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Parashat Vayetze


To move to Israel, to make Aliyah or not to, is presently a hot topic. “I’m not ready; I can’t live in an apartment, and I can’t afford to buy a house. No Amazon Prime, no Costco… Can’t we just create America, in Israel? Can’t we just buy a hilltop and make America there??

The challenge for a family with children to make Aliyah is not about giving up physical stuff and comfort, alone. The challenge is, are you willing to give up on your Americanness, Western culture, life perspectives, career-geared mindset, community life? Israel is a country with a religious “system”, with its own Rabbis, who don’t care what Rabbis in America allow and accept. If you want to make it work, you need to be willing to adapt to the place and the system, that, for the most part, does not make sense to Americans. In America, the religious systems are accommodating, with large margins. In Israel, the systems are not. If you want your family to fit into the systems here, you have to fit into the “box” that you choose to fit into. If you want to bring your Americanness with you to Israel, better just come for a visit. Even to come to places like Beit Shemesh, where you can get along without Hebrew, you are still just one step away from the inevitable, of blending with the Israeli system. It is not that the American system is right or wrong, or that the Israeli system is right or wrong. It just is. Each system is the system that “works” in the space it’s in.  If you do not want to conform, you are not ready for Aliyah yet.  Stay home. Stay safe. As insecure as USA is as a polarized nation, it is not nearly as “seemingly” insecure as Israel, with fear of war with Iran. As corrupt as voting in USA is and was, it is not as corrupt as the Israeli government and the Supreme Court here.  As hard as it is to finance a family in USA, it is not as hard as it is for an American to make even just a few bucks in the Holy Land, a land he did not grow up in. The joke here is, if you want to make money, you need to be המוציא לחם מחוץ לארץ.

So, why did I do it- why did I give it all up? My mother tongue, social life, culture, opportunities – all the networking of the people I grew up with, the awesome community I was a part of, and start on my own, in a distant land? There is something else that is an element of success. I call it the psychology of space, although I have difficulty in explaining it. Success in life is more than being calm, having social and financial stability and all that those things imply.  It is also about the where. In real estate, there are three most important factors. Location. Location. Location. Why? Why do people connect emotionally with certain places? Believe it or not, this is actually a psychology of its own.

The spirituality of space and time exists, even though it is hard to explain. G-d is not limited by space or time, so how could it be that certain places or times are holier than others? Why can’t I connect to G-d how, when, and where I want to? Why do we pray, three times a day, that G-d bring back His Shechina to Tzion, and why do we face Jerusalem? Why can’t we just pray to G-d that we serve Him, wherever we are? Isn’t G-d referred to as Makom, Place, because the whole world is enveloped in Him, and His “Place” is unfathomable? בָּר֥וּךְ כְּבוֹד־יְקֹוָ֖ק מִמְּקוֹמֽוֹ  In many ways, our Rabbis learn Shabbat laws from the Beit Hamikdash and Beit Hamikdash from Shabbat. I.e., just as Shabbat never ends, the holiness of the Beit Hamikdash never ends, even after its destruction. The 39 forbidden acts of Shabbat are learned from the acts that were needed to build the Mishkan. Why are they connected? What do they have in common? The answer seems to be this unique spirituality of a holy time and a holy space. G-d is מקדש שבת וזמנים , He sanctifies Shabbat and “times”. And He sanctifies places.

When Rachel was jealous of the merits of her sister Leah in mothering the Tribes, she said, “Give me children, and if not, I am dead!” Rashi explains that Rachel was asking Yaakov to pray for her, just like Yitzhak prayed that Rivka have children. Yaakov answered her, הֲתַ֤חַת אֱלֹקים֙ אָנֹ֔כִי Am I in place of G-d?

How could Yaakov respond to Rachel like that? Where was the empathy?! And why did he not actually pray for Rachel, or at least explain why he was not willing to do so, like his father Yitzhak?

Anyone who lives outside of Israel, it is as if he does not have a G-d. (Ketubot 110b) G-d designated each nation in its land, a “star”, a Mazal, an angel, who is responsible for running that nation. But, G-d did not let any angel run Israel; He runs Israel alone. He is directly above it. כִּ֛י חֵ֥לֶק יְקֹוָ֖ק עַמּ֑וֹ, and one who lives in Israel has G-d running his life, without a designated angel in between. This is what Yaakov answered to Rachel: Am I under G-d? How could you compare the prayers of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzhak, to mine, as I am praying here in Haran, outside Israel? When we get to Israel, I can pray for you, and G-d will answer my prayers!

