Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.
For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.
Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.
Let me ask you something:
Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?
I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?
Let’s explore another example.
Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:
Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.
Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.
Do we agree with him?
What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:
Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!
Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.
[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].
Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.
Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?
And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?
If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.
Come listen to the Purim Megillah!
Come join us for the Pesach Seder!
Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!
Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?
Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?
That doesn’t sound right to me.
Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.
But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.
I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.
But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.
And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.
So what changed?
Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.
I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)
So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:
I realized this is what God wants.
And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.
There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.
The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.
So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?
That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?
Is that considered ‘lecturing’?
Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:
Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.
But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!
Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?
And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?
If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.
This is Judaism 101. This comes from Jewishvirtuallibrary.org:
The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.
Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:
“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”
Can you see the problem, here?
Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)
So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.
It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.
I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.
I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.
Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.
But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.
So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”, it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.
A Seder Meal for One.
The day before Seder, I had a breathless conversation with an older single I know whose ‘plans had changed’ last minute (as they so often seem to do with this person), who needed a place to go for the Seder meal.
I said no.
I said no for a few reasons, not least because I had my hands full with a ton of non-religious family members who also believe that Seder isn’t actually something you ‘do’, at least, not yourself, but something that you show up for, say your lines, eat your boiled egg, then go home and tick the box.
But the person pulled a half-successful guilt trip on me that they had nowhere else to go blah blah blah so in the end I compromised and invited them for the morning meal after Seder.
I was so exhausted. I was so tired.
And this person stayed in my house for four hours on one pretext after another, until finally when they went to the bathroom, I saw an opportunity to escape and went ‘to sleep’ in my room until they finally got the message and left.
Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about how so many of us unwittingly ‘enable’ bad behavior, and massive yetzer haras, through some misguided attempt to ‘do good in the world’. Sure, in theory, it’s a great wonderful, amazing thing to have people around your Seder table who otherwise would have no-where to go.
But at what point does it stop being a mitzvah?
At what point does enabling other people’s selfish, freeloading behavior stop being a good thing?
You know why that older single had no-where to go on Seder night? Because she’s exhausting to be around. That’s why. She doesn’t treat people so nicely and she has a lot of bad middot.
Do you know why I’m doing something completely different for Seder next year? Because even the very minimal requests I set for my Seder were ignored.
People didn’t buy haggadot for their kids….they didn’t prepare a tiny something about anything related to the Seder…they didn’t have the patience to sit through Hallel and made the fact they wanted to leave so obvious that there was no choice except to comply…they didn’t help-with-a-single-thing with the Seder.
They left it all to me.
Now, if they were 80 and feeble, fair enough. If they were ‘lost Jews’ who had never seen or heard of a Seder before in their life, fair enough. But that’s not the case. We’re the same age, and they’ve sat at someone else’s Seder every year since they were born, for more than four decades.
After I was inundated with so many people’s ‘freeloading behavior’ this year, and after I found myself getting so upset about it all, I realized there was something else going on, here, that God was trying to draw my attention to, namely:
I was enabling these people’s bad middot.
And I don’t want to do that anymore.
You might be reading this hand to mouth in horror, thinking what is the woman saying?! This is terrible, shocking, awful!!!!
It’s a free country, you’re allowed. We’ve all been so brainwashed into believing that we have to be the ‘solution’ to other people’s problems, it’s totally understandable if you are having that reaction. I also had that reaction to myself, initially, and thought I’d totally lost the plot. But then, I started to think things through more carefully in hitbodedut, and to dig a little deeper, and here’s what I came to:
God for sure wants me to help other people, as much as possible. At the same time, He for sure doesn’t want me to take all the responsibility for ensuring they have a Seder to go to, or people to hang out with, or a nice life.
For example, it says very clearly, that it’s the father of the household’s responsibility to recount the exodus to their children.
If that father has his head permanently in his business affairs, or prefers to play cards at the Seder table, or doesn’t value his own yiddishkeit enough to make any real effort to pass it on to his kids – it’s not down to me, to fix that problem.
What’s more, there’s the law of natural consequence at play here. The natural consequence of having guests who I experience as ungrateful, entitled, freeloaders is that I don’t want to have them back.
IFFFFF, guests make it clear that they really want to share the responsibility, IFFFFF they make a huge effort to participate, IFFFFF they offer to buy in the desserts, and clear the table, and wash up – then I probably would be extremely happy to have them back. Who wouldn’t be?
But, IFFFFF the guest is totally self-absorbed and self-occupied, IFFFFF they act like they are doing you a massive favor, by being there, IFFFFF they make ‘perfunctory’ noises about helping that you know aren’t the least bit sincere, and then scarper before the dishes have even been taken off the table – then, I really don’t want them back, until and unless something massive changes in their behavior and their attitude.
This is the law of natural consequence, and we ignore it at our peril.
As I was mulling all this over, I had a chat with a friend of mine, Gila, who I have invited for Seder a couple of times down the years, but who has always turned me down. Partially, it’s because Gila and I live in different cities. But the real reason is much more awe-inspiring:
Gila often does Seder all by herself.
I asked her if she would share her experience of that more widely, and she very generously agreed. Here’s what she told me, in her own words:
“Seder is a very personal experience, and I wanted to do it my own way, of course still within the framework of halacha. I read the ma nishtana myself, I did both sides of the ‘Mishar rotam’ dialogue that many Sephardim traditionally do at the beginning of the Seder. It could have been a bit weird or awkward, but I embraced Seder night, and I really enjoyed it.”
I asked Gila, why didn’t you want to go out and be a guest at someone else’s Seder? She told me:
“I really wanted to feel the holiday. I wanted to concentrate on the Seder, and not get so distracted by everything else that was going on around me. There are lots of segulot you can do when you’re having a Seder by yourself, so I really took advantage of it. I drank all the wine you’re supposed to, and I ate all the matzah.”
What happened about hiding the afikomen?
“I just put it away somewhere, so I didn’t see it. And I really enjoyed the idea that I really was eating the afikomen – and only the afikomen – for dessert. Usually, you have to supplement the afikomen with more matzah, but I was eating only the real thing. I also really loved preparing for the Seder. “
This year wasn’t the first time that Gila has done a Seder by herself.
