Yesterday, I got a text telling me that Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia, was heading out to Ashdod.
Rabbi Berland was going there after the evening prayers to go to the city square there, and recite the Tikkun Haklali seven times to “stop the rockets.”
I woke up this morning curious to see whether Israel was still being pounded by another round of rockets, after 690 rockets rained down on our head over the previous 48 hours and what did I see?
This is strange for so many reasons. Why did the Palestinians stop? What did Israel do to them, to get them to stop? Yes, there were a few targeted killings, some minor bombing – pretty much business as usual, in this part of the world. But there was nothing I could see that the IDF had done to ‘persuade’ Hamas to stop rocketing.
And on the Israel side of the equation, this latest round of terror has cost us very dear. We’re so used to miracles in Israel, that when I heard that 4 people had died, and that scores had been hospitalized with light-to-moderate-to-critical injuries, it really felt to me like the usual high level of Divine protection we get has dropped off a little.
Of course, teshuva and tehillim can turn everything around, as Rav Berland has repeatedly told us, ever since he first called for the first prayer gathering in Hevron before Chanuka 5778, when he warned us that:
“Every part of Israel is now under threat of being deluged with rockets. After we saw 400 rockets falling on Ashkelon and the surrounding cities, including Beer Sheva, Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot, now they are preparing thousands and thousands of rockets, which will reach to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
“And we have no possibility of stopping this from happening, because the whole world is against us. They can launch 10,000 missiles, and if we fire back even just one, they will say that we are the aggressors, and they are the victims.
“They will say that we began [hostilities], and that they are simply defending themselves.
“We have no [military] might, we only have the power of tehillim (psalms). All of the State of Israel’s efforts to stop the missiles of Hezbollah and Hamas ended in failure. Every day, we are threatened with thousands of new rockets. They can reach any target precisely…
So for now, it seems that the seven Tikkun Haklalis – and the rest of our prayers – have worked, and the rockets have stopped.
But it’s still kind of heavy.
I just finished working on a long post that sets out the dark roots of white supremacy in modern America, and it makes for pretty disturbing reading. I’m just running it past the bloke before I go ahead and post it up here, because when I shared some of what I’d discovered with an American friend of mine in Jerusalem, her eyes grew as big as saucers and she looked petrified.
I don’t want to shock anyone unduly, but the situation in America is far more dangerous for Jews than anyone imagines.
A few days ago, a friend of mine on the East coast called me to tell me that whole swathes of Jews are now considering moving out to Texas, from the State of New York.
Why Texas? I wanted to know.
New York is so corrupt, she replied. She told me about the recent law they passed enabling doctors to kill a newborn even as it’s being delivered – for absolutely no reason. Infanticide, pure and simple. Then, she told me about the massive fines New York State is now handing out to the families of unvaccinated children, and how they are ending the exemption from vaccines based on religious views.
Unless I vaccinate, I won’t have a school I can send my kids to next year.
And she’s not going to vaccinate.
Lastly, she told me about the plans to outlaw instruction in Hebrew in religious institutions in New York State, which will effectively make studying the Torah very difficult if they are passed into law. Life is getting very hard for many religious Jews in New York, who want a Torah-true education for their children, and who also don’t want to be forced into giving vaccinations they don’t believe in.
Ok, but why Texas? Why not Israel?
Texas, because the Jewish community is still ‘relatively normal’, and the rest of the state is ‘relatively religious’, and conservative, so it’s easier to continue living an orthodox Jewish life there without being assailed by moral corruption of the highest degree at every turn.
And why not Israel?
Just because I’m scared. It’s scary to think about moving to Israel, even though I do really know that it’s the right thing, and that it’s what God ultimately wants.
I understand her concern. Moving to Israel is scary, for so many of us. New beginnings are always difficult, and it’s not easy re-adjusting to a different culture, and there’s also the challenge of overcoming all the slander and lashon hara that’s spoken about the land.
But after doing all this research on white supremacism in the US, and the Turner Diaries connection to the synagogue shootings, more and more I can see that there are no easy choices up ahead.
Israel has its own problems, as the last two days of rockets clearly shows. You don’t come to Israel for an easy life, or because it’s going to solve your problems, or give you a sun tan.
You come to Israel because that’s what God wants you to do, as a Jew.
But honestly, that’s really the only reason that matters.
- I’m starting to hear more and more stories of people who have apparently been denied the chance to make aliya by the Jewish Agency. If you are an orthodox Jew and you’ve been denied the chance to move to Israel, please drop me an email and tell me your story, so we can start to figure out what’s going on here.
I wrote this post two weeks before the shooting in the Poway shul in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to put it up.
Violent anti-semitism is shooting through the roof all over the world at the moment, and the question we have to ask is why?
Sure, we can point fingers at radical Islam, and at fanatical right-wingers, and at all the very many other sources of anti-semitism out there, but when all is said and done, God is the one causing the problem.
If we’re looking at this from the place of emuna, we have to ask why?
