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Through The Eyes of a Woman

Re'eh: Living in Eretz Yisrael

This week we read: "When HaShem your G-d brings you to the land to which you are coming, to inherit it..." A similarly indirect verse (Devarim 26:2) says: "And go to the place which HaShem your G-d will choose to make His Name rest there."

The Rebbe points out that this verse does not mention Jerusalem explicitly. Instead, it alludes to Jerusalem with the words "the place which HaShem will choose... to make His Name rest there." It is clear that Jerusalem is the place HaShem chose from all the other places, but nevertheless it is strange that the Torah does not state so explicitly. This is particularly true since we know that the Torah always tries to use precise words and be as concise as possible. Hence, why does it use all those extra words here? It could simply have said, "Jerusalem" -- one Hebrew word instead of eight! Accordingly, there must be some horaah which the Torah wants us to learn from the fact that it refers to Jerusalem in this way.

The Rebbe explains this as follows: Any place in which a Jew reveals HaShem's Name is like Jerusalem, and in that place you can serve HaShem. Today, when we don't have the Beis HaMikdash, what do we do for sacrifices? Our Sages explain that today our prayers are a substitute for sacrifices. Can we say that a Jew can pray only in Jerusalem, or in Israel? In one of his sichos relating to this week's Torah reading, Re'eh, the Rebbe discusses the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael -- settling in the Land of Israel. Is it an obligation for every Jew to live in Jerusalem, or in Israel, and to immigrate to Israel from wherever they live in the Diaspora in order to be able to serve HaShem, or not? There is a story about one of the chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. The chassid decided that he wanted to settle in Israel, and so he went to his Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, for a blessing. But the Tzemach Tzedek said to him, "Mach doh Eretz Yisroel" -- "Make Israel over here." I must mention at this point that this is a very delicate subject to the many people who have made a tremendous effort to come to Israel. With this in mind, I would like to present some points that the Rebbe made about this subject.

The Rebbe first of all quotes a statement of our Sages, to the effect that living in the Diaspora is like idol-worship -- "kol hadar bechutz laAretz ke'ilu oved avodah zarah." It is as if a person living outside of Israel does not have a G-d. When they hear this, many people say, "How can a religious Jew live in the Diaspora?" It seems like you cannot even be a full-fledged Jew in galus (the Diaspora), in America, or any other country.

Of course, if you have the means, if you have the ability, you should come to Israel. Yet, we look around and we see that there are so many G-d fearing people, real anshei emes (people of truth) who do not live in Israel, and don't seem to be making motions toward coming. They certainly know about this statement of our Sages, just like you and I know it. How come they're not coming, how come they're not packing their suitcases? What's going on?

The Rebbe says there are certain important things to clarify before we make any decisions. The first thing is that the statements of our Sages are always very, very precise. They use the expression "kol hadar bechutz laAretz." There are many words which express the idea of dwelling or living in a place, but the Sages explicitly use the root-word dar. This has the connotation of kviyus, permanence. In other words, what our Sages are saying is this: When a person lives in the Diaspora, and looks upon his living there as a makom keva, a permanent place, because he has a good job and a nice home, etc., and because he hears that in Israel it's hard to make a living, then he's like a person who has no G-d. However, if this person lives in America, or England, or Australia, but his whole life is based on the feeling and the understanding that he constantly prays and wishes for Mashiach, so that the moment Mashiach comes he is ready to come to Eretz Yisrael, to the Beis HaMikdash, then that person is not permanently settled and locked in his exile.

The first factor to know is, how a person looks at his life in galus. When people are inculcated with this desire and longing for Mashiach, then it's clear that America etc., is not their priority; their priority is Mashiach and coming to Israel. Those people are not in the category of those that dwell permanently in the Diaspora. Therefore, the second half of the statement, "it is as if he worships idols," does not apply to them. All of the people that stay in the Diaspora, (although they know of the holiness of the Land of Israel), because they have a duty or mission to perform there, are also serving G-d, just as if they were in Israel.

