Keeping Hashem as Our G-d in Our Exile

At the beginning of our sedra, our forefather Yaakov flees him home and runs for his uncle in Haran, hoping to settle down there while waiting for his brother’s anger to subside. He stops on the way to spend the night, and he dreams of heavenly angels. Hashem appears to Yaakov and promises him Eretz Yisrael, and Yaakov wakes up and, realizing he is sleeping on sacred ground, preparing to leave the Holy Land for an extended stay abroad, makes a promise to G-d. “If You will watch over me and support me on my journey…

וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה ה’ לִי, לֵאלֹקים
I will return in peace to the house of my father, and Hashem will be for me a G-d.” (בראשית כח:כא)

In return for Hashem’s security and support, our forefather promises… that he will return home and remain a servant of Hashem.

This is a little bit unusual, and perhaps even unnecessary. Yaakov was introduced to us as an “איש תם יושב אהלים,” which Chazal infer as either meaning that he is a homebody, or that he is a pious, righteous servant of G-d. Surely it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine that Yaakov’s two main goals before leaving Eretz Yisrael would be to maintain this status of “איש תם יושב אהלים,” i.e., return home to his father, and remain a G-d-fearing man. So, why was it such a “chiddush” to promise these in exchange for Hashem watching over him in his exile? This seems to be his nature.

Rav Teichtel, at the beginning of Em Habanim Semecha (הקדמה ראשונה, עמ’ ל), answers our question by quoting the famous gemara at the end of Ketuvot (כתובות קי), which teaches: “כל הדר בארץ ישראל – דומה כמי שיש לו אלוה, וכל הדר בחוצה לארץ – דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה.” He teaches that Yaakov Avinu, though he lived hundreds of years before the Written Torah was even given (let alone the Oral Torah), was well aware of this fact, and knew that leaving Eretz Yisrael would be tantamount to giving up service of G-d, forfeiting his status as “איש תם יושב אוהלים.” When faced with no practical alternative, Yaakov had to leave Canaan for the relative safety of Haran. However, before leaving Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov prayed for Hashem’s support and assistance, and promised, in return, to come home after his exile was over. His vow, “ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי והיה ה’ לי לאלקים,” was, in effect, one promise, not two; by returning to his father’s home, he would also re-embrace Hashem as his G-d, and thus return to his previous status of “איש תם יושב אהלים.”

What emerges from Rav Teichtel’s teaching is a very interesting caveat to the Gemara’s defining someone who lives in Chutz La’aretz as an idol worshiper. Even though it seems from the text of the Talmud that anyone who dwells there is as if he has no G-d, Yaakov’s story, his prayer and promise, show a third possibility, and hint towards how someone forced to live in the exile, can still remain an עובד ה’.

The key lies in the difference between living outside of Israel and settling there. If one, like Yaakov, has the perspective that they ideally would like to live in Eretz Yisrael, but for practical considerations cannot at the present time, then he can also have the same protection as an ‘עובד ה in Israel, just as Yaakov did when fled his home. All he needs to do is put himself into Yaakov’s mindset and remember that his time in the Diaspora is only temporary. If, like Yaakov, he makes his life’s mission “וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה ה’ לִי, לֵאלֹקים,” about returning to the land of his forefathers and becoming the most ideal type of עובד ה’, then he will be extended the same protection that Yaakov was granted, for he will see his time outside of Israel as an exile.

The danger lies in getting too used to the comfort of the Diaspora, and settling there. Very often, after extended time in the land of our enemies, the feeling of being away from home starts to fade, and the exile turns into a new home. At this point, when someone truly becomes a “דר בחוץ לארץ,” they are in the most danger of losing sight of both their physical goal (“ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי”) and their spiritual one (“והיה ה’ לי לאלקים”). It is at this lowest place, where a Jew is most at risk of losing his nationalist and religious identity, of becoming as much of an עובד עבודה זרה as his gentile neighbors, that he must remember and fulfill our forefather Yaakov’s promise, and come home before he passes the point of no return, becoming a “דר בחוץ לארץ” and being lost forever from his people.

History has shown that life for Jews in the Diaspora is dangerous. At times it may seem safe, and the economical benefits might outweigh the distant spiritual and physical dangers, but every one of our people’s numerous exiles, without fail, has ended in tragedy. Ideally, the best way to stay out of danger is to live in Eretz Yisrael, where Hashem’s personal השראת השכינה is protecting us, instead of the angels of the other lands.

But, if one, like Yaakov, needs to leave Israel for extenuating circumstances and temporarily exile himself, then it’s important to follow our forefather’s thought process and remember that the most important part of our lives as Jews is “וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה ה’ לִי, לֵאלֹקים.” If one lives far from Israel, but knows that his time in the Diaspora is only temporary and that he really belongs in the land of his forefathers, then Hashem will extend him the protection he needs in order to stay safe while doing what he needs to do there.

While this message is a beacon of hope for those who long for living in Israel but cannot make aliyah yet, it is a little bit difficult to stomach following the tragic terrorist attack in Paris last Friday night. While French aliyah, already at an all-time high, is expected to get even higher following the shootings and attempted bombings near French landmarks six days ago, what can the Jews who cannot yet leave France try to learn from these terrible tragedies?

It is my belief that these attacks served as a wake-up call and well-deserved slap in the face to France. While the 130 French people who were murdered certainly didn’t deserve their fate, it seems as if their country certainly deserved what it got. The tricolor state has been supporting Muslim terrorism for a very long time, playing host to the strongest BDS organizations, supporting deals with terrorists organizations such as Iran and failing to properly address rising anti-Semitism within their borders and abroad. They truly sealed their own fate by accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees without any questions asked. In 1940, they sold out our brethren (their own citizens!!) to the German Nazis because they bought into the anti-Semitic propaganda that Jews were taking over the world, but now they’re pefectly willing to accept refugees willy-nilly from a radical Islamist country. As the idiom goes, the French government has made its bed, and must accept the consequences of lying in it.

So, in response to Friday’s attacks from the Islamic State, my heart goes out to the people of Paris, who elected liberal leaders but couldn’t possibly imagine how much danger this would put them in. But I certainly do not stand with France… they’ve enabled my country and my people (and me, for that matter) to suffer from terrorism because, in their arrogance, they didn’t believe that Islamism would ever affect them. Now, I hope that they and the world as a whole can learn their lesson, wake up, smell the coffee, get their collective heads in the game, (insert preferred ‘getting with the program’ metaphor here,) and join the fight against global Islamic Jihad and anti-Semitism.

These events should also serve as a wake-up call to the Jews of the Diaspora to reexamine their ideals and goals, and determine if they really need to remain in exile, for they are putting themselves into tremendous danger if they are staying there for the wrong reasons.

With Hashem’s help, we will see all of World Jewry embracing Yaakov’s vow of “וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אָבִי; וְהָיָה ה’ לִי, לֵאלֹקים,” by returning home to Israel and ideal service of G-d. Only through this can we ever hope to merit complete destruction of our enemies, and the coming of the Redemption very, very soon.

Shabbat Shalom and Besorot Tovot.

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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