When my daughter messaged me that she landed in Israel, I replied welcome home. Later, on the phone, she told me that this was the first time she had landed somewhere and did not feel homesick. My message explained why. Israel is home.
It’s not just me. Aish.com once asked its readers to explain why they love Israel and the predominant response was that Israel is home. In Israel, I reconnect with my roots, said one. In Israel, I feel like I am with family, said another.
So, I ask, why? Why is Israel home?
Go Find You
More than 37 centuries ago, G-d instructed Abraham to go to Israel. And he said, “Lech Lecha”, go to yourself. When you arrive in Israel, you will find yourself. In the diaspora, a Jew is on the outside, looking in. In Israel, we are on the inside, looking inward. No matter where we look in Israel, we are looking inward. We see people on the street, they are our family. We see hills, they are our homeland. We see stones, they are our history.
Israel ignites the Jewish soul and plugs it into its source. Our sages taught, “One nation – in the land.” (Samuel II 23) The Jewish soul is only attached to G-d, who is one, when it is on the land. Israel is the gateway to heaven. From Israel, our prayers ascend directly to heaven. We can connect with G-d from anywhere in the world, but only via Israel. When we pray to G-d in Europe, Asia, or Africa, our prayers travel to heaven via Israel. But when we pray in Israel, we are already there. We are already home.
Israel is home, where we feel connected to every Jew and to G-d. In Israel, we feel the hand of G-d, guiding us. We feel divine love emanating from every stone and surface. The land pulsates with G-d’s love for His people. Our sages said, “The land is beloved to me and the people are beloved to me. I shall place the people that I love on the land that I love.”
Israel is home, where the mind and heart open to Torah in ways that are impossible elsewhere. The inspiration there is palpable. Jews return from Israel throbbing with a desire to do something, anything, for their people, land, heritage, and G-d. We return from Israel wanting to do more Mitzvot, wanting to study more Torah, wanting to connect with fellow Jews in more meaningful ways. Wanting to contribute to Jewish causes and to identify more openly, more completely, and yes more defiantly, as Jews. As proud Jews who hold nothing back and leave nothing behind. Jews, who have no reason to feel ashamed.
Israel changes us in deep and abiding ways. It leaves an indelible impression that doesn’t fade with time. The longer we stay, or the more frequently we return, the more the land grows on us. In a word, Israel is home. We feel at home in Israel in every way; spiritually, emotionally, historically, and socially.
The Second Day
From this foundation, we come to explain one of the stark differences in practice between Israeli and diaspora Jewry. Namely, the second day of Chag. We have two Seders in the diaspora, there is only one in Israel. We have two days of Shavuot, Israel has one. We celebrate Passover for eight days, in Israel, it is seven. What can be achieved in Israel in a day, takes us two days to complete in the diaspora.
There is something powerful about hitting the mark in a single day. If you can win the chess game in four moves, why waste time on a full game? If you can win the fight with a knockout punch, why waste time on twelve rounds? If you can win the game on a walk-off homerun, why play out the full nine-innings?
Yet, there is something special about having an extra day of chag. Playing out a full game creates a tension and a thrill that blowout games lack. The power of the game comes from its unfolding drama. Chag in Israel is a knockout punch. In the diaspora, it is a dramatic and exciting two-day event.
There is something special about finding G-d in the spiritually parched diaspora, yet, the fact remains that only in Israel can we experience the thrill of the all-inclusive, all-pervasive, one-day Chag. Israel is home. When G-d told Abraham to go to Israel, he said, go find yourself. As Jews, we can only truly and authentically plug into our Jewishness, when we are at home.
Go to Israel, said G-d. Go home, and there you will find your true Jewish self.