This is the question that lies at the heart of aliyah. It is a question who was first asked by our sages as well as by Socrates. It is a question, that while seeming very simple to answer can prove incredibly complex.
For a Jew, the answer is even more complex. For I can not answer where I come from without also taking into account where the Jewish People comes from. While the why to that question may be complicated, in the briefest form, it is because the Jew is born into a covenantal community. The Jew is born with obligations and expectations. We are not a 'free people' in the sense that freedom is often used today. We are duty bound. To be identified as a Jew, at least in part, means to partake in the pains and triumphs of the Jewish Nation. To be Jewish is to be part of a nationality.
But that is not all. We all know much more obviously that to be Jewish is to be part of a religion. The covenantal community that is Judaism is a covenant of faith, of Sinai, of revelation, of God's truth as revealed in the Torah. So to be identified as a Jew requires our participation in torah as well.
But that is not all. The third prong to our identity is the hardest for Jews living in exile to recognize, as it requires a reworking of our own identities - a task that is never pleasant. The third aspect of Jewish identity is Eretz Yisrael.
The Land of Israel, pieces of rock, a geographical location, is part of a Jewish identity. It seems absurd, but it is true.
I will not go into the why. This is what usually attracts the most attention when someone is speaking to Jews in America and trying to prove to them why they must move. Why Israel really is so important. And everyone gives excuses ("Rashi didn't live in Israel" is always one of my favorites). People are not convinced by arguments, not when they have so much to lose, not when their hearts are telling them to stay in the rich lands of AmReika.
So I will not answer why Israel is so important. At root, my answers as to why the Torah or the Jewish Nation are so important are also weak - they fall flat on their face if you do not already agree with me. One does not partake in the torah because it was proved to him or her. One partakes in the torah because one has experienced the truth of torah, has experienced the truth of the Jewish God's existence. One has experienced reality.
To be K'Cholmim-As Dreamers, is to partake in the amazing path and mission that is Judaism. But such a path and mission is not an easy one. The reason for this is that we are entirely confused as to what constitutes a dream and what constitutes reality. We are unsure what the right path is for us to take as individual human beings. Therefore, we can not even imagine what is the correct path for us to take as Jews or any other specific group of people. We thus lack the capability to make a choice, let alone a meaningful choice about which path will lead us to take part in our greater community, in this case, to take part in the destiny of the mission of the Jewish People. This is the reason that those of us who are looked on as dreamers (by those who are so confused), and who have visions of a better future, those of us who do still believe in such things as that dirty word, 'idealism' or even worse, actually articulate such an *irrational * belief as our faith in God, or perhaps worse of all for American Jews dare to speak of our desire to make aliyah and join our people, are always met with a reply to "live in reality" and to be "realistic". It is for this reason that I am so attracted to that word K'Cholmim-AS Dreamers. For our vision and goal is not truly a dream, rather it is a goal and ideal of a better reality, a truer reality.
But not many are willing to see such a reality, or recognize its validity and existence. Such has always been the difficulty of those who speak wisdom and truth. It was the battle of Socrates, and it was the battle of the prophets. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l in the last chapter of his masterpiece "The Lonely Man of Faith" comments on our prophet Elisha, using Elisha as a model for all the prophets, that, " many a time he felt disenchanted and frustrated because his words were scornfully rejected." (Page 112) This great prophet Elisha had the same difficulty as all men of wisdom, that their words were "scornfully rejected" because most of us, are unable to tell the difference between true and false, between good and evil. We think Dream is Reality, and Reality a Dream.
Further on in "The Lonely Man of Faith" the Rav will comment on Elisha and his life, and will teach us how this relates to the great danger of living a lie and thinking it is a reality. Of confusing what is dream and reality, what is important and what is not. All of this relates to the vision required by someone living 'the good life' in America must have to even seriously consider aliyah - let alone make it. The Rav says that, "Yet unexpectedly, the call came through to this unimaginative, self-centered farmer. Suddenly the mantle of Elijah was cast upon him. While he was engaged in the most ordinary, everyday activity, in tilling the soil, he encountered God (the Truth) and felt the transforming touch of God's hand. The strangest metamorphosis occurred. Within seconds, the old Elisha disappeared and a new Elisha emerged." (Page 110)
It was not with arguments that Elisha was convinced of the falsehood in his life, but rather a life changing experience. It was the touch of God Himself that changed Elisha from the old to the new. From an Elisha of "an unimaginative, self-centered farmer" - a life of meaninglessness and falsehood to the Elisha of truth and prophecy. To an Elisha who would spend the rest of his days walking around Israel preaching God's truth, and this vision of idealism and Yahadut. And of course this is the greatest difficulty that we as K'Cholmim face, the battle for the truth and the ability to create moments of experience that will wake people up to that truth.
