The contrast between Eretz Yisrael and say L.A. is so multi-faceted. The spiritual possibilities in Yerushalaim seem endless, with no ceiling holding you down. Once you are back to the States (or England or South Africa or wherever your feet take you), you can still get there in spite of where you are, but never because of the spiritual energy that the place you live in projects. There are people near you who have succeeded in fighting the good fight, and turning their immediate environment into a veiled slice of Eretz Yisrael. When you contrast the difference between the material side of life abroad and life here, the differences are undeniable. The little apartment that house significant families, the blazing mid-day sun that bleaches the streets off-white, and the fact are not what you see in Denver and Phoenix.
Nothing new here. Nonetheless, on some level there is a part of you that seeks Eretz Yisrael.
The layers of exile need to be pulled away layer by layer. I am always moved when I go abroad by the sincerity and devotion that so many of you have to doing just that. It is a test for people who are gifted by Hashem in being able to be here, that also need help in pulling aside the layers that blind them to what they want and where they are. The story that I am writing took place in about 1870. The material situation was beyond bad. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire ruled the entire Middle East from afar, with no agenda for either providing real government or endeavoring to bring about any form of economic stability (much less prosperity). There was actual starvation, all of the men who had taken charge of the community funds had a meeting. They recognized that they had to seek help from the Jewish communities abroad. The question was how to find the best person to represent the Yishuv. Many names were suggested and rejected. They settled on R. Itzale. When the delegation informed him of their decision several days after Pesach, he agreed, but he felt deep disappointment that he would have to miss Lag B'Omer in Meiron. He didn't want to miss the simchah of the "celebration" of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai's death. The second century Tanna (teacher of the Mishneh) is known for having taken the deepest and most esoteric parts of Torah and teaching them, so that in all future generations we would know not only how to serve G-d, but of who we are, and how the One who is the source of all reality relates to us on a spiritual level. His teachings were later elucidated by R. Yitzchak Ashenazi (known by the acron;ym of his name, Ari, which also means lion) and finally by the Chassidic teachers and other greats who saw the need for us to look inward. When you were in Neve, you learned Michtav M'Eliahu, Derech Hashem and many other works that talk to your Inside… Obviously he didn't let this get in his way; there was no choice but to go. He lived up to their expectations; when people heard of what was happening day to day in Israel, they gave whatever they could. When Lag B'Omer arrived, he found himself in one of Eastern Europe's tiny shtetels. His host listened spellbound as he told him about the depth of the spiritual joy he had experienced together with so many others. All the host could offer was the local Rebbe, the Shinova Rebbe, who lit a bonfire in honor of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai on the anniversary of his passing. He retold a story that was recorded by Rav Elazar Azkiri, author of one of the early books on Jewish ethics and related topics called "Chareidim". He wrote that as young man, he wanted to experience life without all the bells and ribbons that his status as a near-genius scholar of rare brilliance would have brought him. He wandered from place to place taking whatever work he could find. He once to a job as the custodian of a local synagogue. It was Lag B"Omer, and he was in Meiron. The Arizal was there that year, and was dancing with a man of imposing presence. He drew R. Elazar close to him and the three continued dancing with the kind of fire and joy that you almost never see. The Ari's students (who were hand-chosen scholars) couldn't help wondering who the mysterious man was, and why on earth they included the custodian in their dance. They asked the Arizal later, and he said "If Rabi Shimon wants to dance with him, why shouldn't I take him into our circle."? As soon as those words left his lips, of course R. Elazar's secret was "out"-he was more than meets the eye. When the representative of the Israeli communities heard this, he felt as though he too was in Meiron…
The reason that I wrote you this story is for you to realize, that as the Baal Shem Tov said, you are wherever your thoughts are.
I will think of you all this Thursday in Meiron.