This year, in the battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, private bonfires have been outlawed on Lag ba’Omer. But that doesn’t mean the country won’t be illuminated.
Author Tzvi Fishman insists that Torah learning is the greatest light there is, and, in honor of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, he has posted his new book, Secret of the Zohar, on his website as a free download. "The book is sure to raise eyebrows, if not burn them off!", Fishman says. Its pages abound with quotes from the Zohar on the subject of proper marital relations and transgressions surrounding the three-letter word that Internet filters block from appearing on digital screens, a topic in cyberspace Fishman says is as widespread and unhealthy as the COVID-19 virus itself.
The title of your book arouses curiosity. What is the Secret of the Zohar?
"In the Zohar, Rabbi Abba asks the question and replies, “It is the sign of the holy Brit (Covenant), which is called the secret of Hashem."
What does that mean?
"The Zohar explains that in the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish People, Avraham was called upon not only to circumcise himself and his offspring, but also to guard the Brit, meaning that the Jewish People are to safeguard the holiness of their 'extra-curricular' lives. This means following the laws surrounding marital relations. Anything beyond this is considered a transgression to the Covenant. As Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai explains in the Zohar, 'There is nothing in the world that so arouses the zealousness of the Blessed Holy One as the sin of transgressing the Brit, as is said, “And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge my Brit",' (Zohar, Vayikra, 26:25)."
If I'm not mistaken, according to Rabbinical tradition, matters related to modesty and transgressions in this area are not to be discussed in public fora.
"Indeed such a philosophy exists, but from a time far more modest than ours. Long before the Internet spread 'popcornography' around the world and into every home, the Chofetz Chaim wrote a letter to rabbis throughout the world urging them to address the issue publicly, saying: 'The Torah explains the matter explicitly (in the Book of Deuteronomy), that when we conduct our lives in a holy manner, then Hashem walks in the midst of us to deliver us from every evil thing. However, if He sees in us some unchaste matter, He turns away from us, and this brings upon us all of the tribulations, G-d forbid.'
"The Chofetz Chaim compares the breach of immodesty in his time to a burning vineyard of a king, saying: 'It is known to everyone that when a fire bursts out in the vineyard of the king, a proclamation goes forth from the ministers of the king to the inhabitants of the city, saying: “Everyone be strong to extinguish the fire in any way you can, for the vineyard of the king is burning, and if you are lazy in this matter, know that you will be held responsible with your lives, and you will be labeled rebels, because you did not take heed for his honor. And if you take courage, as is fitting, and put out the fire, then everyone shall receive his reward and honor according to his efforts.” So too in this matter (regarding the lack of chastity), for it is known that all of Israel is considered the vineyard of the L-rd, as is written, “For the house of Israel is the vineyard of the L-rd of Hosts.” And due to our many sins, a great blaze has erupted in His vineyard in several places because of this terrible fashion. The forces of impurity in the world have considerably strengthened because of this. As our Sages have said on the verse, “And you shall guard yourselves from every evil thing” (Deuteronomy, 23:10), that a man should not have immodest thoughts during the day and come to pollute himself at night (Ketubot 46A). For if this should occur, all of the blessing and Divine flow to this man’s deeds will be cut off, and because of this he will be surrounded by evil tribulations, as is written in the holy books of wisdom. Therefore, every man has the obligation to extinguish this terrible fire, and to rectify the situation in his home so that everything will be according to the law, and not to allow licentiousness, G-d forbid. And in doing so, he will merit to have upright and exalted holy children. And more than anyone else, this obligation falls on the Rabbis and on all those who are zealous to fulfill G-d’s words, that in every city and village, the importance of this matter must be publicly explained, in that it directly effects our survival and our success, both physically and spiritually, in this world and the next. Thus will the verse be fulfilled, “And your camp shall be holy”.'
Since these matters are confined to the secrets of the Torah, some would say there is a contradiction in exposing them. If they are revealed to the public, they will no longer be secrets.
"The holy Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital, the foremost student of the Arizal, emphasizes in his introduction to the Etz HaChaim, that the prolongation of the exile, and all of its sufferings, stem from the fact that the inner secrets of Torah have gone unlearned. The Gaon of Vilna writes: 'The Geula will only come about through the learning of Torah, and the main factor of the Geula depends on the learning of the Kabbalah' (Even HaShelma, 11:3). Throughout all of his writings, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook stresses the necessity of learning the secrets of Torah at the time of Israel’s Redemption. 'The revelation of the secrets of Torah in the last generation, in order to purify the hearts and to fill the minds with noble thoughts, whose source lies in the secrets of Torah, this is an absolute necessity in the last generation to insure the survival of Judaism' (Orot HaKodesh, Part 1, Pg. 141)."
What was Rabbi Kook's position on learning Zohar?
"He wrote an open letter to congregations in Jerusalem encouraging learning Zohar. In his book Orot he writes: 'Now, the time demands a greater acquisition of the inner Torah, with holy visions that cannot begin to be heard except through the elevation of the soul and the uplifting of its valor in the light of its purest, transcendental life… The book of the Zohar, which breaches new paths, forging a way in the desert, a road in the wilderness, it and all of it bounty are prepared to open doors of Redemption,' (Orot HaTechiya, 57)."
Where does the coronavirus pandemic fit into all this?
"Corona means 'crown'. Apparently, it received that name because, when seen through a microscope, the bacteria resembles a crown. Since nothing that transpires in the world is happenstance, it is fair to assume that Hashem has inflicted the world with this plague because He wants us to pay more attention to Him, and to openly acknowledge his 'crown' and Kingship. The word 'corona' is also an anatomical term whose meaning can be found in any dictionary. In his commentary to the approaching Torah portion Bechukotai, the saintly and famous Kabbalist Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera, grandfather of the Baba Sali, writes that the terrible tribulations that fell upon the Jewish People in exile, as described in the Torah portion, stem from this category of transgressions: 'Our Sages have stated that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through disease, pestilence, war, or famine result from transgressions to the Brit'.”
What influence would you like the “Secret of the Zohar” to have on its readers?
"When readers discover the enormous focus the Zohar places on Shmirat HaBrit, I hope it will lead them to more awareness about the importance of the subject to their lives and to the overall well-being of Am Yisrael. The book also contains passages about the subject from many great Sages throughout the ages, and it offers their instruction on how to properly conduct oneself in this most basic realm, and how to rectify past mistakes, so that Israel’s great light can burst forth and illuminate the world with its full brightness, bringing healing to all of mankind."