R’ Chaim Leib Belsky, Ramat Eshkol, Yerushalayim
When we first came to Eretz Yisroel as a young couple, we did not give much thought to whether we “moved” here and to the possibility of “moving back.” We just saw ourselves as “living here.” This didn't preclude us from moving back, but it did take our focus off the emotional issue of having left our familiar and comfortable place, and it allowed us to focus instead on “living” in the here and now.
One who moves from New York to Cleveland does not think too much about how long he will end up being in Cleveland. In this regard, our move to Eretz Yisroel was the same. We sought to ensure that our reasons for relocating should b’ezras HaShem work out, and we endeavored to establish a comfortable home here.
It would have been counterproductive to refrain from investing in the necessary arrangements to make ourselves comfortable. Why should we shlep all those personal items from back home if we were only here to try it out? But then, how would we ever have felt at home here if we had been conducting ourselves as if we were in a sleep-away-camp or bungalow colony, living out of the proverbial suitcase?
We did not plan to be in Eretz Yisroel: we planned for being in Eretz Yisroel. This meant taking the necessary steps to live comfortably. The Gemara (Kesuvos 112a) relates that R’ Ammi and R’ Assi would move from the sun to the shade and from the shade into the warm sunny area while teaching their talmidim. Rashi explains that they would move to the more comfortable spot so that they wouldn’t come to complain about living in Eretz Yisroel. They did not look to overcome the prohibition of speaking negatively about Eretz Yisroel by controlling their feelings; they ensured that they would not have anything to complain about.
It is not about giving Eretz Yisroel a chance to suit us: it’s about giving ourselves a chance to appreciate Eretz Yisroel. There are various jobs and other opportunities in Eretz Yisroel, and many of them require only a minimal effort or investment. We should also have a bit of faith in ourselves when trying to speak the local language, as most of us have a solid background in Lashon HaKodesh, and with a bit of practice, this will make our lives significantly easier (this goes for trying to understand the local mentalities as well). From our own experience, these adjustments for success have made a significant impact in enabling us to establish ourselves here in Eretz Yisroel.
Most significantly, to appreciate living in Eretz Yisroel we must educate ourselves a bit through the lens of the Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu davened five hundred and fifteen tefillos to merit entering Eretz Yisroel. Throughout our history, many anashim yereim u’sheleimim [righteous people] were moser nefesh [made sacrifices] to come to the Land and lived here besimchah despite much difficulty and hardship. HaShem Yisborach has thrown open the doors of Eretz Yisroel bechasdo hagadol (in His great kindness) and made living here infinitely more feasible than it has been since ancient times. Why is it that some people are not more open-minded about the opportunity to do what their ancestors would have been moser nefesh for, at a time when physical comforts are widely available here?
I am not minimizing the significant factors one must deal with in making such a move. I ask, though, do we identify with the ideals of our ancestors? Do we appreciate what it is that HaKadosh Baruch Hu so desires about this Land? Do we recognize the ruchniyusdik and halachic significance of living in the Holy Land? Do we appreciate walking, quite literally, in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu and Dovid HaMelech, where the pesukim of Torah come alive before us?
There is also much to say about the atmosphere in Eretz Yisroel. The reality of shavas vayinafash [HaShem’s “rest”] on Shabbos is significantly easier to sense and appreciate in Eretz Yisroel. The shuk (marketplace), teeming with people on Erev Shabbos, is quiet and empty before sunset. One can feel Shabbos or Yom Tov approaching from the very flow of traffic on the streets. The entire financial system, banks, and all, close down from Friday until Sunday. You know which Yom Tov is approaching for weeks or months beforehand just walking the streets or going into the shops. Shofaros are being blown at all hours of day and night during Elul, so too the sounds of sukkos being built from the beginning of Tishrei. On Sukkos itself, the streets and alleyways are filled with sukkos. Merchandise being sold in all stores varies accordingly in the weeks leading up to Chanukah, Tu BiShevat, Purim, Pesach, and Shavuos. You do not have to be an overly spiritual person to be affected by the kedushas hazman that can be felt in the air.
A final thought: As with any mitzvah or ma’alah ruchnis (spiritual virtue), the yetzer hara will make matters difficult. This is especially true regarding living in Eretz Yisroel where one can reach greater spiritual heights than in chutz laAretz. The avira deAr’a (air of the Land) promotes shteiging and a desire for greatness in Torah and avodah, and one can grow exponentially without the distractions of chutz laAretz. Also, people in Eretz Yisroel don’t seem to get old, only whiter. You can see seventy and eighty-year-old yungeleit going to beis medrash to learn with a frishkeit (freshness) and a lebedikeit (liveliness). This is truly the Eretz HaChaim.
Learning and Teaching
Though I spent some time in Eretz Yisroel when I was younger, I did not have the experience of learning in Eretz Yisroel as a bochur. I learned in Telshe Yeshiva Chicago for a couple of years and then in Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin until my wedding. I will never forget my first impression of the Mirrer Yeshiva when I first came to Yerushalayim as a yungerman—the overwhelming feeling of awe in a “neighborhood” of Torah. I learned subsequently in my grandfather's kollelfor many years, and also had the opportunity to gain immeasurably from HaRav Yitzchok Berkowitz and HaRav Yechezkel Weinfeld. For the past ten years, I have had the privilege of learning and teaching in Yeshivas Tiferes Yisroel, a yeshivah for American bochurim.