredient in the Redemption of our Nation. Rabbi Kook teaches that it is precisely through a new literature of tshuva that the Nation will come to recognize and embrace the ancient spiritual treasures of Israel. So here's the next installment in "Heaven's Door" for your enlightenment and reading pleasure. Shavuah tov!
Chapter Eleven – The Golden Path
“Very well,” the old man said. “I believe we were discussing Maimonides – the Rambam. Many of the things that he teaches are simple everyday matters that a person can easily forget. The review will be good for me too.”
As if grasping an invisible throttle, he motioned with his hand for the Captain to slow down. The motor quieted, and the ride back to Tiberias became less hurried and smooth.
“The problem is I don’t have the book with me, so we’ll have to postpone our learning till later tonight.”
“Come on, Saba,” Baruch said. “You know the Rambam by heart.”
“Well, not really, but time is very precious, so let’s begin. The Rambam explains that people are characterized by many different traits. Some traits they are born with, and others they learn, due to the influence of friends and their surroundings. For instance, some people become angry easily, while others are mild mannered by nature. Some people are spendthrifts and others are frugal. One man is a glutton whose lusts are never filled, while another is so pure of soul that he doesn’t even long for what his body needs. And so forth. Are you with me?”
“Adopting either extreme is not the proper course for a person to follow. The proper path is the middle path, in between the extremes. This will insure mental, emotional, and physical health. Thus a man shouldn’t be quick to anger, yet not be so passive that he is like the dead. Chasing after all of one’s lusts is not proper, nor is denying oneself basic needs like a monk. Rather the healthy person will desire only the things that his body needs and cannot survive without, eating just what is necessary to safeguard his health, rather than stuffing his belly. He will only work at his occupation to obtain what he needs to get by, and not strive to pile up riches. He will not be a frivolous joker, nor walk around with a worried, melancholy look on his face, but be confident and cheerful in the face of whatever life brings him, trusting that everything comes from God in His goodness. This is the way of the wise.”
“OK,” I said. “It seems like common sense.”
“This is known as the golden path.”
“The golden path,” I repeated.
“Nonetheless,” the sage continued, “there are things that are beneficial to an extreme. For instance, the fervent cultivation of humility is praiseworthy, as is the scrupulous avoidance of all types of arrogance and pride. Furthermore, running after honor is folly. Our sages have said that envy, lust, and the craving for honor drive a man out of the world. Anger is also something which should be avoided to an extreme, for when a person gets angry, his Divine soul leaves him and an animal soul takes its place. This, for example, can be seen in the beastlike look on the face of a person who is gripped by wrath. Thus, it is taught that a wise man who gets angry loses his wisdom. Anger leads to numerous physical ailments as well, like stomach disorders, ulcers, skin abrasions, and heart attacks. Sometimes, it may be necessary to display an angry expression, like when disciplining children, or when condemning some moral wrongdoing, so that it shouldn’t happen again, but a person of elevated refinement should do so like an actor, using the display of anger only as a tool toward achieving his goal, while remaining calm inside. In summary, in every trait, a man should choose the middle path. This is what Solomon meant when he said, ‘Balance thy paths and all thy ways shall be steady.’”
“How do you go about altering a pattern of behavior that you’ve had all your life?” I asked.
“Through practice, by repeating over and over the proper way, until it becomes second nature. Thus if a person has a quick temper, he must rule over himself when he is abused or affronted, without reacting at all, until he extinguishes the fire in his blood. And if he is arrogant and always tries to be the center of attention, he must take his place at the back of a group, wear plain and even ragged clothing that bring him into derision, until his haughtiness is purged from his heart. From then on, he can proceed to walk in the middle path for the remainder of his days. The way of the righteous is to bear injury, and not cause pain to others; to hear reproach and not retort; and to rejoice if suffering comes one’s way, knowing that it has been sent by the Master of the Universe as an atonement for misdeeds.”
“That sounds like some kind of Buddhism,” I noted.
“After Abraham’s wife, Sarah, died, Abraham took another wife, who name was Ketorah. To their offspring, he bestowed gifts of knowledge, like the secret of mantras, yoga, and the martial arts. These children settled in the Far East, where these wisdoms spread amongst other civilizations.”
That was interesting. It all seemed straightforward and simple, but making it happen sounded like diligent, lifelong work. The Captain slowed the boat and gave its horn a blast to let the dock worker know that we were returning to the cove. I walked out on deck and watched as he expertly glided the boat past some old anchored schooners and maneuvered alongside the dock. A lone cloud passed in front of the moon, screening in its light. I thanked Saba Yosef for taking me out to Miriam’s Well as Baruch helped him climb out of the boat.
“We’ll meet again at the bar mitzvah,” he promised.
I can't wait to see what's going to happen - can you?
Cheshvan 14, 5772, 11/11/2011
We just received a new question at our jewishsexuality.com website from a married, Orthodox man. You would think that religious Jews wouldn't have to ask these type of questions, but many do, indicating that these matters were not learned the way they should be. For those of you who value the importance of these laws, you can find the question and answer on the site. For everyone else, here's the next chapter of "Heaven's Door".