I asked her what she finds challenging about doing it by herself.
“Beforehand is the hardest part. When people start asking me, what are you doing for Seder? That can be a hard question. It’s hard anticipating being alone, and worrying about how society views me. Other people’s reactions are the main problem for me, not actually doing the Seder. The first time I did it, my parents thought I was nuts, until I explained to them how the Seder actually went.
“For someone who has never done it, who has never enjoyed the fruits of their own labor at the Seder, it’s so gratifying to be really involved, and to not just be a guest. Even the shopping was enjoyable and meaningful. I was using my own hands to create the Seder!”
Gila has now done Seder by herself on 5 different occasions.
She’s very happy to still be a guest at other people’s tables, if that’s suitable for her and her hosts, but she told me something about the reality of being an older single at other people’s Seder that made a very profound impact on me:
“Even if you have a bad experience at a Seder, you need to take responsibility. You can’t just accept an invitation to someone because you feel you don’t have a better alternative. When I first decided to do Seder by myself, as an older single in my 40s, it’s because I had never made it myself, and I felt it was just time to do it. When I took that decision, it showed me that I really have a choice about how and where I do Seder, and that was liberating. In general, when you know you have a choice it also makes you more tolerant since you take responsibility for what you want to do, instead of blaming other people.”
I will share more of Gila’s tips on how to do a Seder for one below, but I didn’t just find her experience liberating for some of the singles out there, who maybe are sick of being guests around other people’s tables.
I also found it liberating for myself, because it underscored the point God had been trying to teach me that everyone has a choice.
If a person truly wants to experience a Seder, there is nothing stopping them.
I don’t need to relate to people as nebuchs¸ unfortunates, because they aren’t used to making a Seder, or don’t find it easy. It’s a mitzvah! It’s a privilege! It’s an obligation – their obligation to recount the Haggada and eat matzah and drink four cups of wine.
If they care about the mitzvah, they will find a way to pull it off.
(It’s a whole other story, but I have friends in Costa Rica who are going through a very tough time, financially. This year, they only had enough money to buy the minimal matzah and wine for Seder night, and they just ate vegetables the rest of the week. Talk about mesirut nefesh for the mitzvah! Amazing.)
And if they don’t really care about the mitzvah – then having them back year after year is just enabling them to keep ticking a box, and just keeping them stuck in that place of being a permanent, uninterested, entitled guest.
And I’m not going to do that, any more.
It’s not helping me, for sure, but Gila’s story also showed me that it’s also really not helping them. Or their kids.
So, if you’re young enough and healthy enough to change your kitchen over and cook for three days straight – do your own Seder. If you’re single, consider doing it alone, or consider inviting your other single friends and doing it together. If you have a family and you’re approaching your fifties without ever having done your own Seder, make a decision that next Pesach is the year you finally grow up, and take responsibility for yourself and your families.
Making Seder is hard work, for sure, but it’s a mitzvah, and every ounce of effort you put in is repaid, spiritually.
If you want some more guidance on what to actually do on Seder night, take a look at the Seder Guide on the Torah.org website. And HERE is where you’ll find a run-down of the customs and minhagim that Rabbi Berland follows on Seder night. Finally, I have discovered two excellent cookbooks for Pesach, which contain simple, pretty healthy food that is not a pain in the bottom to put together, but tastes pretty good. You can get A Taste of Pesach #1 by clicking the bold, and also check out A Taste of Pesach #2.
And now, let’s end with Gila’s dos and don’ts for how to do a Seder for one:
PERSONAL SEDER DOS:
- Try to get excited about it.
- Appreciate that you have a choice of how and where you do Seder, and that if you really want to do it in your own home, you can.
- Run the Seder exactly how you want it to go, and include any segulot or customs you want.
- Have realistic expectations.
- Prepare for Seder properly – and enjoy preparing for it.
PERSONAL SEDER DON’TS:
- Don’t do a Seder by yourself if you’re not in a good frame of mind, or if you feel isolated.
- Don’t a Seder by yourself if you can’t be alone for a meal on Shabbat.
- Don’t tell yourself you have no choice, except to be a guest at someone else’s table. You always have a choice to do the Seder yourself, if you really want to.
Why ‘confirmation bias’ is such a big spiritual problem
A long time ago, when infographics were still all the rage, I came across this infographic which clearly showed the 20 main ‘cognitive biases’, including confirmation bias. This infographic basically dissects the playbook the yetzer hara uses to convince us that we’re always right about everything, and that everyone else is always wrong. (Click the link to see a bigger version, this is just for illustration purposes.)
Now, I wouldn’t care so much, except that I’ve been noticing a strange phenomena around Volume II of One in a Generation, which is that most people don’t want to read it, and don’t want to talk about all the proof it contains about just how corrupt the media actually is.
For as long as the media was coming up with one false, salacious, slanderous story after another about Rabbi Berland (aka ‘Eliezer ben Etia’), my email was glowing red-hot with people wanting to have the discussion with me. Now that the other side of the story is out there, clearly, showing exactly how we all got manipulated, bamboozled and downright deceived by the MSM – no-one wants to know.
Now that we can conclusively show that all the lies about the Rav abusing women, God forbid, came down to the same two people who were trying to extort money out of Rabbi Berland, it’s no longer interesting.
What is still interesting, tho, is that the Rav is taking money to do pidyon nefesh for people. Ooooo, this is still so interesting, because the same ‘anti chareidi’ media who have been behind so many of the lies right from the start ran a whole big ‘splash’ campaign about it.
People paid money, and it didn’t work!!! He took money from people on their death beds!!!!
Etc etc etc.
I haven’t looked into the details of all these stories (yet…. I might do at some point) – but I personally know of two occasions when the pidyon nefesh didn’t work, and the person died. In both instances, the Rav offered to repay the whole sum.
When all is said and done, the Rav is not God, and God will still do as He sees fit.
