15 Kislev 5781 / Tuesday, December 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayishlach
 
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HomeIsrael and SocietyIsrael and AliyahWhere Our Heads Are
 
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Where Our Heads Are    

Where Our Heads Are



We are where our heads are, and if our head is in our business in New York, our house in Hendon, our assets in Paris – then our souls will also be there...

 



The Key to Successful Aliya
 
Jill and Jack Cohen really wanted to make aliya. Ron and Rita Mandelbaum also really wanted to make aliya. Both families were orthodox, both families were fairly comfortably off, and both families felt a strong urge to come to Israel, because they felt life would be ‘better’ here.
 
There would be more time to spend with the kids; the weather would be better; there would be less school-run hassles; more kosher restaurants to eat out in.
 
Jill and Jack decided to sell their house – even though everyone warned them that it would be a stupid thing to sell such a good investment – and Jack gave his notice in at the prestigious firm he worked for in the City. They bought a flat in ‘real Israel’ and two years’ ago, even before the end of the school year, they moved.
 
The first few months were great. The weather was great. The community was great. The kids were happy. They weathered their first major storm when Jack finally managed to land a job – poorly paying, but a job, nevertheless – and life was good.
 
Then Hashem started to test just how much they really wanted to be in Israel. Jack’s job quickly started to bore him; the monthly bills started to mount up; Jill’s social circle quickly started to implode, until she was left sitting by herself with all her kids in the park, with no-one to talk to. The davening in shul was lackadaisical. The bentching on Shabbat was optional. The conversation revolved around money and property – all the things they left chutz l’aretz to get away from.
 
The kids’ school was a nightmare – massive class sizes and out-of-control pupils. Suddenly, Israel stopped being a fun holiday destiny, and started to become a real, challenging place to live.
 
There were many times that Jack and Jill would have hopped back on the plane in an instant to get back to their old life – but they couldn’t. They’d sold their house, and simply returning to their old life wasn’t going to be so easy.
 
They had a friend who’d been through similar things, and who told them that talking to G-d, and learning emuna, were the only ways to get through their tests in one piece. Not only that, but once they started trying to learn about and live emuna, everything would turn out for the best, and they’d see how precisely the things they were finding so difficult were actually the biggest favours G-d ever did them.
 
Jack and Jill were very sceptical – but what else could they do? They’d burnt their bridges, and they had to make a go of it. It took months of perseverance; months of two steps forward and two steps back; months of going round in circles trying to work out which ‘voice’ in their head was really the good one – but eventually, the clouds began to lift, and things started to fall into place.
 
When they got really, really, stuck, they contacted Rav Brody for some pertinent advice and crucially, they did what he told them – despite the fact that their gut instinct was to do the opposite.
 
Jack started trying to talk to G-d every day; he started trying to make more time to learn Torah, and to read more emuna books. Jill also started trying to talk to G-d. And slowly slowly, she came to the realisation that the more she tried to find out what G-d wanted her to do, the less challenges she had and the happier she felt.
 
Jack and Jill are still here. They are working on their emuna every day, and they have changed so much, and grown so profoundly in the past year, they almost can’t recognise themselves.
 
Ron and Rita didn’t sell their house – it was a great investment. Ron decided it would make more sense to keep his old job and commute rather than trying to find a much lower-paying job in Israel. Right from the start, it was pretty hard for Ron to feel ‘part’ of his new country, because he was only in Israel for a couple of days’ a week. They found a nice house to rent in a great community, and Rita and the kids quickly settled down and loved their new home. Rita quickly made friends, and the kids loved their new school, and really started to thrive in their new environment.
 
But Ron didn’t. Ron was exhausted from the weekly commute, and on Shabbat, he wasn’t interested in socialising or learning; he just wanted to be with his family. Ron’s head was still full of the Big City, and the small, frum yishuv where his family lived in Israel quickly became very stifling.
 
There was no buzz! No action! No five-a-side football games, no glitzy ‘charity’ dos, no taste, no emphasis on external aesthetics. It was driving Ron bonkers. So Ron decided to move his family to a very ‘des-res’ part of Israel with big cars and bigger houses - but very little Torah.
 
Business was booming, so Ron found himself spending more and more time looking after his interests outside of Israel. Rita was doing her best to raise the kids more or less on her own, but with no friends around, and no community to help, it became harder and harder. She missed Ron desperately.
 
Things started to get very stressful and tense, and Hashem really started to test Ron and Rita to see just how much they wanted to be in Israel.
 
They had a friend who’d been through similar things, and who told them that talking to G-d, and learning emuna, were the only ways to get through their tests in one piece. Not only that, but once they started trying to learn about and live emuna, everything would turn out for the best, and they’d see how precisely the things they were finding so difficult were actually the biggest favours G-d ever did them.
 
But life was too hectic, too fast-paced, too busy, too stressful for Ron and Rita to have any time to talk to G-d. Also, they wouldn’t talk to a Rav for guidance, because they’d always managed by themselves up to now, and it had always turned out ok.
 
After a year, when the tenant left the house that Ron and Rita had rented out in chutz l’aretz, the Mandelbaums moved back in.
 
What can we learn from the stories of Jack and Jill, and Ron and Rita?
 
Firstly, any big asset you have outside, whether it’s a house, a business or any other investment – will keep pulling you back, however long you live in Israel. What’s more, outside assets and interests are a ginormous handicap when it comes to really ‘living’ here, in every sense of the word.
 
We are where our heads are, and if our head is in our business in New York, our house in Hendon, our assets in Paris – then our souls will also be there.
 
The second thing to learn is that many people will get tested to their limit when they make aliya. Paradoxically, the people who are never really tested, who have ‘easy’ aliyahs – those people never really know if they will stick it out in Israel or not, even if they’ve been here 20 years or more.
 
It’s only when you reach breaking point – when there’s no money, or no food, or no ‘easy’ anything – that you get that moment of clarity that even though your life is terribly hard right now, there is still nowhere else in the world you’d rather be.
 
And when you reach that point of ‘no return’ in your soul, that’s when you pass the test, and Hashem opens up His storehouse of blessings, and one by one, you see problems that had no solution disappear by themselves.
 
Of course, when you get to the point of ‘no return’ it changes you. You start to realise that if covering your hair is the price of your husband making a good parnassa in Israel, you’ll do it. That if regular Torah learning is the price of staying in Israel, you’ll do it. That if talking to G-d every day and trying to make Him part of your life is the price of being happy in Israel, you’ll do it.
 
The last, but most important, thing to learn is the lesson of emuna. What is emuna? Emuna isn’t the belief that ‘Hashem will give me what I want in the end’. Emuna is the belief that in the end, whatever Hashem wants for me is the best thing.
 
People with emuna ask G-d every day: G-d, what do you want from me? What do I need to work on? What do I need to change?
 
And if G-d tells them to move community, to change school, to change synagogue, job, appearances and habits, they do it happily.
 
G-d wants every single Jew in Israel. There is no doubt about it. But He wants us here on His terms. His terms don’t include eating out every night in a different kosher restaurant; or having a pool in the back garden; or taking the kids to a mixed beach or a movie.
 
His terms are: Trust me. Follow me where I’m going to lead you, and know that everything that happens is the most profound kindness.
 
It takes an awful lot of courage. It takes an awful lot of clarity and conviction about what’s ‘right’. And it takes an awful lot of emuna. But the people who get past the point of ‘no return’, will all tell you, it was 100% worth it.





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