Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh
Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'NefeshFlash 90

After Lech Lecha

Avraham Avinu (our forefather) was the first oleh. God Commanded him to make Aliyah. However, soon after coming to Canaan, there was a famine and Avraham was forced to leave.

How could this happen? God Commanded Avraham to come to Israel but caused him to leave with a famine? This was clearly a Test and a Lesson for us all. Clearly God was not going to make it easy for Avraham just because he showed up in Israel to collect his rewards.

So what did Avraham do? He continued south to Egypt, to a place more distant and foreign to him. Avraham did not return to Haran (to Paddan Aram), his place of comfort. That was out of the question for him (see Genesis 24:7-8). God Told him “Get thee out of” there (Lech Lecha – Genesis 12:1), so obviously Avraham could not return to Aram.

In the recurring times of trouble Abraham and Isaac travelled to Philistia or to the Negev desert but remained in the vicinity of Canaan. Only in the case of Jacob did his parents instruct him to go to Aram, but clearly only temporarily, to save his life and to find a worthy wife. God permitted this but Told Jacob that he must certainly come back to Israel to fulfill his mission (see Genesis 28:13-15).

What This Means for Us

The lesson from Avraham is to resist the urge to return home to our place of comfort, and to do everything possible to complete the mission God set upon us in Israel. This might include detours along the way when needed, but only those which are certain to lead us swiftly back on course.

If, for example, your place of comfort is in America, but you left it because your heart is in Israel, don’t look back to America for comfort during hard times. Look forward to another place that is certain to bring you back to Israel or allow you to remain.

If you cannot afford to live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, then live in the North or in the Negev, where housing is affordable. If you have yet to find the job of your dreams in Israel, then carry on with the next best thing, keeping your sights on what truly matters.

If you are not pleased with any aspects of the Israel experience, with all its tests and points of contention, remember what Avraham went through and endured to remain in Israel. Were it not for Avraham’s strength of will, our nation would never have been born.

This is true in present times as well. We would not have a country without Jews who persisted like Avraham and remained in Israel despite the hardships.

If you want to go to extremes, in the worst case, like if you are starving in Israel, God forbid, if you came from America then go somewhere like Russia instead. Go to a place that has the means but remains inhospitable to you in spirit. A place that you will surely return from at the first opportunity.

After the Exodus

A catastrophic famine brought Jacob and his children to Egypt, which was obviously God’s Intention, with Joseph preparing the way for them beforehand. This was our Egyptian exile, which began well but ended in slavery, severe persecution, and the murder of Jewish children.

Don’t be surprised. A similar fate has awaited us in all the lands of our exile. Each time we overstayed our welcome things naturally turned sour, because we were not meant to stay anywhere but Israel for extended lengths of time.

Expect the Egyptian king to take your wife, and in the best-case scenario to expel you from his borders when she is returned to you at God’s Bidding (see Genesis 12:20). The exile is a detour in our path, and that is what is to be expected there. Don’t let the initial comforts cloud your vision.

Most Jews cannot trace their ancestry back more than a few generations in any given land because most of them are newcomers, American Jews included. There is a reason for that. Our efforts to set down roots in our diaspora communities have historically been met with uprooting. There is an inherent futility in the attempt, especially when we are doomed by our success.

What is surprising to me is how Jews always grow comfortable and attached to the places of their exile, even after those places have become the lands of our torment. Somehow, after leaving, a part of them still yearns to return, especially at the first signs of hardship.

After the Exodus, despite how pleased the Israelites were to be freed from slavery in Egypt and headed towards a brighter future in Israel, at the first signs of trouble they repeatedly voiced their desires to return to Egypt (see Exodus 14:11-12; 16:3; 17:3; Numbers 11:5-6; 14:2-4). They desired to return to their place of relative comfort, where they had food and water and did not have to fight wars of survival, and this was clearly a sin.

God was obviously aware of this natural tendency of ours to turn back and hide at the first signs of trouble. As stated in Exodus 13:17, He did not lead us towards Philistia, the shortest route to Israel, lest we relent upon seeing war and return to Egypt.

This was despite God’s Commandment not to return to Egypt (see Exodus 14:13-14; Deuteronomy 17:16; 28:68). Clearly the Commandment was not enough, for once our instinct and fear kick in, we become the slaves of our emotions.

Which is why Moses Commanded us to be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6), to strengthen our resolve and our resilience. We must be strong and resilient enough, like Avraham, to pass the Tests and reap the Promised Rewards, the Reward of our Redemption.

We must not turn back to our places of comfort to hide in fear and failure. We must press on strongly and courageously towards success in Israel.

Yshai Amichai made Aliyah from Los Angeles in 2001, settling in Israel, where he met his wife and where they raise their six children. He may be contacted at: [email protected]