Shimon Apisdorf

Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in Our Hearts

The State of Israel, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, may need a lot of rethinking, and their relationship to COVID-19 demands careful reflection.

I’m writing these words with love, and I pray that is how you will receive them.

A Short Story

It was the winter of 2004, and I was feeling a need to add a little spiritual zumph to our family Shabbat experience. That led to a conversation with the Hornesteipler Rebbe, R. Michel Twerski of Milwaukee. Reb Michel, Chassidic Rebbe that he is, suggested I read stories of tzaddikim at our Shabbos table. I nodded my head, smiled politely, and said to myself, “You must be kidding. Not those fantastical, impossible-to-believe-and-take-seriously stories? So of course, I ignored his advice.

Three months later, we hosted Paul Goldstein for Shabbat. He was in Baltimore for a business convention. Not long afterwards, Paul sent us a book as a thank you gift, and just my luck, it was a collection of Chassidic stories. Had Reb Michel ascended to the heavens to intercede on our behalf and have Paul send us that book? I don’t think so, but I took the hint and decided we would read a story every Friday night for a year. I also decided that I would take off my hat of skepticism, put it on a shelf, and open myself to those stories. Well, I never retrieved that hat, and we never looked back. We’ve been reading chassidic stories almost every Shabbat since. I’m still not a chassid, but today I can’t imagine my relationship to Jewish life without the beautiful world of chassidic teachings.

And then it happened again, twice, but I’ll leave those stories for another time.

Israel: May I Take Your Hat

For over two millennia, Jews everywhere have believed that woven into the vicissitudes and wonders of Jewish history is a plan; a Divine plan for the nation of Israel, and the world, a plan that, though often impossible to discern, at it’s core, can be summed up in two words: galut, exile, and geula, redemption.

For well over a century, there have been large numbers of Jews who have seen in the State of Israel the antithesis of God’s plan for the Jewish people. Many see the Israel of today as the historical version of getting off at the wrong exit, or worse, as a fraudulent abomination. Incredulity screams: “A state conceived of and founded by Jews who mocked the very notion of a Divine plan for history were, and are, the vehicles for redemption, for God’s great geula? How could that possibly make any sense? And a secular, at times anti-religious state, that’s redemption!? Today’s Israel? Today’s Tel Aviv? Today’s Knesset? For two thousand years, that’s what we were praying? You can’t be serious!”

This isn’t an unreasonable perspective, and I’m going to address is, just not quite yet. At this point, I’m going to ask you for a favor. Remember how I took off my hat of skepticism when exploring Chassidic stories? Well, in light of COVID-19, I’d like to ask you to do something similar. Just like COVID has shown us that the world can change radically in the blink of an eye, and that we can suddenly begin to look at everything through a new lense, I’m asking you to consider another radical shift in thinking. For just 15 minutes, allow me take your hat of skepticism — I promise I’ll give it back — and hit the pause button on your ingrained doubts, on whatever preconceptions you might have about Medinat Yisrael, and open yourself up to considering the possibility that …

With the return to Israel, we are all living in the midst of a new reality.

Not just the Corona reality, but something even bigger, much bigger.

A reality called Geula.

To the possibility that …

Geula is an unfolding transformation in the condition of the Jewish people, and ultimately the world, that carries with it far-reaching implications.

To the possibility that …

The geula we’ve long been waiting and praying for is not at all what we expected, that we are actually in the thick midst, the foggy mist, of redemption; that the ingathering of the exiles may be nearing completion, that the doors to the land of Israel may be closing, and that instead of offering us paradise, geula is challenging us to rethink just about everything, and to accept the weight of great responsibility.

So, are you clutching your hat, or do you trust me with it for a while? Look, what do you have to lose? It’s not like any of us are rushing anywhere these days.

