If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!
Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.
Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.
Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.
In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.
But in practice?
It’s really not so simple.
It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.
That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.
It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.
I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.
Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.
If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.
As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.
There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.
Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.
But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.
I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.
So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.
I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.
So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.
Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.
Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?
And the answer I have now is this:
EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.
But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.
God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.
So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.
Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.
Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.
Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.
I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.
I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?
I don’t know.
Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.
The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.
People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.
And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.
Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.
And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.
But that’s not the real issue.
The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.
I’ve seen that happen SO many times.
But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.
And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.