Longing for Home

When then-President Obama was running for the presidency, I heard a prominent ehrlicher lawyer say, “If he gets in, I’m moving to Eretz Yisrael.” (Obama did. He didn’t.) Recently, I heard such talk regarding this election, too.

Why only if “they” win will we be ready to move? We’re scared for our security. Otherwise, we’re comfortable and have no reason to move.

Someone asked me when I’m moving to Lakewood, where our children live. So I replied, “We’d like to move to Eretz Yisrael.”

He bewilderedly asked me, “Eretz Yisrael?! Why to Eretz Yisrael?”

For generations our ancestors craved and pined for Eretz Yisrael. To even ask, “Why Eretz Yisrael?” shook me.

Harav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, came from America to be the Rosh Yeshivah in Telshe Stone. He returned to the U.S. following the petirah of Harav Baruch Sorotzkin, zt”l. He and his Rebbetzin moved into an apartment in the dorm of Telshe instead of returning to his house. There wasn’t even carpeting in the rooms. One bein hazmanim, an avid admirer installed carpets while he was away. Upon his return, he was very upset that carpet had been installed. He lived in the dorm to experience galus. This is not where we belong.

His love of Eretz Yisrael was intense. He once told me, he was taking his private daily walk enveloped in his thoughts, and he heard someone singing, “Heharim v’hagevahos yiftzechu lifneichem rinah,” and he stopped to see who was singing, whereupon he realized “Oy, fun zich! — Oh, it’s me!” pointing to his chest.

People invest thousands of dollars so that their daughters will experience Eretz Yisrael. Yet how many times have I heard when it comes to making shidduchim, “We have to wait a few months till she gets back down to reality”? What did we invest for? What is the “real” reality?

All of us who have had the zechus of visiting Eretz Yisrael experience tremendously uplifting moments. When we leave, we wonder, how can we? Upon landing, we experience a culture shock of being back in a secular world.

As visitors, certainly we see the good — ure’ei b’tuv Yerushalayim. I had the kavod to speak in a shul in Yerushalayim and expressed my thanks to Hashem for the privilege of visiting Eretz Yisrael, with the fervent hope of returning. A Yerushalmi approached me afterward to thank me for highlighting the tremendous zechus of being in Eretz Yisrael, which never dawned on him.

We try to grab and absorb as much as we can in the short time we’re there.

One year, I was coming from the Kosel at 1 a.m., following the Siyum HaShas. Someone pointed out that there was a bus going to Kever Rochel, and then on to Me’aras Hamachpelah. I got on the bus. We arrived at Kever Rochel, and they were making a siyum haShas for the Kollel Chatzos, who learn there every night.

Another time, I had a ride from someone who frequents Me’aras Hamachpelah nightly. He picked me up at 3 a.m. When we arrived at Me’aras Hamachpelah, there were already a few people sitting there. Some were saying Tehillim; others might have been learning. From there we continued to Kever Rochel. It must have been close to 5 a.m., and there were already many people learning or davening. From there, I went to the Kosel and davened Vasikin.

I stayed on and took the 8 o’clock bus. On the way, two young Yerushalmi boys about 9 years old (not dressed in Yerushalmi garb), got on and sat near me. They sat down, took out some fruit and carried on a pleasant conversation. When the boy closer to me finished his fruit, he got up and disposed of his plastic bag. He sat down, closed his eyes and said the most beautiful brachah acharonah. Each word slowly and clearly, with kavanah. I was blown away. (Since then, I would like to believe that most of my brachos acharonah have been said with a marked improvement.)

Kedushas haAretz can even affect our nonreligious brethren. I heard from a friend, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, how he got into a taxi. The driver looked very menacing. He had a mohawk, wore chains and certainly did not inspire a sense of security.

He rolled his window down and started yelling across to another driver. “What are you doing here? You belong in Romema.”

The other responded that he didn’t have any customers there, whereupon this driver yelled to him to go back to Romema. “Hashem provides parnassah! You go back there and you will be provided for!” He drove off, still yelling (this time at Rabbi Ellis), “He doesn’t know? Hashem gives parnassah!”

Maybe we suppress those nostalgic moments that are etched into our memories as we contend with our chutz laAretz existence.

These times of political turmoil can help unleash our dormant yearning to bask in the splendor of the Shechinah back home in Artzeinu haKedoshah. This itself provides a tremendous nachas to Hashem, as is explained in Mesillas Yesharim (perek 19). There the Ramchal elaborates on how incumbent it is for the individual to beseech Hashem for the Geulah. One cannot underestimate himself and must say “b’shvili nivra ha’olam!” It creates such a simchah to Hashem that His children seek this.

Every vote counts. Every Yid counts. Every tefillah counts. Every tear counts. Let us all be counted to make Eretz Yisrael great again b’vinyan Beis HaMikdash bimheirah b’yameinu.

Rabbi Yelen is the Rav of Congregation Yagdil Torah, Southfield, Michigan.

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