The Inner Meaning of Exile and Redemption

Nachman Syrkin, a leading thinker of the Socialist Zionist movement, saw the synthesis of Socialism, the redemptive Jewish vision of elevating mankind, and the need to jettison the “trash” of galus-based Jewish life, as the path to the Jewish future:

“The Zionism of the masses will not march arm in arm with sanctimonious religion, crowned by the traditions of the past … Quite the contrary, the masses will draw from Zionism the strength to free themselves from the chains of spiritual folly, in order to rid itself of the useless bonds of religious Judaism …” (Kitvei Nachman Syrkin, 102-104. See Parallels Meet, Ehud Luz, 194-95)

The Vilna Gaon saw things differently.

On the Ninth of Av, when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temples, we read the book of Eicah. There we find that exile is characterized as darkness, in fact, the ultimate darkness: death itself.

I am the Man … I have been led and driven into darkness, without light … He has worn away my flesh and my skin; and shattered my bones … has placed me in darkness, like the forever dead.”    Eichah, Book of Lamentations 3:1-6

I am the Man is the collective body of the nation of Israel that has been shattered and driven to the darkest of places, the place of death, the death of exile. According to the Vilna Gaon, death isn’t merely a jarring image of exile, it’s the perfect metaphor. Judaism defines death as the separation of the soul from the body. For the nation of Israel, death comes with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That nightmare event is the severing of the national soul from the collective body of Am Yisrael.

For the individual, death is followed by burial. The grave is where the lifeless body decays and lies at the mercy of the elements, it’s where a once whole body is reduced to a collection of disconnected bones. And for our collective Nation—Knesset Yisrael—exile is also the grave; the grave where we decay and lose all sense of inner unity and collective wholeness. The grave is where we devolve into isolated communities and broken, scattered individuals barely capable of seeing past the chitzoniut, the lonely surface layer of our narrow, truncated individuality.

Listen to the words of the Vilna Gaon—

“…ever since the time of the destruction of the Temple we have been like a body without a soul. Being driven out of the land of Israel is to the Jewish people what the grave is to the dead body of an individual. Chutz l’aretz, the lands of our exile, are a graveyard. And just like a body in the grave is powerless in the face of the insects and elements that tear away at it, so are we in the face of the nations of the world. And yet there remained, even in exile, large and significant communities, but just as the flesh and skin [of the individual] decay in the grave, so too the people of Israel: the flesh and sinews that bound us together decayed until there was nothing but bones, scattered bones, that with the passage of time became strewn further and further across the lands of exile. Gone was the unity, the deep, common bond of collective identity. All that remained were bones, here and there. And these scattered bones, these were the scholars (talmidei chachamim) that still possessed the last breath of larger life, until they too began to decay. Until all that remained was a small “spoonful,” of dust … and we hope and long for the day when we will arise from the dust that we have become, and when new life from Above will be poured upon us.”      Likutei HaGra, Safra D’tzniuta, Leah v’Rachel

 With this in mind, let’s now take a look at the book of Ezekiel.

Dry Bones

“The hand of God was on me; and it took me out by the spirit of God and sat me in the valley that was filled with bones. And He passed me over them, and they were numerous in the valley, and they were exceptionally dry … He said to me, “prophesy over these bones, say to them, ‘dry bones, hear the word of God.’ And God said to these dry bones, ‘I am bringing a spirit into you, and you will come to life. I will put sinews on your [bones], I will give you flesh, and cover you with skin …’ I then prophesized as I was commanded. As I spoke my prophecy, there was a sound; there was a loud noise, and the bones began to move towards one another. [Bones that had once been part of the same body found one another.]

And I saw that they had sinews and flesh and skin, but there was no spirit in them. Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the spirit and say, ‘God says: Spirit, come from the four directions, and blow into these murdered people and they will come to life.’ …and the spirit entered them and they came to life, and they stood on their feet, an enormous multitude.