Chapter Ten – The Rendezvous
I arrived at the gas station with plenty of time to spare. There was at least another hour to go before sunset. Compulsively, I must have looked at the coffee shop and up at the big yellow sign a dozen times, to make sure I was in the right place. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that hungry. Motorists entered and exited the coffee shop at a steady pace, but I no longer felt a pressing need to eat. Once I had gotten through the morning’s crisis, when I thought I’d go out of my mind, it was pretty clear sailing after that. I discovered that I didn’t need to eat or drink every minute, and that I could control my passions. But I was pretty sleepy, maybe from dehydration, like the clerk in the car-rental agency had warned. So I let myself drift off to sleep in the car, figuring it was a good way to pass the time until Saba Yosef arrived to go fishing.
I woke up at six-thirty. The colors of sunset already saturated the sky, like the brushstrokes in a painting. The sun had sunk below the mountain to the west of the gas station. The Sea of Galilee was a few hundred yards to the east, hidden behind a grove of tall palms. I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and to get a first glimpse of Saba Yosef, who was due to arrive any minute. The darkening sky over the ascent of the Golan Heights was absolutely cloudless with not even a raindrop in sight. Maybe that was why the old man was delayed in coming – maybe they were still praying for rain.
When the amber hues and reddish glows of the sunset faded from the sky, I figured I might as well have something to eat. Obviously, that’s why Saba Yosef had chosen the coffee shop, so if he was late, I wouldn’t have to go searching for food. On the other hand, I remembered that he had told me not to break the fast until he arrived. The truth is I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was some kind of test. My stomach was starting to grumble, and my head was once again starting to spin. I had fasted till sundown, wasn’t that enough? Maybe the old man wouldn’t show up till midnight. How did I know? I didn’t have any phone numbers to call. I didn’t have anyone to ask.
I suppose I was still in limbo, neither here nor there, impressed by what I had seen, and impacted by what I had learned, but very confused about which direction to take, not having decided whether my encounter with the old man was to be a catalyst of real change, or just an interesting experience that would wear off and fade away with the passing of time and a return to my old habits and unholy ways.
So when another ten minutes went by, I stopped walking in circles around the gas station and entered the coffee shop.
Inside was cool, with familiar American music, and a smiling waitress. I walked up to the take-away counter and waited until the worker made some other customer two coffees to go, then wrapped them in a bag with napkins and packets of sugar, and concluded the transaction.
“First, I’d like a large bottle of mineral water, and then you can make me a coffee too,” I told him.
“Anything to eat?” he asked.
“I’ll have one of these salads. What are they?” I asked, pointing to the saran-wrapped salads in the counter and hoping that Maimonides would have approved.
“We have a plain salad with cucumbers and tomatoes, or a chef’s salad with tuna, hard-boiled egg, and cheese.”
Before I could make up my mind, a pair of headlights flashed in the coffee-shop window and a bearded man emerged from a car. It was Baruch. He entered the small diner just as I was grabbing a hold of the bottle of mineral water.
“Tell him to wrap everything up to go,” he said. “You’ll eat on the boat.”
Talk about coming down to the wire! It was a little thing, but I had the feeling that SOMEONE was looking after me from up ABOVE, if you know what I mean. As if Craig Peters, from a small town in New England, had stepped into the Twilight Zone.
Baruch was waiting for me by his car.
“Where is Saba Yosef?” I asked.
“I dropped him off already. He’s meeting us at the dock,” he replied.
“Can’t I eat a little something?”
He told me to leave my car at the gas station and to get in with him. We drove another five minutes toward Tiberias. When he didn’t volunteer any information, I broke the silence.
“What is Miriam’s Well?” I asked him.
“Some three-thousand years ago, the Children of Israel were slaves to the Pharaoh in Egypt. Then God instructed Moses to lead us out of bondage with miracles and wonders, like the splitting of the Red Sea – are you familiar with that?”
“More or less,” I told him.
“All of the forty years that the Jews were in the wilderness of Sinai, God miraculously provided them with water by a well that followed them wherever they journey. This is Miriam’s Well, named in the merit of Miriam who guarded over Moses when he was cast into the Nile River as an infant. When Miriam died, the well vanished. It was the Arizal who revealed five-hundred years ago that its underground source flowed miraculously from the Kinneret, here, in the Sea of Galilee. Only he knew its precise location, which is constantly changing with the tides of the water. We know this from the writings of his foremost student, Rabbi Chaim Vital. He was a great Torah scholar and mystic in his own right, but after studying months and months with the heavenly Arizal, he couldn’t grasp the deep pathways of Kaballah that the Arizal was teaching him. So one day, the Arizal took him for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and had him drink from Miriam’s Well. From that time forth, his eyes were opened and he could understand the secrets of Torah.”
“That’s going to happen to me?” I asked in wonder. “I’m going to be able to read people’s minds, heal cripples, and understand the language of birds?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that. Everyone according to his own level. In your case, if it knocks out your skepticism enough so that you can understand the things that my great grandfather is trying to teach you, that will be a very great thing.”
“I thought the mikvah of the Ari was supposed to do that.”
“You Americans can be tough cases to crack. You come with a lot of shells. Maybe if you immersed in the mikvah of the Ari a hundred times, something would begin to wash off. But after your fast, a good, stiff drink from Miriam’s Well should open your spiritual eyes and put you on the golden path.”
