“Trust in Hashem and do good; dwell in the land and see faith.” (Psalm 37, verse 3)
As I ponder these words of King David, taken from one of my favourite psalms, my mind wanders back to my childhood and our regular visits to Israel. My mother’s cousins and her own brother had made aliyah shortly after 1948, the cousins pursuing a Torah life in Jerusalem and my uncle the more Zionistic dream in the north literally settling the land through the kibbutz movement; each involved in a holy task, albeit with diametrically opposed outlooks [as evidenced by their ever heated debates conducted always in brotherly love for each other].
My own early experiences however were to be less inspired; my memories conjure up the inevitable 4 hour airport delay courtesy of El Al, followed by the bumpy car journey up to the kibbutz arriving not at 11 pm as planned, but at 3 am. I see my beloved grandmother pacing up and down the path as we drove up towards their home, obviously concerned as to where we were [no cell phones in those days!]. And when I emerged from the car, a child who only wanted to go to bed, I was informed by my mother that grandma and grandpa wanted us to have tea and cake first [yes, at 3 am], and so that is what we did [it was good character building though].
And then there were the bugs, lots of them, and lots of screeching and jumping to safety on beds as something quite large and black scuttled across the floor, or the colony of ants which took up residence in an unlocked suitcase [lots more screeching!]. But then there were the lizards, basking in the sunshine on the walls, oblivious to the heat; and the discovery of one of Hashem’s most supernatural creatures – a chameleon; I remember following this miraculous creature as it slowly made its way across the white path wearing its temporary white clothing to see its garments change colour from green to brown as it ambled through the grass towards a tree, only to disappear completely as it merged perfectly with the undergrowth. And breathtaking views of Mount Hermon, snow capped if we were lucky, and my uncle’s “interesting” trips to historical sites that always seemed to have an awful lot to do with archaeology but rather less to do with spirituality.
And then on one infamous day we went to Jerusalem to visit the religious cousins. As we sat down for a meat lunch, bread on side plate [you may guess what’s coming next], I wondered why there wasn’t any butter, and, as any self respecting non religious child would, I didn’t just wonder… I asked, out loud! At the time, I couldn’t work out why there was such a strange atmosphere in the room. Needless to say, I didn’t get any butter.
And we never went back to the cousins in Jerusalem.
Years went by, more trips to Israel, the State of Israel. And, yes they were very enjoyable, but…I just didn’t get it, something was missing. And, why was Israel called a State? Something just didn’t feel right.
And so as we entered adulthood, my friends went off to Israel for the first time to do the kibbutz experience and I looked towards Europe, more specifically to Italy: Italy, the spiritual heart of Edom, Eisav’s inheritance. This was more like it – beautiful scenery, food, art, Italian fashion [yes, especially the fashion!]. And the people, so friendly, they almost reminded me of Jews.
And still, it wasn’t enough…
And now my search for meaning had taken on a deeper aspect and so I returned to my Jewish roots, to find out what it was all really about. This prompted me to re-establish contact with my cousins in their holy Jerusalem neighbourhood. How would they react? Of course, they treated me like royalty, non judgemental and eager to please; the butter fiasco was consigned to history.
Now I experienced the tranquility and delight of Shabbat in situ, in the Land, not the state. The siren that announced Shabbat was in, the roads deserted of traffic, the shiurim over the Shabbat table, families out walking together, the ladies psalm group followed by a ladies’ shiur, and the sounds of yeshiva students’ singing drifting across the streets, the beautiful Jerusalem vistas.
My cousins asked when I was going to come and live there. I didn’t have an answer.
There was still something missing…
And now, years later, I know the answer. Emuna. I “saw” the land, but didn’t really see, didn’t really look beyond. And, yes, there have been excuses, personal blocks; and other much more legitimate reasons, even now. However, I realised I’d have to change my deepest desire, to create a new desire to live here and to serve Hashem properly. I know that Hashem is listening and He will sort out the details. I just have to let go of the controls and follow Him.
As I finish writing this article, I have a moment of clarity. I’ve been thanking Hashem for all sorts of things since I read The Garden of Gratitudebut I have never thanked Him for having brought me to the Land of Israel so many times during my life. There are Jews who lived and died and never saw the Land. We in this generation are truly blessed to live in such miraculous and prophetic times – and I for one can say that, until now, I haven’t really expressed my gratitude to Hashem for that.
“And delight in Hashem for he will grant you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37, verse 4)