“Hashem said to Avram, Go for yourself from your land … to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation…” (Breish’t, Perek 12, posukim 1 & 2) Lech Lecha, the “Aliyah Parsha.”
Rashi writes on the posukim, “For your benefit and good. It is there that I will make you a great nation …” (Rashi on Breish’t, Perek 12, posuk 1)
Sefat Emet asks;
“if G’d himself promised… that the move would be for his good and his benefit, why should this have been such a great test?” It seems that it was exactly because of Hashem’s promise to him that the test was of greater magnitude because when Avram actually went, he did so “as Hashem had spoken to him.” (Breish’t Perek 12, posuk 4)
“In other words, he went purely because he had been told to do so by G’d, without any intention of deriving any benefit from his actions. The test… was whether, after all of these promises, he would still be able to fulfill G’d’s will without even the hint of any desire for any benefit for himself.” (Quotes attributed to Sefat Emet, Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Parsha Lech Lecha, pge 97)
Thinking back, there was a vort a number of years ago in the Old City. A Rabbi who spent time in Philadelphia had recently returned home to Israel after a two year stay in the United States. That evening, many visitors came to wish the family success and happiness in their new abode in Israel. Individual visitors stood and spoke words of Torah relating to the Rabbi and his family and their sojourn in the United States and subsequent Aliyah.
One such visitor spoke words which were particularly poignant as they echoed similar words spoken to this author during early travels along the road to closeness with Hashem.
He spoke about the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (the importance of settling The Land of Israel) and equated different levels of Jews with those who love sports. There are sports fans who like to read accounts of a game in the newspaper. There are fans for whom the print of the sports section is not enough. These people want to watch their favorite sports events and teams on television or internet at every opportunity. There are fans for whom television or “the web” is not enough and who enjoy being at the stadium or arena to view the event in person. And finally, there are those whose love of the sport drives them to play — to be participants in the game.
A similar point was made personally some 20 years ago. After having attended a number of weekend or one-day “Discovery Programs” given at local sites by the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, this author decided to take the plunge — to start learning our history, traditions and laws in an Observant community. Shortly thereafter, I started coming into the Religious Community in Northeast Philadelphia for Shabbos once, then twice a month. In the summer of 1990, I made my move and became religious and Shabbos observant.
During one such Shabbos in this author’s Ba’al Teshuva experience back in 1989, the host drew a similar equation in asking; are you a spectator — an observer or are you a player??
Unlike the sports world where the super-talented players are super-paid regardless of the kind of people they are off the field, those of the rest of us who lack the super-star talent play the game do it for the love of the sport. Being a Jew in Eretz Yisrael IS the Real World, not a game, and neither a fantasy nor A-Rod’s nearly $30 million per season contract.
Identifying as a Jew and with Israel, and at 61 1/2 years old, this author was born in the same month, within days of Israel’s Statehood. Unlike all of the previous generations of the dispersion of the Jews, This Jew is from a generation which has never known a day in life when there was not an Israel.
And so, this author felt as one with brethren in Israel and with the Land through the various wars, terrorist attacks, trials, tribulations and political machinations of one’s cognizant lifetime. Since first visiting Israel in February, 1975, This author sought to come home to Israel to live. But things only worked out to accomplish Aliyah, homecoming at age 51.
We seem to always find ourselves in a “vicious cycle”, locked “in a box” (as the Rav always says) of the responsibilities of day-to-day life in the nation in which we reside from which we seem not able to break out.
Recalling the story often told by Rabbi Moshe Ungar of Philadelphia about a criminal who has been imprisoned for many decades; in prison, he was assigned the task of turning a large wheel. Each day, through all of his waking hours, for all of the years of his imprisonment, he dutifully turned that wheel. After decades in prison, it was time for him to be set free. As the prisoner was about to exit the prison for the last time, the prison warden asked to show him the fruits of his labor. The warden took him to the spot on the opposite side of the wall from where the prisoner turned that wheel from morning until night. And there was…nothing! Our prisoner turned that wheel for years and years, morning until night and … nothing.
