Having returned to Eretz Yisrael from the U.S. I have been trying to emerge from a kind of trance or slumber into which I became encapsulated in my brief stay in America. While I had a very nice time seeing family and friends and seeing how nice and comfortably everyone was living there, I looked forward to return to the “land G-d promised the Jewish people”. This weeks parsha, Nitzavim, states: Hashem will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and he will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you.….Hashem will bring you to the Land that you forefathers possessed and you shall possess it….
Israel is bigger than life. It goes beyond the dimension of any individual. It involves the history, the culture, the language, the suffering and the elation and finally the destiny of G-ds “chosen” people. It has been the dream of so many people through the last 2 millenia to settle in Israel, that I feel privileged and humbled that I somehow had the zcut(merit) to be living here.
I want to relate two stories that I heard in the week that I have been back which describe quite beautifully what Israel means to people and their desire to be here.
I was surprised and delighted last night when I heard a former Prisoner of Zion, Yosef Mendelevich, speak at the conclusion of a talk by Rabbi Rakefet. After being imprisoned in the Soviet Union for 11 years for openly trying to be Jewish and emigrate to Israel, he was freed and allowed to come to Israel. When he finally arrived after his long ordeal he requested from his entourage to walk to Yerushalaim. They explained it was quite far and would take him a long time. Although he continued to insist they finally convinced him to take a car. When he arrived close to the entrance of the city he demanded to be let out to walk the remainder of the way to the Kotel HaMa'aravi. As soon as people realized Mendelevich was in Israel and walking to the Western Wall, they started to form a group and walked behind him. As he continued walking the crowd swelled with people constantly joining the marching assemblage. By the time he reached the Kotel there were over 10,000 people walking, clapping and singing in sheer delight. It was an honor just to be in the room listening to Yosef Mendelevich talk about his joy of living in Israel.
The second story was related to me by Rabbi Jeff Bienenfeld who was a rabbi in St. Louis for the last 30 years before making aliya. Last week he attended a Tekes Aliya by a young lady he knew from birth and was asked to speak. What made the occasion so memorable was that the young woman was battling a cruel and vicious cancer for over a year and a half. Every known therapy was tried without success. Meira’s will to live has been nothing short of heroic. Rabbi Bienefeld spoke on the parsha Ki Tavo, and this is what he said:
The opening words of the Parsha read, “And it will be when you come into the Land … (21:1).” The Ohr HaChayim comments that the word, “ve’haya, will be” always connotes a mood of simcha. In this context, the reason is rather evident. Choosing to live in Israel engenders emotions of joy and happiness. One immediately benefits from all the many virtues and blessings for which the Land is famous.
This insight, though, begs an obvious question: “What is it about this one word, ve’haya, that conveys a message of simcha? Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l expands upon this observation of the Ohr HaChayim with this answer. When a “vov” is added to the past tense of a verb - in this case, “to be, haya” - it changes the tense from past to future (“vov ha’me’hapechet”) such that the word, “ve’haya” now means “it will be.”
For many people, the past is filled with so many trials and challenges, failures and defeats. Looking back, one sees dreams unfulfilled and promises dashed. The past appears bleak and gloomy. But when a “vov” is added to this “hayah (past),” suddenly a fresh future beckons, new horizons come into view and a renewed simcha is happily awakened. A transformation has taken place because no matter the past, so long as there is breath and life, you can always “add” to life. And when there is that “vov,” when that adding takes place, the promise of a future suffused with meaning and purpose can become a reality.
Making aliyah - deciding to live in Israel - powerfully invites such feelings of simcha. “I have chosen to “add” something very precious to my past and in so doing, my future is reborn and I am joyful in the deepest sense possible.”
How long, though, is that simcha meant to last? Is it to be measured in decades of joy, in years, in months? I submit that genuine simcha is measured in special moments, moments that may not have chronological duration, but are rather characterized by incredible depth. These moments have infinite value because each one embraces an eternity of meaning and significance.
All of us are blessed with such moments. For some, it’s the Bris, the Bar/Bat-mitzvah, the wedding of a child and/or grandchild; for others, it’s a Rosh Hashanah Nesaneh Tokef, a Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei. The list goes on. We need to catch these moments and live in them. They may be fleeting but no matter. The incomparable experience of elation and piercing truth of that moment will impact us forever. It will be for us a priceless treasure that will remain with us always.
And last night, for one very special person and her dear family, that moment came when her dream of making aliyah became a reality.
Shana tova to all my friends. Wishing you a year filled with bracha, happiness and meaning.