The news that you have been hearing isn’t the kind of news you like. Some of you may be asking, “Is Eretz Yisrael worth it? I have everything I need to live a fulfilling Jewish life right here in Passaic, or Brooklyn, or Monsey? Is it really any better to live in Yerushalayim than it is to live in Lakewood?”
It may have been the sort of question Avraham Avinu would have asked himself if he wasn’t Avraham Avinu. Of course, he was commanded to leave Ur Kasdim by Hashem. You are unlikely to have a similar prophetic experience. What you may not be aware of, is that many commentators (Daas Zekeinim amongst others) point out that this was in fact Avraham’s second journey to Eretz Yisrael. When you trace his age, you may deduce that he was seventy at the time that he entered the famous “covenant between the pieces”, which took place in Eretz Yisrael. We then find that he was back in Haran for five years when Hashem told him, at the age of seventy five, to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home and come to “The Land in which I will show you.” No, this isn’t a typo. It is the way the text reads. The word “arekka” is reflective, and that is its literal meaning. It isn’t hard to imagine what he had been doing during the five years he was back home. He had thousands of disciples who had changed so radically that they are referred to as “the souls that he made”. So did Sarah. The question remains “why face the hardship of leaving home with everything that that means, to face the inherent hardships road and estrangements from everything familiar?”
The question is both clarified, and simultaneously mystified, by the implications of the first Rashi in the Torah. Rashi points out that the Torah is the blueprint of life, and logically should have begun with instructions of how to live, rather than a lengthy description of the world’s creation. He answers by quoting a verse from Tehillim. “Hashem told His nation of the power of his works (i.e. the creation) to give to them the heritage of nations (i.e. meaning their land).” What this implies is that the only real reason for focusing on the fact that it was G-d who created the world is that “in the future seven nations will claim that you stole their land; you must tell them that the Land belongs to me. I gave it to them, I can take it from them, and give it to you.” What Rashi is saying, is that the pivot of our knowing the creation narrative is to recognize the fact that G-d wants us to have Eretz Yisrael.
That leaves you with your original question. What’s so bad about the rest of the planet?
Meshech Chochma (a series of comments on ideas presented on the Parshah by Rav Meir SImchah of Dvinsk) tells you that if you really want to know the answer, you have to look at three things:
1. From the beginning of time, people recognized that this is where they could make sacrifices. This is where Adam, Noach, and Avraham built their altars. They saw that this is the place where the “animal self” can be sanctified.
2. This is where Hashem sanctified His Name and made His presence known to the entire world, when Avraham showed readiness to offer Yitzchak to Hashem (interestingly all of the major religions begin their narrative with this as its core). At that moment the latent love and awe that Avraham had deep within his heart was revealed and changed everything. He concludes by saying that this is the deep meaning of the word “arekka” – “the Land in which I show you who you can be.” When Lot went to Eretz Yisrael, it was never with the same intent that his uncle Avraham had when he left everything behind him. He came because Avraham was his family as well as being his closest friend. He didn’t come to seek Hashem, and never reached what Avraham did. Eretz Yisrael reveals who you are. It doesn’t alter who you are. That’s up to you.
3. The word “arekka” can also mean, “Where I show you Myself”. It’s not only the land you find yourself in, it’s the Land where you find Hashem. Of course, Hashem is never “lost “, the problem is that material reality is awfully distracting. You may feel, at times, that living in the real world dooms you to being spiritually arid most of the time. Your body is like an opaque wall that keeps you from going very far. Meshech Chochma gives the following example to tell you how to contend with the problem of being a spiritually aware person in a deadening world. Imagine looking at reality through a microscope. You would be able to see an entire world that you can’t see with the naked eye. Similarly, Torah gives you the ability to discover the aspects of Hashem’s presence in Eretz Yisrael that would otherwise be invisible.
Eretz Yisrael reveals a dimension of reality that can’t be uncovered anywhere else. The fact that you were once there, has changed you forever. When you face Yerushalayim as you daven, some of it can come back.
The present wave of terror is nothing new; we have been here before. It’s part of the package. Let it take your heart, and mine, and make us more and more aware of our utter reliance on only Hashem.
P.S. I heard of Rebbitzen Henny Machlis’ passing, Baruch Dayan HaEmes, and my next letter will be about her B.H. I am sure that many of you have anecdotes and stories about meals you had at her home. Please send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,