I’ve been thinking about something for a long time and then last week, I had a heated discussion with a friend about Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people, and that discussion really crystallized things for me.
The person I was talking to asked me a simple question. “You think all Jews belong in Israel?!”
The question was asked genuinely but it was clear that his answer was no. My answer was yes.
Now before I continue, a huge disclaimer is in order. When I say all Jews belong in Israel, I mean that that would be the situation in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world and some people have financial constraints. Others have elderly parents in America. Some have children who need help they might not be able to get here. Others are educators who can do more good there than here. Every Jew belongs in Israel but that doesn’t mean that every Jew belongs in Israel right now.
In other words, in the terminology of the Talmud, lechatchila (ideally), every Jew should be living in Israel. Bediavad (in a non-ideal situation), there are many reasons for someone to live outside of Israel but the important thing is to understand that living outside of Israel should not be glorified or turned into an ideal.
But that’s not the thing I’ve been thinking about. This person replied to my claim that all Jews should ideally live in Israel with the argument I’ve heard thousands of times. “But many people move to Israel and become less religious. I’d rather stay in the U.S. and be frumer (more observant), learn more Torah, do more mitzvot, etc. than move to Israel and worry that my child will become non-observant.”
Now I was getting worked up. First of all, if you are an observant Jew and your child doesn’t follow in your footsteps, then ask yourself why that is, but to blame Israel for that? Absurd!
Also, becoming non-observant, while to a religious Jew is not a positive thing, is still better than full assimilation and the total abandonment of your tradition. Do you know the rate of assimilation in America right now?
But forget all that. We are all familiar with the story in the Torah of the spies. If you’re not, before entering the Land of Israel, the Israelites sent spies to see how feasible it is to enter the land.
They chose 12 of the greatest leaders to go see the land. Ten came back saying negative things about the land. The nation believed the spies and were punished for generations.
As kids, we learn that the transgression was speaking badly about the Land of Israel but as adults, we know that that was only the symptom. What was their real sin?
Well, think about it. Picture this scenario. The Jews have been wandering the desert for 40 years, receiving food directly from God, being protected by clouds of glory, and they have a direct line of communication with their creator.
And now, they are being told to enter a foreign place, settle the land, create an army, build an economy, and just deal with the mundane tasks of daily life.
So what was their sin? Why did they speak badly about the Land of Israel? Because they wanted to stay in the desert where they can be “frumer”.
They wanted to maintain their spirituality and direct line of communication to God, and not have to deal with trivial and insignificant tasks, like settling a new land.
But guess what, they were wrong, and they were punished for it. Staying in America because you can be “frumer” there is the equivalent of spitting in God’s face. He brought us back to this miraculous land after thousands of years and you’re too religious to accept His gift?! REALLY?!
Do you know that 4/5 of the Jews did not leave Egypt because they felt comfortable and were afraid of the unknown? What do you think their narrative was?
“I’m here. My family is here. We were born here. My parents were born here. Egypt is our home. It’s the only home we’ve ever known. I don’t see any reason I should risk the Egyptians killing me for trying to escape when I can stay put with a roof over our heads? What do I need that uncertainty and danger for? Things are safe here…”
And even the 1/5 that did leave Egypt complained nonstop about every little thing, including the taste of the water they were drinking, despite the endless miracles that were performed by God in ancient Egypt, such as the Ten Plagues.
And even when God literally split the sea, the entire nation stood there with a total lack of faith, and if it wasn’t for one man, Nachshon, the entire nation would’ve been wiped out right on the sea shore. He understood that God had taken them out of Egypt, performed all those miracles, and was now opening the sea for them to enter. He jumped in and everyone followed.
This is what we do. We get comfortable. We convince ourselves that we shouldn’t do what we’re supposed to do and we even use God to justify it.
But the Jews were meant to leave Egypt, they were meant to jump into the sea, and they were meant to enter the land. They just refused to see that even though it was clear as day. All they needed to do was look.
So no, the Jews were not meant to stay in the desert and remain “frumer”. They were meant to enter Israel, work the land, build infrastructure, start an army, establish a healthy economy, and yes, take a hit to their direct line to God.
So I told this person to open his prayer book and read what we say three times a day in our prayer. “And to your city Jerusalem, you shall return with mercy.”
Every Jew, for thousands of years, prayed and longed for Jerusalem. I asked him if his prayer book had different prayers than mine.
How could someone say that not every Jew belongs in Israel? Living in Israel is as much of a Torah commandment as Shabbat or kosher is.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I have zero doubt that when our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren look back at today, they will have a hard time understanding how we didn’t see the miracles that God was performing, just like the Israelites did not see that God was begging them to leave Egypt, enter the sea and settle the land.
We, and I mean Jews, here in Israel, and Jews around the world, need to open our eyes, clean our lenses, and recognize the historic miracles that are being performed before our eyes.
Since 1948, every single day that this country has existed, every single war that we won, every single new startup that we launched, every single innovation that we invented to change the world, it is all miracles. It is all modern-day splitting of the sea.
So, we as a nation can keep repeating the same mistakes over and over or we can open history books and learn from our mistakes.
Whether it was Egypt, the sea, or every single country we were exiled from, it’s time we changed our ways and stopped getting so comfortable with the status quo. It’s time we, as a nation, step out of our collective comfort zones, recognize the miracles that are happening before our eyes, and jump into the sea.
There’s only one difference between leaving Egypt, jumping into the sea, entering the land, and today. Today, coming to the modern state of Israel is a whole lot more fun.
Today, Israel is not like it used to be when you couldn’t buy tuna fish, deodorant, or clothing here. Today, coming to Israel doesn’t mean you have to lower your quality of life. Today, moving to Israel means moving to paradise (and don’t lecture me about the challenges here. I’m well aware of them.)
Yes, the modern state of Israel is absolutely comparable to jumping into the sea with one small difference. The water is heated and comfortable.
So, despite the politics, despite the terror, despite some of the hardships, this is home and this is where we belong. And please note that I haven’t even mentioned the antisemitism because no one should come here simply because they’re running away.
The antisemitism, however, can act as a catalyst, a trigger, but Jews need to come home because this is their home. The only problem is that many Jews don’t even recognize it as their home.
I just keep being reminded of the famous parable of the drowning man. A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
God is saying to us “I gave you a state. The UN gave you a state!! How much more miraculous can an event be? I helped you win wars in such miraculous ways that no military strategist can explain your victories. Were you not paying attention?
I turned Israel, a tiny dot on the map, into a world-leading technology superpower. What else did you need? I made Israel flourish in every way despite the regional instability. How did you not see that?”
And we’re just sitting on the roof declaring that we have faith and God will rescue us. He’s trying. We’re not letting Him!!
Does every Jew belong in Israel? Unequivocally yes! And if you are offended by that statement, you need to brush up on your Torah and history studies. Come home. We’re waiting for you.