Why is God making it more and more uncomfortable for Jews to live in chutz l’aretz? Why is He piling the pressure on Jewish communities all over the world, from NYC to London to Paris to San Diego and back again?
Why is God doing that?
Maybe, we can find some answers in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah:
As you know, I like to quote authentic Torah sources wherever possible, to support any opinions on this blog, to counteract the growing tide of daas me. Personal opinions certainly have their place, but not when we’re discussing something as important as whether living in Israel is a mitzvah for a Jew, or not.
In line with that, I thought I’d take a look at what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has to say about Eretz Yisrael, and whaddya know, he has a lot to say on the subject. The following is excerpted from Likutey Etzot, that was translated into English as ‘Advice’ by the Breslov Research Institute:
- With truth emuna (faith), prayer comes into its own. Prayer is bound up with the concept of bringing about miracles. To attain this level of emuna is only possible in the Land of Israel, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above….
- If we abuse Eretz Yisrael we go down into exile.
- Every upward movement we have to make towards holiness can only be accomplished through Eretz Yisrael.
- It is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. The root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of Israel, which is put about by the wicked.
- Through the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, the true guide and leader of our age will be revealed.
- The mitzvah of the succah is a segulah for coming to Eretz Yisrael.
- The motive for making the journey to Eretz Yisrael should be purely spiritual: to draw closer to God. A person who goes there with this as his aim will certainly benefit….On the other hand, if a person’s motive has nothing to do with devotion to God and cleansing himself of his evil, then what help will Israel be to him? The land will vomit him out…
- Through the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, one can attain pure faith.
- Pray to God, to ask Him to give you the desire and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. Then you will succeed in reaching there.
- God repays man ‘measure for measure’. Nowhere is the repayment more exacting than in Eretz Yisrael.
- The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness. It is there that we can free ourselves completely of the materialistic viewpoint which claims that events take place naturally. We can come to know and believe that everything comes about only through the hand of God.
- Genuine enlightenment and wisdom come only in Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbenu says a great deal more, these are only snippets, but I think you get the idea.
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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The last few weeks, I have to admit I’ve been struggling.
First I had that three weeks of ‘flu’, or whatever massive physical detox that actually was. Then, a lot of the things I’ve been working on the last little while started unraveling again, at least in my head.
I had issues on Sasson with a writer who was plagiarizing other people’s work, but didn’t seem to understand the problem when I explained it to them – repeatedly. Then, one by one the writers all seemed to get a little discouraged, and the creativity started drying up. I tried geeing it up with ‘themes’ and offers of monthly columns, but the people in the US really wanted to be paid to contribute regularly, and the people in Israel all got too busy with other stuff to be able to write.
Then, I had the issue with the pictures of women, which was the cue for someone who doesn’t even write for Sasson to send me a massively self-righteous email, knocking for me being so small-minded, judgmental and ‘anti-equality’.
So, my motivation to continue kind of sagged, because what’s the point?
Then, I spent two whole days trying to stick up the back posts from Emunaroma 2017 on to this site, and as I was reading through them, I started to feel like why did I waste so much of my time writing this stuff? What’s the point?
At the same time, one of my teens has been extremely challenging the last few weeks, as mentioned HERE. She wants a nice, clean, new house. She wants a different kitchen. She wants a different bathroom, and for the apartment to be in a different part of Jerusalem.
After everything that happened with the house, I sympathise with her a lot, but it’s still sometimes rubbing salt in the wound when she stomps around complaining about how old and yucky and moldy everything is.
Mold always shows up in old apartments in Israel when it rains. And sure enough, I’m catching it spread across whole walls, and popping up behind a bed in our room, and behind the shelves and bookcase in the girl’s room.
Ah, now I understand why the rent was so reasonable.
In the meantime, my heart kind of sank again, because if it was my house, I’d do my best to tackle the mold problem fundamentally. But as it isn’t, all I can do is keep returning every few days with some wipees and bleach. I know it’ll be back again in a week or two, so again I had that feeling what’s the point?
Then I started reading an absolutely awful book – with no less than three rabbinic approbations! – which basically claimed that living in Eretz Yisrael is a total waste of time, and even a ‘sin’, because the State of Israel was created by reshaim who were using the State to uproot and replace religion and Torah.
That last bit is correct, but the rest of the author’s ideas – about massive Tzaddikim who live here being ‘reshaim gemorim’, or that the Six Days War was totally not miraculous, or that a Jew can live a perfectly nice life in Lakewood (without the high taxes, army service and threat of a nuclear Iran) – and be a better Jew than someone who sacrificed so much to live in the Holy Land totally and utterly depressed me.
The book is 1500 pages long, and by the middle, I started to doubt my own sanity for believing in the geula and Moshiach.
My husband saw what was going on, and took the book away to throw it out. I should have guessed it was bad news, and it had a whole chapter devoted to the ‘Erev Rav’ (who of course, only live in Israel….), and was packed to the gills full of lashon hara, arrogance and anti-emuna statements.
I learnt some interesting stuff still, which I may write about another time, but only if it’s going to help bring Am Yisrael more together, not divide us.