My guide slowed the car and turned off the highway onto a bumpy dirt road that cut through a banana grove. In the beam of the headlights, you could see the small green bunches hanging in unripe clusters.
“You should know that this is a very special thing,” Baruch said. “To my knowledge, my great grandfather has awarded this privilege to only two other seekers, and they were both Torah scholars already seeped in the esoteric paths of the Torah. He himself has never taken a drink from the Well.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“He says he wants his insights to come from his learning and prayers, without any miraculous aid.”
That really scared me. I mean, what if it changed me completely? Did it mean that I would end up with side-locks, wearing a big skullcap, and dressing all in black? I had the feeling that I was getting into something too deep, losing control, and that now was the time to back out.
I could hear the boat’s motor even before we reached the dock. Two not very powerful lampposts lit up the small, cove-like bay. Most of the boats were long, open sea vessels, belonging to fishermen, with nets piled neatly on their bows. Clutching my arm, as if he sensed that I wanted to run away, Baruch led me down the dock to a small, cabined craft whose motor was running. Saba Yosef sat inside the cabin reading Psalms, the hood of his robe covering most of his face. At that moment, he looked more spooky than holy. I was freaked out. I wanted to go home to my own Miriam, and live happily ever after, without getting involved in this insane adventure. Just going out on the sea in the blackness of night was madness to me.
Without letting go of my arm, Baruch pushed me ahead of him onto the boat. A youth on the dock untied the moorings and threw them onboard. The Captain turned the wheel and inched the throttle forward. Before I could protest, the boat slipped away from the dock.
Saba Yosef didn’t look up from his prayers, so I figured he did not want to be bothered. As the boat distanced itself from the shore, a flock of squawking white birds followed after us. Maybe they mistook us for fishermen and hoped to feed on our catch. But as the boat gained speed and headed out to sea, I realized that the birds weren’t following us – we were following the birds! If they veered toward the starboard, the Captain turned the steering wheel and set the point of the boat in their direction. If the flock swerved toward the portside of the craft, the Captain set his course in their direction. All the time, the old rabbi kept praying, trusting in the birds to lead us to the mystical Well.
Soon, the seaside city of Tiberias was a magnificent sparkle of lights behind us. The only other vessels sailing in the darkness were disco ferries that took tourists on night cruises around the harbor. Shining with light, they looked like candle lit birthday cakes floating on the sea’s calm waters. Gradually, the blare of their music faded as we sped even further out to sea. The moon seemed to take a part in the navigating too, sending a beam of light that lit up our way. The white birds soared just ahead of us like a squadron of angels. Finally, Saba Joseph glanced up, and I sensed it was an invitation to approach him. I thought he was going to ask me about my fast, but he didn’t mention it at all. Motioning me to sit down beside him at the small table in the cabin, he asked me if I knew who Abraham was.
“Of course,” I replied.
“When Abraham was a small boy, he gazed up to the sky and saw the sun. Figuring that it was the sun which had created the world, he prayed to it all day. Then, when the sun went down and the moon rose in the sky, he reasoned that the moon must rule over the sun, since the sun had grown dark and disappeared. So Abraham spent the night praying to the moon. Early in the morning, when the moon’s light waned and also vanished, Abraham realized that there must be a unique, all-powerful God who ruled over both the sun and the moon, and he began to pray to Him.
“Abraham’s father, Terach, was a wealthy merchant who sold idols. One day, when Abraham was a little older, his father had to go to the king’s palace to supply the monarch with idols that were needed for his royal estates. So Terach went off to the palace, leaving his son in charge of the store. Not wanting customers to waste their money on wood and stone statues, Abraham took a hammer and smashed all of the idols, except for the biggest one in the store. When his father returned, he saw all of the shattered idols. Only the biggest idol remained, with the hammer stuck in his hand. ‘What happened?!’ asked Terach in shock. ‘After you left the store, the idols got into an argument,’ Abraham explained. ‘Angered, the big idol picked up a hammer and smashed all of the others into pieces.’ His father was furious. ‘What kind of story are you telling me?!’ he shouted. “Idols don’t have any knowledge and power. They can’t get into an argument and smash one another. They’re just wood and stone!’ ‘So why do you worship them, father?’ Abraham asked him. ‘Why do you sell them to people when you know they aren’t real?’”
As he finished the tale, the speed of the boat lessened. When it came close to a stop, the old man stood up and walked out on deck. The motor became a dim hum as the craft gently rocked back and forth in the waves. The flock of birds hovered overhead, squawking in noisy circles. One by one, they fell out of formation and landed in the water, floating on the waves alongside the boat. Saba Yosef said something in Hebrew and motioned to the bow. Quick to obey, the Captain headed for front of the boat, carrying a bucket, which he lowered into the water with a rope. Then he scooped up the bucket, and carried it, splashing with water, back to deck.
“Drink a little,” Saba Yosef told me.
It was the first water I had swallowed all day. It was cool, freshwater, natural and sweet. I readily gulped it down, as I if were downing a big mug of beer.
“Enough,” the old man said.