Whoever makes a set place for prayer, the G-d of Avraham will help him. (Berachot 6b) Avraham was careful to pray in the same place every day, וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֥ם אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּבֹּ֑קֶר אֶל־הַ֨מָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥מַד שָׁ֖ם אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י יְקֹוָֽק . The Tzlach (Berachot 6b) writes that the reason you should pray in the same place is because the first time you prayed there, it acquired holiness, and each additional time, the holiness there helps the prayers to be answered. This is why even if a person prays at home, he/she should pray in the same place. On his way to Haran, Yaakov realized that he needed to pray that G-d protect his spirituality. He went all the way back to Har Hamoriah, the place where Avraham and Yitzhak prayed. But why all the trouble, Yaakov? Because “this is the place of the Gateway to Heaven”. This is why a person should pray in the place that he learns. (Berachot 6b) Because learning Torah makes the place holy.

Of course, G-d listens to our prayers wherever we are, and at all times. But there are times and places where it is more opportune to pray because the connection is better!  It all depends on how well we prepare ourselves for prayer. (Daat Tvunot 177)

I had this crazy idea about the magnetic force Israel has to each and every Jew. I read just a week ago in the news that a Belgian racing-pigeon was bought by a Chinese fan for 1.9 million US dollars! What is a racing-pigeon, anyway? Racing pigeons, and homing pigeons, have an innate ability to find their way home from long distances in a remarkably short period of time, even from distances of 1,100 miles away! (It’s just 290 miles from the north to the south of Israel!) Racing-pigeons are bred for competitive sport; the speed of these pigeons can go from 50 to 100 miles an hour! Scientists are still scratching their heads, trying to explain how the bird knows how to find their way home?!? Imagine I dropped you off, 1,000 miles away from home, and you needed to find your way back, with no GPS, map or smartphone?!

Maybe, just maybe, the Jewish Nation is compared to a יונה  a pigeon, in the Song of Songs, the story of the Jewish Nation throughout the Ages, because of this concept, that somehow, we keep finding our way back home! (see Shabbat 49a) Did any non-Jew, ever come over to you and ask if you know which way is east? Wherever we are in the world, the direction of Jerusalem is always on our minds!

Of course, it is not always easy for me to live in Israel. But that is where He reveals Himself most, and He wants us to make an effort and make ourselves ready to connect with Him. I constantly remind myself, every second one is living in Israel, it is equal to keeping all 613 Mitzvot. (Avodah Zara 5 Tosefta, Yalkut Shimoni, Sifri) This is why the simplest men of Israel have more merit than the greatest Rabbis who live outside Israel. This greatness of Israel is only a merit for the one who connects with the spirituality of the Land. (R Dessler 3, 194) As our Rabbis teach, Anyone who lives in Israel, recites the Shema morning and night, and speaks Lashon Hakodesh, is a Ben Olam Haba. (Sifri Haazinu; Yerushalami Shabbat 1;3) The air here makes you smarter, and Torah here is Torah of a higher status. (B. Batra 158b; Bereshit Rabah 16;4)

Someone who lives in Israel has all of his sins forgiven. (Ketubot 111a) Why? R Yitzhak Farhi, z”l, (1782-1853) writes the reason according to the Kadmonim. (Tiv Yerushalayim page 190) Just like the angels outside Israel do not enter Israel, so too, when a person comes to Israel, his Chutz LaAretz Neshama does not come with him. The first night that he is here, while he is asleep, G-d switches his Chutz LaAretz soul to a soul of Eretz Yisrael. נֹתֵ֤ן נְשָׁמָה֙ לָעָ֣ם עָלֶ֔יהָ (Yeshayah 42,5)This is why a person’s sins are cleansed when he moves.

Jews would be better Jews, if we would be more pigeon-like, and understand the spiritually of space, of coming home. Not because of logical reasons. But because of spatial reasons. Yaakov Avinu was the first Jew to make an issue out of Spiritual Space. (See Gur Aryeh 35;13) Let us try to open our eyes to what he taught us.

About the author, Yosef

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