But I started to see why so many of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jews in the US and UK have absolutely no desire to make aliya – and even think it’s a mitzvah to look down on people who did, and to disdain those of us who really do believe that you should be ready for Moshiach every day, every moment, even if it’s never going to happen in your own lifetime.
There have been a few more disappointments and disses going on too, behind the scenes, which meant by the time we got to yesterday, I was feeling like my whole life is a total waste of time.
Not just what’s the point of writing? But, what’s the point of me?
Yesterday, I tried to do an imperfect long chat to God about it all, and by the end of that, I was in floods of tears.
I just felt so low and worthless, like whatever I do just fails and is pointless.
I drove out to Ashdod to take a look at the sea, and I felt a bit better. But when I got home, it all came crashing back down on me.
You’re pointless, Rivka. Nothing you do is ever going to get anywhere. You’ve been living in fantasy world getting ready for geula and Moshiach for the last 13 years, when you could have just stayed in London and enjoyed yourself. What an idiot, that you gave up your career and your house and your social group for this.
Man, it was bad.
I was a gibbering wreck when my husband came home, and I couldn’t even tell him what the problem was for the first two hours, I was crying so much and feeling so pointless.
I went to have a shower (that often helps when you’re in the middle of a nervous breakdown, btw), and by the time I was done, I could explain the issue.
I’m worthless, and nothing I’ve done matters in any way, shape or form. I have totally wasted my life, the last few years.
He looked at me blankly.
Then, he started the fight back.
I’m doing a little better today, although I’m still pretty shaky.
I’m still struggling to believe that I’m worth something, even if I’m not earning money. And that I’m a good enough mum, even if we live in an apartment that’s covered with mold and that doesn’t have a lot of home-made cookies in the pantry. And that I’m a good enough Jew, even though I have been finding so many things difficult recently, and I’ve run out of spiritual energy on so many fronts.
Of course, it was only after my total freak-out that I realized it’s Rosh Chodesh Adar – uniformly the most challenging time of the year. Last year, I signed the contract on the awful apartment on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and we all know what a ‘blessing’ that turned into.
I know we’re taught Adar is when the happiness appears, but my experience is that usually, the lead up to Purim is the darkest time of the year, and it’s only on Purim day itself that the heaviness starts to lift, and the light starts to shine through again.
And this year, we have two Adars!
We need all the help we can get, to make it through to Pesach in one piece.
After I wrote this, I checked my emails and found that Mary in NY had sent me this clip, from Rav Ofer Erez.
It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it explains (with English subtitles in 3 1/2 minutes) why we’re all feeling the pressure right now.
Over to Rav Ofer:
If you’ve been reading this blog this week, you’ll know that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood where life has seemed pretty meaningless, and everything I do pointless.
I’ve just had this feeling for a few days that nothing I do counts, or matters, and that I’m adrift in the universe without really knowing what I’m actually meant to be doing here.
I thought it was just me, but then one of my kids started telling me how she’s feeling life, and school, is so heavy and meaningless at the moment… and then one of my friends called me and told me: ‘Rivka, I’m going crazy! I just feel so frustrated, and that my life is so empty and pointless, and all these bad middot are pouring out that I never even knew were there!”
The person saying this is objectively one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a busy mother, and constantly trying to do kindnesses and to work on herself, spiritually. My daughter is also a mitzvah machine, and is constantly engaged in big and small attempts at fixing the world.
Well, I actually write a lot of useful stuff (mostly behind the scenes, for other people…) so intellectually, I know I’m not wasting my life as much as I could be. And yet, that ‘life is meaningless vibe’ also blew me off my feet this week.
Yesterday, I bundled my sourpuss self into my car, and drove up to my youngest daughter’s new high-school, or Ulpana, where they were having ‘a night for mothers and daughters’.
In the past, these nights have almost always been a peculiar form of torture, where I had to follow instructions in Hebrew I couldn’t understand, to say or do things that were mortifyingly embarrassing even if it was all in English, and where I’d just kind of space out and dissociate to get through.
(I have a huge amount of C-PTSD from attending 12 years’ of these ‘events’ in Israel.)
So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
I get there (20 minutes late, to try to minimize the torture…), and my kid whisked me straight into the (packed…) classroom. Sigh. Gulp. Unveil the thumbscrews. The young, very pregnant teacher smiled sweetly, handed me a whole big sheet (in close typeset Hebrew….) and started to discuss – Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Lost Princess!
My spirits rose, because I already knew this story really well, so maybe I could actually fake participating in the group exercises, this time around! The teacher was not at all bossy (what a relief!) not at all insisting that I read out all the personal stuff I’d discussed with my daughter in my terrible spoken Hebrew (thanks, Hashem!) and also, unusually insightful about the story.
“It’s about the process, not the goal!” She told the class. “Don’t get so hung up on the outcome, or the exam! It’s all just about the journey!”
The next stage of mental torture began.
