I learned new and useful terminology, that migration and movement are governed by “push factors” and “pull factors.” Put simply, a push factor is a repulsive consideration that motivates people to leave where they are, while a pull factor is an attraction that draws them to a new place.
These factors are visible at the outset of our parsha: “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and went to Charan.” Bais HaLevi explained that the two phrases used in the verse—“departed” and “went to”—relate to the push and pull factors involved in Yaakov’s move. On the one hand, Yaakov was advised by his mother to depart, “pushing him” out of the land due to the imminent fear of reprisals from Eisav over Yaakov’s claim of their father’s blessings. On the other hand, Yaakov was sent by his father to their family homeland of Charan in pursuit of a suitable marriage partner. In this version, it is not so much that Yaakov was pushed from home—vayeitzei—as much as he was drawn and attracted to Charan—vayeilech.
Rav Kook, zt”l applied this duality to a passage in Yeshayahu (60:8): “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their pens?” This verse, discussing the return of the exiles, alludes to two forms of return to Eretz Yisrael. There are those who will travel like the clouds, blown along by external forces that will dislodge them from wherever the exile had taken them, vayeitzei. And then there are those who will move like the dove that returns home to its pen, not pushed from the exile but attracted and drawn home, vayeilech. Rav Kook thus noted the advantage of being amongst those who are drawn home to the holiness of Eretz Yisrael rather than coming to the land to flee the persecution and antisemitism found elsewhere.
Some have noted a recent uptick in Jews connecting to Yiddishkeit. This could be seen through last week’s rally, the many unaffiliated who are embracing mitzvos, and the many already observant who are taking on extra tefillah, Torah and chesed. Some are being pushed away from their comfort as they witness the growing antisemitism, abroad and at home, and finding refuge in their faith, vayeitzei. Others are being drawn to the beauty of Judaism, the moral clarity in a confused society, and the pride in being connected to such a people, vayeilech.
I learned these terms—push and pull factors—while studying and discussing migration of a very different kind, specifically the phenomenon of attrition from the observant community. People may leave Orthodoxy because they are “pulled” or attracted to something they feel they can only find outside of their observant framework, or by “push factors,” such as either religious doubts or some form of discomfort, dysfunction, restriction and/or trauma they have experienced within our community. Yet, while these are all issues that have impacted many and led to both vayeitzei and vayeilech, the most critical premise to prevent attrition is the strength and thickness of the original connection we establish with our faith and community. That connection must be built upon a firm, warm, and relevant Emunah, and by the nurturing of a community of kindness and loyalty.
It is upon each of us to make our faith and community powerfully compelling and embracing to all its members, creating bonds that will withstand and overcome the pushes and pulls we encounter.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.