On the other hand, I know of literally thousands of cases where the Rav’s pidyon nefesh worked open miracles, saved lives and totally turned around a lost situation. (Some of which actually happened to yours truly)
So now, who are you going to believe, the anti-chareidi, anti-God, atheist MSM with massive agendas, or people who have seen open miracles in their own lives?
Or rather, the question is who do you WANT to believe?
Because that’s really a far trickier problem. Here’s why so many people are still having a hard time believing that Rav Berland is a true tzaddik and a very holy man, as opposed to the ucky individual they read about online, and gossiped about with their friends, and attacked on Facebook:
- People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear – in this case, all the slanderous stories and lies put out by the Rav’s persecutors.
- People place too much credence on the limited information they have available – before they know all the facts of the matter.
- People like to jump on bandwagons – even when they’re heading in totally the wrong direction.
- People have blind spots about their own subconscious motivations and biases – so it suits them when a big Rabbi who spent his whole life telling people to ditch i-Phones and act in a holier way can be totally written off and ignored.
- Once people ‘choose’ a side, or a thing, they have a vested interest in protecting it at all costs – even if they’re wrong.
- “So many people are saying it, it must be true!!!” – of course they are, because they all read the same ucky, poisonous, anti-religion online news sites that you do.
- People only want to hear things that confirm their existing opinion – they are much more interested in being right than being truthful.
- People are very slow to change their minds about things – it can take a lot of repetition before they finally grasp what you’re trying to explain.
- People prefer to just gather more information, than to actually act on it – if they wait long enough, they are sure that ‘new information’ will emerge that will prove their original view point correct, and absolve them from any need to make teshuva or admit they were wrong.
- People are burying their head in the sand about just how bad and corrupted the MSM actually is – it’s a very uncomfortable thought to consider that the media might be spoon-feeding massive lies to the public. Much easier to ignore the whole problem and hope it will just go away by itself.
- “But he went to prison! There’s nothing more to discuss!!!” – this is called outcome bias.
- People are convinced that they know everything, and are always totally right – i.e. they suffer from tremendous arrogance.
- People WANT to believe that the news is factual, so that makes them believe that the news IS factual – the alternative scenario is far too scary.
- People believe the newest stuff is always more relevant than the older stuff – hey, all that abusing women stuff is old news!!! We already moved on to how the Rav is extorting money out of terminally-ill people now! Talk to the hand!
- People don’t like to re-examine the past – they prefer to deal with what’s in front of their eyes today, i.e. more lies and slanders that haven’t yet been refuted or disproved.
- People pander to their own world views – many people are much more ‘comfortable’ with the idea of abusive rabbis than they are with the idea that the press is a lying, manipulative, anti-God, propaganda machine.
- People believe what they want to believe. (This needs no additional explanation).
- People rely on stereotypes instead of facts – of course, all Breslov rabbis with large followings and mystical tendencies must be ‘crazy’ or ‘bad’.
- People believe the media is always right – because the media very rarely, if ever, tells them about the thousands upon thousands of factual errors and false stories it’s putting out there, every single day.
- People prefer their comfortable lies to the uncomfortable truth – even though that’s keeping them far away from God, stuck and miserable.
Truth vs lies
Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of people who are happy to stay stuck in the web of lies and deceit that is modern life is far greater than those who are looking for the truth. And I can understand where they are coming from, kind of.
Who wants to be a social pariah by calling out all their Fakebook friends who spent two solid years posting up self-righteous rants dripping with lashon hara bout Rabbi Berland? Who wants to really take a look under the bonnet and realize just how many flaws and issues they themselves actually have? Or how many people they are hurting with their own ucky behavior?
Who really wants to ‘fess up to being duped by unethical journalists, or to following rabbis and others who aren’t the real deal, or to having a vested interest in trying to make an elderly Breslov tzaddik look ‘bad’ to make themselves feel better about their own obsessions with internet, licentiousness, gossip, ego-stroking, making money and materialism?
You can see why it’s so challenging, honestly.
But here’s the problem:
All that stuff that’s keeping us away from acknowledging the truth about Rabbi Berland is the same stuff that’s going to keep us away from the world to come, too.
Geula is mamash on the threshold, and we can’t cross over into it for as long as we’re still dragging all that arrogance, hatred and bad middot behind us. God isn’t asking us to be perfect, He knows that’s impossible. He’s just asking us to be truthful, and to put our hands up and to admit that we make mistakes, and we have vested interests, and we do a lot of things wrong and hurt a lot of people, every single day.
A bit of truth and humility is all that’s required to get us into the world to come.
But judging by what’s going on with Rav Berland and One in a Generation Volume II, even a bit of truth and humility is way beyond what most people can apparently manage.
As seems to happen every single time I get a book out, the last week or so I’ve suddenly ‘flopped’ energetically and lost sight of what the real purpose of life is.
True, my nocturnal teenagers aren’t helping things any, but the truth is that even when they haven’t been at home, I’ve still been having troubles sleeping and staying focused.
And this is has been going on for months and months.
It was sparked off by ‘the comfort zone’ – that period of time before I was getting on with One in a Generation #2 when I felt like a total waste of space in the world, just comfortably spinning my wheels.
I had enough food on the table, I could buy some new paints and watercolour paper, a roof over my head, I could petrol in the car (which let me tell you, is getting increasingly miraculous, as what used to cost 170 shekels to fill up a small car now costs double.)
I could even buy the odd frock for chag – nirvana.
But I was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed. I still had stuff to do, stuff to write, stuff to clean, stuff to get on with. But it’s like the oomph disappeared out of my life, and I got a terrifying glimpse into the world of early retirement.
I know that retiring at 55 and jet-setting around the world with your cashmere sweater casually knotted over your shoulders is meant to be the pinnacle of ‘happiness’ in our world, but let me tell you – it’s a lie.
A total lie.
(Not that I have a cashmere sweater, or a cruise booked, but the few days I spent driving up to the coast, and over to places like the art shop in Ranaana was enough to show me that all that traveling around / holiday stuff is totally over-rated.) And it’s definitely not the purpose of life, according to Judaism.
What makes life enjoyable is knowing why you’re alive, what your purpose is, what you are putting out into the world and why – particularly on the spiritual side of things.