He said to me, “These bones are the entire House of Israel … prophesy and say to them, God has said: I am opening up your graves, and raising you out of your graves, My nation, and I will bring you to the land of Israel … and I will put My spirit in you, and you will come back to life, and I will place you on your soil. Then you will know that I, God, have spoken and fulfilled.”    (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

The Stages of Redemption

When speaking about the eventual return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the Book of Psalms asserts that, “We will be like dreamers.” Sometimes, the enormity of a moment, of an event, is so startling that it can barely be grasped. So much so, that we experience a type of internal disorientation: Is this real or is this a dream?

Isn’t that what we are all experiencing today?

Even though we weren’t allowed to celebrate the Seder with our loved ones, we still can’t quite believe that actually happened. Even though millions have lost their jobs in a matter of weeks, we can barely grasp what’s unfolding right in front of our eyes.Even though elderly grandmothers and grandfathers are tragically sitting shiva alone, and we are barred from visiting them, we still can’t believe this is happening.

My contention is that something similar has been going on for the last century: We’ve been disoriented by a cascading series of events so startling and remarkable, yet so at odds with what we were anticipating, that we can’t believe it’s actually happening.

Based of Ezekiel, the Vilna Gaon, and others, we need to consider four critical points:

  1. Redemption is a multi-phased historical process that, like a fruit tree, slowly grows and eventually blossoms.
  2. The first phase of redemption is the opening of the graves, and bones finding their way to matching bone. So too the Jewish people will find their way out of the scattered graves of exile, the foreign lands in which we have lived, and return to the land.
  3. During this initial phase of return, the scaffolding of a new country will be built. Barren hills will be cleared of stones and boulders, mosquito infested swamps will be drained, citrus groves will be planted, and in a once parched land, cherry tomatoes, Waze, Mobileye, and cutting-edge hydroponics will be invented.

“Rabbi Abba said, “There is no clearer indication of the final days than this verse: ‘And you, O’ mountains of Israel, will give forth your produce and yield your fruits to My people, Israel, for their return is near.”  (Ezekiel, 36:8)     Commenting on that verse, Rashi says: ‘When the land of Israel gives it’s fruit in abundance, the final redemption is approaching, and there is no clearer indicator of the final days.’”

Throughout this initial phase, roads and highways will be paved, and where once there were only sand dunes, cities will be built. A communications and medical system will be established; solar energy, and desalinization of water will be developed along side hospitals, Start-Up Nation, and hopefully a Corona vaccine. However, in this phase, the spirit, the soul of the nation, will be weak.

  1. And then comes phase two.

“And I put my spirit in you, so you will live, and I will enable you to rest in your land, and you will know that I am God: I spoke, and I did.” (Ezekiel 36:14)

Is it possible that this is what the 19th century scholars, Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, and R. Naftali Tzi Yehuda Berlin, were intimating when they wrote that:

At first [the Jewish people] will be a scattered, limping flock, and later they will become strong and fortified. This process will be comprised of three stages: First the return of the exiled nation will begin … and afterwards there will be a small, incomplete government, and after that there will be the complete, permanent monarchy of the Moshiach from the House of David.” (Malbim, Micah 4:8)

“This is the parsha of geula, redemption. A clear prophecy that there is a detailed order to events, similar to how God told Moses in Egypt that redemption would progress in steps until it’s culmination at the sea … like the Ramban says in Song of Songs, that initially there will be a partial return to the land that will happen with the permission of the nations, and later a complete return.”  (Ha’emek Davar, Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

“‘With your entire heart and soul,’ This [final] greatest of spiritual levels is over and above the level [of teshuva] that was expressed earlier.”  (Malbim, Deuteronomy, 30:10)

Keeping in mind that geula is a multi-phased, historical process, consider the following:

“Rabbi Chiya the Great and Rabbi Shimon the son of Chalafta were walking in the Arbel valley at dawn when they saw the glimmering of the early morning star. Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Shimon, ‘my esteemed colleague, this [early morning light] is just like the redemption of Israel: in the beginning it will be little by little, yet, as it progresses, it will grow brighter and brighter. And why is it this way? Because the prophet said, ‘When I sit in darkness, God is a light for me.’ (Micah 7:8)”    (Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot 1:1)

“Regarding the first geula it says, (shmos 12:11), ‘And you shall eat it in haste, it is the Pesach offering to God.’ … and regarding the final geula it says, (Isaih 52:), ‘For you will not leave there in haste,’ And why is there this difference? … Because the first redemption [from Egypt] only lasted for a limited period of time, therefore the redemptive experience was like a bolt of lightning that appears in the sky and passes … While the final redemption is eternal and permanent and therefore it doesn’t happen in a sudden fashion, but in a way that reflects it’s permanence.”   (Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, chapter 47)

“The Messianic redemption does not result from one sudden, violent act of supernatural upheavel; redemption is a natural, progressive process which develops gradually and is like the daily growth of a plant.”   (Rabbi Avraham Chaim Feuer, ArtScroll, Shemoneh Esrei,. pp. 214.)

——— This is critical ———

According to the prophets Ezekiel and Micah, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Maharal, and the Vilna Gaon, geula is a gradual, inexorable process. In his commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Moshe Margoleis wrote that:

“When the Talmud quotes Micah, it is telling us that the nature of exile is darkness, and the nature of redemption is light. Just like the morning light appears little by little and slowly gets brighter and brighter, the same is true with the light-like redemption of Israel. As the Talmud goes on to explain, this progressive process is similar to what happened in the days of Mordecai and Esther.”  (Pnei Moshe, Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot 1:1)

Indeed, in the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews were far from deserving salvation, they had utterly despaired of redemption, and the events of the time unfolded in a gradual, natural fashion, without the fanfare of great miracles or any other indication that what was actually taking place was the stirrings of a salvation of historic proportions. In fact, as an indication of how obscure Divine involvement was at the time, the name of God is never even mentioned in the Book of Esther.

Where Does This Leave Us?

We have seen that there are two primary phases to geula; the first is more focused on the physical reconstitution of the nation and the development of the land, and the second on the spiritual refinement of the nation. That being the case, the question of the day is, “where are we today?”

To understand this, we need to turn to the Ramchal, R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato. The Ramchal tells us that the first phase of redemption is called pekida, and the second phase is zechira. Very importantly, he also identifies a third phase, ma’avar, the transitional period between pekida and zechira. This transitional phase, like transition tends to be, is characterized by extreme confusion and distress. Like transition in childbirth, or the joy of adolescence, when teenagers segue ever so smoothly from youth to maturity, transition is traumatic. In his Mamar Ha’geula, the Ramchal discusses the phases of redemption in detail. He also tells us that the first phase of geula is that of Mashiach ben Yosef, while the second is that of Mashiach ben Dovid.

“The Ramchal was devoted to explaining the concepts of the final, complete geula, both it’s external, and deep, internal dimensions, as they relate to Israel and the world. He dealt extensively with the inner meaning of the two Mashiachs; Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben Dovid, for the culmination of all events in Jewish history—separately and collectively—are the two Mahiachs; the external and the internal, that must ultimately unite in the form of geula shleima.”   (HaNazir, R. Dovid Kohen, Kol Nevuah, 309)

(The following is from the Machon Ramchal edition of Ma’amar ha’geulah. Roman numerals indicate the section, and numbers indicate sub-section. Italicized text is additional external sources.)