I had to mill around with the other mums, feeling completely like I don’t belong and having intermittent bouts of ‘mitpachat envy’ when another toweringly colorful creation entered the room.
My hair is at a really awkward length at the mo, so anything I try to put on my head looks awful. The best I can do is try to smother it in a tea-cosy type hat which isn’t so ‘cool’, but at least keeps most of my hair under wraps.
Luckily, this awkward stage was also cut short by my kid finding us a deserted spot on the swinging bench outside, where we could eat our soup in peace and gaze at the stars spotting the Shomron sky.
Then it was time for the main event, the hatzega, or show. I usually try to park myself as close to the aisle as possible, so I can feign going to the toilet five times, if required for mental health purposes. This time, my kid made me sit right at the end of the row, right at the top of the benchers.
Kid, are you crazy?! Don’t you know this stuff makes me claustrophobic?!
But as I sat down, I could feel a reassuring vibe in the air.
As I was about to discover, Rabbenu was in the building.
We got through the standard menahelet’s opening speech OK. Not too long, not too boring, not too self-righteous, preachy and subtly menacing – and then it was time for the main event, which turned out to be a half-acted / half-filmed rendition of The Lost Princess!
To cut a long story short, while three young Israeli women acted out the story onstage, the narrative was spliced together with interviews on screen with four Israelis who were living the story of the Lost Princess (as indeed, we all actually are.)
One had been abused by a step-father, and left home as a young teen to live on the streets for a couple of years. One had a bad accident at age two that left him blind and almost deaf. Another, Miriam Peretz, had two sons killed in action in the IDF. And a fourth was a famous Israeli entertainer who’d felt so soul-dead and empty in the midst of all her success, she’d lost the will to live and the ability to get up in the morning.
That was how the story began, with the Lost Princess being banished to the place of ‘no good’, a place where the outside all looked so shiny and amazing, but where the inside was painful, empty misery.
These four people on screen explained how the ‘no good’ had played out in their own lives. The homeless teen had done parties and drugs; the entertainer had done more songs, more shows, more ‘celeb’ stuff, etc.
But then, came the point when they realized that wasn’t the answer – that all the escapism and superficiality was killing them – and the quest to reclaim the Lost Princess really began. They tried to pull themselves up by their boot straps, and to move on.
The blind guy learnt how to shoot hoops and started working out, and became the Tanach champion of the year; the homeless girl decided to start dreaming of a future where she’d be married, a mother, in her own warm, loving home. Miriam Peretz decided to reclaim life and to start enjoying cake again, after the death of her first son.
But at the last minute, the quest failed.
They ate the apple and fell asleep just at the moment they could rescue the Lost Princess. She reappeared, distraught but encouraging, and told them to try again, to spend another year trying again.
So they did.
And again, at the last moment the ‘success’ was snatched away from them, and they fell very, very badly.
They gave up hope. They didn’t want to continue. They didn’t want to be alive anymore. They couldn’t take the endless struggle, the endless knock backs, the endless reminders of their issues, lacks and problems. They couldn’t escape the feeling that their life was completely meaningless, and that they were stuck in awful circumstances that they couldn’t get out of.
But the story continued.
At some point, they woke up, and quest began again.
Miriam Peretz decided to use her grief to inspire others, and to do good in the world in the memory of her two dead sons. To remember her pain, but also to remember her ongoing joy in life, too.
The homeless teen got herself off the streets, and found a caring, frum midrasha to go to. The blind guy taught himself computers, and started making a fortune in hi-tech. The entertainer finally got married, had children, got frum – and experienced inner peace for the first time in her life.
In short: they came a huge step closer to finding the lost princess.
Rebbe Nachman’s story doesn’t actually end, because life doesn’t ‘end’, until it inevitably does.
It’s the journey that matters, not the destination, which is fixed for every single one of us.
I sat there transfixed throughout this show. I had chills down my back in parts, I cried my eyes out in others, and above all, I had an abiding sense of gratitude and hope that this is where I live, this is what I’m part of, these are the messages that my children are getting in school.
Not that they have to be perfect, soul-less, frum robots. Not that they have to pretend that they never fall, or struggle, or have huge crises of faith. But that falling down, and getting up again, are part of the journey, part of the quest.
And it’s the journey that really counts.
I just want to add one more thing, here, about living in Israel.
I know it’s such a controversial topic for so many reasons, but I can see that so many of the things that are so wrong about the Jewish world, orthodox and otherwise, in chutz l’aretz stem from this need to keep sweeping the real issues we all face under the rug, and to pretend all is well, and that the Jewish community doesn’t have any problems.
Nobody’s falling around here!!! Nobody’s sick to death of all the materialism, competition and superficiality engulfing their lives!!! Nobody hates their job so much it’s literally making them physically ill!!! Nobody’s got issues to work on!!! Nobody feels so lost and lonely they literally don’t want be alive anymore!!!
Except of course, when they do, and that’s when they’re summarily bundled onto Prozac or some other ‘mood stabilising’ narcotic.