Holidays and ‘down times’ are useful to sandwich those times together, but as I write this, I realise that this is what makes Shabbat such a gift: If a person keeps Shabbat in the spirit it’s meant to be kept, it really is a holiday for the soul and a balm for the spirit. That 25 hours of kedusha refreshes much more than even a month on a cruise going around the Bahamas.
Anyway, the point is: I got a dose of early retirement, and it drove me completely bonkers and made me feel soooo pointless and miserable.
We are here to work.
We are here to do things. To fix things. To attempt things. To improve. To challenge ourselves to become better and better people.
That realization sparked off a flurry of activity to get One in a Generation out before Pesach – but now, I’ve flopped again.
Because I realized this morning in my talking to God session, that I’m lacking focus in my life. I sit here continuing to churn things out and to write things, without really knowing why. I’m not talking about ‘monetizing the site’, or anything gashmius like that (although there is nothing wrong with making money if that is your job and role in life. Just doesn’t seem to be my job or role in life, at this point, but then I’m a woman with a small family, not the breadwinner for a large brood.)
But, the point is – I need a focus and a strongly-defined purpose.
I need to stop running after all the chimeras and to actually sit down and figure out what it is I’m doing in my life, and why – across the board. And the bloke also needs to do that, too.
There is so much confusion, so much smoke, so much madness in the world, and it’s just spinning faster and faster and faster. I can’t live like that, constantly chasing after ‘new’ and ‘exciting’.
I want to chase after ‘real’ and ‘meaningful’ – wherever it takes me.
And nothing else.
So, the next few weeks I will be re-evaluating how I’ve been spending my time. I think I want to pull out of a few of my side projects that have been ticking along the last couple of years, and to put more energy and focus into this website, amongst other things.
And, I want to put more energy into getting Breslov ideas, and Rav Berland’s teachings, out there more, because I see how much they’ve helped me in the past, and continue to help me every single day.
There’s a lot more to say, but these are the contour of my thoughts, at the moment.
The last thing to tell you is that I took my own advice from this post on marriage guidance, and yesterday I started lighting a candle a day for the hatzlacha of my husband. It’s just a small tealight, and I just spend half a minute asking God to bless the man with happiness, health and success, but I made a commitment to do that for 40 days in a row – and I’ll let you know how that turns out.
No prayer is ever wasted, of that I’m sure.
And right now, I just feel that we both need a lot of prayers. We all need a lot of prayers.
And only the light of Rabbenu can guide us through it, and help us to hang on to the real purpose of being alive, at this point in time.
Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, somehow a malfunction occurred in my Pesach outing plans, and I ended up tripping through the glass into the Land of Money*.
We wound up at this swanky, newly-built apartment complex overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where we were told we could park on Level Minus 2. I nearly crashed into a concrete wall, because there was only Minus 1. Later on, we discovered that Minus 2 was carefully hidden behind a retractable Iron Curtain, policed with cameras that didn’t recognize our car as ‘belonging’.
I knew the feeling.
One of the residents of the Land of Money came down to greet us, as we were ushered into the expensive but sterile lobby, then over to the elevators with no buttons.
“Why are there no buttons?” I wanted to know.
“Some Arab got in here a few months ago from the parking, and started visiting all the floors and they caught him on camera,” came the explanation. “The residents all went mad, so the management changed the elevator and now it will only open on your own floor.”
“How does it know what floor your apartment is on?”
He flashed me the round blue plastic toggle on his keychain, as he pressed it to the screen reader outside the elevator.
Man, this is really a prison, I thought to myself.
We got up to the swanky five-room cell, hidden behind its ominous security door, and walked into an atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
Not even the stunning view, or the massively-colorful artwork could take your mind off the oppressive, gloomy feeling of suppressed anger and resentment, that was swirling all over the place like a toxic cloud.
The sofa was oversized and pure white. It was covered in a cheap white blanket, and one of the inhabitants of the Land of Money sat uncomfortably perched on the edge of it. God forbid, that a speck should land on that purity and sully it! God forbid, that someone’s careless heels should leave a scuff-mark on the couch, or that it’s perfection should be creased or diminished in any way!
“Sit down, sit down!” they told me heartily. But I was too scared of the couch to want to comply. So, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, admiring the view, then proffered the two boxes of fresh strawberries I’d brought as an offering to appease the gods of the Land of Money.
This started a panic.
I know they aren’t so fussed about kashrut, so they’re not worrying about bug infestation. So what? What is going on here, what?!
It took me a couple of minutes of deciphering worried glances and barked commands to sit down at the table to figure out the problem: Strawberries contain red juice – lots of it – and red juice stains. And the expensive designer chairs around the carefully upholstered glass dining table were first in the line of fire.
They had their hand-sewn, cheap grey covers to protect them – which presumably would be whipped off whenever all humans had left the premises, restoring them to their pristine appearance – but even so. Were those covers enough to defend against two boxes of strawberries in the hands of young children?
It took ten minutes of strict policing and worried hovering with wipees until the residents of the Land of Money could breathe out again.
In the meantime, I started to find the atmosphere totally choking and suffocating.
No-one asked me how I was doing – why would they? In the scale that the Land of Money uses to measure worth, I’m less than a cockroach. I have no big investments to boast about, no easy cash to flaunt, no designer clothes to swish around in.
Whatever money I have, I spend.
I’d just spent a small fortune having different residents from the Land of Money for Seder, where no expense was spared to try to make it a good evening for the (not religious) people attending.
They didn’t offer to help cover any of the expenses, natch, because they were ‘Stars’ in the Land of Money, and as I’ve mentioned, my net worth ranks me alongside the ‘animals’ that are expected to sacrifice themselves for the idols in that place.
“Let’s get out of here, and go to the icecream place down the road,” one of the kids suggested, and I jumped at the idea far too enthusiastically.
Freedom! Let’s get out of this poisonous cloud of choking gashmius ASAP!!!
Somehow, the button-less lift with its million electronic eyes knew to let us out at the lobby, and we bounded out of the elevator just as an expensively-dressed group of secular Americans were waiting to crowd back in.