The prophet Micha says, ‘Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for even though I fall, I rise again! Though I sit in darkness, God is my light.’ This verse contains the secret to the ever-hopeful Jewish confidence that eventually there will be a complete redemption … (I:1)

One must understand that there are two phases to redemption, and both of them were present in Egypt, as well as Babylonia, and so it will be in the future … “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for even though I fall, I rise again!” (Micha 7:8) refers to the first phase of pekidah. “Though I sit in darkness, God is my light,” is the second phase of zechirah. There are many verses that refer to this phased process, including (Isaiah 52:2) “Shake the dust off of yourself; get up, sit, Jerusalem,” which is the pekidah, and the end of that verse, “release the shackles from your neck, captive daughter of Zion,” which is the zechirah. (I:6)

pekidah and zechirah are the driving forces within Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David, and together unlock the future redemption. (I:8-9)

It’s vital to understand that [during pekidah] the revelation of God’s hidden face (hester panim) is only present at the deep [subconscious] level of the collective soul of the people of Israel. It’s not open and revealed at that time, and even further, even that great inner revelation lasts only for a period of time; it’s temporary, though it makes it’s impact, and then retreats until … It’s first impact is that it lifts the Shechinah (the grand collective of Kenesset Yisrael) from the dust … And don’t think that nothing is accomplished during pekidah, for there is profound rectification … still, it is followed by a period of darkness, a darkness that leads to a progressive diminution of Torah, a [national, spiritual] weakness. (I:10-11, 18)

The Vilna Gaon also spoke in terms similar to the Ramchal.

“In his commentary on the Zohar (Truma 14:2), our teacher (the Vilna Gaon) explains that the purpose of Mashiach ben Yosef is the ingathering of the exiles. That stage is called, “the dawn” that proceeds the “daylight” … The wonderous, Godly influence, who’s goal is the return of the Shechina to Zion, and the nation to their land, operates in a hidden, step-by-step, roundabout fashion … part of which is the secular form in which events are wrapped …”    (Kol HaTor, Yosef Rivlin edition, 3-4)

Today we are somewhere between the dawn and the daylight. And those are actually the darkest moments; the time when the faint light of the moon and stars have faded, while the illuminating rays of the sun have yet to appear. That, I believe, is where we are; in the throws of transition—the birth pangs of Mashiach—careening through a too-fast-to-grasp series of historical events: WWI and it’s unprecedented upheaval, WWII and the Holocaust, 1948, 1967 and the Kotel, the invasion on Yom Kippur, suicide bombers and a 100,000 Hezbollah missiles pointed at Israel, and now, everywhere, the hell of Corona.

The question, however, is what does all this mean for us?

Unfolding stages of redemption;

A phased-in historical process;

The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel;

Jewish sovereignty, and a Jewish state.

And now a global pandemic, that’s ravaging Orthodox communities and institutions with particular fury, that is distancing us from one another, and that has brought travel to Israel to a grinding halt.

Are we just helpless passengers on a nightmarish ride, hoping and praying that it will end soon; post terror, post Hezbollah and Iran, post Corona. Or …

Awakening From Below

How many times have we heard the words geula shleima?

According to the Prophet and our sages (Sanhedrin, 98a. b’iyto achishena) Geula Shleima—the complete redemption—will come, either ultimately, “in it’s time,” or at an earlier time when, “I will hasten it.” The difference maker that will determine how soon, is us:

God is your shadow …” (Psalms 121:5)

… God is our shadow, and like every shadow, He follows our lead. As the Ramchal says, (Daas Tvunos chelek bet, p. 22-23), “Therefore, the actions of the Creator change based on their (Am Yisroel) desire.
For He always aligns Himself with their will and desire

This breathtaking picture of our potential to shape the unfolding geula is an expression of a profound principle found in the Zohar and the sefarim ha’kedoshim. It’s known as itaruta d’ltatah and itaruta d’layla, the relationship between an “Awakening from below,” and an “Awakening from Above.” This dynamic relationship between our will, choices, and actions, and God’s shadow-like response, is the great determinant on which the hinges of history, and geula shleima, swing.

