“His land shall atone for His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43).
The Land of Israel atones for our sins.
Boy, did I have fun a decade ago. I knew I was going to make Aliyah to Israel that particular year, so I partied right up until the day I left New York. “What could it hurt?” I thought to myself as I guzzled down another pint. “I will go to Israel, live a holy life, and Hashem will clean my slate. It will be like starting again from zero. For the moment, why not drink and be merry?”
I eventually learned a lesson in reading the fine print that I never forgot.
The Land of Israel atones for our sins; it doesn’t erase them.
The following years were some of the most difficult of my life. They were necessary, but not especially pleasant. A lot of people who move to Israel have the same experiences. Their first years can be very challenging. They aren’t miserable, mind you, especially for those who embrace a worldview of emuna, but they can be a little hairy.
This is the immediate reward for all of us who move to, and live in the Land of Israel!We all have to pay for our sins one way or another. In this world, it can be through a particular tribulation. It can be through our own proactive deeds – we can even skip the tribulation altogether. It can be a series of lesser tribulations endured over a longer period of time.
Once we finish paying for our sins, life gets immeasurably better.
The same applies to the Next World, but with far greater consequences and much less flexibility.
In this world, we have the option to make teshuva and atone through our own actions. In the Next World, we lose the choice. Our sins can only be erased through suffering to cleanse them. Instead of going through a rough day at the office, getting a flat tire, or apologizing to whomever we may have wronged, we have to endure a very fiery process for up to 11 months.
Deciding to pay for our sins immediately may feel difficult, but it’s much easier than the “buy now, pay later” plan.
Could this be the reward G-d gives every Jew the moment they set foot in the Land of Israel? Could our initial suffering be the atonement process for all of our deeds? Is our soul being cleansed immediately in this world and not the Next One? What happens when we take on a life of emuna and these tribulations are not so bad? What happens when the most excruciating moments become far less painful because we know exactly why they are happening?
What happens when these tough moments, like all the other moments in this life, eventually pass? What happens when the Land of Israel does atone for our sins and every action thereafter becomes pure merit?
Many of us move to Israel with the expectation that everything will be perfect once we get here. A ten piece band will greet us, the Arabs will kneel in surrender, and Moshiach will be standing next to the Nefesh B’ Nefesh representative. Once we realize that life goes on as normal, even here, we become a little disillusioned.
Little do we realize that from a spiritual perspective everything has become perfect. We are accelerating a process that leads to the perfection of Israel and all mankind.
What if our personal atonement is not limited to our own sins? What if this process also atones for everyone else’s sins? G-d did not punish the Children of Israel for the crime of worshipping the golden calf all at once. In order to preserve us, He decided to punish us bit by bit over every generation until the sentence was carried out in full.
What if there are many transgressions the Jewish People have committed over thousands of years that our enduring in the Land of Israel is atoning for right now? What if we, in just muscling out another day in our beloved homeland, are inching ourselves closer to the day where Israel has only merit to its name?
Everyone living here is performing this crucial function for our nation.
Could our sustained emuna in the face of the trials we brave make up the final component necessary for the last great aliyah to Israel?
Are we the ones printing the final Israeli ID card with the name Moshiach ben David on it?
All of us have to endure something in this life. If there was ever a reason to accept it with joy...
* * *
Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.