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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
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.
The holiday of Pesach celebrates our freedom from the bondage of Egypt with the goal of establishing the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael. In addition to our physical liberation from the slavery of Pharoah and his evil taskmasters, we experienced a spiritual liberation as well from the impure Egyptian culture and the rampant immorality that festered there. The commandments of the Pesach holiday, and especially the Seder night, are designed to help us re-experience both facets of our freedom, the national/physical and the cultural/spiritual as well.
In order to explore our spiritual liberation and thus better understand who we are as a nation, we will take a glimpse at some secrets of Torah, culled from the teachings of our Tzaddikim, masters of the Kabbalah from the past and present. We will present just a few, in a very simple manner, with the understanding that the matters are much deeper and far more esoteric than our explanation.
Interestingly, we were commanded to tie the lambs to our bedposts, not to the door, or the window, or kitchen table, but to our beds, precisely to drive this point into our individual and national consciences that we are to be a holy people, separated by the purity of our sexual lives from all of the other nations in the world.
Ancient Egypt was the spiritual and cultural cesspool of the world. Promiscuity, adultery, and sexual perversion were the norm. When our Sages write that no foreign nation in Egypt ever escaped from the land, they mean it in a spiritual sense, as well as the physical. The clutches of temptation and sin were so powerful that no people, in the natural course of events, could shake off the shackles of lust that marked Egyptian life. The Jews were no exception. After 200 years dwelling in such a polluted, immoral environment, we plummeted to the 49th degree of impurity and would have been immediately destroyed if G-d had not miraculously interfered and rescued us with the utmost haste, speeding our exodus from the land.
Our Sages tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt due to the merit of the two mitzvot which G-d commanded us to perform on the eve of our departure – the korban Pesach and the brit milah. Both of these commandments were designed to free us from our spiritual slavery to the lusts of the body, and liberate us to true freedom as servants to G-d. Among a cornucopia of bestial doings, the Egyptians worshipped the lamb. Among the domestic beasts, sheep are known for their fecundity. In a similar manner, licentiousness was an integral part of this idol worship. Our Sages teach us that the Jewish People only worshipped idols as an excuse to engage in the sexual debauchery that went with it. In commanding every Jewish household in Egypt to take a lamb, the Egyptians’ god, and slaughter it for the Pesach offering, G-d was commanding us to slaughter the physical lusts in ourselves that lead to the perversion of the holy marital union, and to the pollution of the holy life force of our nation. Interestingly, we were commanded to tie the lambs to our bedposts, not to the door, or the window, or kitchen table, but to our beds, precisely to drive this point into our individual and national consciences that we are to be a holy people, separated by the purity of our sexual lives from all of the other nations in the world.
This is the very same lesson of the brit milah. Only a man who was circumcised was allowed to partake in eating the Passover lamb. The removal of the foreskin both symbolizes, and physically effects, the removal of the impure physical lusts that accompany the marital union. On the eve of our departure from the bondage of Egypt and from our servitude to its debauched and immoral culture, we were called to renew the Brit of our Forefathers, the founding Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, whereby we safeguard the purity of our sexual lives, symbolized by the brit milah, and G-d, for His part, promises us the Land of Israel as our eternal inheritance. Thus the Zohar teaches that in the merit of the blood of the slaughtered Paschal lamb (the korbon Pesach) and the blood of the brit milah, we were redeemed from the spiritual dungeon of Egypt.
This mixture of blood was to be splattered on the doorposts of our houses, as a sign to G-d that a Jew lived within, when G-d came to slaughter the firstborn of Egypt and to lead us out of slavery:
"And they shall take the blood, and put it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses in which they shall eat…. And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt…. For the L-rd will pass through to smite Egypt, and when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, he will pass over the door (petach), and will not allow the destroyer to come into the house to destroy you" (Shemot, 12, 7-23).
Obviously, G-d does not need signs to know whether a Jew or an Egyptian lives in a certain house. The Almighty sees everything without needing splatterings of blood on doorposts. So what is the meaning of this? Once again, the secrets of Torah illuminate our understanding. Based on the Zohar, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, explains that the underlying mystical meaning is speaking about us. The two side posts of the door represent the legs of person. The upper mantle represents the torso. The blood was to be placed where a mezuza is fastened to a doorpost, two-thirds of the way to the top. This represents the place of the Brit, the male organ. Just as the word "Shaddai" is written on the outside of a mezuza, signifying one of the Names of G-d, so to the brit milah is considered to be invisibly stamped with this same Name of G-d. Rabbi Levi states that when a man guards the holiness of his sexual life, he bears the Name "Shaddai," inscribed on his Brit. But if, G-d forbid, he succumbs to sexual transgression, the Hebrew letter "Yud" flies off from the Name, leaving שד, the Hebrew word for a demon. This evil spiritual force enters the "petach" or opening of the Brit, and makes its way though the body, bringing terrible destruction and diseases in its wake, may G-d have mercy. "When a decree of Judgment is issued to destroy," Rabbi Levy explains, "This opening of the Brit is the first place the destroying angel looks. If a man has guarded his Brit, the destroying angel passes over the opening, and the man is saved. But if the person has committed sexual transgressions, he is smitten. This is the esoteric meaning of, ‘He will pass over the door (petach), and will not allow the destroyer to come into the house to destroy you.’"
