Sometimes the difficulties and shock of absorption is so great that they fall into decline and despair, and all too often pack up their bags and head back to the Diaspora before this frustrating stage of transition has run its course. What the crestfallen oleh doesn’t realize is that this process was all for his benefit, in order to transform him into a true settler and possessor of the Land, and that with just a little more patience, perseverance, and hard work, he would have ultimately been graced with the Land’s special treasures.
Rabbi Tau bases his explanation of the letters of Rebbe Avraham from Kalisk, a student of the Baal Shem Tov who came on aliyah nearly 200 years ago. In one of the letters, Rebbe Avraham takes care to warn students who are contemplating following his path to the Land of Israel of the unique challenges in making aliyah, and the many difficulties involved, stemming from the exalted nature of the Land and its special holy character.
Rav Tau explains that while the subject of the letter centers on the difficulties that an individual faces in making aliyah, nevertheless, the principle that is expressed in the letter, explaining the unique properties and demands of the Land, is a general foundation which applies to everyone. From this, we can extrapolate and learn about the difficulties of absorption which face the general Nation in its return to Eretz Yisrael, when myriads of Jews have returned to settle in the Land after nearly 2000 years of oppressive and traumatic exile.
The letter begins:
I have set it upon my heart to reply to all of the honored souls who question me concerning their desire to settle in our cherished Holy Land, in order to make known to them the unique nature of this Land.
Rav Tau explains,
First, it is necessary to know the special nature of this Land! Not in a geographical, botanical, or zoological sense, but rather to know about the inner meaning, specialty, and towering holiness of the Land – and from this deeper contemplation, to understand our unique connection with it, and to be aware of the different stages of challenge and transformations that we must undergo as a Nation in becoming true possessors of the Land, the Land of the Israelites, until we are fitting members of the Palace of the Holy King.
Rebbe Avraham explains to his students that making aliyah to the Land of Israel is no simple matter, as they apparently thought. Even if they had attained an advanced standing in the Diaspora, reaching an established level of prayer, Divine worship, Torah study, and perfection of character traits, here, in Eretz Yisrael, everything is destined to undergo change, to encounter difficulties and crises, and, stemming from this, to be reformulated and renewed on a completely different and higher level. He [R. Avraham] writes:
“Behold, how many changes, reversals, reincarnations, and dramatic upheavals await. Every newcomer to the Land will undergo refinement after refinement until becomes settled in the Land, and he will come to ‘take pleasure in her stones and embrace her very dust’ and love the ruins of Eretz Yisrael more than the palaces of the Diaspora, and love it’s dry bread more than great feasts of foreign lands….”
Rav Tau explains:
“When a Jew from the exile comes to the Land of Israel, he is filled with many expectations, hopes, and dreams of a Land flowing with milk and honey in its material richness, and of a Land graced by the light of the Shechinah in its spiritual blessing. And behold, upon his arrival, he is confronted with ‘dust, stones, and ruins,’ with problems of survival, conflicts between communities and the hostile outsiders who live in the Land, and even with spiritual difficulties. From the abundance of changes, reversals, reincarnations, and dramatic upheavals’ which he encounters, he can even come to despise the Land, God forbid. In this situation, he needs to undergo ‘refinement after refinement,’ until he will finally come to the level of love for the Land which Hashem demands from all those who are privileged to live here, all for our own good, in order to raise us up to the exalted level of the Land to share in its bounties. Then, he will cherish its very stones and dust, as they are, in their present form, when they still need great labor and creativity in order to bring out the inner blessings of the Land and transform it into a Gan Eden on earth. Now, in his elevated state, the oleh once again loves the Land, but no longer just in his imagination and dreams, but rather with a deep and true love which brings him to recognize that a piece of dry bread in Eretz Yisrael is indeed more praiseworthy than all of the banquets and delicacies of foreign lands.