I have been to Europe not more than 2 or 3 times in my life. While there is the urge to visit London and Paris and take in Prague and the other prominent cities of Europe, when I have a chance to travel somewhere of that distance, I choose to go to Eretz Yisroel.
I have a difficult time going for enjoyment to countries where my forefathers were tortured and killed in every brutal way known to man. I cannot enjoy myself on land soaked with Jewish blood. If that makes me small-minded or a myopic golus Yid, so be it. I can handle worse epithets.
I got into the blessed habit of going to Eretz Yisroel for Shavuos, but this year it didn’t work out, so I took a rain check and was there for ten days over the past two weeks, every day of which I felt at home. I had been there for four years learning in Brisk many years ago, and was back untold times, and each time I feel more at home than during the previous visit. Is it because the more I learn, the more I appreciate Eretz Yisroel? Maybe it is because the longer I spend in golus, the more I deplore it. Who knows. All I know is that if dirahs weren’t so expensive and I wouldn’t have to earn a living, I’d likely be spending more time there.
The land is ours, given to us by Hashem, and therefore it has a special draw. Wherever you go there, you feel as if you somehow belong there. And how can you not have that feeling? Hashem says, “Ki lecha etnenu.” He gave it to us. The whole thing. North, east, west and south. Not just a few corners in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak.
The first day we were there, we traveled to Naharia in the north of the country, home to Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira, holy mystic and guide to many. I felt so much better after being welcomed by his wide, deep smile and receiving his brachos for myself and others. It was as if I had rid myself of a load. I met my friend Rav Natan Cheifetz there, and as we left the room, we smiled at each other. No words were necessary. We had seen him and been blessed. We felt different. Happy is the appropriate word, but also relieved. Relieved of what? Relieved of all the stuff that piles up on one’s heart, causing pressure and stress.
Does Rav Abuchatzeira have special inherited kochos or are they derived from him being a great tzaddik? I don’t think the people who flock to him care. All they know is that he is a rock of strength for them, a man who embodies otherworldly greatness and is always available to hear them out and bless them.
Down the road from him is a tiny store serving the best chumus in Israel. We stopped there and had our only meal for the day. Previously, when I went to Rav Abuchatzeira, we drove to his yeshiva, parked, met him and then returned to Yerushalayim. This time, we drove around the city and found it to be a gorgeous place built right on the ocean. No, I have no plans of moving there.
We went to visit excavations of the ancient Galil city known as Tzipori, home of Rabi Yehuda Hanosi and mentioned many times in Torah Shebaal Peh. It was fascinating to walk around and see so many things mentioned in Mishnayos and Medrashim right in front of us, dozens of centuries after the city fell into disuse. We saw homes built with basement mikvaos, and many of them are large mansions that fit all the descriptions of Rebbi’s home. You are overwhelmed when you imagine that it was at this exact location that Rebbi revolutionized Yahadus and compiled the Mishnayos upon which our lives are based.
It becomes more real than ever when you are in a house that was his in a town that was his, surrounded by remnants of things described in various Mishnayos, making it more meaningful than any drawing in the back of any set of Mishnayos.
In Tzipori, a mixed Jewish-Roman city, there were many of the problems that are evident today, yet Torah and Yiddishkeit flourished there and set a foundation – literally – for all of Judaism forever after.
Another fascinating facet of Tzipori is the mosaic floor of one of the local shuls. Laid out there on the floor are depictions of many of the foremost images in Jewish life, just as they were set down there in tile stone almost two thousand years ago.
Our adept guide, Meir Eisenman, took us to the kever of the Tanna Rav Yehuda Ben Bava located in Shefaram, a friendly, nearby Arab village. His tragic death is recounted in Gemara Sanhedrin (12b). Heroically, he ignored the order against giving semicha. When he was discovered, three hundred arrows were shot through him. The five musmachim survived and the laws of kenasos continued. The Romans didn’t permit a respectful burial and laid him to rest at the spot where they had killed him, on the side of the road.
How fortunate we are in our day to be able to safely study his Torah and that of the other Tannaim and Amoraim. We need to be cognizant of our opportunities and take advantage of them.
The past and the present came together in one day. If that does not strengthen your belief in the nitzchiyus, the endurance and the greatness of Am Yisroel, I don’t know what can.
Friday calls for the obligatory walk through Geulah and Meah Shearim. Each time I’m there, I find new things that I hadn’t noticed during previous walks there. Each time, I am once again amazed by the beauty of Yerushalayim and its people. As many times as I go there, I never fail to chance upon interesting characters and beautiful children. Their chein is out of this world, their chochmah the product of centuries of genes steeped in Torah and little else.
What a mechayah to watch the children go home for Shabbos with their pekelach and parsha sheets. I can just stand there and watch them as they smile and cajole each other, walking hand in hand down the sidewalk to their humble homes.
You don’t have to look for stories. Stories look for you and find you if your eyes and heart are open.
