Israel is home

Israel is where the Jewish soul plugs into its source.

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Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow


When my daughter messaged me that she landed in Israel, I replied welcome home. Later, on the phone, she told me that this was the first time she had landed somewhere and did not feel homesick. My message explained why. Israel is home.

It’s not just me. In honor of Israel’s fifty-fifth birthday, Aish.com asked its readers to explain why they love Israel and the predominant response was that Israel is home. In Israel, I reconnect with my roots. In Israel, I feel like I am with family. So, I ask, why? Why is Israel home?

Go Find You

More than thirty-seven centuries ago, G-d instructed Abraham to go to Israel. And he said, “Lech Lecha”, go to yourself. When you arrive in Israel, you will find yourself. In the diaspora, a Jew is on the outside, looking in. In Israel, we are on the inside, looking inward. No matter where we look in Israel, we are looking inward. We see people on the street, they are our family. We see hills, they are our homeland. We see stones, they are our history.

Israel is where the Jewish soul plugs into its source. Our sages taught, “One nation - in the land.” (Samuel II 23) The Jewish soul is only attached to G-d, who is one, when it is on the land. Israel is the gateway to heaven. From Israel, our prayers ascend directly to heaven. We can attach to G-d from anywhere in the world, but only via Israel. When we pray to G-d in Europe, Asia, or Africa, our prayers travel to heaven via Israel. But when we pray in Israel, we are already there. We are already home.

Israel ignites the Jewish soul and plugs it into its power source. In Israel, we feel connected to every Jew and to G-d. In Israel, we feel the hand of G-d, guiding us. We feel divine love emanating from every stone and surface. The land pulsates with G-d’s love for His people. Our sages said, “The land is beloved to me and the people are beloved to me. I shall place the people that I love on the land that I love.”

Israel is home, where the mind and heart open to Torah in ways that are impossible elsewhere. The inspiration there is palpable. Jews return from Israel throbbing with a desire to do something, anything, for their people, land, heritage and G-d. We return from Israel wanting to do more Mitzvot, wanting to study more Torah, wanting to connect with fellow Jews in more meaningful ways. Wanting to contribute to Jewish causes and to identify more openly, more completely, and yes more defiantly, as Jews. As proud Jews who hold nothing back and leave nothing behind. Who have no reason to feel ashamed.

Israel changes us in deep and abiding ways. It leaves an indelible impression that doesn’t fade with time. The longer we stay, or the more frequently we return, the more the land grows on us. In a word, Israel is home. We feel at home in Israel in every way; spiritually, emotionally, historically, and socially.

The Second Day

From this foundation, we come to explain one of the stark differences in practice between Israeli and diaspora Jewry. Namely, the second day of Chag. We have two Seders in the diaspora, there is only one in Israel. We have two days of Shavuot, Israel has one. We celebrate Passover for eight days, in Israel it is seven. What can be achieved in Israel in a day, takes us two days to complete in the diaspora.

There is something powerful about hitting the mark in one day. If you can win the chess game in four moves, why waste time on a full game? If you can win the fight with a knockout punch, why waste time on twelve rounds? If you can win the game on a walk-off homerun, why play out the nine-inning game?

Yes, there is something special about having an extra day of chag. Playing out a full game creates a tension that blowout games lack. The power of the game is in its unfolding drama, yet the thrill comes from the knockout punch. Chag in Israel is a knockout punch. In the diaspora, it is a two-day event.

The Party

In the Megillah of Purim we read that Ahasuerus, king of Persia, made two parties to celebrate his third year in office. The first party was only for his ministers and high-ranking citizens. This party took place in the gilded palace, with the royal treasures on full display. After this party, the king threw a second party for the lay; the rank and file citizens. The second party took place in the royal gardens. The garden was decorated and festooned, but it was still a garden, not the palace.

There is something special about being called into the palace. But there is something intensely joyful about having the king available in the garden, accessible to every ordinary citizen.

We now come to understand the power of the second day. Israel is home. In Israel, the Jew is in G-d’s palace, where G-d is palpably felt and discerned. Yet, after this party is over, the king makes himself present in the gardens, on the outskirts of the palace, to spend time with the ordinary citizenry. The diaspora Jew, whose soul is not plugged in to the king’s palace, the diaspora Jew, who is on the outside looking in, receives a special day with the king.

The second day of Chag.

Just like there is a special excitement in the unfolding drama of nine long innings, so is there is a special excitement when the holiday extends an extra day and the ordinary Jew who never gets to see the king, receives some time with G-d. It is like the joy of a child, who emerges from prison and sees his father for the first time in years.

This day also generates a yearning for G-d so gripping, so intense, that it can only come from a distance. “My soul seeks for you, my flesh longs for you, like an arid and thirsty land with no water.” The Jew on the outside with no water, yearns and longs for G-d. And when G-d appears, the diaspora Jew, jumps for joy.

There is something special about finding G-d in the spiritually parched diaspora, yet, the fact remains that only in Israel can we experience the thrill of the all-inclusive, all-pervasive, one-day Chag. Israel is home. When G-d told Abraham to go to Israel, he said, go find yourself. As Jews, we can only truly and authentically plug into our Jewishness, when we are at home. 

Go to Israel, said G-d. Go home, and there you will find your true Jewish self.






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