In Israel, life is dealt with square on. You can still be an orthodox Jew and express pain, and disappointment, and admit to having flaws and faults, and hating kugel recipes.
This basic level of ‘realness’ is so missing, so lacking, in the Anglo-Jewish world, regardless of religious observance.
The streets of chutz l’aretz are paved with gold, I know. But maybe, the real you doesn’t want that, doesn’t like it, and knows how much it’s really killing you?
I’m not saying that Israel is the only place you can find your Lost Princess, but I am saying that increasingly, Israel is the only place where frum Jews are encouraged to be real, and to be truthful about who they really are and what they really feel.
And when people can’t be real, really them, warts n’all, they’re never going to even start looking for the Lost Princess, let alone finding her.
I got off the plane at midnight, London time, and breathed in the crisp, cold, damp air so typical of British ‘summertime’.
So, I’d come back to my old hood after all, to face all my demons down and to firmly address the question once and for all about whether moving Israel had been some sort of ‘mistake’, God forbid.
My brother picked me up from Luton, and asked me if I thought I was capable of hurdling two metal railings (next to the busy main road…) as he was a bit worried about getting a ticket where he parked, as they’d changed all the parking rules again.
I’m a game girl, but long jeans skirts aren’t so useful when it comes to hurdling high bits of metal, so I told him we’d probably have to go round the long way. It was so good to see my brother.
As we were talking in the car, I noticed he was gripping the steering wheel in a pretty anxious way.
“Bruvs, are you OK?”
“Yeh, I’m just worrying about the speed cameras. They basically video you the whole time to get your average speed, and if then you get slapped with an £80 speeding ticket.”
Hmm. I started to cheer up as even as that early hour, I could see that London life is far more stressful than is apparent to tourists.
The next day, I decided to go and walk around all my old Jewish haunts in NW London:
Hendon, (where I used to live), Golders Green (where I used to shop), Temple Fortune, and Hampstead Heath (where I used to jealously eye up all the big mansions looking out onto the heath and wish that I lived there…).
While half of Hendon is still pretty Jewish, the other half is now almost entirely ‘ethnic’. Not only that, a huge, shiny ‘Jews for J’ shop has opened right next door to Hendon Tube. I used to live in the more Jewish bit, so I walked down the street to my old house, and I saw that apart from the trees I’d planted in the front garden now being toweringly tall, nothing else about the house – or street – had really changed at all.
It was stuck in a time warp, like I’d been. Looking at my house, I realized it had actually been pretty big, and pretty nice. But I’d never, ever been satisfied with it. I always had a jealous eye on the fancier, bigger houses up the road, or the nicer locations elsewhere.
I started to realize why God has put me through all my trials with houses in Israel, because jealousy is a form of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, and I could see how jealousy is probably the single biggest pervasive bad midda coursing through London’s veins.
I heard so many stories of friends and siblings who stopped talking to each other when one of them got more financially successful, or a much bigger, or better house than his peers. How yucky!
A large swathe of the kosher shops in Golders Green had recently burned down, giving that half of the street a bit of an eery, empty feel. At the other end of the road, by the station, a beige banner announced the exciting news that the old Hippodrome building had just been acquired by an Islamic group, who had plans to turn it into a massive Islamic education centre. I raised an eyebrow.
When I got home, I checked that bit of info out and discovered it’s all true. They want to build the largest ‘Islamic education centre’ in Europe, right on the doorstep of one of the most solidly chareidi Jewish neighborhoods in the UK.
I bought some ubiquitous, incredibly expensive kosher fish and chips on the way home, and sat in Hendon Park to eat them. With a start, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever really just sat in that park, watching the sky and the people, even though I’d lived in Hendon for the best part of 10 years.
It was a beautiful scene, but I’d always been too busy to notice it, or too worried about getting mugged or harassed by drug addicts to spend any time there.
The following day, I caught the bus into town with my brother, and discovered that you can no longer use cash to pay for a bus ticket. Everything is credit cards or automated online travel cards. My brother lent me his card for the day, but I started to ponder what would have happened if I didn’t have him to help me, or if I was a tourist, or someone down on their luck who simply didn’t have a credit card?
London is getting so expensive and so complicated to live in, that the down and outs simply have no chance these days. You can’t even catch a bus without a pin number.
I got off at Oxford Street, near Selfridges, and hit Primark (together with about 20 other frum ladies from Israel, and 20 more from Saudi Arabia). Stuff was so cheap in Primark! I started to see some ‘up’ to living in London after all.
Except, I couldn’t find any skirts to buy, or even to look at. Everything was trousers.
I wondered off down Oxford Street, popping into all my old favorites, and I had the same experience over and over again: the stores were full of clothes, but they were all so trashy, tacky, short, immodest or inappropriate that I didn’t feel like buying anything.
So then I tried my ‘expensive designer fashion street’ – just as an experiment, not to actually buy anything – and lo and behold, I found the first skirt I liked, boasting a price tag of £500… (around 2000 shekels).
Gosh, no wonder I used to buy expensive designer skirts when I lived there. There wasn’t much else available for a frum Jewish female.