Baruch took the bucket from my hands. He and Saba Yosef and the Captain were all smiling, so I smiled too. I don’t know why, but it felt like a festive occasion. Far away, the lights of Tiberias spread over the hillside at the other end of the dark and magical sea. The Captain returned to his station and pushed the throttle forward. The motor roared. The birds fluttered back into the air. Baruch helped his great grandfather back to the table. For a few moments, I was alone on the deck, under a canopy of stars, waiting for something to happen, to feel some mental explosion, telepathic signal, or X-ray vision. But I felt exactly the same. As the boat regained speed, I had to hold on to keep from falling. Then the Captain motioned me to return to the cabin, where I sat alongside Saba Yosef as Baruch brought over a bottle of mineral water, paper cups, and some fruit.
“It isn’t wise to break a fast by eating too much all at once,” the old sage said. “I will be attending a bar mitzvah in another few hours. With a family as large as mine, one of my great grandchildren is always celebrating a happy occasion, thank God. You are welcome to come along to the festivities. There you will get a good warm meal.”
In the meantime, I took a bite into an apple, still waiting for something to happen. Then I thought that maybe Miriam’s Well was like a time capsule that gradually works through the night.
“Like Abraham, you too have to smash all of the idols and false gods that you have believed in until now” Saba Yosef said. “Some people believe in their own knowledge and wisdom. Some people believe in money. Others believe in success. Some people think the mysteries of the universe can be solved by mathematics and science. And some people don’t believe in anything at all. You have to smash all of these false idols and notions and start believing in God.”
Baruch poured me a glass of water, but after drinking from the bucket, I was more hungry than dying of thirst.
“How do I do that?” I asked.
“First, by being serious. Second, by letting your cynicism drown in the sea.”
The funny thing was that I knew exactly what he meant, without having to ask him to explain anymore.
“Getting closer to God is difficult work,” he said. “Not hocus-pocus.”
“I’m ready to continue,” I said, taking my tape recorder out of my shoulder bag.
“You promise you will adhere to the things that we learn?”
“I’ll try my best,” I promised.
Cheshvan 12, 5772, 11/9/2011
Lot's wife looked at something that she wasn't supposed to and she was turned into a pillar of salt. That's pretty much what happens to us when we look at something we shouldn't on Facebook or Google. A man who looks at immodest pictures of women pollutes his whole spiritual system and cuts himself off from the Shechinah. What temptations there are every time a person sits down at the computer! We've re-posted some articles on the www.jewishsexuality.com site to explain these all-important matters. In the meantime, our serialization continues:
Chapter Nine - A Strange Coincidence
Carloads of students began arriving at the cottage just as I was leaving. Baruch said they were heading up north to the forests of Mount Hermon to pray for rain. A mini-bus rumbled down the driveway and, like a well-trained army, students started loading it with cartons of food and drink. Feeling a little left out, I got into my car and headed back to my hotel. It was only ten o’clock but I was already starting to feel the fast. I had a feeling of being deprived, and I didn’t like it. I figured it was smarter to stay in the air-conditioned hotel room, rather than be out in the sun, but it was boring as hell. The room didn’t have cable TV, and I only had the guide book to read. I took a walk to the lobby to see if I could find a newspaper in English, but I struck out there too. By eleven o’clock, I was starting to feel an oncoming headache, and I was beginning to experience a growing sense of frustration as well.
This was crazy, I thought. I wanted to eat. Why should I have to fast? Back in my room, I tried to write down some of the things I had learned, starting with the seven commandments of the children of Noah, but I only came up with five – not to murder, not to steal, not to worship idols, not to eat live animals, and to set up courts.
The worsening headache made it hard to concentrate. Seeing the complimentary bowl of fruits that I hadn’t touched the day before, I felt like a baby who is offered a bottle only to have it taken away. I didn’t know what lesson I was supposed to learn from the fast, but not eating wasn’t to my liking at all.
Maybe it was because of the dry spell, maybe because of the heat. Maybe it was because of my headache and the feeling of nausea I began to have. Whatever the reason, I started to feel very edgy. Lying in bed, I tried to doze off to sleep, but the room was too bright. Closing the curtains didn’t help. I tossed from side to side, banging at my pillow, as if it were to blame. I had never been able to sleep with a headache. Certainly taking two aspirin couldn’t be considered breaking a fast. Not that I had any with me, or knew where I could find some. Maybe if I chewed them without drinking any water, or swallowed them down whole, it would be OK and get by Saba Yosef’s radar. But I was afraid to take the chance. Finally, I suppose I drifted off to sleep, because I awoke with in a sweat with a nightmare that I was dying of thirst in a room and nobody knew where I was.
The headache was becoming unbearable. I felt like a spike had been drilled into my forehead. I could hardly open my eyes. To prevent myself from having a tantrum, I tried to think what was the lesson that the old man wanted me to learn? I tried to calm myself down by telling myself that this wasn’t the first time in life that I had felt frustrated. I was a frustrated husband. I was a frustrated father. I was a frustrated high-school teacher, who had originally dreamed of teaching in college. And I suppose I was a frustrated little-league coach. In fact, my whole life was a little-league life. I was a little-league husband. A little-league father. A little-league teacher. I had even turned into a little-league lover.
