Free trip to Israel.
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Many years ago, a pious Jew asked the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe, 1789-1866) for a blessing to make aliyah from Russia. The Tzemach Tzedek told him: Why do you need to go to Israel — “Make Israel over here.”
At the time (in the 1850s), there was not much going on in the Holy Land, no kosher McDonald’s or scuba diving in Eilat. Jews had limited access to the holy sites like the Western Wall or Cave of the Patriarchs. So why would anyone what to take a one-way trip to Israel?
While from a physical perspective Israel was not doing well, from a spiritual perspective it was like paradise. Jews living in Israel were supported by their community back home for the most part, they did not work and were able to dedicate their lives to studying Torah. So why would the Rebbe discourage his student from making this holy trip?
What makes the land of Israel a special place? Yes, there are the holy sites and it is our homeland; however, there is more to it. For the Jewish people, entering Israel was the cumulation of centuries of various forms of exile. Entering Israel symbolizes the end of their dealing with external struggles. It’s our homeland. When you are home, there is nowhere to run. No one will ever ask you why you came home or what are you doing at home; it’s just your place where you belong.
While there is still work to do, it’s peaceful work. On a spiritual level, the Jewish people entering the Holy Land symbolize their service to G-d by fulfilling his commandments and studying his Torah in a way that it encompasses your whole self. Your action, speech and thoughts are all dedicated to doing a mitzvah without the need to worry about anything!
Now that we know what Israel is, we can work on our free trip to Israel. You may be living in Jerusalem and still need a trip to Israel.
“Make Israel over here” no matter where you find yourself, whether geographically far from the Holy Land or emotionally far from holiness. We may have challenges, but when you do a mitzah, you have the ability to do it with every fiber of your being completely present.
This is the timeless wisdom in our sages’ advice. Why did the Tzemach Tzedek discourage his student from traveling to Israel? He could have gone to Israel and made Israel in Israel.
Sometimes we look for the easy way out. I’ll jump on a ship and travel to a holy place and that will solve all my problems, but that’s just a distraction. We need to realize that we have the strength within us to serve HaShem no matter where we are. We can make it a holy place: We don’t need to wait till we reach a better physical or emotional place. So, while our goal is to get to a better place, the place we are in is exactly where G-d wants us to be.
Make the best of it. PJC
Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz is the rabbi at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Morgantown, West Virginia. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.