Once again, we see that the commitment to abandon sexual transgression was the key to our redemption from Egypt. This separation from sexual immorality is the essence of the Jewish People, "a nation of priests and a holy nation." Only when we rose above the sordidness and pollution of Egyptian culture could we escape from the chains of its bondage.
Now let’s take a glimpse at our painstaking search for bread crumbs and leaven before the holiday of Pesach begins. Once again, Rabbi Levi explains the inner spiritual meaning according to the Kabbalah. "Some people think that by scattering ten pieces of bread around the house, representing the ten foremost evil spiritual forces (kleipot) embodied in the 10 sons of Haman, and by burning them in the morning, they have gotten rid of all of their chametz. When in fact, their houses are filled with the evil spiritual forces that they themselves have created in their very own bedrooms due to their wrongful doings. These kleipot is the spiritual chametz which we are commanded to oust from our homes. When a man burns his bread crumbs, he should cry out to G-d in tears, recite the Tikun HaYesod prayers, and beg G-d to forgive him for his errant ways and all of the blemishes he caused to the Brit. Then he can sit down to his evening Seder with a clean heart, prepared to receive all of the transcendental spiritual treasures of the night."
One other note. Rabbi Levy stresses the importance of celebrating the Seder night at home, in not in a hotel, no matter how glatt kosher it may be. First, he says that the Holy One Blessed One Be He comes to our houses on Pesach night with Eliahu HaNavi, and their visit burns up all of the evil spiritual forces that our chametz search didn’t find. But if the family is away at a hotel, these exalted guests don’t come, and the opportunity for a new beginning is lost. Secondly, many Kosher hotels employ non-Jews in the kitchen, and who knows what they do with their Wonder Bread and pita, whether accidentally or to spite. "During Pesach time," Rabbi Levi says, "The hotel may be kosher, but Mohammed is the one in charge of the kitchen."
Therefore, he says, if you want to enjoy the rewards of the holiday, celebrate the Seder at home, or with your parents, where you will receive the same reward as if you had stayed at home because of the greatness of the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother.
Dear Readers, the holiday is quickly approaching and I, like the rest of the Jewish People, am busy helping my wife with preparations, cleaning, shopping, keeping the kids out of the house – so my writing time is short. I don’t know if I will find the time and clearness of mind to write about matzah, the Seder night, and Sefirat HaOmer which commences right after the first day of the holiday.
BURNING THE CHAMETZ WITHIN
An excellent time for a little introspective prayer and repentance is when we burn the last remnants of chametz before Pesach begins.
In our very first blog, forty thousand words ago, I wrote that we would pray together. An excellent time for a little introspective prayer and repentance is when we burn the last remnants of chametz before Pesach begins. In addition to the formulas found in our prayer books, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, says that everyone should recite Tikun HaClalli, or Tikun HaYesod Yeshuat Eliahu, and the other tikunim designed to rectify transgressions committed through sexual misconduct, for this is the real, inner chametz that we are called upon to burn . If a person does not have a copy of these prayers, he should know that true heartfelt t’shuva is always accepted. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov calls this "outpourings of the heart." In the same way that we scrupulously search for every bread and cake crumb in the house in order to burn it, it is meritorious to verbally detail, as minutely as one can, all of the wrongdoings that one can remember. Find a quiet, secluded spot in the park and begin. This is a great tikun. For readers who may be unfamiliar with this practice, below is a sample of the prayer that I will be saying, with a lot of the details censored to avoid unnecessarily embarrassing myself and my family. May all of you, and all of the Jewish People, have a happy, healthy, and kosher Pesach.
