Yechezkel Toporowitz, Shmuel HaNavi, Yerushalayim
I have my roots in Eretz Yisroel. My grandfather had come to Eretz Yisroel in the 1930's already as a bochur, as he felt that it was getting dangerous to stay in Europe. He eventually went to Chaifa, with the encouragement of the Chazon Ish ztz”l, settling in the then-completely irreligious neighborhood of Neve Sha'anan. He was one of the only Chareidi people who were raising their family in the area. He dreamed of building a yeshivah there which would be a positive influence on the whole area, and he and his sons were eventually instrumental in the founding and upkeep of the prestigious Yeshivas Nachlas HaLeviim in Neve Sha'anan. Despite financial difficulties and ruchniyus challenges, my grandparents were moser nefesh for yishuv Eretz Yisroel and for spreading the light of Torah.
I was born in London, where my father had come as a bochur and married my mother. When I was eight years old, we moved to Eretz Yisroel – my father's home country. Our family was here for about ten years, and then left for the U.S. As I was in yeshivah at the time, I stayed behind, considering myself still a resident of Eretz Yisroel. Two years later I married my wife, who grew up in Bnei Brak. We subsequently moved to Monsey, where I was a magid shiur and mashgiach in a yeshivah for Israeli baalei teshuvah.
I was actually quite successful at my job, and happy to be disconnected from the social pressure I felt when we were in Eretz Yisroel (maybe because as a foreigner in the U.S., I didn't feel a need to fit in; this might be true in the converse – for an American immigrating to Eretz Yisroel). I will even admit that there were some ma'alos I attained during this period that I would possibly not have achieved in Eretz Yisroel. At the time, I wasn't aware of the importance of yishuv Eretz Yisroel, for which my grandparents had been moser nefesh. We viewed our grandfather as a Torah pioneer, with no difference to us had his activities taken place in chutz laAretz or in Eretz Yisroel. He was actually involved with the opening of two Novardok yeshivos when he was still a bochur back in Europe.
Three years later we decided we were done with our stint in Monsey, and we headed back to Eretz Yisroel. Our move was purely technical, with nothing at all to do with the ideal of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. When we came back to Yerushalayim, I experienced a huge culture shock – I think even more than a total foreigner would have. As someone whose formative years were spent in Eretz Yisroel who then experienced a disconnect from the so-called "harsh" Israeli culture, it was all suddenly back “in my face.” I am embarrassed to say that there were days when I would think to myself, “what am I doing here?”
After a short while, I went to visit my father in Monsey. I chanced upon a nice house available to rent there, and we found ourselves pulled back to the quiet atmosphere there. That's how we ended up back in Monsey, and we could have ended up staying there for many more years if not for the substantial change of mind that we went through. I found myself constantly trying to justifying my stay in chutz laAretz through all sorts of ideologies that I adopted (for this purpose...).
One day, a friend suggested that I learn with him a masechta from Seder Zera'im. We started learning – I don't recall which masechta it was, maybe Shevi'is or Pe'ah – and after a short while, maybe a week or two, I started getting strong feelings for Eretz HaKodesh. I have no way of explaining this as a natural phenomenon. Everything was going for us in Monsey: We had a nice house (albeit rented), two cars (albeit a bit old), the kids were learning in good mosdos, and we were thriving with the quiet and serenity of Monsey. HaKadosh Baruch Hu just put a powerful idea in my head and I began feeling passionate about Eretz Yisroel – the Land which HaShem always has His Eyes focused on.
I found myself wondering, “What am I doing here? I have a house in Eretz HaKodesh, I have the possibility of living there – it's not just a random place where people live because it's comfortable to live there.” Similar thoughts continued to flutter through my mind, until one day I told my wife, “We've had enough of this romance with the serenity of chutz laAretz!”
We were headed back to Eretz Yisroel, but this time it wasn't because it was technically better or would work out better to live there. This time we were going for the sake of it being Eretz Yisroel, even if it would be difficult. Our Gedolim throughout the generations strongly desired to come here; some of them had to overcome serious difficulties and literally be moser nefesh. Like them, this time we would return with a desire to connect with Eretz Yisroel itself.
We moved again to Eretz Yisroel, but this time we were emotionally prepared to deal with the difficulties. The knowledge that what we were doing was for the sake of yishuv Eretz Yisroel gave us the strength to overcome the challenges. Since then, our emotions towards Eretz Yisroel have grown stronger – we feel strongly connected. It's a whole other world, entirely different from our earlier experiences of living in Eretz Yisroel.
In conclusion, I would say that each person who comes here or stays here in Eretz Yisroel, in spite of any challenges and at any level of mesirus nefesh, is taking an active part in rectifying the sin of the Meraglim. May we merit to see the world through the lens of Torah and Geulah, and may we be zoche to the Geulah Sheleimah!
Deepening our Zechus - A Mitzvah with a Neshamah
Even those of us who are zoche to live here in Eretz Yisroel should ask ourselves: Are we here in Eretz Yisroel just to live here, or to really settle here? Even if we're here to settle, is it just for technical reasons – even if those technical reasons are ruchniyus-related, such as having a better place to learn – or for the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel? Even if it's for the mitzvah, is it just for the actual mitzvah, that, as with any mitzvah, can also be performed without a neshamah – or is it with a desire to connect to the inner dimension of Eretz Yisroel and its kedushah, and to appreciate each and every moment that we are zoche to live here?
In our day and age – when the process of kibutz galuyos and the Geulah is continuing to unfold before our eyes – we may be able to add: Is it just a private and personal thing to be here, or do we feel we are a part of HaShem's pekidah (consideration) of Eretz Yisroel and Am Yisroel, on the way to His zechirah (remembrance) and ultimate geulah?