Maybe it was out of those frustrations that I didn’t feel satisfied with anything I did. Or with anyone around me. My wife said I was too critical. That I always saw the negative, instead of the good. “All right, so I am not a perfect isosceles triangle with two equal sides,” she retorted during one of our fights. True, I was a mathematician, but how could I demand perfection in others, when I was far from perfect myself? Or that my daughter be chaste, when I was just the opposite?
Not that things had always been bad with my wife. In the beginning, we were like lovebirds. In my eyes, she was the prettiest gal in the world. And I was her prince charming. But things changed over the years. I never knew why. I still didn’t know now. All I knew was that I didn’t want to turn into a piece of petrified wood like my father, or die a slow and painful death as a Prostate cancer ate up my balls.
My father had been a perfectionist too. Maybe that’s what led me to mathematics and the impersonal world of numbers and graphs. He was never satisfied with anything, including his only son. Besides the photo I carried in my wallet, where you see him smiling when I was born, I didn’t have any recollections of demonstrative expressions of his love – certainly not during the final years when the Parkinson’s left his muscles as rigid as bones, and his lips couldn’t form into a smile. Miriam said that not only my tremor was genetic, but my dissatisfaction with her and my daughter as well.
Not surprisingly, my parents divorced when I was in grade school. My mother didn’t want the responsibility of a child and took off to live in Mexico City with her Mexican boyfriend. I was begrudgingly raised by father and his sheepish second wife. Maybe that was the reason that Miriam and I never got divorced. I didn’t want the same thing to happen with my daughter.
Before long, my head felt like it was about to explode. I was going to go out of my mind if I didn’t drink some water.
“Please, God!” I called out. “Enough!”
It was just one o’clock. I didn’t know how I could make it till sundown, another six hours away. I felt that I had to get out of the tiny hotel room, but I was worried about going outside into the sun. Suddenly I had a brainstorm. I rushed into the bathroom, turned on the cold faucet and let water pour over my head. Grasping on to the sink, I stayed that way until my shirt was drenched. Slowly, my head began to clear. I felt calmer. All the while, I kept my lips tightly close, not daring to break the fast.
The headache didn’t go away completely, but I felt a lot better. I felt I could breathe without feeling nauseous. But I knew I had to get out of the room. I needed something to keep myself busy, so I wouldn’t think how hungry and thirsty I was.
I hurried out to the lobby and to the terrace to inhale some fresh air. Down the hillside was the cemetery with the unworldly blue graves. According to Saba Yosef, when all was said and done, that’s what it came down to, a plot in a cemetery, when all of the hoopla and fanfare was reduced to the maggots and worms in a small rectangular plot. Unless you believed in the World to Come and an everlasting soul, which was still beyond my comprehension.
“Can I get you something to drink?” a waiter asked me. Smiling, he stood on the terrace beside me, holding a tray, waiting for a response.
Was he really a waiter, I thought. Or the devil in disguise?
“I want a drink more than anything in the world,” I told him. “But I’m fasting.”
“Oh,” he said. “Of course,” as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was in this strange, mystical part of the globe.
It was hot outside, but the gentle wind felt good, so I decided to go for a drive. Sure enough, with the car windows opened all the way, and a mountain breeze blowing in my face, my headache continued to fade as I drove down the mountain toward Tiberias.
When I was a little more than halfway down the mountain, a sign reading “Mount of Beatitudes” caught my eye. Remembering that was the legendary place where Jesus was supposed to have delivered his sermons on the mount, I figured, “What the hell!” It was Easter-time, wasn’t it? Why not have a look around and kill another hour until my rendezvous with Saba Yosef?
Following a tour bus that was going in the same direction, I got off the highway and drove along the long narrow road leading to the site. Commanding the hilltop was a domed basilica with a broad arched rotunda that looked as old as the Galilee mountains, but which was really a Franciscan chapel built not so long ago. Another three-story building served as a monastery for the Franciscan order which ran the place. Down a stretch of landscaped gardens was a breathtaking view of the sea and the city of Tiberias in the distance. Pulling into the spacious parking lot, I found an empty space after a row of tour buses. Obviously, it was a popular spot.
To my surprise, while I was locking the car and planning to take a stroll around the grounds, someone yelled out my name.
“Craig Peters! Craig Peters! Is it you?!”
Hurrying my way with outstretched arms and a Red Sox baseball cap was a guy I didn’t recognize at first. He had just gotten off the arriving bus with a noisy crowd of people.
“Craig Peters! The little-league coach! Is that really you?” he repeated.
Following him at a distance was a woman who I would have spotted a mile away. Mary Meyers, a church-going librarian who had once upon a time lived in our town. In her sleeveless, cotton Easter dress, she was still a shapely, attractive woman.
“Craig Peters, the greatest little-league coach in the world!” her jubilant husband called out.
It happened so fast, I was frozen. He gave me a bear hug that could have crushed the two cameras draped over his neck.
“Craig, old buddy! I don’t believe it! Mary, will you look who’s here? It’s Craig Peters, Jimmy’s old little-league coach. You remember!”