They caught one whiff of my husband’s payot (side-curls) and their eyes immediately grew large in their faces, and almost fell out. You could hear what they were thinking:
What is something like this doing in our building?!?!
Strange to say, I had the same thought.
What are we doing here, in this awful, sterile, dead place where the money has killed every spiritual impulse, every natural kind tendency of the human heart, stone dead?
As soon as we got outside, we breathed easier again, the kids lightened up, and the conversation that had frozen into stilted rivulets of polite small talk up in the apartment started to gush forth with much more genuine warmth and interest.
“You have to get out of there, it’s killing you.”
That’s what I told the prisoner who I’d come to visit in the Land of Money.
“Yeah, it’s a gilded cage. But I’m stuck in it,” he told me back.
And we both knew that at least for now, he’s right.
I came home so thankful to God for so many things.
Thanks, God, that my armchair is 15 years old, but people can eat strawberries on it without anyone risking a heart attack. Thanks, God, that you made my business fail when it did, so I would put so much more of my effort into building relationships than building my bank balance. Thanks, God, that I’m not so obsessed with money that I’m totally close-fisted about sharing what I have. Thanks that I don’t spend all my time ‘complaining’ about how other people aren’t giving me value for money.
And most of all, God, thanks for getting me out of the poisonous, toxic atmosphere of the Land of Money, where people can’t talk to each other, and the only thing that matter is how it all looks.
The apartment looked stunning (underneath all the cheap covers….) but felt totally dead and deadening.
And not for the first time, I learnt that freedom is priceless, and that too much money truly is the worse curse in the world.
- The Land of Money appears in Rebbe Nachman’s Tale called ‘The Master of Prayer’. It’s a place where all the residents believe that making money is the only true purpose of life, and where the people with the most money are literally worshipped as ‘gods’ and ‘stars’.
On the back of a few emails about the post on Marriage Guidance – Israel style, I just wanted to elaborate a little more on how to get a good husband:
Pray on him every single day.
Every single day, ask God to help your husband overcome his bad temper, his poor self-esteem, his confusion, his doubts, his bad behavior and warped ideas.
Because we all have these issues, even the very best of us, and a woman’s job is to help to fix her husband’s soul by praying on him (and herself and her family) as much as she can.
That is the secret ingredient, the special sauce, that can turn even the worst relationship between a husband and wife around.
Any marriage counsellor who is not telling a couple to get God involved in the process, can’t really help you long-term and is probably doing way more harm than good.
And any wife who is not willing to pray on her husband, is going to have plenty of challenges and heartache to deal with. (Like, more than you’d get if you were actually praying, because getting marriages to last the distance is hard work, even when you are talking to God a lot.)
We’re not talking about doing six hours a day here, or even six minutes. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, a smidge of empathy about where all these issues the husband has is actually coming from, and a touch of emuna that God really can do anything, if we get Him involved.
- Buy a bumper bag of tealights, 50, or 100.
- Light one every single day in the merit of your husband, and say a few words to God about what you’d like Him to work on, e.g. “Please help him stop being so angry, God. Please help him to like himself more. Please help him to stop worrying so much about money, and killing himself at work. Please help him to be nicer to me and the kids. Please help him to realise – all by himself – that when a man looks like he’s 8 months pregnant, no-one finds that attractive, and he needs to join a gym…” – Whatever comes to you.
- At the end of the 50 days, take your journal and note down any improvements – because I guarantee you’ll see some.
- Go buy another bumper bag of tealights.
- Repeat steps 1-4 until you have the man of your dreams.
This may take some time, it’s not a ‘quick fix’, it’s true.
But if at the end of five years solid of doing this you don’t have a wonderful marriage, I’ll eat my hat.
We women, we wives, have so much power to transform, improve and rectify all the problems in our marriage. But that power is only to be found in our prayers, and if we’re not regularly talking to God, we simply can’t get to it.
And we can’t outsource the job of fixing the husband to anyone else, however much we really might want to.
So there I was, walking along the pavement and minding my own business on Shabbat, having a chat with God, when I came to cross the road, and a man with a shaved head, designer shades and a deep tan parked his car straight in front of me.
I went behind the car, to carry on crossing, and then he started reversing up – and at that point, I thought I was dealing with some sort of nutso chiloni who was trying to kill me. I crossed over, and then I heard the window of the car being buzzed down, and he called out to me in Hebrew:
Geveret, can I ask you a question?
Uhoh, I thought to myself, here it comes.
Some sort of anti-religious tirade, some sort of pointed statement about ‘disgusting’ religious people, something like that. But I’m not scared of psychos, and I figured if God wants me to have a bit of verbal ‘scrubbing’, there’s no point running away.
So I turned around to him, and I said efshar, you can ask. I was stunned by what came next:
What would you say to a wife, who each time her husband says ‘my heart hurts me’, she tells him ‘my father’s heart also hurts him’?
I thought I mis-heard initially, so I asked him to repeat what he’d just said. He did, and then he added:
It’s been like this for seven years already, and I feel like I want to kill myself.
So, God, You’ve clearly decided to put me in the middle of a matzav, as they call them in Israel.
But, if God wants to put you square in a matzav, there’s no point running away. I went over to where the man was, and he told me: Speak to my wife, she’s in the back.
The back window was buzzed down, and there sat a youngish woman, with a toddler on her knee. I looked at her, she looked at me. I asked her:
Is he a good husband? He’s not beating you up, do you love him?
She nodded and nodded some more. So then, I took a deep breath, and God gave me these words to say to her:
Men are like big children. They need a lot of attention, and a lot of love. Your husband is jealous of your dad. You need to make your husband #1 priority in your life. The Torah tells us that, first the husband – and he has to make you his first priority, too – and then the children, and only after that, the parents.
Then I told her:
Your son is half of your husband. It’s a lot of effort to deal with these husbands, it’s very hard work, but you have to help your husband get fixed, so it will help your kid to be happy, too. I’m 45, I’ve seen so many women walk away from their difficult marriages thinking that will solve the problem. It doesn’t. It just messes up the children worse than anyone could imagine.
