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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finally square with the house

Shortly after Zahava and I were married (during the late Cretaceous period), we formulated a 'five year plan' for making aliyah. 

However, as sometimes happens, 'things' kept us from realizing our timetable.  Zahava's mother was diagnosed with, and ultimately succumbed to, Ovarian Cancer... professional and familial obligations beckoned... jobs were lost and gained... promotions were anticipated and sometimes realized... financial set-backs and windfalls came unbidden... bigger and better living arrangements were sought and secured...

And before we knew it, ten years had passed.

Each year I recall sitting in synagogue when this past week's Torah portion (Matot) was read.  One particular passage tugged at my heart and accused me mercilessly.  The Israelites were poised on the far side of the Jordan... after forty years of wandering they were finally ready to cross and take possession of the land that G-d had promised them.  But the tribes of Reuven and Gad asked for permission to remain behind:

The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers. Noting that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a region suitable for cattle,  the Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chieftains of the community, and said,  "Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon —  the land that the Lord has conquered for the community of Israel is cattle country, and your servants have cattle.  It would be a favor to us," they continued, "if this land were given to your servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan."

Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, "Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?"

~Numbers 32:1-6~

This last line was always a knife in my heart.  I felt like a gambler who had pledged a note in the game of life... but had no clear plans to redeem it.  I was always beholden to the house, and felt the weight of the debt each time this Torah portion was read.

My friends and I were happily ensconced in comfortable jobs and homes that were every bit as enticing as the pasture-lands which beckoned to the people of Reuven and Gad.  I lost count of the number of times I heard people react to my stated plans to make aliyah with some mumbled excuse about wanting to make aliyah... but having to stay behind to make a living.  And in some ways I wondered if I was doing the same, despite my stated intention to go.

Apparently this phenomenon is so common that some pundit photo-shopped a sign which stands at the entrance to a well-known American Jewish enclave:

Teaneck

[Note: 'parnassa' is Hebrew for 'making a living']

Make no mistake, I never made judgments about those who opted (for whatever reason) not to move to Israel and to this day have never done so.  But it pained me each year to hear Moses admonishing those of us who seemed to have placed our comfort before the need to secure the land for our descendants.  It was as though he was speaking directly to me:

"Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?"

In the Parsha, a compromise is reached whereby the two tribes are allowed to build fortified cities for their wives, children and cattle in the foreign lands they had asked for.  In return, they agree to join the rest of the nation in conquering the land of Israel.  Only after the entire land had been secured would they be allowed to return to their families, herds and possessions on the other side of the Jordan.

More than ten years after we had formulated our five year plan, we finally found ourselves on an EL AL plane to Israel, making the big move.  But with all the upheaval I hadn't paid much attention to the date.

Clearly Someone was paying attention. 

That first shabbat in Israel I was called up to the Torah in my new community, and read along in the sacred scroll as the tug-o-war between the Reuvenites / Gaddites and the rest of the nation took place... but this time I felt it was no longer being read with an accusatory finger directed at me.  I had finally crossed the Jordan and had done my part to secure the land.

This past week marked seven years since we moved to Israel.  And when I was called to the Torah on Shabbat morning, I smiled to note that it was once again to look on as that ancient compromise was reached.  I smiled because I could finally look Moshe Rabbeinu in the eye and tell him with a clear conscience that I had done my part.

The children of Israel - at least the ones over which I exert some semblance of influence - have returned to their borders, and have asked nothing in return but the land beneath our feet.  After all these years I'm finally 'square with the house'.

Posted by David Bogner on July 11, 2010 | Permalink

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I love these little proofs that G-d loves us individually. Who Else, after all, makes sure occasionally to allow you to feel the solace of being called to this particular Torah portion, now that you're "square with the house"?

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 11, 2010 2:21:29 PM

I always find that people are called up to the Torah to receive the right message for them... Thanks for sharing, as always!

My heartstrings have been tugged a lot with these kind of thoughts recently...

Posted by: Nir in London | Jul 11, 2010 3:25:54 PM

I believe that in 2010 there are many 'wars' we are engaged in as a people (sadly); not only for our land. I am certain that different people are called to fight for different things. If they are able to discern what they are called to do and stand up to do it, then we are winning the battles we are waging. Indifference or excuses are not exclusive to aliyah. I appreciate this post because you are honest about your journey. Your dedication and devotion to our land is so clear and unwavering; you are attending to what you are being called to do. I often wish more people would listen to the collective voices of K'lal Yisrael and find their own voice within it.

Posted by: Leah | Jul 11, 2010 3:30:30 PM

I believe that in 2010 there are many 'wars' we are engaged in as a people (sadly); not only for our land. I am certain that different people are called to fight for different things. If they are able to discern what they are called to do and stand up to do it, then we are winning the battles we are waging. Indifference or excuses are not exclusive to aliyah. I appreciate this post because you are honest about your journey. Your dedication and devotion to our land is so clear and unwavering; you are attending to what you are being called to do. I often wish more people would listen to the collective voices of K'lal Yisrael and find their own voice within it.

Posted by: Leah | Jul 11, 2010 3:30:30 PM

Happy aliyah-versary! :-)

Posted by: Mrs.S. | Jul 11, 2010 4:22:49 PM

So glad we got to spend time with you on that Shabbat! May you have many more anniversaries here.

Posted by: Robin | Jul 11, 2010 7:39:31 PM

So glad we got to spend time with you on that Shabbat! May you have many more anniversaries here.

Posted by: Robin | Jul 11, 2010 7:39:31 PM

I so relate to this. Our Parsha, where Isaac was called up for an Aliya which inspired our Aliya is this coming week--Parshat Devarim. I think I feel a blog post coming on. Thanks.

And Mazal Tov!

Posted by: Baila | Jul 11, 2010 11:18:05 PM

!מזל טוב

Posted by: Alisha | Jul 12, 2010 12:21:28 AM

I think there are two kinds of Jews: those who have that yearning, that tug at the heart, and those who suppress it, or who simply don't have it at all. I'm not sure what the distinction stems from, but it's there, and it's a pity on those Jews for whom Eretz Yisrael is just something to which we give lip service in Shmoneh Esrei. I assuage my guilt at being in the US by saying "at least I feel guilty about it."

Posted by: Barzilai | Jul 12, 2010 5:52:13 AM

I can't believe it's been 7 years!
Though you personally have many reasons for moving to Israel, deep in my heart, I believe that you moved there to give me a connection to that beautiful country you live in! I would have never visited had it not been to attend the Bat & Bar Mitzvah's of Ari & Gilad- - thank you for that gift of providing this wonderful connection to Israel.

I look forward to the next Bar Mitzvah... but am glad I'll be seeing you sooner than that to celebrate another happy occassion!

Posted by: val | Jul 12, 2010 6:09:12 AM

Thank you, I'll point to this post in my next week's blog!

Posted by: ron | Jul 12, 2010 11:38:59 AM

beautiful.

Posted by: jonathan becker | Jul 12, 2010 12:22:46 PM

Mazal Tov!

Posted by: SaraK | Jul 12, 2010 5:55:49 PM

OUCH!..... and mazal Tov

Posted by: Teanecker | Jul 13, 2010 1:35:22 AM

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