His wife looked just as startled as me. Who would ever have dreamed that we would meet again after more than ten years in the Mount of Beatitudes? I could see it in her eyes that she too remembered our brief and impassioned affair, while her always hopped-up husband was traveling on the road selling a revolutionary new type of vacuum cleaner. Was it three times or four that I had nailed her on the back seat of my car, in a forest just outside of town?
“It’s great to see you!” her husband continued, clapping me on the back. “Huh, Mary? Isn’t it great to see Craig?”
“Sure,” she said, looking as if she’d love to run away.
“What the hell are you doing here?” her husband, Larry, asked.
“I guess the same thing that you are,” I answered.
“Have you come to see the show? If you don’t have tickets, you can join our group. We are going to reenact the crucifixion, see a movie, and eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ.”
I was pretty sure that Saba Yosef wouldn’t want this to be the way I broke my fast.
“I just stopped by to take a few pictures,” I said. “I’m on my way to meet some people in Tiberias, and I don’t want to be late.”
“Hey, everybody!” Larry called out to the busload of people in his group. “Say hello to Craig Peters, the best little-league coach in the world.”
Suddenly, I was surrounded by a mob of fans, as if I were some major-league star.
“How you doin’ buddy?”
“Nice to meet you.”
I must have shaken a dozen hands.
“Let me get a picture with you and Mary,” Larry said eagerly.
He stepped over to his wife, who had retreated away from the throng of my admirers, and dragged her back over to me.
“I really have to go,” I insisted.
“Come on. What’s a few minutes? Jimmy is going to love this photo of you and his mom. He’ll never believe it. Did you know he was one of the top pitchers for Notre Dame this year?”
“No one told me.”
The energetic fellow help up one of his cameras and told us to stand closer together.
“Come on, Craig. Put your arm around her.”
What could I do? There was a digital flash, and there we were immortalized, two old-time adulterers, once again embracing in the parking lot of the Mount of Beatitudes.
“Now it’s my turn,” Larry said. “Someone take our picture.”
Handing his camera to the guy next to him, he stood on the other side of his wife while a picture was snapped with the three of us.
The truth is, I was glad to hear that their kid kept up with his baseball and went on to be a top college star. It gave me a good feeling, like it always did when I heard that one of my boys had made it good.
“Have a drink,” Larry offered, holding out a bottle of water that was also strapped around his neck. The guy was what you call a professional tourist. “It’s hot as hell here,” he said.
“I have my own bottle in the car,” I told him.
“Then take a stick of gum,” he offered, holding out a pack of Wrigley’s.
“No thanks,” I said, remembering the warning I had been given about breaking the fast. “I just finished a bag of chips.”
“Then take one for later,” he insisted.
Not wanting to offend him, I slipped a piece out of the pack and whack! A metal spring clapped down on my finger.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” the joker laughed. “You fell for that one!”
Now I remembered what an idiot he was. No wonder his wife had eyes for other men.
Suddenly, there was the blast of trumpets. A procession of Franciscan friars wearing long brown frocks made their way across the parking toward the slope of the mount. At the head of the group was a slumped-over actor, dressed in a white tunic and carrying a full-size crucifix on his back. A crown of thorns graced his lowered head.
“Come on, everyone!” Larry called. “The show is starting!”
Cheshvan 11, 5772, 11/8/2011
"Heaven's Door" is actually a novella. So there aren't many chapters left. Then, with G-d's help, we will start serializing another novel. Lucky you!
Chapter Eight - The World of Souls
Luckily, I remembered not to drink anything in the morning. It felt weird not having breakfast. Not just because it came with the hotel room, but it was like something to do, something that I was so used to, I didn’t know what to do with myself instead. Not that I felt hungry for food. It was more like a hunger to do something, to feel alive, to have whatever high you get through eating.
Knowing that I had to get to Saba Yosef for the day’s first conversation helped put the thought of food out of my mind. Having become kind of compulsive by nature, I didn’t want the desire for food to become an obsession that I would have to battle throughout the day. So after showering, I drove back to the cottage in the woods, arriving well before our appointment time of eight o’clock.
When no one answered my knocking, I opened the door myself. Across the rabbi’s study, inside the small synagogue, a group of men were finishing their prayers. I sat in the anteroom, where I had the day before, and watched them take off their prayer shawls and the little black boxes and straps called tefillin. Saba Yosef sat at the front of the synagogue near the ark, draped in a large white prayer shawl. He spoke for about ten minutes in Hebrew, as if he were giving a class, then each of the congregants approached him to kiss his hand and receive a blessing.
Now that Saba Yosef had opened the Pandora’s Box of religion, I had a lot of questions to ask. Like I said, religion had not been a part of my life, so I wasn’t on familiar ground when he spoke about penitence, judgment, souls, and the like. If I didn’t clarify these things while I was in the Holy Land, when would I? Not that religion couldn’t be found in New England, where the Pilgrims had first landed on Plymouth Rock, but in the circles that I traveled in, no one spoke about it very much. Here in a forest, thousands of miles away, I could afford to ask questions that I would never have dared to ask back home.
After everyone left, Saba Yosef walked to his desk and began to remove his tallit and tefillin.