“There is no itaruta d’layla, no Awakening from Above, until there is first an itaruta d’ltata; for the itaruta d’layla requires a yearning from below.”   (Zohar aleph, 86:2)

Please arrive and have mercy on Zion, for it is time to mercifully favor her; for the destined time has come. Because your servants lovingly desire her very stones, and cherish her dust.” (Tehillim, 102:14-5)

Reflecting on these verses, Rabbi Yehudi Halevi says at the end of the Kuzari, “The only way Jerusalem will be rebuilt is if the children of Israel intensely long for it, so much so that they express their love for her stones and dust.” The primacy of an awakening from below firmly places the manner in which the geula unfolds in our hands.

… Does God Speak Through the Headlines?

Wouldn’t it be great if God would just tell us what’s going on? It turns out, that to an extent, even a significant extent, He does. In his essays on Rosh Hashanah, R. Avigdor Nevenzal says that—

Though we don’t have prophets like we once did, nonetheless, we have something similar: Newspapers, and the daily news! This is the word of God being delivered to us regularly, every day, in the form of headlines and news broadcasts.”  (Sichot Yom Kippur, 101)

In a similar vein, just one month before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, R. Eliyahu Dessler wrote a letter in which he addressed the concept of the Shofar of Eliyahu that will be sounded as the geula approaches. At that time, R. Dessler was reflecting on the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the rise of Communism. He says that those events were nothing less than the “voice of Eliyahu.”

Yes, Eliyahu will sound a shofar, and, like on Rosh Hashanah, we are called upon to listen to what’s being said, though Eliyahu’s shofar isn’t made from a rams horn, but rather from great events with which we are confronted. Clearly, the return to Israel, the establishment of the State, and all that we’ve been confronted with over the last seven decades, and certainly Covid, is, in some way, the shofar, and it’s speaking to each of us.

The final teshuva is not possible accept for the person who hears the voice of Eliyahu speaking to him, which is
Eliyahu coming personally to him
.” (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:209)

The Anatomy of Redemption

Redemption has an underlying spiritual anatomy, and it looks like this:

Phase One:              Physical: Return to the land. Itaruta d’ltata. Infrastructure.      Mashiach ben Yosef. Pekida.

Phase Two:              Transition: Confusion. Turmoil and machloket. Bewilderment.

Phase Three:           Spiritual: Return to the soul. Itaruta d’layla. Mashiach ben David. Zechira.

Redemption also has a historical anatomy, that looks like this:

Phase One:              Physical redemption. Yosef. Exodus. Pesach.

Phase Two:              Transition. Trauma at the sea. Desert. Counting the Omer.

Phase Three:           Spiritual: Itaruta d’layla. Moshe. Torah. Shavuot.

Redemption today also has an anatomy paralleling both spiritual and historical.

Phase One:              Physical return: Secular Zionism. State. Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Phase Two:              Transition: War. Who is a Jew?! Bitter divisions. Terror.

Phase Three:           Spiritual: Kotel. Har Ha’bayit. Awakening. Yom Yerusholayim.

With this in mind, we can now understand why the founding and building of the State of Israel was not only carried out primarily by non-religious Jews, but that this is exactly what is to be expected. Phase one is characterized by the more physical, the chitzoni, the actual construction of a physical edifice. This is followed by the travails of a journey into the wilderness—transition, upheaval, machloket, spiritual confusion—and only later, the gradual emergence into the final light, when the entire family of Israel will embrace in a dancing stream of warm tears, as we enter our restored home. And so—

Let’s go back two hundred years: Back then, if you were to ask a Jew to describe the days that make the months of Nisan, Iyar, and Sivan so significant, you would be told about the Exodus, the sea, the desert, the Omer, Lag b’Omer, and Shavuot. And obviously, that description would be completely correct. However, if you were to ask that question today, the same answer would only be partially correct. Today, woven into the spiritual tapestry of this unique time of year, is a new layer of enormous significance and inspiration, the layer of geula; woven from magnificent, shimmering techelet threads called Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Yom Yerusholayim.

The Shofar of Corona?

