Five years ago, we were in Israel, visiting Yehudah, the brother of a friend from the US. I asked him why he had moved his young family to Israel. The answer he gave me wasn’t the answer I expected. I thought he would talk about being close to his family as his parents had made aliyah, or a Zionistic connection, or the ability to live a fuller Jewish life with his family. But it wasn’t the answer he gave me — he told me that it was the disconnect between the words he was saying with his tefillah and living a comfortable life in the US. He told me, “I either had to quit davening or make aliyah…..so I made aliyah.”
Five years later, I still think about his answer, because I have the same disconnect between the words I am saying to HaShem with my tefillah and our life in the US. In our tefillah, Israel and Jerusalem are mentioned throughout. Here are just a few reminders of how often we ask God to help us return to and rebuild Israel.
* Just before we say the Shema: Vholychaynu mehayra commeyot leartzenu…. Lead us swiftly upright to our land.
* Within the Shema: Lmaan yerbu ymaychem… (to put on tefillin and put up mezuzot ) in order to lengthen your days and the days of your children upon the land that HaShem swore to your forefathers.
* Within the Shmoneh Esrei Vcabtzenu yachad mayarba canfot haaretz leartzenu… Gather us from the four corners of the earth to our land.
* Also within the daily Shmoneh Esrei Baruch ata HaShem … the builder of Jerusalem.
* Within Tachanun: Vzaro Yeerash aretz….. and His offspring shall inherit the land.
* Before the Bircat Hamazone.. Shir HaMaalot… Some say this was almost the Israeli national Anthem and that Menachem Begin recited it at the UN. It is the psalm that accurately depicts our joy in returning to the Eretz.
* Within the Bircat HaMazone Baruch atah HaShem… for the land…. Thank you for the bounty of the land.
* Within the Bircat HaMazone Baruch atah HaShem ….who rebuilds Jerusalem.
* Within the Bircat HaMazone HaRachaman hu… break our yoke (of oppression) from on our necks and may he guide us upright to our land..
There are many many more. So the root question Yehudah posed to me by his answer was – “What do you think about during your tefillah when you say those words?” The Talmud tells us that words of tefillah without action are empty words. So the question I have to answer, as he did, is what am I supposed to be thinking about when I say those words? Am I supposed to give HaShem any help in gathering us? Or how about in just gathering our family? If Israel is a gift and the parent-child analogy holds in our relationship to God – Can a child thank a parent for a gift and not use it? Can a child ask a parent for help (in returning and rebuilding) and not take it?
For no other mitzvah do we ask God to do all the work while we wait for a miracle. In order to do our part to make Shabbat, we light candles and we make Kiddush and prepare a beautiful meal, etc. Likewise for the Chaggim. We don’t just pray for those less fortunate, we contribute. We don’t just pray for the sick, we attempt to visit and call and make sure they have the best care available. We don’t just pray for a bride and groom, we take part in their simcha. We do our part. Why would we not do our part with this mitzvah?
I have asked family and friends and Rabbaim in the US what they contemplate during those tefillot. Some have told me they look at those tefillot as applying collectively to the Jewish people and that it is not necessarily their personal responsibility. They contribute in other ways. Some have told me that they don’t consider making aliyah a commandment. They are sincerely awaiting a miracle – the coming of Moshiach. Some are doing critical kiruv work in the galut which is a pre-requisite for even understanding this conversation or having an interest in Eretz Yisrael.
Yet many actually feel the same disconnect as Yehudah. However for valid and important reasons; e.g., making a living, taking care of elderly parents, important family medical challenges, unwilling spouses, etc., they are unable to assist HaShem in this mitzvah at this time.
For those of us do not have those challenges though, the disconnect can be strong. I recall a shiur given by Rabbi Yitzhak Breitowitz on whether one is required to make aliyah. He covered the full spectrum of Jewish halacha and thought on the topic. In concluding the shir he said, “One may not be required to make aliyah, but one should be a little bothered every day by living in the galut.”
Yehudah’s disconnect continues to resonate with me. I feel it every day when I say my teffilot. I am bothered as Rabbi Breitowitz was bothered (before he made aliyah). B”H our disconnect will soon end and we will have the opportunity to return and live with our people and contribute to artzeynu – to our land.