“Boker tov,” he said to me in Hebrew. “Good morning. Since you are not eating, I won’t eat anything just now. In another two hours, I will be leaving with some students to a special place where we will pray for rain. We suffered a terrible drought this winter. Because of our many sins, it has not rained for months, may God forgive us. The Kinneret Sea is two meters low, and children are getting sick from the dryness. This summer, if rain doesn’t fall now, many crops will simply not make it until harvest. Our rainy season is normally over by now, so we don’t normally pray for rain at this time of year. But because of the situation, we have no choice, and God in His infinite mercy will answer our prayers.”
“Can I come along?” I asked hopefully.
“It will all be in Hebrew, so I don’t think you will find it very interesting,” Carefully, he wrapped the straps of the tefillin around their box containers and placed them in an embroidered bag. “Since we won’t be able to continue our conversation till later this evening, after we’ve gone fishing, let’s hear some more of your questions.”
He motioned me to come closer and sit by his desk. “Smell the flowers,” he said. “It gives you a lift when you’re fasting.”
I took of a whiff of the fresh bouquet and indeed felt a high.
“If someone becomes a penitent, what are the religious laws that he has to follow?” I asked.
“A non-Jew, someone who is called a ‘Bnei Noach,’ meaning ‘a child of Noah,’ has seven commandments that he has to keep. They are not to engage in idolatry, not to murder, not to steal, not to engage in sexual immorality, not to blasphemy the Name of God, not to eat the flesh of a living animal, and to set up a court system to enforce these laws. Maimonides states that any person amongst the nations who keeps these seven commandments will merit a share in the World to Come.”
All in all, if that was the whole list, I wasn’t doing so badly. I didn’t worship idols; I had never killed anyone; I didn’t really steal, except for my neighbor’s wife once and a while, and then I always gave her back; I didn’t make a point of eating live animals; and even if I wasn’t the greatest believer in God, I didn’t go around blaspheming Him; and I abided by the laws of the state. The commandment forbidding sexual immorality was the stickler, and that depended, I supposed, on your definition of immorality, which in my book meant that if your partner agreed, you weren’t doing anything wrong.
“There was another great sage some two-thousand years ago called Rabbi Akiva. Maybe you have heard of him. He is buried not far from the Rambam, on a hillside in Tiberias.”
“Hakol l’tova,” I said in Hebrew.
“Very good,” the rabbi commended. “I see that I am not your only teacher. Rabbi Akiva summed up the proper path by saying, ‘Love your fellow as yourself, this is a great principle of the Torah.’ Perhaps you are more familiar with an altered variation which states, ‘Don’t do unto others what you would not want them to do unto you.’”
“That’s what we call the Golden Rule.”
“Many people can quote it, but few really live by it. Rabbi Akiva also said: ‘Everything is given on a pledge, and a net is spread over all the living; the shop is open and the shopkeeper gives credit, and the ledger lies open, and the hand writes, and whoever desires to borrow may come and borrow, but the collectors make regular rounds every day and exact payment from a man, with or without his consent, since they have proof to rely on, and their judgment is a judgment of truth.’”
“Who are the collectors?” I asked.
“Angels. In simple terms, there are good angels who reward people for their good doings, and angels of destruction who collect payment over sins, whether by striking at one’s health, or livelihood, or family, and the like. For instance, God sent an angel to seal your wife’s womb.”
BOOM! I felt like a bomb had exploded under my chair.
‘How do you know about that?” I asked in wonder.
“Another, different kind of angel has shown me,” he said.
“That happened because of me?”
“We learned that the “shopkeeper” records everything in his ledger. Think of it as a computer that works with absolute precision. Everything that occurs to a person in life is measure for measure. You didn’t appreciate the gift that God gave you. You betrayed your wife and searched for your pleasure in wells that belonged to others, so God sealed up yours.”
“That’s not fair!” I protested. “Why should God send an angel to punish my wife if I did something wrong?”
“First, it was you, through your actions, who activated the computer and its programmed response. If you had changed your ways for the better, the decree would have been canceled, but you persisted in your behavior. So don’t blame God. Secondly, a man’s wife is a part of the man himself. As the Bible says, ‘And they shall be one flesh.’ The same is true for children. They are an integral part of their parents, connected by an unbreakable spiritual bond.”
My head was spinning. All along, I had blamed my wife, as if it were her inadequacy that had led to her infertility, when on the big scorecard in Heaven, I was to blame.
“There are other factors, like the reincarnation of souls that can often play a hidden role in the equation, but that’s the general rule.”
“That’s so heavy,” I sighed.
The old sage didn’t respond. The magnitude of his words resounded in the depth of his silence.
“What you’re saying is that a man should strive to do good deeds, not hurt anyone, and that there is reward and punishment in the world, according to our deeds, which comes about with a mathematical precision.”
“Reward and punishment in this world, and in the World to Come - exactly.”
“Then how is it that I know lots of people who aren’t saints, yet they and their families lead perfectly happy and healthy lives?”
“The million dollar question,” the wise sage quipped.
After all, I thought, if what he said was true, what about Hugh Hefner? He was still going strong, and he must have been in his eighties.
