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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.
One day, an old friend phoned me and said, “I have good news to tell you and bad news – which do you want to hear first?”
“The good news,” I said.
“I’m getting married,” he happily announced.
“What’s the bad news?” I asked him.
“She’s a shicksa,” he answered.
I tried to explain to him the tragedy to his decision, how their children wouldn’t be Jewish, and what a serious transgression it was in itself, blemishing the Holy Covenant between the Jewish People and Hashem. But he wouldn’t be swayed.
“I know that what you are saying is true,” he admitted. “But our sex is fantastic.”
Over the years, we continued to keep in touch, and maybe because of the badgering I always gave him, he decided to become a baal t’shuva. He took his repentance seriously, taking a sabbatical from work to study day and night. He koshered his kitchen, kept all the stringencies of Shabbat, and was among the very first to pray at the synagogue every morning. How happy he was to have returned to his roots! But he didn’t give up the shicksa. “I can’t,” he confessed to me. “Our sex is too fantastic.”
To what is his situation analogous? To a Diaspora Jew who does t’shuva, but continues to live in some foreign land. He returns to the Torah, performs all the mitzvas he can, sends his kids to Heder, but continues to live in a gentile land. Perhaps a part of his head has done t’shuva, but his body and heart are still wallowing in the cesspool of an alien land. He says he loves the Torah, but he can’t bring himself to give up his foreign lover, the gentile land and culture that he is married to in his heart.
In fact, he doesn’t understand the Torah at all. Because over and over and over again in the Torah, Hashem tells the Jews to live in Israel. He pretends that when he recites the blessing after meals, when he thanks G-d for the food and for the Land, the Torah is talking about America. He pretends that the daily prayers to come back to Zion are just words on a page. He likes to think that “Next year in Jerusalem” is just an expression. He persuades himself that all the stories in the Torah about the Jews living in the Land of Israel are Biblical history that has no bearing on his life. He is just like my old friend who did t’shuva, yet still lives with his gentile wife.
This coming Elul, may we all do t’shuva shlema, a complete and honest t’shuva, by returning to G-d all the way.
Today’s guest blogger is Moshe himself. In this age of instant satisfaction, highlighted by TV and the Internet, a lot of people don’t have the patience to read the Torah portion each week, so here’s a condensed version of the beginning of the Book of Devarim.
After reading these verses, if anyone still has doubts where Hashem wants the Jewish People to live, he should print out 100 copies, crumple them up and eat them, as if they were giant popcorn kernels of holiness from the Land of Israel. Please chew them well, so that their vapors will rise up to your brains.
"The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying, 'You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and journey, and come to the mountain of the Amorites and to all its neighboring places, in the plain, on the mountain, and in the lowland, and in the south and by the seashore, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, until the great river, the Euphrates River.
See, I have set the land before you; come and possess the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them and their descendants after them.
Behold, the Lord, your God, has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord, God of your fathers has spoken to you; you shall neither fear nor be dismayed.
Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord, my God, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you are coming to possess.
And the Lord was angry with me because of you, and He swore that I would not cross the Jordan and that I would not come into the good land the Lord, your God, is giving you as an inheritance.
For I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan. You, however, will cross, and you will possess this good land.
And you shall observe His statutes and His commandments, which I command you this day, that it may be well with you and your children after you, and that you may prolong your days upon the land which the Lord your God gives you forever.
In all the way which the Lord, your God, has commanded you, you shall go, in order that you may live and that it may be well with you, and so that you may prolong your days in the land you will possess.
And you shall, [therefore,] hearken, O Israel, and be sure to perform, so that it will be good for you, and so that you may increase exceedingly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, spoke to you, a land flowing with milk and honey.
And you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of the Lord, in order that it may be well with you, and that you may come and possess the good land which the Lord swore to your forefathers, to drive out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken.
And the Lord gave signs and wonders, great and terrible, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out of there, in order that He might bring us and give us the land which He swore to our fathers.
You shall therefore, observe the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day to do. And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your cattle and the choice of your flocks, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you.
Every commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that the Lord swore to your forefathers.
For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose mountains you will hew copper.
And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.”
This last verse is the basis of “Berkat HaMazone,” the blessing of thanks which we recite after eaten meals with bread. When we thank G-d for the land, the Torah isn’t referring to America, or Australia, or England. We thank G-d for giving us the Land of Israel. Because that is our one and only Land, and that’s where Hashem expects us to be.
So enjoy your popcorn. Remember, my dear Diaspora brothers, print out 100 copies, crumple the up and eat them. Digest Moshe’s teachings well. That should keep even Mike quiet for a couple of days.
(Thanks to the Chabad.org library for its online translation.)
This week’s Torah portion begins with Moshe begging Hashem to allow him to enter the Land of Israel:
“I beseech Thee, let me go over and see the good Land that is beyond the Jordan, that good mountain and the Lebanon.”
Commentators point out that the Hebrew word for beseech, “Va’etchanan,” has a gematria (numerical value) of 515, indicating that Moshe beseeched Hashem with 515 different supplication s, so great was his desire to make aliyah.
