This article first appeared on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website where I was honored to share these ideas.
Every year Lech Lecha gets me thinking. It is, after all, our life story. Anyone who has made Aliyah can relate to Avraham being told by Hashem to leave everything he’s ever known and to go to the Land that “I will show you.” There is a level of trust here that you can only understand fully when you experience it. I’ve always felt that this is the ultimate example of Naase v’Neshma—the idea that the Torah tells us to Do and then Understand.
We can talk on online forums and through blog posts until we are blue in the face about whether or not we should move to Israel. People can give a litany of legitimate reason for not moving from North America (or other locations) and for not picking up their families and going. I get it.
But as one who has heeded Hashem’s calling, I find that this is a time of reflection. Before we made Aliyah, as we were considering it and pondering and wondering and worrying, we started to look at the models in our lives. Who did we want to be when we grew up (yes, we were already in our 30s) and who did we want our children to be when they grew up? At the time we had only 2 young sons, 3 and 1, but who did we want them to grow up to BE? What did we want them to BELIEVE? And how did we hope that they would ACT?
The Torah Mitzion Kollel had just started to form in Potomac, Maryland as we were wrestling with these questions. We had young Israeli bachorim (young, unmarried post-army men) who were learning in our community. We saw how they acted, how they interacted, how they spoke about their lives in Israel and we started to realize that THESE were the boys that we wanted our boys to become. My husband and I kept these ideas to ourselves. But as we were getting ready for our Aliyah, we had a bunch of friends over one night, including the bachorim. As we were sitting around and enjoying, one of my dear friends leaned over to me, pointed at the group of boys and said, “Someday that’s going to be your kids.”
We’ve been here for 13 glorious years and our oldest is now 17. He’s in 12th grade and about to set off into the world of post-high school yeshivas, army life and all that being an adult involves. And I look at the person that he and his brothers have become, and are becoming, and I think YES! They are becoming the boys that we so admired all those years ago. Just one example.
Last week during Sukkot, it was pouring one day and my oldest and his friends went to lunch in Gush Etzion. On their way home, they were discussing how bored their afternoon would be and were brainstorming ideas. Rather than going to the movies, going to the indoor rock-climbing place, watching TV, zoning out on their phones or the millions of other things they could have done, they did this.
They saw that the soldiers guarding our area were getting soaked, and they asked me if they might use our kitchen to make soup for the soldiers. As typically happens with my interactions with my teenagers, he thought his actions were no big deal; I thought they were stunning.
The sensitivity required to look at kids only a few years older than you, and to realize that they need something that you might be able to provide is glorious. And rare. I’m not passing judgement on kids anywhere else in the world – I’m not even saying that all kids in Israel are like this. But we wanted to bring our kids here because we felt, among many other things, that they would be immersed in a broader understanding of the collective need; that they would feel part of their country and that they would grow up understanding that they are a piece of the Zionist puzzle that has been in the works for thousands of years.
As they walked out the door that day with the pot of hot soup in their hands, I knew that we had made the right decision in so many ways.
This is just a tiny example but it’s indicative of the mentality that permeates my children’s lives. My father-in-law is a pediatrician and has seen thousands upon thousands of kids in his practice. I found it very interesting a few years ago when he asked me why the children that he meets here seem so selfless. Is it because we are a large family and they have to look out for each other?
I thought his observation was fascinating and it wasn’t one that I had really thought of at that time. But I’m noticing it a great deal more as my kids grow. I told him that I didn’t know, per se, but that the kids are being raised to understand that there is so much more in their lives than just themselves. They are part of such a large fabric of circles that start with their family and then move to yishuv life, Gush Etzion, their schools and Am Israel; they are growing up understanding that they are just one little piece of a larger picture. They are important in that picture, but they aren’t the whole picture. I think this is something that’s very hard to teach and perhaps to develop in many places.
Lech Lecha. When we went to the place that Hashem would show us, we truly arrived as Avraham. We knew virtually no Hebrew, we had no jobs lined up and we knew almost no one. But we had a vision of a lifestyle that we hoped to create and of values that we hoped would permeate our lives. We were willing to “Do and then Understand” with the hope and dream that our efforts would pay off.
And so far, they certainly have.