So the question is what experiences have you had? Elisha experiences God, and this changed his life. It wasn't with arguments that Elisha was convinced of what is true and what is not, it was with a simple but profound experience. Many of us are chozer b'tshuva, and we all have our own story about what mundane experience proved so profound as to reframe our entire existence and change the course of our life.
So too with Israel. Israel is to be experienced, not analyzed. Have you experienced Israel? Were you perhaps disappointed? When you were searching for God, were you ever disappointed there? I was. Sunday school is not a 'positive' experience of God and Torah for most Jews. But does that mean it doesn't exist, or that your teachers were inadequate? To experience the real Israel is not easy - especially when the places in Israel most laden with kedusha and history are considered 'too dangerous' to allow Jews to visit, or because low and behold, most of our holy places are on the wrong side of this magical green line and therefore we should not visit. Have you ever seen the mishkan in Shilo? Have you visited the hills of the Shomron? Have you looked over Shchem and imagined the fields in which Joseph and his brothers played, and ultimately, tragically, fought? Have you walked on the Temple Mount and infused yourself with the spirit of God - as you stand in awe of His presence? Have you sat in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, watching hundreds of religious children who at age 8 know more torah than you run around as they fulfill the words of our prophets that children will play again in the streets of Jerusalem? Have you seen the devastation caused to our people at a bus bombing because Jews don't care enough about Jewish blood to do what we must to protect ourselves? Have you seen a desert that after a year was greener because of your presence? Have you?
Israel is to be experienced. Home is a symbol - a symbol is something which has meaning underneath the apparent object. The rocks of Israel are a symbol - a symbol of our home. Chazal say that the redemption will only come when we yearn for the rocks and dust of Eretz Yisrael. Which means, when the Jewish souls remember where home is, when we return home. I can not convince you with arguments WHY Israel is your home. SHE IS! Kacha! And if you have the nerve then you will come and find out why that is true.
So for all those who don't know what the experience of Israel is - come and find it! KUMAH! ARISE! Return home.
But there is one last problem. What of those who HAVE had this experience and yet chose to live in galut? To them, I say, remember with all your might the intensity of that experience. The problem with dream and reality is we confuse them so quickly. My best friend in college and roommate woke me up one morning at 5:30 shaking me hard, "David David". "WHAT?" I asked him. We had been working together non stop to lobby for Israel and had just run two incredibly Aliyah Shabbatonim where we engaged over a 100 Chicago Jews to discuss aliyah - over 50 now live in Israel. So he woke me up and said, "David, I just had the most incredible dream." "Tell me about it" I said. "Well, I was in Israel David, and it was just amazing, I was there" and he started to cry. This friend is not one for tears and I was shocked, but I realized what had happened. He had experienced Israel - without even being there! Because of his commitment to her - she reached out to him. And he cried. And he said, "I have to go David, I have to, how can I go?" So we sat for an hour and a half discussing options and ways he could leave the prestigious education he was receiving at the University of Chicago without enraging his parents and make aliyah this summer. He was so excited. He called his parents. He went to the aliyah agency. And he never came. (I would like to happily add, that since this was written he has made aliyah, married and Israeli, and they are expecting their first native born daughter in the coming months, b?sha?ah tovah!)
But what happened that initially held him back. Why did he not come? He experienced it. There is no question about it. He experienced Israel - but in America he stayed. Why? Because dreams only last for a short while. The experience can shock us into reality, his dream made him wake up to reality - no pun intended. But it doesn't last. You must grab hold of it and act on it right away, or else it dissipates. My friend, for whatever reason, despite all his energies wasn't able to hold on to that dream - a dream with more meaning and reality behind it than many other people's lives. A tragedy. But God willing there will be other moment's of clarity for him (addendum: and there were!), and he will find his way home to Israel again.
I say to you who DO know the experience of Israel - DO NOT LET IT PASS! DO NOT LET IT SIT IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND AND HEART. "One question I asked from God, to sit in the House of God all the days of my life?" The human mind is stubborn and complex, we prefer the easy 'reality' even if it is a lie. Don't live the sheker, remember your moments of clarity, remember what it felt like to walk down a street where there are more people wearing kippot than not, where there is a Jewish Army to defend us, where the air itself has a different taste - a Jewish taste.
Experience Israel, Remember Israel, Come Home to Israel. Your People await you.
Your people need you. Kumah.
Labels: Aliyah, David, philosophy, torat eretz yisrael
Full post and comments...