As I stood there listening to the girl at the entrance to Lishkat Gius tell me that they would not let me in because I was exempt from army service, I was filled with many emotions. It is always very hard to give up on a dream. It is harder yet to give up on a dream that you have had for the last ten or so years.
As I stood there, understanding of my situation washing over me, I was angry. Angry at a system where the left hand can’t even tell what the right is doing. After seven months of trying to draft into the IDF, my dream of serving my country were washing away.
On my bus ride back to my apartment, while texting my friends and family about what had just happened, I was reminded that, while this door closed another was about to open up. A week before my so called “Tzav Rishon” I had had an interview in an architecture firm in Tel Aviv. An interview that had lasted all of but 15 minutes, I had been offered the job right there and then. Another door had opened up for me already.
Coming to terms with my reality I had decided to put the same efforts I was going to serve my country with, into the work I was about to begin. While most would have been downtrodden, I was for a little, I was empowered with the new knowledge I had. The knowledge that I could not serve my country in its defense, I would serve the State of Israel, the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, by building up the land.
It still give me chills to this day, that I am of the few, who get to sit there and say, I am performing the mitzvah of building up the land. Israel has always had a special place in my heart. It why from the ripe age of 15 I knew that I would one day move there. I had been raised to love and cherish the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. And so, while I pursued my passion in architecture in university, I longed and strove to be where my soul and my heart were.
It has now been ten months since I have moved to Israel, and that feeling of butterflies in my stomach is still fresh. This notion of building up the land, of rebuilding the land is a powerful one. It creates a direct attachment to the land. One day I will roam this land with my children and grandchildren and point to a building and say to them, “Did you know I built that building?” With every day that I arrive to work, I form a deeper connection to the Land of Israel. And through that I also further the coming of Moshiach.
The following remarkable story was told by Yigal Gal-Ezer, who served as Israel’s Vice State Comptroller. Gal-Ezer would often visit Rav Avraham HaCohen Kook’s home in order to be inspired by his holy presence. He writes about one such experience.
During one of my visits, I found the rabbi in his study, absorbed in a complex Talmudic topic. Suddenly I heard a hesitant knocking at the door. The door opened partially, and a Yemenite Jew — slight of stature, with streaks of white in his beard and long peiyot — entered the room.
The guest closed the door behind him and stood in the doorway, his back to the door. He lowered his head to the floor, afraid to look at the rabbi directly.
Rav Kook raised his eyes from his Talmud and looked at the man kindly. “Come closer, my son.” With a gentle voice, the rabbi tried to instill confidence in the visitor.
With slow steps, the man drew near to the rabbi’s desk. He remained standing, head down.
“What is disturbing you, my son?”
“Honored rabbi,” the Yemenite said. “I came to ask the rabbi an important question.”
“Ask, my son, ask.”
“For twenty-five years, I have performed backbreaking labor, from morning to evening. I weeded plots of land so that orchards could be planted. I planted saplings, dug up stones from fields, excavated foundations for buildings in Eretz Yisrael. I spent all my strength in exhausting manual labor. And yet I barely earn enough to support my family.”
Embarrassed, the Yemenite lowered his voice. “I would like to ask: is it permissible for me to immigrate to America? Perhaps there my fortune will shine and I will be able to properly support my family….” The visitor finished his short speech and remained standing in silence.
For several minutes, Rav Kook sat, deep in thought. Abruptly, he stood up, pointed to his chair and commanded the man, “Sit.”
The visitor became filled with trepidation. “Honored Rabbi,” he stammered. “It is improper that a stranger should sit on your chair.”
“Sit,” the rabbi repeated.
With short, reluctant steps, the Yemenite walked around the desk until he came to the rabbi’s chair. He slowly lowered himself into the seat.
As soon as he sat down, his head dropped to the desk and he fell into a deep sleep. A short while later, he woke, startled.
“What happened when you slept?” asked the Rav.
“I dreamt that I had passed on to the next world,” he reported. “My soul ascended to heaven. When I reached heaven’s gates, there was an angel standing at the entrance who directed me to the heavenly court. There I saw scales — scales of justice.”
The Yemenite laborer continued his account. “Suddenly, carriages drawn by horses rushed in front of me. The carriages were loaded with packages. Some of the packages were small, some were medium-sized, and some were large. The angels began unloading the packages, and they placed them on one side of the scales. That side of the scales plunged downwards due to the weight, until it nearly reached the ground.”
“What is the meaning of these packages?” I asked the angel standing before me.
“These, o mortal, are your sins and faults from your days on earth. Everything is accounted for,” he replied. My spirits fell.
Then other carriages arrived. These carriages were loaded with dirt, rocks, stones, and sand. As the angels loaded them on the other side of the scales, it began to lift up — slightly — the side of sins and transgressions.
“What is the meaning of these bundles of dirt?” I asked.
“These are the stones, rocks, and dirt which your hands labored to remove from the ground of the Holy Land. They have come to speak in your defense, for your part in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the Land of Israel.”
“Trembling, I stared at the side of merits. I saw it dipping lower and lower, lifting the opposite side. Finally the side of merits ceased moving. It stopped as it outweighed the sins — but just barely.”
“You see, my son,” Rav Kook told the man gently. “You have received your answer from heaven.”
This is a story that I have read many times. It is one that I find very near and dear to me. As you can imagine, when I sit and complain about the difficulties of aliyah, of my woes with the IDF; or when I think of all the sins that I have done knowingly and unknowingly; when I think of this story on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, it is this exact story that gives me faith, and courage. Faith that while I sin so greatly and I do not deserve salvation, that my mitzvot in helping with the mitzvah of settling the land, of building up the land will in the end outweigh anything I could have done as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The courage to stand and say, “Yes I will not serve in the IDF but I will serve Israel another way” And this other way, I have to come to terms with and know that it is just as important as anything else!
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