I spent last year studying in a yeshiva in Israel in order to strengthen my connection to Judaism. Since I have been back in America, however, I feel totally alienated from the Jewish community. In synagogue, I feel like I am just mumbling the prayers, and even Shabbat seems empty. What can I do to recover the same high I felt when I was in Israel?
Paradoxically, the worse a Jew feels outside of the Land of Israel, the healthier he is. Your feeling of alienation in the Diaspora is a sign that you succeeded in forging a deep spiritual connection to Eretz Yisrael. If you feel the hollowness of religious life in the exile – this is a barometer that you are internally united with the exalted holiness of the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is called the Holy Land because it is filled with kedusha (holiness.) Every mitzvah that a Jew does in Israel; every prayer that he prays; every page of Torah he learns, all are elevated by the Land’s special holiness. This special holiness simply does not exist in the Diaspora. This is why leaving the Land of Israel is called yeridah, meaning a spiritual decline. Many people who move to Israel describe the same spiritual crash you are experiencing when they visit their former communities outside the Land. They feel unattached to what’s going on around them, as if they no longer belong. The once-familiar scenery around them seems suddenly very non-Jewish. The Jewish holidays and Shabbat seem to be stripped of their soul. These feelings of alienation and spiritual emptiness are signs of a person’s inner purification after having lived in the Land of Israel. This is a healthy reaction for a Jew. It is a Divine shield which protects a Jew from the negative influences of the Diaspora, by reminding him that he does not belong there. Rabbi Kook writes in his book, Orot: “The more one is incapable of tolerating the air outside of the Land of Israel; the more one feels the impure spirit of the polluted land – this is a sign of an inner absorption of the kedusha of the Land of Israel.” The prophet Ezekiel describes the Diaspora as a graveyard, a place of “dry bones.” The prophet Amos warns the Jews, “Thou shall die in an unclean land.” A Jew who has lived all of his life in the Diaspora, and has never experienced the towering holiness of Eretz Yisrael, may never recognize the impurity of his surroundings. He has no barometer of comparison. However, someone who is deeply connected to Israel will feel this defilement when he is outside of the Land. He will feel a shallowness in Jewish ritual and prayer. He will experience the absence of holiness. Even in the most religious Diaspora community, a Jew who is connected to the unique Divine properties of Eretz Yisrael will feel a striking spiritual decline. Rabbi Kook writes: “The strangeness that a Jew feels outside the Land of Israel causes a greater bond with the inner spiritual yearning for Eretz Yisrael and its holiness.” This means that the alienation that you are experiencing is a positive thing. You shouldn’t try to fit into the condensed version of Judaism that exists in America, where the desire for the Land of Israel becomes a secondary matter. Rabbi Kook explains that if a Jew is not actively yearning for a life in Israel, then something is wrong with his spiritual life. If he feels content with religious life in galut (exile,) then there is something amiss with his Judaism. For true Torah Judaism is only possible in the Land of Israel. We need to always remember that life in the Diaspora is merely a transitory way station, and that Eretz Yisrael is the goal. Galut is a passing stage of Jewish history, a blemish that will heal, a punishment that will come to an end. Jewish life outside of the Land of Israel is an abnormal situation, an unhealthy Judaism, the destruction of our national character, and a curse. The Gaon of Vilna wrote: “Exile to outside of the Land is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves. They, the idol worshippers, it is they who devour our flesh. In every place, there were great Jewish communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet always, some bones still existed, the Torah scholars of the Jewish People, the pillars of the body – until even those bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste that disintegrated into dust – our life turned into dust.” Therefore, the best thing you can do in order to recover the spiritual high you felt in Israel is to come home to Eretz Yisrael as soon as you can. Until then, try to study books that are filled with deep Torah wisdom, like the Kuzari, the writings of the Maharal, and the works of Rabbi Kook. Rav Yissachar Teichtal's, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” translated into English by Moshe Lichtman, is also compulsory reading. The Arutz 7 English website is an excellent lifeline to Israel, and you can find invaluable Torah insights on the Yeshivat Bet-El website, www.yeshiva.org.il. In addition, if there are activities on behalf of Israel in your community, try to help out. Most importantly, every day that you have to spend in Galut, pray as hard as you can that G-d deliver you from exile and bring you speedily back to the Land of Israel with the rest of our outcast People – just as we say in our daily prayers: “And gather us speedily together from the four corners of the earth to our Land.” 1. 1. Orot, 1:6. See, “Lights On Orot,” Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman, Chapter Six. 2. Ezekiel, 37:1-12. 3. Amos, 7:17. 4. Kuzari, 2:24. 5. Orot, 1:1. See also, Siddur Beit Yaacov, Introduction. Ramban, Genesis, 26:5; Deut, 11:18. Kuzari, 5:23. 6. Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, Ch. 1. 7. Chagiga 5B. Shabbat 145B. 8. Deut. 11:16-17; 28:62-65; 29:18-27. 9. Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D’Tziuta. 10. Amidah prayer.