20 Tishrei 5782 / Sunday, September 26, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Shlach Lecha: Evolution of a Love    

Shlach Lecha: Evolution of a Love

I wanted to feel something, but felt nothing, and the harder I tried the more frustrating it became. "What can a person feel...



א  וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: 

ב  שְׁלַח לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְיָתֻ֨רוּ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֥י נֹתֵ֖ן לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֣ישׁ אֶחָד֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד לְמַטֵּ֤ה אֲבֹתָיו֙ תִּשְׁלָ֔חוּ כֹּ֖ל  נָשִׂ֥יא  בָהֶֽם: 

G-d told Moshe, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan which I will give to the Children of Israel." (Bamidbar 13:1-2)
Every year when we reach this parshah, I feel as if we have just reached the border of Eretz Yisroel after being in Egypt for 210 years and after having wandered in the desert for 40 years. After coming to appreciate somewhat what Eretz Yisroel is supposed to mean to the Jewish people, and after seeing how many Jews don't care for the Land as much as they ought to, if at all, it feels as if after 3,316 years we have returned back to square one all over again.
This week's parshah is going to have a somewhat personal tone to it, since I am going to base it on the story of someone I have come to know quite well over the years: me.
On my first trip to Eretz Yisroel, I was 14 years old. It was 1974, one year after the Yom Kippur War and my parents had taken me on this trip as a post-Bar Mitzvah present. Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy the trip at all. It was an adult, group trip, planned to show support for Israel, and the country was still licking its wounds. I did not enjoy the food or the accommodations, and having to visit the wounded in the hospitals was an unexpected and emotionally difficult experience for a fun-loving teenager. Overall, the trip was a rude awakening from my artificially Jewish western world and upbringing.
But I was not religious then, and becoming less so by the year. I had no UJA affiliation, and Zionism never really impressed me. Indeed, the only reason why I returned to Israel six years later was because I had decided to travel to Europe and was told that travel in Israel was cheap. It was my proverbial European tour that all my friends seemed to be taking those days.
Nevertheless, I ended up in Israel first. I traveled around a bit, and eventually found my way to the Old City and the famous Western Wall. The country had changed dramatically since I had last been there, but it still wasn't North America by any stretch of the imagination. Interestingly, I had come to like falafel since my previous trip, and the accommodations seemed to have improved since I was 14.
Once at the Wall, I sat opposite it on the hill on the other side of the Western Wall Plaza, and tried to feel something for the historical site that seemed to move so many others. Nothing. I wanted to feel something, but felt nothing, and the harder I tried the more frustrating it became. "What can a person feel for a bunch of stones, no matter how old they are?" I wondered to myself as I moved on.
Yet, I felt something, especially in Jerusalem, and it was somewhat unnerving. I wasn't sure what it was at the time that I felt it, but it irked me. It was some kind of intensity, but not one that I was comfortable feeling. It touched me inside, and made me feel, for a lack of a better description, more Jewish than I cared to feel at the time. It made me feel like running away, which I did. Within days I boarded an Olympus Airlines jet for Greece and the rest of my trip.
What I ran away from, I wasn't quite sure. All I knew was that as the Olympus Air jet left Israeli soil and quickly swung West, something inside me knew that I would be back again. It was very confusing. While there, I couldn't wait to leave. Having left Israel, I seemed to be anxious to return sometime soon.
And I had been right; one year later I was boarding an El Al flight back to Israel. However, what I could NEVER have known at the time was that I would be returning as a shomer mitzvoth Jew on my way to a yeshivah, of all places, to learn for a year. The transformation I had undergone in one year was tremendous.
I was apprehensive at first to be returning to a country I had yet to really enjoy, a place I had no relatives to run to when feeling lonely and cut off. I had returned because I realized there was no place to advance as quickly in my Torah studies as I needed to. A yeshivah for Ba'alei Teshuvah in Jerusalem seemed to be the only reasonable and best solution at the time.
However, this time everything went differently. From the beginning of my arrival, I was happy to be in Israel and I was surprised at how much at home I really felt. Much had changed and advanced since my first trip at the age of 14, but not much had changed since the previous year that I had fled the country in haste for the shores of Corfu. Being among like-minded boys from Canada and the States in yeshivah certainly helped my transition from the North-West to the Middle-East, but it wasn't the basis of a new relationship that began immediately between me and the Holy Land, one that makes me feel pain and like a fish out of water when I have to leave her borders.
* * *

יד  אַתָּ֣ה תָ֖קוּם תְּרַחֵ֣ם צִיּ֑וֹן כִּי־עֵ֥ת לְ֜חֶנְנָ֗הּ כִּי־בָ֥א מוֹעֵֽד: