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Embracing the Israel Challenge -RH 2021

Early Zionist Chasidim working the Land of Israel

For many of you, this is your first Rosh Hashanah in Israel, and maybe even your first holiday in Israel. At Tribe Tel Aviv we just started a new Whats App chat group for new olim who have been here less than six months, and it is growing quickly. What an amazing privilege to celebrate the New Year in Israel’s new city, the first modern Jewish city planted on a sand dune by the sea one hundred and twelve years ago by several dozen families which has now grown to over 4 million people in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

The journey of coming to Israel is a very personal and unique one for most people, ignited by some inner spark which inspired us to make the jump. Mine happened over three years ago, so I am no longer an oleh hadash. Along the path of our Israel journey, we have all probably encountered bumps in the road. One guy I know had a job but not an apartment, another has been here a while but is having trouble finding a steady job. And then of course there is the bureaucracy. Anyone who moves abroad and is an expat has similar struggles, but somehow we expect that ‘living the dream’ of Aliyah might be a smooth journey home. Nevertheless, we are still here, even if it is not always easy. I view it in the larger context of my love for the land of Israel. When you love someone you love them for who they are. There may be things that you have to adjust to and get used to, but you view it as part of the whole package, and so you do not focus on those things. There is another way to look at is as well, and that is the outlook that we all have our tests in life, and this is one of them. The Torah tells us that G-d tested our forefather Avraham, and the Rabbis add that Abraham was tested with ten tests. One of those tests was leaving all behind to follow G-’s call to come to Israel.

Why did G-d test Abraham? Nahmanides tells us that a Divine test is not to see if we will pass or fail. It is rather to give us opportunities to grow. When we look back on our lives we often realize that it is some of the most challenging periods in our lives that were the most rewarding, and that changed us mostly for the better. I know I feel that life here in Israel demands more of us, and when I rise to the challenge I see that in retrospect I get much more out of my life because of those challenges. I know for me Israel has meant a life of more meaning and sense of purpose, and more growth.

One of the simanim, the symbolic foods we ate tonight was carrot, or gezer in Hebrew, which also means decree. The carrot prompts us to ask the Almighty to remove any evil decress. But the carrot also is one of three foods that teaches us a lesson about life’s challenges. A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up; she was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.'

'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. Often we cannot avoid or change the adversity, but we can control how we react to it. Do life’s hard knocks make me become hard like the egg, do they break me and make we weak like the carrot, or do I take the adversity and change it into as asset which I can grow and learn from.

This idea of growth is also central to what RH is all about. By reinforcing our recognition of the Almighty’s directing our world, we can see our challenges as a higher message to rise above the adversity. Each test is specifically designed to address the areas of growth that we need to develop. The next step is then embracing the growth without the test. It is about looking at our lives and asking ourselves how can I become the best me. The psychologist Eric Fromm said “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.’

The Torah understanding of this statement goes one step deeper. It is that we are created in G-d’s image, with a Divine soul and our goal in life is to actualize the unique divine potential we were given. Now we can do that by being given tests which challenge us, or we can achieve this growth by proactively figuring out what we need to actualize our untapped potential. This is the wake-up call of the Shofar, to look at ourselves in a new light and see not what we have done wrong, but what more we could be doing right. Our work on Rosh Hashanah is to come before the Almighty and re-imagine how I can be the best me. And I challenge us all to do this brainstorming over the course of the holiday and then after to write down what that new me looks like, and between now and Yom Kippur to come up with a game plan of how I can implement that vision.

I would like to end with a story that for me embodies the ability to meet the challenge of a test and lift oneself above it. The story goes back to the early days of Zionism. It is the not well known story of Kfar Chasidim, a group of Chasidim who came to Israel from Poland to work the land. Along with this stalwart group of unconventional Zionists was the family of R Shlomo Goren, who would go on to become the first chief Rabbi of the IDF and then the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel. Rabbi Goren was a 9 year old boy when his family arrived at the barren arid malaria infested land. The challenges were great even beyond the basic ones of the land. Arabs poached their crops and animals, and the Jewish Agency officials did not help them as they had promised. At the beginning they were living in tents, some for months, some for more than a year before they were able to build houses. One night there was a terrible storm, and the tents were blown down in the middle of the night. They had nowhere to go, it was cold and the rain continued. What did they do? Instead of being crushed by the disaster and giving up, the Chasidim danced the rest of the night until dawn. Their joy over their opportunity to live in in Israel carried them through, and their dancing kept them warm. Rabbi Goren’s father considered going back to Poland, the people he did business with offered to finance him to start his business up again. The grandmother had come with them. She said I am in Israel and I am not leaving for anything, and you should not either.

This Rosh Hashanah let’s look at the past year’s tests as opportunities to grow, and look at the coming year as an opportunity to actualize the best me I can be without needing the tests. And through this we can appreciate the challenges of being in this special land, the homeland of the Jewish people as a privilege and an fulfillment of Jewish destiny in which we now play a leading role. Shanah Tovah!

The Founding of Tel Aviv

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