It was strangely comforting to realize that my exaggerated gashmius had been pinned on a strong spiritual basis, after all.
I spent another three hours walking around central London. Through the Burlington Arcade, pass all the fancy designer shops, up past Nelson’s Column and Horse Guards’ Parade into St James Park, where I sat down to look at the gorgeous massive duck pond that used to be a 10 minute walk from my work, but that I hardly ever came to because I was always so stressed and busy.
As I was looking at the grey geese, I realized that nearly all the ‘couples’ parading around the park locked in deep conversations were men – and I suddenly got that uncomfortable feeling that was popping up a lot in London that I’d tripped into some covert bastion of pinkness.
Sure, men do occasionally hang out with each other, and talk to each other, it’s not unheard of. But something about the way that so many of these men were gazing into each other’s eyes, and dressing almost identically sent alarm bells ringing that I was witnessing part of the ‘pink revolution’ that’s currently revving away at full throttle in the UK.
All the highest paid TV presenters are gay; the trashy papers are full of ‘gay couple escapades’; or stories about small boy children being sent to school in dresses in the name of ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘equality’ (and also of schools banning skirts from their school uniform – clearly only for girls – in the name of the same misguided principles.)
Uck, uck and uck again.
I got up briskly, and headed off to Whitehall, where I used to work. Right outside Richmond House, and opposite a very heavily barricaded Downing Street, you’ll find London’s main memorial to the dead of World War II.
I stood on the pavement rooted to the spot. Each side of that monument bore the inscription:
‘The Glorious Dead’
– and it suddenly struck me that this epitaph summed up London life to a tee. The whole time I’d been living there, I’d felt so stressed and spiritually-dead – but hey, so gloriously dressed and well-paid!
God had put that message right outside my office, and I saw it at least twice a day. But I never paid attention, because I was always too stressed, preoccupied and busy.
Last stop in Central London was the British Museum.
I joined the queue to go through all the security checks that definitely weren’t there last time I lived in London, but which now reminded me of life in Israel.
I entered the great hall, turned left to the Egyptian and Assyrian galleries full of dead pharaohs and massive winged lions – and then left, bored, 20 minutes later. After reading Velikovsky, I knew that most of what was being described on the plaques next to the exhibits was pure conjecture or scholarly fancy, and without a real context the exhibits themselves became meaningless statues.
All that shefa, all that bounty, all that wealth, all that treasure – yet it all felt so empty and pointless.
Just outside the museum, I got accosted by a down-and-out guy obviously from Africa.
“Don’t run away!” he implored me. “I just want to talk to you! People are so scared of me here they run away as soon I get close to them!”
I took a good look at him, and saw that while he was poor and certainly a little grimy, he wasn’t dangerous, drug addicted or mad. So I listened to what he had to say, which was basically that he was a school teacher from Nigeria who’d applied for asylum in the UK, and been refused.
In the meantime, he was completely indigent, living from hand to mouth, and had no money for food. “In Africa, people look out for each other, they share their food,” he told me. “Here, people treat me like I’m not even human.”
So much for all the ‘political correctness’ and ‘equality’ being mouthed, pointlessly, by the chattering classes.
I felt sorry for him, and handed over a few pound coins – the money I’d brought with to use on the bus, but which no longer worked for those purposes.
“You didn’t have to give me the money,” he said. “It was enough that you just talked to me like I’m a real person.”
And maybe it was, but I felt that the cash probably also wouldn’t hurt him.
That chat with the Nigerian hobo was the highlight of my day out in Central London.
I caught the bus back, and I thought about how this glitzy, glittery city where people are still throwing so much cash at the gods of superficiality and fashion is actually dead at its core. They have the ‘latest’ this and that, Primark with its mountains of cheap stuff from China, designer knick-knacks, designer haircuts, designer beards – and no heart.
So much more happened in the three short days I was there, but let’s sum it up this way: I was so pleased to be coming back to my rented pseudo-slum flat in Jerusalem by the end. Jerusalem is so full of soul, and meaning, and real people, and joy and laughter.
(And clearly also ridiculous bureaucracy, deranged Arab terrorists, crazy house prices, lunatics of all stripes, financial problems, and missionaries).
But it’s home. My home. The only place I want to be. And if I hadn’t bitten the bullet and gone to London to feel things out, I’d never have known that that way I do now, with complete clarity, 200%.
There’s no going back.
Recently, I’ve been increasingly niggled by this question.
On the one hand, it’s clear that Eretz Yisrael is in a whole different spiritual dimension, and that a person’s emuna and Jewish identity can blossom here in a way that it really can’t do, in most normal circumstances, anywhere else.
At the same time, Israel is still home to some of the craziest, nastiest, ickiest Jews I’ve ever met. It’s a place of contrasts, a place of extremes, because the good and the holy is so palpable and tangible here, the bad and the profane has to also be at sky-high levels to maintain free choice.
So, the question remains: is being in Israel a guarantee that ‘you’ll make it’, whatever that actually means, when the chaos currently enveloping the world finally hits tipping point?
