7 Cheshvan 5781 / Sunday, October 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
 
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HomeIsrael and SocietyIsrael and AliyahThe Desire for Eretz Yisrael
 
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The Desire for Eretz Yisrael    

The Desire for Eretz Yisrael



Attorney Sara Azulay destroys six vicious and common myths that prevent people from making aliya; just look around – there is no time like the present…

 



Breaking The Lies of the Spies

Peering out my office window in the very modern western-eastern city of Tel Aviv replete with its balmy beaches, trendy outdoor cafes and solid steel skyscrapers, it is difficult to imagine that thousands of years ago Am Yisrael crumbled in fear at the thought of conquering Eretz Yisrael – and with a great percentage of Jews still living outside the Land, it seems that not much has changed until today.
 
Why are most Jews so anxious about coming to Eretz Yisrael? It all started thousands of years ago, when, on the verge of entering the Land, Moshe Rabbenu sent the meraglim (or spies), hand-picked holy leaders, to scope out Eretz Yisrael. The meraglim returned with a scathing report (let's call it the "lies of the spies") only to fill the hearts and minds of the people with tremendous trepidation of giants, impossible terrain, and useless military maneuvers. 
 
Unfortunately, the lies of the spies persists until this day. I remember battling it with my own Aliyah journey almost a decade ago. We left our very comfortable and hospitable community in the south – a community dedicated to Torah, chesed and mitzvoth, in every possible manner and flushed with dynamic, young and charismatic outreach leaders, but even with all of this, once we had made our Aliyah announcement, we were constantly asked if this was something "we really wanted to do"; we were advised that if we want to live a more wholesome Jewish life we should move to ……. (any number of places - you fill in the blank).
 
 
I didn’t pay too much attention to these comments at the time – after all, I was too busy freaking out and wondering if I had lost my mind in making such a big life change, but once we landed in Eretz Yisrael, we entered a spiritual realm that no one outside its boundaries could fathom (even ourselves), and through our Aliyah journey we have finally begun to understand what it truly means to connect to Am Yisrael and to our Land.
 
As I have come to settle in Eretz HaKodesh, I have realized that there are many lies of the spies still lingering which discourage Jews from the mitzvah of living in their own homeland and fulfilling their highest spiritual potential. Although it is impossible to describe in words the beauty and holiness of Eretz Yisrael and the joy which comes from living in your own place, in my own small way, I would like to make my efforts to break what I view as the top lies of the spies.
 
1. The Biggest Myth of All – "Torah learning and being a committed Jew are easier and more successful outside the Land of Eretz Yisrael." Literally every square centimeter of Eretz Yisrael is covered with holy and righteous people – whether or not they are religious.  The average person on the street can quote buckets of Tehillim by heart, and secular court cases are replete with quotes from Tanach. Yeshiva learning is unsurpassed, and even the basic elementary religious school education contains much deeper elements of Torah than you can dream of seeping into your kids' souls outside the Land. And, of course, the Land is the source of almost all holy Jewish sites in the world including the Kotel, the tombs of our forefathers and foremothers, and the ruins of the First and Second Temples, to name a few.
 
What does all of this spirituality produce? Emuna - or faith in H-shem. You simply cannot live here without it because, unlike the currency of foreign nations, Emuna is the fuel of the country. It protects us from 900 million neighbors who would like us removed permanently. Emuna makes you turn to H-shem in prayer for literally everything – the rockets will not fall and hurt even one Jew; your child will be accepted into the school you want; and you will find the right community and on and on…. This uncertainty is Divinely designed to make you personally realize that you are not in control, but, unlike any other place in the world, you see with your own two eyes daily miracles in the form of remarkable coincidences – such as receiving approval for a mortgage even though you may not meet the qualifications or rockets dropping on enormous apartment buildings where – miraculously – no one was home. In short, the engine of the Land is prayer and that produces the daily, miraculous survival which you see with your own eyes. There is no other place in the world that can actually make that claim. 
 
Myth #2 – "It is Impossible to Earn a Living in Eretz Yisrael" I was told not to come to Eretz Yisrael without $100,000 in cash. I came with much, much less and so do many others. Salaries are low and taxes are high – this is all true, but so is unemployment and most families own their own homes. Although you hear about the poverty, which is real, Israel is one of the only countries to have passed through the recent (and continuing) financial crisis almost untouched. In the short span of sixty years, Israel's bio-tech, hi-tech, security, military and eco-energy-saving sectors have become sought after worldwide which means, in simple terms – jobs are truly available. How do people survive - that's where the welcomed dose of Emuna kicks in and where your gashmiut kicks out to make room for your greater, spiritual side. 
You may think you are surviving on less, but you are actually living more as the simple pleasures of life and a huge measure of gratefulness for all of those simple pleasures and blessings open you to what really matters. Israeli life is full and satisfying whatever the measure, and despite what the lies of the spies is telling you, H-shem is well equipped to provide for you here as well as over there, but here, you feel it more directly.
 
