Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

My daughter was visiting here in Israel and she remarked to me that she noticed that there is a certain sense of serenity that exists here in Israel in people’s lives that is lacking in America. I was surprised to hear that comment for it pointed to something that I never really gave much thought to previously. Since all of my descendants are wiser and more astute than their forbearer I have therefore considered her comment soberly and seriously. On the surface one would think that serenity was at the bottom of the list of adjectives to describe living in Israel. Constantly threatened with extinction by our enemies and always isolated and demonized by our so-called friends, our young people in military service with almost daily fire fights occurring, terrible traffic jams and less than exemplary driving habits, and a very raucous, opinionated and divisive political system and media are hardly the factors that seemingly would encourage a feeling of serenity in one’s life. Yet upon contemplating the matter further I have come to agree with her that the Land of Israel does bring a feeling of serenity to one’s sense of soul and purpose. I attribute much of this feeling to the sense, even if unexpressed and never completely described, of fulfilling an ages old dream in one’s lifetime and experience. I am often struck by the number of times I have said to myself upon visiting places here in Israel "What would my ancestors have given to be here and see this site in the Land of Israel under Jewish sovereignty!" Then this feeling of serenity and accomplishment begins to overwhelm me.

Another factor in this ephemeral but unexpressed serenity is that people here are basically satisfied with their lives. Survey after survey over all of the years show that at least three quarters of the Israeli population express itself as being happy with their lives. This is a far higher percentage than that recorded in the polled population of the United States or Western countries generally. The lesson of the rabbis that wealth can only truly be measured by one’s satisfaction level of the life and assets that one possesses is certainly true here in our society. Again I attribute this to the fact that people have a sense of a higher purpose - albeit again usually unexpressed but still present - in just living here. There is a sense of history and destiny that shrouds the life of every Jew living in the Land of Israel. It gives our lives here a certain surreal and spiritual quality that compensates for any imagined material lack that one may think is present in one’s life. The Torah community in America can have very little influence on American life generally - rather the opposite is true. American life strongly impacts the Jewish community and its Torah community as well. This fact is true in all exiles and diasporas since Jews are always a small minority of the population. Here in Israel there is a large Torah community that impacts all of Israeli life in various ways and strength and here we are always dealing with a Jewish community that is the strong majority population of the country. That contributes to an underlying sense of pride and purpose that leads to satisfaction in one’s life and to this sense of serenity that permeates our country and its people.

The Torah itself states that outside the Land of Israel the Jews would always be burdened by having a lev ragoz - a troubled, dissatisfied, frustrated sense of spirit and life itself. The tensions of living in the exile are omnipresent. One is driven either towards assimilation into the general non-Jewish society with the accompanying feelings of subliminal alienation and regret or towards a constant struggle to retain one’s Jewish identity in the face of an overwhelmingly negative cultural majority. In any event psychological serenity and satisfaction are rare to find between these choices of life attitudes and practices. The lev ragoz haunts Jewish life in the exile and is part of the life and community of Jewish existence in the exile. The Torah views this type of life in the exile as "dwelling in darkness" - the description it gives of the great Babylonian Talmud itself since it was composed in the exile of Babylonia. Israel, the land and the people who dwell in it, experiences a Jewish life that exists nowhere else. This is probably another key to the serenity of life and purpose of existence that living in the Land of Israel brings to all those who live there.
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