And then there’s a second, no less pressing, question: is being out of Israel a guarantee that ‘you won’t make it’, God forbid?
I know that so many of us who made aliya over the last decade or so were prompted by the thought that our chances of ‘making it’, whatever that means, would be much higher in Eretz Yisrael.
But then came the intifada…and Lebanon II…and rockets from Gaza…and more rockets from Gaza…and then the threat of the Iranian nuke, which kind of started to rock the certainty of who was going to make it, where…
Now, the pendulum appears to have swung back again, with Islamic terrorism across Europe, black fascists and white fascists slugging it out in the US, and wildfires, earthquakes, floods, Harveys and Irmas stirring everything up all over the place.
So who’s going to ‘make it’? (Whatever that means…)
And does it only depend on where a person lives?
You’ll probably be reading this when I’m in the UK for three days, trying to finally get my soul unstuck from the streets of London. (Note to robbers: The rest of my family is staying at home, so don’t even think about it.)
When I step off the plane at Luton airport, does that instantly turn me into a person who ‘couldn’t make it’, God forbid, because now I’m in the wrong place? Or would God have mercy on me, and still find a way to spirit me back to Israel if Moshiach revealed himself while I’m gone?
It’s not a simple point.
Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook got trapped outside of Eretz Yisrael when World War I unexpectedly started, and he spent four years in galut, primarily in London, until he was able to return.
If someone like Rav Kook didn’t have the merit to be brought back to the land miraculously, what are my chances?
Let’s look at it from the other direction. Let’s say someone from outside – someone who likes to parade their gaava around in city centres – flies into Jerusalem just as Moshiach is revealed. Does that person now get to ‘make it’ (whatever that means) by sheer dint of being in the right place at the right time?
And if the answer is ‘no’ to the first scenario, or at least a ‘maybe’, and if the answer is ‘no’ to the second scenario, then clearly, something else is going here that would enable a person to ‘make it’ when Moshiach comes.
For all of us who sacrificed so much to come to Israel, this isn’t always a comfortable conclusion.
What, I could have stayed in chutz l’aretz in my soul-destroying job and my comfortable ‘modern orthodox’ box without having to go through all the tests, challenges and excruciating soul corrections I’ve had over the years, and still have ‘made it’?!?!?
That doesn’t sound fair!
But is it true?
After pondering this, I think the answer is probably ‘yes and no’.
Yes, if I’d grown the way I’d grown in Israel, spiritually, or changed the way I changed, or tried to learn the humility and emuna that I’ve tried to learn here, then I think probably, I would still make it. (Whatever that means).
But if I didn’t change an iota? Or at least, not very much? Or even, got even more arrogant, nasty and materialistic?
Then I probably wouldn’t.
Flipping the question over to the Israeli side, we can draw the same conclusions. It’s very, very hard to live in Israel, with all its ongoing security challenges, social issues, terrorism, corrupt politicians and financial hardships without growing your emuna and humility, in some way.
But it’s still possible.
So, if a person is living in Israel, and is including God in their life, and is responding to the cues they get every single day here, smack in the face, to return to God and work on their bad middot ASAP – their chances of making it are probably pretty good.
And if not?
Then they aren’t. And not only that, at some point God will probably arrange for them to be unceremoniously dumped out of the country. Of course, they won’t see things that way. It’ll be phrased as ‘an opportunity’ abroad, a great job, a chance to make more money, a person they fell in love with and want to marry, yadda yadda yadda.
But the point to be made here is that at any point in the process, a person can return to God from anywhere in the world.
I know people who made a lot of sincere teshuva dafka when they were forced out of Israel. For whatever reason, it was something they just couldn’t do for as long as they lived here.
I also know people who fell off the frum wagon big time, when they moved here.
Which brings us back to the question we started with, and hopefully also give us something of an answer.
Being in Israel is no guarantee of ‘making it’, but the reality of life in Israel maximizes your spiritual potential, and encourages you – every second of the day – to acquire the traits and the beliefs and the behaviors that are necessary to ‘make it’, ultimately.
The spiritual current here tends to pull a person ‘up’, while the spiritual current in chutz l’aretz tends to pull a person ‘down’.
But whether we’re going to grow from our experiences, and learn more emuna, and turn to Hashem regardless, is only and always up to us. And the people who can genuinely do that even in the very heart of galut may be the biggest neshamas of all.
So to sum up, location does make a big difference. Being in Israel does make a big difference. But it’s by no means the only factor deciding who’s going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m having such a negative reaction to spending barely three, fairly OK, days in chutz l’aretz, and this is where I’ve got to with it all.
(Before I dive in, a story to set the scene:)
Britain has few culinary gifts to boast about, but it does excel at pastry and pies. The morning we flew out of Manchester airport (where me and my frum Jewish family got ‘patted down’ by a nice Muslim airport worker, to check we weren’t terrorists…) I took my girls to the one Kosher deli in town, and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat for the flight.
