Israel: Destination or destiny?
“Lech Lecha…” leave everything Avraham is told as the father of our nation begins our history. Leave, leave it all and go to the place I shall show you, go to Israel.
The morning after the election, I spoke to a teenager who was devastated. He sat depressed as we prayed in shul, barely moving and hardly able to contain his tears. His face filled with stress, loss and fear said it all. I went over to him when we finished and told him: “hey cheer up I am sure it will be okay…” offering a consoling pat on the back. He answered: “for you it will be okay because you get to go back to Israel.” I was surprised at this answer. I said to him, “You could go to Israel as well,” but he just made a face and sulked away.
What is the meaning of Israel? What is Israel to me? What place does it have in my life and heart? After this turbulent week of elections, these questions flood my thoughts and weigh down heavy on my shoulders. People in my community and my fellow Shlichim’s communities are saying that it is time to leave America. Some are planning to move to Canada, others are saying they will move to Israel, but most are searching for a place, compiling a list of pros and cons to see what fits best. (The race is pretty much between Canada and Israel.) This may all be in jest, but in every joke there is a small amount of truth.
I ask myself, is this what Israel aspires to be? Is this what Israel is about? A mere safe haven from the tyrants of the world who wish to annihilate the Jews? Is it not something more?
If Israel is only a safe house for the Jews to protect from annihilation, then any other place we are safe is its equal. We might as well be in Uganda. In this case, why did Avraham bother leaving everything? Why did we travel 40 years in the desert? Why did we give so many lives for this small cause? Yearning for two thousand years to return to the land that is just a safe house? We might as well find the place of least resistance and camp out there till someone new comes to banish us off into our next exile. It even makes more sense to spread out around the world that way it is harder for our enemies to wipe us out. However, if it is more than just a means to and end, then the reality around us is irrelevant. Israel is the goal itself regardless of who is president for it is an essential part of our Jewish-national identity, history, and life.
This age-old question that has been argued for decades is still alive in us today. Is Israel a destination or a destiny? Is it a place like any other, or a place like no other? Whether we live in Israel or in America this may be the most important question we can ask ourselves.
The answer rings on loud and clear from this week’s parsha (Torah portion).
Israel is not a destination. It is not a vacation spot or a place where my “Israeli cousins” live. It is not the last resort or just a place that there are more Jews. Israel is a place of destiny. A place that calls to our hearts every day, constantly pushing us to return home. A voice calling us to leave everything and go. Like a fire in our hearts, the inexhaustible passion and desire for the Holy Land burns inside us for it is our destiny.
My parents left it all when I was 5-years-old. They got on the plane with my two older sisters and a younger brother and came to Israel. It was not easy and the road was paved with challenges and hurdles to overcome. I am very grateful for all they have done and sacrificed to grant me the privilege of having Israel flow through my veins.
My father said to me last week after people mentioned aliyah as a reaction to the elections, that anyone who says they will make aliyah if X wins the election will not make it. It takes more than that to survive; it takes the fire of destiny burning in our hearts. The same can be said for “yordim” — all the people who leave Israel for a whole myriad of reasons, but are really just missing this fire and are searching for a better place. Without this fire, it is impossible to make aliyah or to live in Israel, and impossible to be a true Jew living to our full potential and integrity.
There may be much nicer, easier and seemingly better places to be, but there is no place like home. There is no taste quite like the inspirational taste of destiny. It is the mission of our generation and of our lifetime to understand the great value Israel has to us. It is our mission to live via this great ideal and understanding. With this fire in our hearts, with this mission guiding us in our lives, maybe we can finally achieve what Avraham set out so long ago to try and achieve when he heard the voice calling from inside himself. The call of destiny, the great responsibility, whether you are religious or not, of being a nation of priests and a holy nation, Gd’s ambassadors to the world, a model society of truth and justice, or whatever you prefer calling it. The calling that cries on for our nation’s entire history, for us to lead the way and that through us the entire world as we know it will be healed and blessed, with peace, harmony and infinite light that shall eliminate all darkness for all of eternity.