April 20, 2024
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Aliyah Is Not a Decision

The journey towards aliyah varies for individuals, from yeshiva gap year students nearing the end of their year, to college graduates and even to young families. In this spectrum, there are two distinct approaches. There are some, like many of the inspirational Shana Alef students I’m involved with, who already know they want to stay, and are constantly planning the best course of action that pleases their families and benefits both themselves and Am Yisrael. On the other hand, there are those that express that if everything “happens” to work out, they would, of course, love to make aliyah on the next flight out. However, despite this apparent willingness, they grapple with persistent doubts and second-guessing of potential failure or what could be in America.

This hesitation towards embracing aliyah embodies what Barry Schwartz termed the Paradox of Choice—a phenomenon where too many options can lead to dissatisfaction and indecision. The allure of alternative paths, combined with the weight of expectations, and the prospect of self-blame in case of failure, fuels doubt and apprehension. Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware that these doubts come in when we place aliyah in the frame of a decision in the first place. This leads us to pushing it off, or always imagining the grandeur of alternative options.

Such doubt is right in line with the dangerous influence of Amalek, which strikes by a “sudden happening, or surprise” (אשר קרך), and is instigated by our feelings of doubt. The very name, Amalek, has the same gematria as the word ספק״ doubt. As is well known, the attack of Amalek upon Bnei Yisrael followed their moment of doubt, questioning whether Hashem truly stood among them, “Is Hashem really with us or not?” (Shemot 17:7). Despite witnessing miraculous manifestations of divine presence, such as the clouds of glory, the manna and the quails, they faltered in their faith. The Midrash Tanchuma questions how such doubt could persist in the face of such clear signs of Hashem’s providence. Therefore, it is precisely in this moment of doubt that Amalek strikes. Hashem did not provide all these miracles in the desert so that Bnei Yisrael could choose if they wanted to follow Hashem and enter into Israel. On the contrary, He showed them these in order to bring them into Israel.

In today’s context, if we perceive the events leading to our modern return to Israel as mere happenstance or random occurrences, without recognizing the guiding hand of Hashem, doubt inevitably creeps in. Amalek’s attack following the doubt of Bnei Yisrael is, in essence, the attack of doubt itself. Our own uncertainties emerge when we fail to acknowledge Hashem’s orchestration of history and our collective destiny, leaving us vulnerable to be stricken.

Consequently, a shift in mindset is imperative. We must move away from the default notion that staying in America until everything works out in Israel is standard practice. Instead, we need to reframe our perspective, recognizing that returning to Israel is not merely a personal decision but should be the default choice, with returning to America only considered if everything fails there.

While it’s true that success in Israel is more challenging coming from the outside, a subtle mental block for many diaspora Jews lies in envisioning what “success” actually looks like in Israel. With no firsthand experience of living there, it is unfamiliar for us. Our upbringing often instills the idea of success that can be achieved outside Israel, whether through career achievements or having a nice happy family. This, combined with our comfortable lives in America, makes it difficult to genuinely yearn for the destruction of Israel’s enemies or the spiritual redemption promised with the coming of Mashiach, as much as can be achieved by actually living there.

The Gemara teaches us that Mashiach will not come until the generation despairs of his coming, genuinely feeling as though there is no supporter or helper of Israel (Sanhedrin 97a). Holding the attitude of returning only if it happens to work out for our individual situation, without taking active steps, implies that perhaps Hashem does not want us there and is not there to support us on the journey—a sin that triggers Amalek’s attack. Hashem warns against this sin in the “Tochecha”(Rebuke) section of the Torah, cautioning us “…if you treat me as happenstance (קֶרִי) and refuse to obey Me, I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins” (Vayikra 26:21). We are not meant to treat our obligations to Israel and the mitzvot as convenient options or not. In essence, embracing our obligation to Israel and the mitzvot requires a commitment beyond convenience—a commitment rooted in genuine dedication and a deep understanding of our collective destiny.

The story of Purim serves as an important reminder of the consequences of treating Hashem with happenstance. The decree to wipe out the Jews, instigated by Haman and therefore associated with Amalek, arose when Bnei Yisrael paused the rebuilding of the Second Beit Hamikdash, displaying indifference to its progress. They thought that Hashem just “happened” to return them from Bavel to Israel and were content with the status quo, not striving for completeness. Only through complete unity and teshuva were they saved.

So too for us. If we continue to act with indifference and happenstance towards our ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו, the “first flowering of our redemption,” we only have ourselves to blame when we face punishment. Rav Kook emphasizes that part of the essence of Amalek is their ability to make us forget who we are and hinder our ability to make spiritual connections. This is why we say ״לא תשכח״—to remind ourselves not to forget. When we wipe out Amalek, we will cease to forget our past mistakes and recognize the potential for growth and attainment.

On the surface, the journey of aliyah often sparks endless doubts and questions. Concerns about leaving loved ones behind, instability and visualizing success can loom large. Yet, it is precisely in grappling with these doubts that we confront the essence of Amalek’s attack, which still terrorizes us today. As individuals coming from the outside, we must first recognize and destroy the Amalek of doubt that resides within each of us. Only then can we collectively overcome Amalek and stride forward together.


Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF and is currently a madrich at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He can be reached at [email protected].

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