We got some bagels, some fish, some cheese – and then the kids each picked a ‘typical’ British pastry. One of my kids has some fairly serious food allergies, especially to all nuts except almonds and sesame seeds. In Britain, her allergies were life-threatening and we had to carry an epipen.
In Israel, God somehow reduced them down to just annoying – in Israel, she just throws up now if she eats something she’s allergic to, and she’s got a ‘lick’ test which is usually very effective for spotting if something contains dodgy substances.
That kid bought what’s called a Bakewell Tart – a small pie with marzipan, jam and icing – which the nice serving lady assured us only had almonds. (The incidence of food allergies in the UK is so extreme, that most people are very careful to give accurate information about these things.)
After we’d got through the awful, OTT security procedures at Manchester Airport (which were enough to put me off from travelling again all by themselves) – this kid pulled out her Bakewell Tart in the departures lounge, taste tested it, then ate it.
At the last bite, her face went a funny colour, and she started to make a weird gasping / hiccoughing noise. An allergic reaction!
And a far more serious one than she’s had in years and years.
Thank God, she rushed off to the bathroom and immediately threw up, but her throat was hurting her, and she was knocked out for an hour afterwards. Me and my husband said a tikkun haklali for her, I silently asked God to just let us get out of Manchester in one piece, while I walked around the airport looking for the A+E room ‘just in case’ her reaction started to escalate and we needed an epipen again…
BH, the tikkun haklali kicked in, and the crisis abated.
Later, my kid said to me: “Ima, it was so weird! I licked it first and it didn’t tingle my tongue at all! Even when I was eating it, I didn’t feel any tingling – it’s only after I took the last bite that I’d felt like I’d just eaten a big nut.”
What a great allegory for chutz l’aretz!
All a person’s life, they can’t ‘feel’ the damage being done to their souls by living such a superficial, sweet-tasting, gashmius pie of a life in chutz l’aretz. After all, the Bakewell Tart is glatt kosher! They bought it from the kosher deli on the way back from morning prayers!
Even when they’re eating it, it just tastes so yummy and delicious. And then with the last bite before you’re about to step on the plane ‘out of there’ – it nearly kills you.
It’s a fact that allergies are profoundly connected to emotions, stress levels and a person’s soul. It’s clear to me that my daughter’s soul is far more ‘wound up’ and stressed-out in chutz l’aretz than in Israel (even with all our struggling, and terrorism, and obvious spiritual angst), which is why here her allergies are an inconvenience at most, whilst there, they are literally life-threatening.
I went to the local shul one of the mornings I was there, to do my hour of hitbodedut (talking to God). I guess I must have felt like I was missing some of the kedusha that you get when a group of Jews congregate together.
The Rav of the shul gave a small talk after prayers, literally five minutes, where he was explaining how to kosher a microwave, and why you can’t kosher ovens in the same way, or cook milky and meaty foods one after the other in the same oven.
In Israel, I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone talk about those topics.
Here, the focus (at least for the rabbis I listen to….) is always on improving your middot, developing more emuna, guarding your eyes, treating your kids and spouse more nicely, really trying to give God what He wants.
Of course, God also wants a kosher oven, but that’s so ‘basic’ as to be practically taken for granted. Then I got it:
In chutz l’aretz, a Jew struggles even to keep their ovens kosher. That’s why there’s no time for the real work of ‘koshering the soul’. When you have to drive 30 mins just to get a kosher challah, when you have to pay thousands of bucks just to have your kid in a ‘kosher’ school, you already felt like you did the work God sent you down to do.
That’s only the very, very beginning of the process.
The real job is koshering the soul – uprooting our arrogance, our obsessions with making millions, our predilection for spreading gossip and lashon hara about other Jews, for bigging ourselves up at other people’s expense.
And most of the Jews in chutz l’aretz – even the very best, and most ‘kosher’ Jews – never get anywhere near that work of spiritual rectification.
I know when I made aliya 12 years’ ago, I was broadly of the view that I was a completely fixed, rectified ‘good’ Jewish person who really had nothing more to do to get to the highest level of shemayim.
After all, I had two ovens! And two sinks! And two dish washers!!!!!
After I made aliya, it didn’t take long to realize just how much of the real work of koshering my soul I still have left to do.
And that’s the real difference between chutz l’aretz and Israel: The one place, you feel like you’re ‘complete’ and that you’ve got there spiritually, and that you’re serving Hashem amazingly even by just keeping a kosher home and going to shul on Shabbat. It’s only when you’re about to check out of life that you realize that sweet, superficial, Bakewell Tart of a comfort zone actually killed your neshama.
In the other place, the whole time it can feel like you’re just eating bitter herbs – for breakfast, lunch and supper. But at the end of that process, you finally realize what a life-affirming spiritual ‘cleanse’, what an amazing, deep, spiritual ‘detox’ you’ve just been through.
If you stick with God, you come out of this second process, finally, with a kosher soul.
But there’s no question that the ‘Bakewell Tart’ version of Jewish life looks so much yummier.
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.