I once heard Rabbi Sholom Gold of Har Nof ask an interesting question. Why does Moshe repeat the word “good” in the verse? He answered that Moshe was actually asking two things from Hashem. First, he was asking for permission to enter the good Land. Second, he was asking for Hashem’s blessing that once he was in the Land, he would continue to see the Land in a good light.
Rabbi Gold explained that there is a yetzer hara (evil inclination) that causes a person to see the Land of Israel in a negative perspective. The Spies are the classic example of this tragic transgression. Even though they were outstanding Torah scholars and leaders of the tribes, they came back from their tour of Israel with a critical report, highlighting the dangers they encountered. Instead of emphasizing the good of the Land, they succumbed to their yetzer hara and emphasized the things which they subjectively experienced as bad. For instance, having seen many funerals during their trip, they reported that it is a land that “devours its inhabitants.” Rashi explains that in reality, Hashem was doing them a favor, arranging that there would be many funerals so that the Jews could go about their mission undetected (Bamidbar, 13:32). Rather than seeing that the Land of Israel was indeed good, as Hashem had promised, the Spies interpreted events in the Land as bad, in order to justify their corrupted personal desire of remaining in galut (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch 11, in the discussion on Honor; also Zohar, 3:158).
This same corrupted vision continues today on the part of all of the backseat drivers in the peanut gallery who spend their days criticizing Israel on talkbacks all over the web. “This is no good, and that’s no good, and this is immoral, and that is unjust, and this is like the Nazis, and that is like the Commies, and this is dangerous, and that is non Jewish, ad infinitum.” They self-righteously proclaim, “Until all of these terrible things are corrected, it is suicide to come on aliyah,” thereby reenacting the sin of the Spies.
Seeing the Land of Israel, and what goes on there, in a negative light is a pernicious sickness that most people aren’t even aware that they are guilty of. On the contrary, they think they are doing a mitzvah by rejected Hashem’s chosen Land with all kinds of political observations and facts. They don’t realize that they are embracing the very same sin as the Spies.
As the Gaon of Vilna writes: “Many of those who sin in the great transgression of, ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies in their many false ideas and empty claims….” (Kol HaTor, Ch.5).
This does not mean that one cannot point out problems with the Medinah, or with government policies, or with the biased media. However, in doing so, the criticism must come forth from the fundamental confirmation that this is our one and only Land, and come hell and high water, we won’t betray our love for it with an allegiance to any other lover.
Thus, to protect himself against the terrible spiritual illness of slandering the Land, Moshe praises the Land of Israel throughout the Torah portion, stressing over and over again that it is indeed a “good Land.”
The Sages of the Talmud followed Moshe’s example. At the end of tractate Ketubot, it is related that Rav Hanina would clear away debris from the roads of Eretz Yisrael, so that no one would speak derisively against the Land of Israel. When teaching their students, Rav Ami and Rav Asi would move from the shade to the sun, and from the sun to the shade. Rashi explains that they would move into the sun when the shade was too cold, and into the shade when the sun was too hot, so that no one should speak a bad word about the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.
How important it is, then, to view the settlement of Israel in a positive light. Doing otherwise is a grievous sin.
Of course, a “good eye” is important in looking at everything in life, especially our families, our wives, our children, and our friends. The Mishna teaches that a “good eye” is the trait of our Forefather, Avraham, and its opposite, the trait of the wicked Bilaam (Avot, 5:19).
But, here, I have to make a personal confession. There is one thing I simply cannot look at with a good eye, and that is the exile. True, until the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a positive value of sorts in the exile, in that via the punishment of galut, and its sufferings, our sins were atoned, in the same way that a sinner must serve time in hell, G-d forbid, in order to be purged of his transgressions. Plus there was to be an educational value in the exile. Our being a persecuted minority among the gentile nations was to teach us to appreciate the importance of our own holy, Jewish Land.
But, tragically, something went wrong. Instead of loathing the exile, many of our brethren fell in love with it, and refuse to leave, even though Hashem has mercifully ushered us back to our Homeland with miracles and an incredible national rebirth that has amazed all the world.
What is this tragedy analogous to? To a rebellious child who is sent to sit in the bathroom in punishment for his wayward behavior. Finally, when the door is unlocked, the child announces that he prefers to stay in the bathroom rather than return to live in the house. True, there are sweet smelling soaps and perfumes in the bathroom to camouflage the stink, a marble sink counter, designer spotlights, and a wall-length mirror so that you can watch yourself sit on the can, but it is life in a toilet all the same.
May Hashem cure us of the evil of seeing the settlement of the Land of Israel in a negative light, and may we merit to rectify the sin of the Spies by loving the Land, seeing it with a good eye, and coming to live here in accordance with the will of the Almighty, as stated again and again and again in the Torah. Amen.