I’ve been married 22 years now, thank God, and every time it gets hard, I go and talk to God about what’s going on, and ask for help. It’s work, it’s effort, but it’s so worth it, for your children.
She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and I gave her arm a squeeze.
In the meantime, the guy in the front seat turned around with a stunned look on his face, and started yelling in English:
May God bless you! May God bless you!
Buy your wife lots of presents, and be nice to her, I told him, as I walked away from the car, and continued on down the street.
God, what the heck was all that about? I wondered afterwards.
I mean, I hate giving advice, I hate getting involved in matzavim, it usually only leads to lots of problems and issues, and these things are not simple.
But then I calmed down, when I remembered I hadn’t chosen to be a ‘mobile marriage counsellor’, I got ‘happened upon’, I didn’t choose it.
The next thing I thought, is that so many problems occur in the world generally, and in marriages specifically, because of poor communication. This couple clearly loved each other, but the yetzer had managed to ‘eat’ their words, which is why God had to arrange for a complete stranger to say what needed to be said.
The last thing I thought is,
Who is like Your people, Hashem?
Those who don’t live in this country can tell me about all the so-called chilonim who “don’t keep Shabbat” until they are blue in the face, and they will never understood the real situation that is going on in Israel. The Jews here are massive souls, and the most profound, real and deep conversations can happen anywhere, even on a pavement in the middle of a Shabbat morning with total strangers.
That chiloni’s blessing was worth its weight in gold to me. It was such a kiddush Hashem.
And God will redeem His people with love.
It’s time for some Torah sources, to help us start deconstructing the idea of aliyah.
Off the back of the discussion that’s been taking place around the Deconstructing Geula post, I thought I’d write something deconstructing the whole idea of aliya.
This is such a fraught topic, and so many bad middot and other subconscious impulses come into play with this subject, which is why I’ve generally stayed away from it in my writing. But, after that atrocious book was published to great acclaim in the orthodox Jewish world, which was ‘anti aliya’, to the point of degrading it even as a God-given mitzvah, I think it’s time to look at this subject in some depth, and to deconstruct what’s going on with it.
The first, and really primary, place to start is this:
Does God want Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael, at this stage in time?
Because if the answer is ‘yes’, then there has to be an extremely good reason for not moving here, if you consider yourself to be a God-fearing Jew.
So, without any further ado, let’s dive in the deep end, and see if we can answer the two parts of the question:
- Does God want Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael generally; and
- Does God wants Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael now.
THE BIBLICAL MITZVAH TO DWELL IN THE LAND
The following comes from 110b in Ketubot (Artscroll Translation):
“A person can force all the members of his household to go up to Eretz Yisrael to live there, but he can force none of them to leave there.”
The footnote to this clear pronouncement says the following:
[According to Rashi] If a family is living in some country outside of Eretz Yisrael and the father or mother decides that the family should move to Eretz Yisrael, the entire household is coerced [by the Rabbinic Court] to accede to the wishes of the parent and to go and live in Eretz Yisrael….According to some Rishonim, there is a biblical mitzvah to settle Eretz Yisrael…..[o]ther Rishonim maintain that there is no positive commandment to settle Eretz Yisrael.
However, even those authorities agree that it is a worthy cause to live in Eretz Yisrael.
(Which is why they enacted the law that would enable someone to ‘force’ his family to move there, with him. Or her.)
By the way, the mitzvah of settling the land doesn’t depend on ‘the land’ being an easy place to live.
When Moshe’s 12 spies go to take a look at Israel, 10 of them can only see the negative points of the country.
It’s hard there, there’s giants. The land devours its inhabitants. The people are really rough and rude. It’s full of wife-beating Arabs and awful daycare centers. The bureaucracy’s a nightmare, it’s too hot, I can’t get a decent job and my wife will miss her parents too much….
What does Caleb, the spy who figured out that you make it in Israel by doing a lot of hitbodedut and praying at the tombs of holy people tell them, in reply?
We can do it, if God is with us, we’ll eat the Caananites for lunch! There’s no problem that God can’t solve! Israel is where we’re really going to discover if we have emuna, or not, where we’re really going to grow into believing that Ein Od Milvado, there is only Hashem!
Come on, guys, the last 40 years you’ve been giving all these Torah sermons about ‘what God requires from us’, and ‘living our emuna’, and having faith – now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is, and to really live it! So what, you’ll lose your social status?! So what, you don’t speak the language properly and no-one appreciates your PhD?! So what, you can’t even figure out how to ask for a stamp in the post office?!
All that stuff is humbling, and we know a humble person is much closer to God. God can’t dwell with an arrogant person, we know that! This is your chance to really get humble, and then to get real and stop thinking you’re such a big tzaddik and success, and then to get closer to God. Whaddya say?
We know what the spies said: Thanks, but no thanks.
They had prestigious, well-paying positions outside of Israel. They had respect. They had ‘their’ seat in shul, they had their established set of friends, they knew where to get the best chicken. They had nothing against visiting Israel every year for Pesach – still cheaper and nicer than having to clean their own home and cook everything themselves – but that’s as far as it goes.
Was God happy about this?
The spies got punished awfully for slandering the land, and putting their fellow Jews off from moving to Israel.
But, your kid is going to struggle in school! Your husband is going to miss out on his amazing Rav, his amazing chavruta! You have a nice bunch of friends here, in the desert! But, you don’t speak the language, you can’t get a good job there, you won’t be able to afford your own home if you move to Israel, the place is full of wife-beating, idol-worshipping Canaanites, the divorce rate there is 80%….
Everybody has the same fears, the same concerns. People can’t live on thin air, it’s true. But again, God often expects some mesirut nefesh, some self-sacrifice from people, in order to keep His mitzvahs.
If someone is interested in working on their soul dimension, then Israel will be appealing to them for a lot of reasons (and if they aren’t, it won’t be, also for a lot of reasons.)
Let’s explore that idea a bit more, tachlis.
ISRAEL IS THE LAND OF EMUNA
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that Israel is the place where you’re going to learn some real emuna. How? Because you’ll be surrounded by miracles and challenges every second of the day.