EREV PESACH PRAYER
"Abba, Abba, Abba, how embarrassed am I to stand before You, knowing how very far I am from being a good and holy Jew. Yes, I have burned all the bread crumbs and chametz that was left in my house, but I know that under Your all-seeing lens, You can see all of the chametz that is still embedded like cement in my heart. First and foremost, the sexual transgressions that I committed from my youth until today, especially the damage I caused in all of the worlds through the spilling of semen in vain. Please take into consideration that when I was a boy, nobody told me how awful this was. The opposite – they claimed it was healthy! No one told me that each zera was a living soul, my very own offspring, and that by casting it off wantonly, I was in effect destroying my own children, and creating destructive spiritual forces that wreak havoc in the world, may You in Your infinite mercy forgive me. Truly, I would be without all hope if not for Your all-forgiving compassion toward those who repent and change their ways. And later, in Hollywood, all of the Sallies and Cindies and Betsies and Bonnies, to name just a few. And when You in Your great kindness brought me back to the Torah, and I learned that I was called upon to live my marital life in a holy fashion, even still, how many times did passion overcome my judgment, and I acted like I had no fear of Heaven at all? For all of these sins, forgive me. For now I know that zera is the lifeforce of Creation, containing not only genetic codes, but also the letters of the Torah, and the blueprint of all the spiritual worlds, and this is the reason that our holy Forefathers would swear an oath by placing their hand under this place, the place of the Brit, because of its sacredness, and woe to those who blemish it by mindless wrongdoing just for the sake of the vain pleasures of the moment.
And may this prayer be for all of the Jewish People, especially those who don’t know how to pray, that You in Your Divine Kindness forgive us all, for we are like children who have gone astray and long to come home.
And then there is the chametz of pride, and anger, and depression, and jealousy, and doubts of faith that fill every crack and cranny of my being, like the chametz of pride of being the famous Arutz 7 blogger, with the towel draped over my shoulder, like a Jewish Mr. Clean, the Mark Spitz of mikvah immersions, cyberspace poster boy, the champion baal t’shuva from Hollywood. And You know that it is all a big fake! True, I try my best to please You, but how many mistakes I still make, how often I fall to temptation, looking an extra second at the pretty girl in the street, or an erotic photo on the Internet, and thinking about some other guy’s wife, as if You didn’t see everything, including the thoughts in my mind! And what about the way I try to pass myself off as a big student of Kabbalah? Can anything be more arrogant than that, when I can hardly learn a page of Gemara with Rashi? You know that the list of my failings could go on until sunset, like angrily blowing up at the kids when they interfere with the great blogger’s concentration when he is trying to write; and the cynical, hurting comments I so often make to my wife; and the doubts I have about Your providence over the world, as if I could run it better; and the jealousy I feel for writers more successful than me, and for scholars possessed of more wisdom; and what about my stinginess in giving charity; and all the times that I could have done something to make my parents happy instead of disappointing or even ignoring them. Please, Abba, please, forgive me for all of these wrongdoings, and for all of the bad things I said or wrote about a fellow Jew, or about a specific community of Jews, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora. Help me to remember all of my transgressions, and help me to make amends, so that I can be a true loving son before You. And help me not to get angry the rest of this day, or to do or say anything that offends my wife, so that we can get to the Seder in joy and perform all of its customs and laws in the true spirit of freedom and thanks for all of the miracles that You performed for our Forefathers, and for the miracles that You perform for us every day, especially in bringing me to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael. Thank you for giving me loving parents who have supported me in all of my endeavors, and for giving me a loving wife, and holy children, devoted friends, and saintly rabbis to show me the way to come closer to You. May it be Your will to help me to use the talent that you gave me to spread the truth of Your holy Torah, and the importance of guarding the Brit, and the incredible blessing that comes by living in Your chosen Land. May the chametz that I have found in my house and burned, as You have commanded, be considered like all of my sins, and may I start a new beginning with this Pesach night, liberated from all of the lusts and evil inclinations that have held me in bondage till now. And may this prayer be for all of the Jewish People, especially those who don’t know how to pray, that You in Your Divine Kindness forgive us all, for we are like children who have gone astray and long to come home. Bless my wife and my parents and my children, and everyone’s children, and guard over all of our soldiers, and over every Jew wherever he lives, and don’t let our enemies hurt us in any way, but rather may their evil plans backfire and blow up in their faces. Please gather all of the Jews from the four corners of the earth, and build Jerusalem and our Holy Temple, with the speedy coming of our righteous Mashiach, and turn our hearts of stone, to hearts of flesh, that we may all return to You and to Your holy Torah, so that all of the world will come to see that the G-d of Israel is King over all of the world, and the day will soon come that all the peoples, who are left after the great and triumphant wars of Mashiach, will come to Jerusalem to bow down before Your holy mountain and give praise to Your Name. Amen, may it be Your will, Amen."
Good luck with your own personal prayers! Pesach Samaoch! And make it truly, "Next year in Jerusalem!" B’Amet!