The Rambam explains that one way that we will know that Mashiach is the true Redeemer, is that he will gather together the Jews from the four corners of the world. This indicates that Jews have what to do in the four corners of the earth until Mashiach comes. The understanding of Chabad Chassidus is that wherever a Jew lives, whether in Australia, New Jersey, or any other city or country, his mission is to bring G-dliness and Yiddishkeit into that part of the world. That is a tremendous shlichus (mission) -- to bring kedushah, holiness, into every part of the world, not just Israel. So there is a mission for Jews in the Diaspora until Mashiach comes. When Mashiach comes, then we'll come to Israel.

Another argument that many people quote is the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael -- settling the Land of Israel. "It's a mitzvah; how can I not do that mitzvah?" The Rebbe explains that there are many differences of opinion as to whether it's an obligatory mitzvah in our time. An obligatory mitzvah means that if you do not do the mitzvah, you have transgressed. For example, keeping Shabbos: if you do not keep Shabbos, you've transgressed. Then there are other mitzvos that are a mitzvah if you do them, but if you don't, you have not transgressed.

Now, yishuv Eretz Yisrael is not one of the 613 mitzvos, which means that if a person lives in Israel, he is fulfilling a mitzvah; but if he does not live in Israel, it's not a transgression. So, regarding all the people who want to go to Eretz Yisrael because it's a mitzvah the Rebbe asks, "Have they done all the other 613 mitzvos that are obligatory?" If one has done all the other mitzvos, and now you want to be totally complete, that is your privilege! However, there are people that jump to this mitzvah first, before they've done the other mitzvos that are definitely, without an argument, obligatory. The Rebbe is not saying that people should not come to Israel; the Rebbe is simply clarifying certain issues regarding coming to Israel.

For many people, Israel has proved to be a place of inspiration, and many people became religious here. There are also people who feel that living in Israel is such a holy act that this is sufficient. All other mitzvos are secondary: "I speak Hebrew, and I live in the Holy Land; that's enough of a Jewish identity, just to be an Israeli in Israel." However, that is sort of twisting it. Because you're an Israeli and you live in Israel, you have a bigger responsibility to act the way the Torah wants. The Rebbe points out that Israel is on a higher spiritual level than the Diaspora even now, after the destruction of the Temple. Many people do not truly think about what this means when they're living in New York or Miami Beach, before they make the decision to come here. Living in Israel means that you are taking on a responsibility to behave on the highest level of Yiddishkeit, because you're in the King's palace. Israel is regarded as the King's palace, and there are certain rules of conduct in the King's palace which do not necessarily apply in some far-away corner of the kingdom. The question that anyone who wants to come to Israel must ask himself is -- am I ready to make sure that while living in Israel, I will do my utmost to learn and practice, as is expected of someone who lives in the King's palace? If you're not ready to do that, then what are you coming to Israel for, to come and pick oranges on a kibbutz? That is not why Eretz Yisrael was given to us. In Israel a person has to be on a higher level. He has to be much more careful with his mitzvos, as well as having many more mitzvos to fulfill, such as terumah and maaser,[16] shemittah,[17] etc. So a person who truly feels that he is on a high level in his or her fulfillment of mitzvos may consider coming to live in Israel. But for those who are not yet on such a high level, they might well be better off living outside of Israel, until they improve their Divine service. Only then should they even consider coming to live here. Briefly, the decision to come to Israel should not be taken lightly; it's a very serious decision, and these are some of the factors to consider before buying a ticket.

There are other factors to consider as well. For example, often Rabbis will come to Israel after many years of serving their congregation elsewhere, in order to fulfill a dream of making aliyah. When this happens, the community left in the Diaspora, when the Rabbi goes to settle in the Holy Land, is left without guidance. When the Rabbi leaves, he is not always replaced by a person of his caliber, if he can be replaced at all. There are certain times when a person leaves his place, and there is a void where he left that isn't filled. And there are people outside of Israel who are truly in need of an inspired leader who will teach them how to be Jewish. So when you decide to come to Israel for your own spiritual good, it may or may not be true that it is really for your spiritual good. It could be that your spiritual mission is better accomplished staying in America, or England, or South Africa, and serving HaShem there, by helping with teaching and running a congregation, than by coming to Israel and enjoying a life of self-fulfillment.