Shabbos in Yerushalayim is like no other place. No matter where you find yourself, you feel that you are on a higher plane.
The Kosel is a magnet for Klal Yisroel and our prayers. People flock there from all over, seeking out the Shechinah, for we know that despite all that has befallen our people, Hashem waits there for us. No matter where we are, we face that spot when we daven three times a day. Imagine the feeling that overcomes you when you realize that you are standing at that very spot. “Karov Hashem lechol korav.” Hashem is close to all those who call out to him, and it is not really necessary to be at the Kosel to be close to Hashem, but being there is being there, right there, right at the place where the Botei Mikdosh stood and the rei’ach nicho’ach went up on high. Who can deny that being there is a zechus not to be passed up on?
Kever Rochel is another place Jews flock to with their tefillos. The holy site traces its existence back to the first parshiyos of Chumash we learned as children. Who is not mesmerized by the tragic story of Mama Rochel and her burial alongside the road, where she prays for her offspring?
Another tragic burial place of heroes that we visited is known as Mazkeret Batya. I had read and written about the establishment of that town, but never got to visit there. Religious farmers from der alter heim were recruited to populate and farm a newly-established farming village in the land of Eretz Yisroel over one hundred years ago. The project, despite the backing of Baron Rothschild, faced many difficulties. The insurmountable one arose with the Shmittah year, when the Baron’s representative refused to support the farmers throughout the fallow period.
Sickness and hunger were rampant, and many of the original residents and their children died as the tragedy played out. The town is now almost completely secular, and the story of its founding is basically forgotten, save a few musty museums, memorials and old buildings in town. Eretz Yisroel is nikneis b’yissurim, and these plain, simple, ehrliche farmers uprooted themselves and their families, following the eternal dream of the Jewish people. Things didn’t turn out as planned, but their sacrifices should be commended and remembered.
I had the good fortune of participating in the siyum of a Sefer Torah presented to my beloved uncle, Rav Berel Wein, upon the twenty-year anniversary of assuming the position of rabbi at Beit Knesset Hanasi in Yerushalayim. May he merit teaching Torah for many years to come in good health.
I also had the good fortune to meet up with the Zlotowitz family, who were in Israel for the second yahrtzeit of their father, Rav Meir Zlotowitz zt”l, and I joined in the commemoration in memory of a man whose dedication to Torah brought Torah and its values to many hundreds of thousands of people and aided untold numbers in the study of Talmud and much else. May his memory be a blessing and may his wife and children be blessed as they continue in his ways.
Meeting up with Yated writer, Tzvika Yaakovson, is always a pleasure and interesting. We were passing by Machaneh Yehuda when he asked me if I was ever at the kevorim of the Gerrer rebbes. Though I had always wanted to go, I had never been there and didn’t know exactly where they were. He said he knew. It took some false turns up and down some picturesque small streets and then we found the kevorim, hiding in the open.
The Imrei Emes and the Pnei Menachem lie steps away from the mayhem, hustle and bustle of Machaneh Yehuda. We joined the people there and said some kappitlach of Tehillim, beseeching the Creator that He accept our tefillos in the merit of the great tzaddikim.
Tzvika took me to something called the International Convention of Sefardic Rabbis, where we heard Minister Aryeh Deri recount that at a cabinet meeting debate over purchasing additional F-35 planes for the Israeli Air Force, he postulated that if Israel would forgo just one plane and dedicate its $122 million cost to Torah education, the country would be much better off and nobody would miss that plane. If only someone sitting around that table had taken what he said seriously…
There was the usual banter of taxi drivers and their mussar and pithy observations, which seem de rigueur for any tourist’s recounting. The emunah and bitachon of the simple people and their tales of daily survival in the Holy Land, delivered with a touch of Middle-Eastern humor, never fail to put a smile upon the faces of their Western passengers.
Of course, their lessons don’t come close to what we can learn from our rabbeim and the gedolim accessible there. An hour spent with Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron, is invigorating, inspiring and meaningful, and worth more than anything. His gadlus in Torah and wide range of knowledge are matched only by his deep and sincere humility. May he and the others be blessed with the strength and stamina to continue teaching and leading our people ad bias goel tzedek bimeheirah.
After an uplifting and invigorating stay, it was time to return home. We arrived at the airport on time, and after waiting on all the different lines and repeatedly answering the same inane questions, I made it to my seat on the plane for the flight to the United States.
I took out a new sefer on Eicha that my friend Tzvika had given me, figuring that learning it on the way back to golus would help put things in perspective.
But it didn’t happen. The culmination of the days spent running around from place to place came crashing down on me, and as soon as I snapped my seatbelt shut, I was fast asleep for the duration of the flight home. I woke up for the landing.
And here I am, back at my desk, writing as I do every week, with Hashem’s help. May we all merit to go to good places this summer, learn positive lessons, and become reenergized to do what we must do, living the lives befitting children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.