Pesach:   “And no man shall emerge from the entrance of his house.” (Shmot 12:22)

Culmination of history:   “Go my nation, enter your rooms, and close the door behind                                                    you.” (Isaiah 26:20)

Echoes of Corona?

Regarding the verse in Isaiah, our sages say that the inner meaning of enter your rooms, is enter the inner rooms of your heart.

We spent seder night, like our ancestors, secluded in our homes. The rest of Pesach was more of the same: Stay at home. Now, though some restrictions have been lifted, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we will once again be in lockdown. No gatherings with family and friends, no nation coming together in parks across the country. Just stay at home.

Perhaps we were ordered to have Seder alone—so that we would speak a little less about that geula, and listen more to the voice of geula all around us. Perhaps that’s why again, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we’re being told that instead of going out there, we need to stay in here; in the realm of our deepest, truest, inner selves.

Rabbi David Kohen, the holy Nazir of Yerusholayim, taught that the particular avoda, the particular spiritual practice of this era of unfolding geula, is shmiya, listening. At Sinai, we “heard” God, we didn’t see Him. The quintessential Jewish prayer is the Shema; a call to the nation, and to every Jew, to listen. And every Jew, begins every year, listening to the voice of the shofar. And so, if, as R. Dessler says, the voice of Eliyahu, the voice heralding the final stage of geula, comes in the form of historical events, then does it not behoove us, particularly on Yom Ha’atzmaut, particularly on a day marking a salvation and remarkably profound shift in the course of Jewish history—a shift towards Eretz Yisrael, towards Yerusholayim, and towards Har Habayit—to listen? And, just like it was impossible during Pesach in the midst of Corona not to look at things differently—not to listen differently—then the same must be true, perhaps even more so, on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

My Greatest Fear

As I said at the outset, I’m writing these words with love.

If I have come off as preachy, I apologize.

I’ll conclude with this:

For years, my greatest fear was that something would transpire, that the exits from America would slam shut, and we’d be cut off from Israel, and then 9/11 happened. I remember the kids being in lockdown in their schools and being told not to come and get them. I didn’t listen. I went to the schools and got our kids. I had no clue what was going on, but I knew that I just wanted us all together at home. A short time later, we put our house on the market.

Newsweek magazine quoted R. Yacov Perlow, the Noviminsker Rebbe (recently deceased from the virus), as saying, “Today, the world is not the same as it was yesterday. If we are the same as we were yesterday, then it is pure folly.” The shofar we heard said, “Come home, I just want us all together.” Over my desk, I put another quote that read, “What if 9/11 was a wake-up call, and we didn’t wake up?” Twelve years after 9/11, we made aliyah.

And then Corona.

Six weeks ago, March 18th to be exact, Israel closed it’s doors. I broke down and sobbed. What about all those Birthright trips? What about all those young people that spend a year or two in yeshiva, seminary, or university? What about all those families that come for chagim and bar and bat mitzvahs? What about …

Suddenly, Next Year in Jerusalem became, oh my God, will Israel ever again be as accessible to Jews as it was up until March 18th, 2020? Is the door closing?

My dear brothers and sisters, forgive me, but on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I believe that we need to retreat into the private, inner chambers of our hearts, and see if we don’t hear the voice of the Eliyahu: The tekia and terua of geula all around us; the notes of redemption sounding from within the State, and the melody of redemption echoing from Yerusholayim.

As it says in the Yom Ha’atzmaut machzor: Following the evening prayer, “One returns home with a feeling of joy, and greetings are exchanged—  Moadim l’simcha, l’geula shleima.”

You can have your hat back now.

About the Author
Shimon Apisdorf is the founder of Operation Home Again, the first organization solely devoted to community-based Aliyah. He has also authored ten books that have sold over a quarter million copies and have won two Benjamin Franklin awards. The Apisdorf's made Aliyah in the summer of 2012.
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