Here is where the most delicate question comes in: What is your G-d-given mission in life? It is very easy for a person to talk himself into believing that the thing he finds more palatable is the thing he should be doing. For example, consider a person who is 55 years old and somewhat tired of serving his community, which he has been doing for the past 25 years. He feels he has earned a vacation, he deserves retirement. Now he can settle in Ramat Gan, or Raanana, or even Jerusalem, go to a few shiurim, write his book of memoirs, and raise himself up spiritually. However, is that what his soul came to this world for? If he has the skills and personality needed to work with a community, is he allowed to leave the community and go to a place where it will be, perhaps, more pleasant for him? Perhaps hundreds of people will be left without a leader! For that you need to consult with somebody else. In other words, to decide what is better, wiser, and more fruitful one sometimes needs an objective view.

There were many times when people asked the Rebbe for permission to go to Israel and the Rebbe said they should go and gave them a blessing. However, there were also those whom he told to stay, because their mission was in America, or Australia, or Canada. You must realize that where you want to be is not necessarily where you should be; that is, your mission in life is something that may be unpleasant. It's like a mother with her children: Very often mothers get so exhausted, that they'd like to just lock the door and run away. "I took care of them for 15 years already; let them be on their own!" In reality, however, any mother who would do that, would be looked upon as irresponsible. You know, these are your children. It's not so much fun, day after day, to be with them and take care of them, but they're your children; you cannot throw them away. Once, Rabbi Manis Friedman, the principal of Bais Chana in Minnesota, was questioned by a "women's libber" as to what his wife does. She was trying to prove that Chassidic women are chained to their homes and children. When Rabbi Friedman told her that his wife ran a home for unwanted children she was visibly impressed -- until he explained that the children were actually their own, but no one else seemed to want them! But that is really the truth -- women have a very prestigious job in looking after a whole family. The same is true of community rabbis. It may not be such an exciting job; it may even be monotonous; it may be very, very difficult, and he may even experience opposition from some members of the community. However, if Divine Providence made a certain person the rabbi of his community, then that is quite clearly his responsibility. Until HaShem indicates clearly that he may go off and leave them, it may be a very irresponsible thing to leave for Israel.

The factors by which a person decides to go and live in Israel are often very noble and very spiritual, but may in fact cause them to evade their true responsibility and mission in life. That is why, as I mentioned earlier, this is a very touchy issue, because many people do not take kindly to hearing these words, when they have made tremendous sacrifices to come to this country. Nevertheless, the Rebbe is not one who is motivated by what is popular, but rather speaks the truth.

Earlier, I mentioned the story about a chassid of the Tzemech Tzedek who wanted to come and live in Israel, but the Rebbe answered him, "Make Israel right here where you are." He knew that the mission of this person was to stay right there in Russia, and live a life of self-sacrifice -- mesirus nefesh -- and thus inspire other Jews, and by doing that, bring Mashiach a little bit closer. There will be a time in history when all Jews will come to Israel, and that is in the times of Mashiach. But until the time of Mashiach, may it be speedily in our days, there is a place for every Jew wherever he is. If everybody would be aware of their mission in the Diaspora, then the Jewish world would look a lot different.

I would like to conclude this issue by saying very simply that there is no one recipe for every person. If you listen to what the Rebbe was saying you will note that he does not say "go to Israel," or "don't go to Israel." He is saying that the reason the Torah does not mention Jerusalem by name in this verse, is that people should not think that the only place they can serve HaShem, wholly and fully, is in Jerusalem, or in Israel. The main factor to consider is understanding your role in the Diaspora or in Israel, and understanding the part you play in bringing Mashiach closer -- how this relates to your life as a real factor.

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The laws of tithing.
  2. (Back to text) The Laws about the Sabbatical year.
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