“Of course, it isn’t so simple,” Saba Yosef continued, as if sensing my doubts. “First, all of those people may not be as happy and healthy as you think. Everyone has problems, whether with one’s wife and children, or in earning a living, or with health. God is very patient, but sooner or later, the verdict falls. Furthermore, in order to give man free choice, God created a system whereby it sometimes seems that the wicked get off without being punished. Obviously, if a man was struck down by a lightning bolt from Heaven every time he committed a sin, no one would dare transgress against God’s commandments. So God often reserves a man’s punishment for the World to Come. For all of the good things an evil person does while he lives, he is rewarded in this world. However, when he departs from this world, he discovers a great surprise. He hasn’t escaped from retribution at all. The sufferings in the next world are far, far greater than all of the troubles a man can encounter in his brief sojourn here on earth.”
“You mean there really is a hell?”
The old man nodded with such a serious expression that I already began to sweat from the fires.
“Let’s say someone dies and goes up to heaven for judgment,” I ventured, worrying what was in store for me. “Let’s say he’s done 100 good things in life, and 200 things he shouldn’t have done. Can’t he make a deal and say - subtract my good deeds from my bad deeds and give me punishment just on the difference?”
“The World to Come isn’t an Arab market where you can bargain. God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t want to take away anyone’s good deeds, nor take away the reward they deserve. That person will be told – sorry, but we want to give you your full reward for your 100 good deeds. So first we’ll punish you for your 200 bad deeds, and when your atonement is completed, then we will give you your full reward for the good things that you have done.”
“How can you be certain that there is a World to Come?” I asked, starting to feel very apprehensive about my future.
Before he answered, the old man stood up from his chair.
“Let’s go for a little walk,” he said. “It is good for the circulation.”
I picked up the tape recorder and held it in my hand as I followed him along a path that led from the backyard into the forest. He walked with a surprising light gait, not rushing along, but not dragging his feet as you might have expected from a four-thousand-year-old man.
“There are two Worlds to Come,” Saba Yosef explained on the way. “One is the world of the future, may it come soon, when the awaited Mashiach, or Messiah, shall come, ushering in a new era when all of mankind will come to serve God. You are familiar with the verse of the Prophet Isaiah on the Isaiah Wall outside of the United Nations building in New York? It says: ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore.’”
“Everyone has heard of that,” I replied.
“Unfortunately, they left out the preceding verse, explaining just how this ideal future will come about.”
The old man walked up a small incline through the woods, breathing less heavily than I was. Early morning sunlight slanted through treetops, bathing the forest in a celestial light. Suddenly, I started to feel hungry and thirsty as hell. Saba Yosef continued on with his lesson.
“The Prophet declares: ‘And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established on the foremost of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come and let us go up unto the mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’”
“I was at the Western Wall the other night,” I told him. “It was quite a moving experience, though I still don’t really know why.”
He stopped his ascent at a clearing that looked out over the ancient city of Safed. Far down a tranquil range of mountains, I could make out a snitch of the Sea of Galilee, what he called the Kinneret, far in the distance.
“The other World to Come is the world of souls, what is usually referred to as Heaven, where the soul lives on eternally after its temporary visit on earth. Though it is called the World to Come it exists even now. The physical world we live in tries to fool us, wanting us to think that this is all there is. But there is a spiritual world as well, which is the true lasting world. When a person comes to the Kotel, which is known as the Gateway to Heaven, and encounters the intense Divine energy that always hovers there, his soul awakens from its slumber and remembers its Creator, even if he is unable to express this feeling in words.”
“OK, I can certainly live with that. But has anyone ever been to the world of souls and returned to testify that it’s real?”
“There are such cases recounted in the Talmud,” the rabbi answered. “One returnee describes that things were the exact opposite of this world. All of the important people in this world were at the bottom of the world of souls, and the humble and lowly in this world were at the top. But most of our knowledge comes from Moses who learned the secrets of the universe from God when he was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. He transmitted the teachings orally to the Elders, and they passed it along in successive generations to the Sages of that time. Other secrets concerning the World to Come were revealed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai by the Prophet Eliahu, who you call Elijah, during the twelve years he had to hide from the Romans in a cave during their occupation of Israel. His teachings are recorded in the holy Zohar, the ‘Book of Splendor.’ He also is buried close by, in the village of Meron, a short drive from Safed.”
There were certainly a lot of Jews buried in the land of Israel, I thought, lending credence to the girl soldier’s assertion that Israel was the homeland of the Jewish people and not of the Arabs.
“I am sure you have heard about out-of-body experiences,” the old man said, “About people who have come back to life after being clinically dead, where they describe meeting up with deceased parents and loves ones.”
“I never took those fairy tales seriously. They always sounded like the hallucinations of mentally imbalanced people.”
“That may be true in some cases,” the old sage admitted. “The point is that a World to Come exists where the soul of a person who has shown himself to be worthy in this world lives on forever.”
As if the matter had been settled, the old man set off back down the trail. It was the “person who is worthy” part that troubled me, and which I wanted to clear up next. But that would have to wait until our next conversation. Going downhill, Saba Yosef walked too fast for me to keep up with him and record his conversation. But if the “Heavenly decree” against me was going to be repealed, I sensed that it would only be achieved with his help, so I was determined not to let him get away from me until I could stand before God on my own – if there really was a God, that is.
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