In Chutz L’Aretz, a person can sin and sin and sin again, and because spiritual matters are more hidden there, they don’t feel the effect of their sins until the end of their lives – usually when it’s way too late to change course and fix things.
There in the hospital, with a tube up their nose and a drip in their arm, they finally start to realize how much of their life they wasted, chasing after stuff, and holidays, and traif food, and non-kosher experiences, and money, and status, and their own bad middot, because God was out of the picture.
God can hide much easier in chul. You don’t keep Shabbat, you don’t keep kosher, you don’t pay your 10% to charity, you don’t pay any attention to what God really wants from you – you’ll just keep swallowing your Prozac, drinking your G&T and going on holiday, or shopping, or working like a dog to drown out any inner discomfort you feel as a result.
And God lets you.
That’s why being in galut is such an ordeal, spiritually such a test. Because it really can seem as though you can game the system, and live a good life even if you’re a bitter atheist with terrible character traits.
But in Israel, it’s not like that.
It says that you walk dalet amot, four amot, in Israel, and that atones for your sins. Do you know why? Because every dalet amot here, you’ll be faced with another rude person, another problem, another challenge, another issue, that has been 100% tailored by God to bring your bad middot to the fore, and to show you what you still have left to work on.
Really? You’re not so bothered about gashmius? Let’s see how you’re going to cope when every brand of kosher-for-Pesach mayonnaise in the country has kitniot in it. Let’s see how much you start craving all the brands in TX Maxx, let’s see how you cope with just one toilet between seven people, and no cleaning help.
And there’s more tests, too. Like, trying to find a school for your kid; and trying to deal with the wounded ego of your spouse, who used to be a ‘bigshot’ in shul, or at work, but is now scrabbling to hold it together as a relative ‘nothing’ in Israel; or dealing with the tremendous loneliness and boredom of being an Anglo in Israel on Shabbos, which used to be filled up with six hour long Shabbos lunches, and ‘kiddush clubs’ at shul (that went on to 1pm…) and yet more shiurim on how to keep super-machmir standards of kashrut. Etc.
And we didn’t even get into the tests involved with having rockets fired at you on a regular basis, or people trying to stab you just for being a Jew, or getting shot or run over as you wait for a bus.
All these things, all these difficulties, build a person’s emuna like nothing else.
Because if you don’t turn to God to deal with the difficulties in finding work, or finding a place to live, or the million and one other things that force you to get real in Israel very quickly, you can quickly sink without a trace.
That’s why Israel is the land of emuna – dafka, because it shows a person what they need to work on, and how far away they are from really having emuna, and really serving Hashem properly, 24/7.
So when people point to the hardships of living in Israel as a reason to not make aliya, they are kind of missing the point – if they’re really interested in the more spiritual dimension of life.
Which honestly, a lot of people really just aren’t. Even in the ‘orthodox’ world.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the halachic arguments underpinning the ‘anti’ aliya argument.
TORAH-BASED ARGUMENTS FOR NOT MAKING ALIYA
This approach was basically set out by the late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, z’tl, in his book V’Yoel Moshe.
Rav Teitelbaum wrote his book after going through the holocaust. He saw half a million of his Hungarian compatriots sold out by the Zionist government in Israel, who were offered the chance to buy the freedom and lives of the Hungarian Jews by the cash-strapped Nazis – and who turned it down.
The whole sordid tale is told in Ben Hecht’s excellent book, Perfidy, but the Satmar Rebbe was one of the brands snatched from the conflagration in Hungary, and he had personal experience of this most ugly face of secular ‘zionism’. The awful actions of the secular politicians in Israel before, during and after WW II almost certainly influenced the opinions he put forth in his book.
Remember, the Israeli authorities in the 1950s were irradiating the kids of Moroccan immigrants in the tent camps, and cutting off people’s payot, and selling Yemenite children to the highest bidder. They were yucky, ugly people in every sense of the word.
Many of our other leading orthodox leaders, within Israel and without, also recognized who they were really dealing with, and that the secular leadership in Israel was spiritually corrupt, and corrupting to a very high degree.
The Satmar Rebbe took this idea to an extreme in his book, where he puts forward the idea that the anti-Torah Zionists in Israel caused the holocaust to happen, at least indirectly, by their actions, and by ‘forcing the time’ for returning to the land. (We’ll look at what this ‘forcing the time’ is referring to, in a moment.)
First, there’s a partial translation of some of the Satmar Rebbe’s words in V’Yoel Moshe, HERE, which the following ideas are taken from. The Satmar Rebbe avers that:
- The anti-Torah Zionist groups in Israel caused the holocaust by ‘informing’ on the Jews in Europe to the non-Jewish authorities, and making trouble for the Jews there, in order to turn up the heat and get these Jews to move to the fledgling State of Israel.
- That these anti-Torah Zionist groups “violated the oath of hastening the end by claiming sovereignty and freedom before the time.”
- That the secular Zionist groups performed several “cruel actions” before, during and after the war which also lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
“Furthermore, among those who have moved to Eretz Yisrael in these times, most of the immigrants from Arab countries were living peacefully and tranquilly in their countries, lacking nothing, until the establishment of the heretical kingdom in Israel. Through the establishment of that State they began to suffer hatred and persecution in their countries, and the Zionists themselves aided this through their wiles, so as to increase the persecution until they would be forced to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, destitute and with nothing, and they glorified their saviors, but the truth was the opposite – that [the Zionists] had brought about all of the destruction in the first place. (Va-Yo’el Moshe 123)”
THE THREE OATHS ‘PREVENTING’ ALIYA
The idea of the three oaths that prevent Jews from returning to Israel before God actually wills it comes from the Gemara (Ketubot 111a), where it brings a discussion between R’ Zeira, who wanted to make aliya to Israel from Bablyonia, and Rav Yehuda who said:
Whoever ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael transgresses a positive commandment, as it says: “They will be brought to Babylonia and they will be there until the day that I attend to them – when I shall bring them up and return them to this place.
Rav Zeira said that this verse is referring to the sacred utensils that were used in the Temple service, but that people are permitted to make aliya, still. Rav Yehuda disagrees, and says that the verse I have adjured you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field etc means that the Jews are bound by an oath not to ascend to Eretz Yisrael until the Final Redemption.