Once again, we are not speaking about our well-intentioned brothers who would like to come on aliyah, but who cannot for justified reasons. We are speaking about our brothers, the bed wetters, who could come on aliyah but don’t because they lack emunah (belief in Hashem,) just like the Spies in the wilderness.
The Book of Devarim begins with a recount of the tragedy of the Spies, whose sin of not wanting to live in Israel brought about the death of the generation in the wilderness, and laid the foundation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the bitter exile that has followed (Yalkut Shimoni 1:743). The Torah calls them rebels for not obeying Hashem and for murmuring in their tents against the Land of Israel. The Midrash explains that the Spies spread their deadly report in the following manner: they would go into the tent of a Jew and describe the fearsome giants they had seen in the Land, instilling fear in his heart until the whole family cried out in the fear. Hearing the loud weeping, the neighbors would hurry to the tent to find out what was happening. When they heard the frightening report, they too broke out in weeping when they returned to their homes. Their next-door neighbors, in turn, rushed over to discover the source of the great lamentation. In this manner, the Spies succeeded in spreading their poison from tent to tent, weakening the hearts of the Jewish People, in order to discourage them from making aliyah.
The bed wetters of today use the very same strategy, hoping to spread their poison home to home via the Internet by opening websites like “Excuses.com,” and “Aliyah Dodgers.com,” and “Non-believers.com.” There are even cyberspace Svengalis who pretend to be the true Jewish warriors with wordy websites called “Lions of Judah.com,” and the like.
We understand that aliyah is a demanding and difficult mitzvah. We, who are fortunate to be living in the Land of Israel, feel genuine sympathy for our Diaspora brothers who don’t join us here. Our sympathy extends even for the bed wetters. We understand that fear is a difficult emotion to master. The Torah itself allows frightened soldiers to return home from the battleground, lest they melt the hearts of their brothers.
Bed wetters, do the same. Either be honest and admit that you are afraid, and we, and organizations like Nefesh B’ Nefesh, will do our best to help you overcome the obstacles standing in your way, whether they be material, psychological, or spiritual, or just shut up. Why discourage others? Why rebel against Hashem, like the Spies in the wilderness, and lead others astray? Why spread your lack of belief to other Jews who may be taken in by your evil counsel?
Behind the bed wetter’s whining is a simple lack of belief. That’s the source of their fear, as it says in the Torah, “Yet in this thing (making aliyah to Israel) you did not believe in the L-rd your G-d (Devarim, 1:32). Sure they keep kosher. Sure they keep Shabbat. But when it comes to the mitzvah of living in Israel, they suddenly get cold feet.
To have complete belief in Hashem, and to “follow after Hashem completely” (Devarim, 1:36,) a Jew must live in Israel, whether or not there are giants, or idol worshippers, or corrupt leftist governments in the Land.
That’s what it says in the Torah.
Let’s face it. No one at Israel National News is going to come out and say it, cause you can’t cut off the hand that feeds you. It’s staff writers can’t say it, because they’d run into a lot of flack. Since INN bloggers don’t get paid, they could write the truth, but who wants to risk his or her popularity and get creamed in the face with a lot of angry talkbacks? So that leaves me. Since I’ve already quit, I have nothing to lose.
We are approaching Tisha B’Av and the reason the Temple still has not been rebuilt is not because of Olmert. It is not because of corruption in high places, or because of the leftist media, or because of rampant secularism, or because of settlers and rabbis who don’t put up a fight. It is not because there are occasional murders in the Holy Land, and prostitutes, and trips to the beach on Shabbat. The reason the Temple has not been rebuilt is because the Land is not properly loved, because it has not been fully conquered, because foreign enemies have not been expelled, and, first and foremost, because there are Diaspora Jews who still prefer galut over Israel.
During these three weeks, and especially during these nine days, we are called upon to make an inner reckoning over what caused the Temple’s destruction, and to determine what is the proper atonement and rectification? Our Sages teach us that the seeds of destruction were planted with the sin of the Spies for refusing to enter the Land of Israel. That tragedy occurred on Tisha B’Av. Because the people wept that night for no reason, G-d made it a night of weeping for all generations. At that moment it was decreed that the Temple would be destroyed and that the Jews would be exiled among the nations of the world (Yalkut Shimoni, 1:743).
Just as the generation of the wilderness “despised the cherished Land,” the rectification is for us to love it with a towering love. To atone for their reluctance to conquer the Land, we must put all of the Land under our sovereignty and control. Because they refused to settle in the Land and chose to live in the wilderness instead, to rectify their sin, we must abandon the exile and come to live in Israel.
Anyone who says, “I love the Land, but I am remaining in the Diaspora because I don’t like the present government, or the Medina, or the leftists, or the rabbis, or the color of the flag,” is continuing the sin of the Spies, prolonging the exile, and lending fuel to the ancient flames of destruction. Anyone who says, “I love the Land, but it is suicide to make aliyah,” is parroting the wicked counsel of the Spies. Instead of acting to rectify the sin, by coming to live in Israel, he is adding coals to keep the Temple fire burning.
You can squawk all you want, but that’s the truth, and someone had to say it.