7 Shvat 5781 / Wednesday, January 20, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
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Aliya – Why So Hard?    

Aliya – Why So Hard?

Compare the Land of Israel to winning the Super Bowl: the reason each player gets paid over a million dollars for one game is because the opposition is the toughest there is...


Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk left his native Russia to be one of the first of the Baal Shem Tov's students to make Aliya to the Land of Israel. Rebbe "Mendel'e" was a pious scholar with a holy spirit. Chassidic tradition tells that when he arrived in the port of Haifa after an arduous journey at sea, he saw the Samech-Mem (the evil inclination, Esau's guardian angel) standing on the dock with a big grin on his face.


"Shalom Aleichem, Rebbe Mendel'e," said the Samech-Mem, sporting some kind of devious and knowing smile on his face. He knew the tremendous difficulties that were in store for Rebbe Mendel'e and all the other tzaddikim – students of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Gaon of Vilna – who would subsequently make Aliya in the 18th and 19th Centuries and strengthen the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, particularly in Tzfat, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron.


Rebbe Mendel'e replied with two questions: "What are you doing here? I thought I left you back at the port of Odessa?"


"No, you don't understand," said the Samech-Mem. "Back in Russia, I was a guest. Here in the Land of Israel, I'm the baal habayit, the proprietor!"


* * *


People who hear the above anecdote are usually astonished: how can the evil inclination claim to be the boss in the holy Land of Israel, when the Torah says that Hashem's Divine Providence – His "eyes" – are always upon it? The answer is simple: thorns surround the most exquisitely beautiful of roses. The evil inclination is the big thorn that one must necessarily overcome to get close to the rose, the holiness and inner dimension of the Land of Israel.


Compare the Land of Israel to winning the Super Bowl: the reason each player gets paid over a million dollars for one game is because the opposition is the toughest there is, the best in the world. Likewise, since the rewards in both worlds for settling in the Land of Israel are so tremendous, so is the opposition. That's why Aliya is so tough. The Gemara says so emphatically – three things come with difficulty: Torah, The World to Come and Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.


In his classic work Likutei Halachot, a Shulchan-Aruch based commentary on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, Rebbe Natan describes the difficulties of Aliya as if he were writing in the Twenty-First Century rather than in the early Nineteenth Century. Here are a few of Rebbe Natan's main points (see Likutei Halachot, Orach Chaim, Hilchot Tephilat Aravit, 4:33-34):


1. The Sitra Achra (the "Dark Side", of which the Samech-Mem is the chief administering angel) knows that when the Jewish People return to settle the Land of Israel, they uplift all the fallen sparks of holiness, rectify the world and render evil null and void. As such, the Dark Side becomes agitated and aroused whenever a Jew comes back to the Land of Israel, making life especially challenging and difficult. If the Jew (individual) or Jews (collective public) don't cling with all their might to holiness and to the Torah, they temporary lose the bout and are exiled. This is the spiritual root of the first and second destructions of the Holy Temple and subsequent exile, as well as the root of unsuccessful Aliya in contemporary times.


2. Aliya, in order to assure success, requires total dedication. Any lack of trust in Hashem, as in the sin of the spies, leads to difficulties and even failure.


3. All beginnings are difficult. People must understand that the Land of Israel cannot be viewed as any other land, because of its spiritual attributes that are so conducive for learning emuna, doing teshuva and seeing miracles. Things in the Land of Israel don't operate according to natural law as in the rest of the world.


4. The Land of Israel is the palace of the King; deportment that may be acceptable elsewhere is not acceptable in the King's Palace. One must be very careful about maintaining modesty and personal holiness in the Land of Israel, for negligence in this area leads to exile.


5. The more that Jews bind together in holiness in the Land of Israel, the more they sieze control of the land, overcoming enemies, both spiritual and physical.


Many other of the Baal Shem Tov's students express similar ideas to Rebbe Natan's. The holy "Maor V'Shemesh", Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Epstein, writes that although the Land of Israel is scant in from a material standpoint, it is the richest place on earth from a spiritual standpoint (Maor V'Shemesh, Parshat Behar).


What is the practical conclusion we can reach from all the above ideas of the Baal Shem Tov and his students? Anyone who is looking for a life of Western amenities, culture and convenience is destined to fail in Aliya. If such a person raised his or her adolescent children to seek a life of Iphones and roller blades, they too won't succeed. The kids might not leave Israel, but chances are tremendous that they'll fall prey to the Dark Side and go completely off the path.


The only way to make long-term success in Aliya is through total devotion to Hashem, where one pursues the inner dimension of both himself and the Land of Israel, with the sole desire of getting close to Hashem by way of emuna, teshuva and Torah. There is no other way. With that in mind, let us be strong and courageous. Once we succeed in the spiritual conquest of our holy homeland, our physical enemies will fall at our feet, may we see this soon, amen!



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