Myth #3 – "You won't grow spiritually in Israel." If spiritual growth is your goal, then Israel is your pot of gold on a virtual fast track. From the minute you arrive, you are constantly tested and pushed into becoming that spiritual giant you dreamed about in the Old Country. You develop patience for long lines (or really lack thereof); you learn that silence is golden in the face of the famous Israeli chutzpah; you become a "man of war" as Rebbe Nachman calls it, when you answer back in the face of the famous Israeli chutzpah; you become deeply humbled as you realize that there are great, hidden souls who endure tremendous tests not for their own personal gains, but as cleansers of Am Yisrael; and you open your heart at the thousands upon thousands of opportunities to do kindness for your brethren - I could go on, but you get the point. 
 
Myth #4 – There are Lots of Comforts from the Old Country which are Missing – No thing is missing in Israel, despite its compact size – from exotic foods (which are kosher!) to culture and art, parks and zoos, wineries, and bed and breakfast nooks – you can discover it all to your heart's desires.  In fact, this lie is actually upside-down because there are lots of items that the Old Country is missing – like blessings and guidance from the leading Gadolei Hador when you have an overwhelming problem; the holiday spirit in profuse and perfumed form on Sukkot, Shavuout, and Pesach; loads and loads of Jewish book stores spilling with loads and loads of Jewish wisdom; the Mediterranean and the Red Seas; bar mitzvahs at the Kotel; gatherings of half a million at the Kever of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai on Lag B'Omer with delirious dancing and joy; seasonable and fresh Israeli produce in massive size, variety and abundance and more and more than I can ever list.
 
Myth #5. The Great Divide – Israeli Society is Polarized and There is Too Much Infighting.   It sure may seem that way on the surface – after all, there are always gripes between groups, but after thousands of years being apart, wouldn't it be normal to take some time for the family to readjust? Russian Jews didn't wear the same clothes as Moroccan Jews and German Jews were fed enlightenment fodder while Yemen Jews never saw that light in any day, but, when you boil it all down – see how the country pulls together in tough times. Witness the people in the south opening their houses to total strangers in the north during the latest Lebanon war, but it isn't only war time that brings us together. See the hundreds of non-profits that deliver food, supplies, and medicines, among other services, to all types of Israelis and sponsored by all types of Israelis and watch the hundreds of kittels and fur hats flying with the knitted kippahs and bare-heads on Sukkot, Pesach or Shavuot at the Kotel, and you will understand that all the bickering, while real, is only on the surface. 
 
Myth #6. The Difficulty of Surviving in Eretz Yisrael Isn't Worth It – Why Make Life More Difficult Than It Already Is? To say that life in Israel is complex, is like saying that pulling your tooth without anesthetic hurts just a little. Hostile neighbors rattling their swords; loads of chutzpah that would make the likes of Mike Tyson blush, down to the piles of broken push carts in the grocery stores that you have to maneuver provide only a glimpse into the daily struggle for survival.
  
Yes, it isn't Kansas or the Swiss Alps and politeness is noticeably not in the air, but this struggle is what builds character and stretches you to strengths you didn't know existed within you. Israel is a land of merit – you must merit to get here; you must merit to stay here, and you must work on yourself daily in order to survive here. But anything that is truly precious requires much emotional and physical investment – if you want a million dollars, it doesn't grow on a tree – all the more so with reaping the benefits of living in the holiest place in the world.  Eretz Yisrael is the source of all the world's holiness – no matter what it looks like on the surface – and everyone knows it. That's why they all want it – it's as simple as that.  
 
Why would anyone want to put himself through the stress test, you might ask? It’s a very good question; the answer is found in Shlomo HaMelech's masterpiece, Ecclesiastes, "Man was born to struggle." Only by struggling do we grow into our potential – an Olympic champion didn't get there by popping potato chips in front of the T.V. Neither does a spiritual champion and that's what Eretz Yisrael builds. Here, you learn to believe in yourself and you learn to trust in H-shem, the outcome of which makes you a greater, more contented, more humbled and infinitely wiser person – and after all, isn't that a great part of what our journey here is all about – to fulfill our potential? Eretz Yisrael provides you with the tools to accomplish exactly that.
 
The Ultimate Truth. As I revel on my long way home in the really glorious crimson sunset lighting the Israeli horizon, it suddenly strikes me that Israel is a lot like its people – Sabras – very prickly on the outside, but ever so sweet within. Impossible to conquer – no, but requiring lots of investment.  Is it worth it? That was the same question for the spies and Am Yisrael many thousands of years ago as it is for each Jew today. I guess it depends on what you choose – the test and the answer, as it was thousands of years ago, are in our hands - but remember the rewards of  living in the Land overflowing with "milk and honey" are unfathomable.
 
In memory of my father, Yaakov ben Yehuda Leib and my grandfather Yehuda Leib




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