Rav Zeira says that’s not what this verse means. Rather, he says it means that:
The Jewish people should not converge upon Eretz Yisrael in a wall of force, but that an individual is permitted to settle there, if he wants to.
Rav Yehuda again disagrees, so then R’ Zeira explains there are three oaths, as follows:
- The Jewish people should not converge upon Israel as a wall of force;
- Hashem adjured the Jewish people to not rebel against the nations of the world [to try and force their way back to living in Israel before the time God wanted that to happen]; and
- Hashem also adjured the idolaters (i.e. the non-Jewish nations) not to subjugate and terrorise the Jews more than was required.
R’ Zeira explains that any case, an individual is never adjured to not make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
This discussion in the Gemara is ‘sandwiched’ between the following statements:
BEFORE: Whoever dwells outside Eretz Yisrael, it’s as if he worships idols.
AFTER: The people dwelling within Eretz Yisrael are forgiven of sin.
This discussion is the halachic basis for the Satmar position, together with some other groups, for why it’s not a mitzvah to make aliya.
But you’ll notice, even in this discussion, it’s clear that the main ‘problem’ being discussed is for groups of Jews to ‘ascend’ all at once. There is no problem for individuals to make aliya, and as is clear from the surrounding text and discussion in the Gemara, the Sages considered it a very praiseworthy thing, to move to Israel.
ARE WE AT ‘THE END’ OR NOT?
The main argument revolves around a discussion of whether we are at the ‘the end’ of the galut, as determined by God, or not. If we’re at ‘the end’, then there is no problem at all with making Aliyah en masse.
If we aren’t at ‘the end’, then it’s good for individuals to make aliya, but still problematic for large groups to come on aliya.
Here’s a few suggested reasons for why the 3 oaths have been superseded:
- The nations of the world actually gave permission for the State of Israel to be created, back in 1948.
- The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98a) says that “when Eretz Yisrael gives forth fruit abundantly, it is a sure sign that the redemption is coming”. This was already happening in the early 1900s, in the time of Rav Avraham Kook.
- Only very large groups coming in a short period of time violate the ‘oath’, it doesn’t apply to a slow trickle of Jews moving here.
- The Ari’s student, R’ Chaim Vital, said that the oath only applied for 1,000 years.
- The Vilna Gaon states that the oath applied to rebuilding the Temple, not to resettling the land.
And then, there’s all the evidence we see with our own eyes today, and things that we feel with our own hearts, that tells us whether we are at ‘the end’ or not.
DON’T CONFUSE ‘THE STATE OF ISRAEL’ WITH ERETZ YISRAEL
Another important point to make here is that the State of Israel should not confused, or conflated, with Eretz Yisrael.
When we talk about moving to Israel, we’re not talking about the State. We’re talking about moving to the land that God gave to the Jews more than 3,000 years ago.
Sooner or later, the secular ‘State’ will fall away – as Rav Kook describes it, as the ‘peel’ around the fruit’.
SUMMING UP WHAT’S GOING ON WITH ALIYA, AND RELIGIOUS JEWS IN CHUL
This is a long post, I know (but still probably not doing real justice to the subject….) But let’s try to sum it up, and bring all this information together into something practical and easy-to-digest.
- If you are a God-fearing Jew, and keeping mitzvahs is important to you, then moving to Israel is a big mitzvah for an individual.
Not one of the Rishonim or Achronim commentators disagrees with this statement.
- If you want to come to Israel as part of a very large group of people moving here ‘all at once’, there is a Torah view that this is prohibited, as long as we haven’t yet reached ‘The End’.
- If we’ve reached ‘The End’, the three oaths don’t apply anymore anyway.
- There’s lots of things that suggest we are now in the stage of ‘the end of days’ – not least, all the pronouncements by the nations’ leading rabbis that we’ve reached ‘the End’.
That’s a basic sum-up of the halachah.
Now, I just want to spend a little bit of time, finally, to explore why more orthodox Jews aren’t moving to Israel.
There are three main reasons why more orthodox Jews aren’t coming to Israel:
- They are scared to come out of the comfort zone.
- They really do want to come, but God isn’t let them.
- They actually don’t care so much about keeping mitzvahs, getting closer to God, or working on their emuna.
I won’t belabor this segment, as this is where things can get very sticky. Each person knows what’s really in their heart.
There are people who really do want to come, but are stuck outside for a whole bunch of reasons that really are out of their control. For these people, they are learning emuna and humility by being kept away from Israel.
Then, there are others who really don’t want to come at all, and are just looking for excuses to justify their own spiritual shortcomings – at Israel’s expense.
Then, there’s the third group, who would like to come in theory, and know that it’s good to be here, but are too scared that they won’t have the lifestyle, the money, the connections, the big house, or the career they currently have now, if they leave.
But if we truly have reached ‘The End’, then God will find a way to coax everyone who really can, to make aliya, and He will open the gates to the Holy land, one way or another.
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“I think that is the answer: CHESED, LOVE. This Atzeret is all about LOVE, about Chesed. We have to arouse the LOVE of AM Yisrael, because Am Yisrael has let Sinat Chinam bury the love. We have to REIGNITE the LOVE. This Rosh Chodesh Nissan is all about LOVE , I just heard a Shiur by a rav last Shabbat in Tampa about this very topic, and we were by coincidence – we know there are no coincidences, – discussing the issue of lack of love in Am Yisrael these days with my son, just a couple of days before the rav gave his lecture…WE HAVE TO REIGNITE THE LOVE IN AM YISRAEL! That is the message. That is the only thing that will counteract the Sinat Chinam of the Churban Bayit Sheni! I get it!Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov. May Ahavat Chinam return to Am Yisrael, in every group, every Chassidut, every political party. We are buried in hatred. Of course destruction follows! The only way to counteract the destruction is with LOVE OF OUR FELLOW JEW, and even of all good people in the world! And I mean REAL love, the kind you feel all over, the kind you swim in. Not the phony, limited, fake love we got used to.”