“I just don’t get it. Why leave a life that’s simple, comfortable, near family, to come to this crazy country??” Most people who choose to make aliyah from places like North America hear this battery of questions at least once. Whenever I’m confronted with it, I’m reminded of a Jewish Agency poster “promoting” aliyah that I saw when I was about 10 years old. “We never promised you a rose garden,” it read, with classic Israeli bluntness, displaying a field of forbidding looking thorns with a single beautiful rose in their midst. Very tempting.
But it’s true. Life in Israel is thorny. It’s difficult, and it’s about more than just the economics of living here. Life is lived on high voltage, literally and figuratively, for better and for worse. (Usually, it seems like when it’s worse, we’re better, and when it’s better, we’re worse. It’s an alternating current.) Every argument is for the soul of the nation, every crisis is existential, whether it’s about religion, politics, security or cottage cheese.
It’s not like Egypt here, the Torah tells us. There, you go outside, kick a furrow in the ground, and you have water. In Israel, as basic a necessity as water is a barometer for good behavior, and so naturally, it’s a life of ups and downs, hills and valleys. As mentioned earlier, this doesn’t provide us with clear spiritual guidance, but it does reflect the way everything here is played at high stakes.
It’s a life lived coping with the feeling of constant, disproportionate scrutiny. While inhuman brutality is the norm all around us, isolated incidents of radical fringe individuals receive extensive international coverage. (Why does The New York Times feel the need to run an article about the attendance at one of the several demonstrations held throughout the country protesting last week’s violence?) But no one scrutinizes us more than we do ourselves. From NGOS, to the media, to opposition parties, to the Prime Minister and the President, soul searching and breast beating are constant features of the landscape.
But all this is just the human echo of God’s scrutiny. It’s the price, and the privilege, of living in the land “that God seeks, that God’s eyes are always upon, from the beginning to the end of the year.” If we came here, thorns and all, it is out of a desire to clear out the thorns, to live a life worthy of great expectations.
This is a blog with a daily reflection on the 929 chapter of the day. Learn more about this wonderful project on their website, 929.org.il.