For many of us born in the “enlightened” 20th century, our grandparents emigrated from Eastern European dictatorships. The Jews of Eastern Europe held stubbornly to the uniqueness of our Religious/Spiritual/ National purpose throughout the dispersion up to the turn of the 20th century. We, who were born in the 20th century were born in or resided in a land, a nation which “killed us with love.” Our first allegiance, we perceived, was to the nation of residence as was inculcated into our learning and our lives either through the educational system or via peer group pressure. And so, many have lost track of why they exist and perceive Eretz Yisrael as a fantasy, as not the “real world.” Many others of us make excuses for not taking the step of Lech Lecha regarding parnossa, regarding possessions, regarding comfort, language or differences in societal mores and darchim.
Therefore, the Jewish People’s unique status as a spiritual religion, culture and nation based on our divine legacy of the Land of Israel became subserviant to allegiance to the sovereignty of one’s residence. This allegiance to the land of one’s birth or residence necessarily meant that he must assimilate — melt into the mass of population, be like everyone else thereby losing his separate, distinct, multi-dimensional Jewish heritage lest he be seen as holding dual-loyalties. And so, assimilation and resultant loss of Jewish heritage can be seen as a form of servitude or persecution.
There is a discussion in the Artscoll Stone Chumash (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 8, posuk 11, page 38) regarding the Dove and the olive leaf.
Rabbi Artscroll explains:
…Torah implies that it [the dove] came back to Noach, in fulfillment if it’s mission to bring back a sign… The bird did not come back merely to return to its nest or because it was tired (Haamek Davar).
By bringing back a bitter olive leaf in its mouth, the dove was saying symbolically, “Better that my food be bitter but from Hashem’s hand, than sweet as honey but dependent upon man.” (Rashi) R’ Hirsch elaborates: For a full year , the Dove could not earn it’s own food; hunger always forced the dove to rely on Noach’s kindness. Then it found a bitter leaf that it would ordinariy not eat — and carried it back to Noach, …the lesson of the Sagesm that even the bitterest food eaten in freedom is better than the sweetest food given in servitude.
Our connection with G’d is strongest when we live in Israel where there a direct, unhindered connection to the divine presence. There are Torah commentators who say that the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel is equal to all of the 613 Mitzvot. The commentator Rashi, who expounds on the words of Torah, says that performing Mitzvot in Galut is considered merely a rehearsal for performing them in Eretz Yisroel. Israel is the “Big Leagues”, “Showtime”, the “Real Deal”, the “Whole Enchilada” for performance of Mitzvot.
We recognize that things are not easy here; unwieldy, thoughtless, insensitive bureaucracies, a government whose actions are far from Jewish and lacking all truth and candor, low earnings, high taxation, a personal/business ethic where commitments such as employee salaries, business/personal financial obligations, etc. are often not fulfilled on time, or for that matter, not for months or years later. These all lend to worsen the over-all economic morass.
This year, the World Series starts late and at this writing, the AL champion team has yet to be determined. But imagine, it’s the Big Game, the whole season’s on the line, 50,000 plus people, 100,000 eyes glued on the center of attraction with two gone, the bases jammed and a full-count on the other teams top slugger. Everyone waits with baited breath and eager anticipation to see whether the pitcher will hang a 95-plus mph fastball up in that slugger’s wheel house and whether he’ll get it all and blow the game wide open, or whether the pitcher will elude the jam by pulling the string on a monster curve, change-up or cut fastball on his next pitch. Lee’s full-count pitch to A-Rod… That very next Mitzvah might just be the one, the one that opens the floodgates to the Geula Shlaima and all of the good for Am Yehudi. The rewards far surpass the travails.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of Blessed Memory, beautifully expressed Yishuv Eretz Yisroel when he penned an English translation to the Hebrew prayer of “V’HaSheiv Kohanim”, a section of the Mussaf tefillah on Yom Tov — “Restore the Kohanim to their service…” It reads in part:
“Return again, return again, return to the Land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn again….”
May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem and that we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.