When I was considering making aliyah, I was aware of how challenging the move might be, especially since much of my family stayed behind in the U.S. But the deep longing to be in Israel was too strong. It was like a giant magnet pulling on my soul, until I finally let go and came home.
For some, the aliyah experience is smooth; for others, it is filled with challenges. And despite my deep desire to be in Israel, I have encountered many challenges. And sometimes I see glimpses of the reason for these difficulties, for it may just have to do with what I prayed for.
In my excitement to absorb all that living in Eretz Yisrael entails, I prayed a simple prayer. I asked the Almighty to let me walk in the grace and beauty of our matriarchs.
I wanted to absorb the essence of emunah in their merit, and to deepen my walk with God by their example. I wanted the model of their faith and courage to teach me stronger faith and courage in a land where I knew many challenges awaited me.
It is clear from the Torah that not only did the matriarchs possess great inner strength and spiritual beauty, but physical beauty as well. As I thought about these women of our history, I understood that their physical beauty radiated from the essence of their inner strength and beauty.
I went to Kever Rachel many times to ask the Almighty to teach me how to develop deeper inner strength and emunah. I sensed the confidence in these women of faith, a confidence and belief in who they were and in their unique destiny.
It never occurred to me that perhaps the grace and beauty of the matriarchs was a result of enduring and walking through some very deep valleys of pain. I never connected that principle to my own prayer.
Every oleh faces challenges as he or she adjusts to this beautiful and complex Land. There are bureaucratic inanities, cultural differences, language frustrations, and employment (or lack thereof) issues. Then there are the enormous tests that all of Israel faces in a region filled with conflict – enemies from within and without crouching at the door, Iranian nuclear weapons, grad rockets and Kassams falling on our children. It’s not an easy life, but I did not come unaware of these realities.
And so, I found myself beset by deep challenges that shook my confidence and rocked my world. The intensity of some of it was such that there were days when I said to G-d, “If You want me to live here, You will have to carry me.”
And He did. On those days in particular, friends would meet me on the street and say, ” you look marvelous, you positively glow today.”
That’s when I began to think about Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, because I knew that if I was glowing, it had to be coming from Above – and that G-d had placed something deep within me that the others were seeing.
I thought of how Sarah Imeinu was unable to conceive until old age; how she gave Hagar as a concubine to Avraham; how Hagar treated her mistress disrespectfully; of the struggles between Yitzchak and Yishmael; and how Sarah’s death was hastened by news of the Akeidah.
I thought of how Rivkah was abducted into Avimelech’s palace, and of the struggle between her sons, Eisav and Yaakov.
I thought of Rachel and Leah’s struggles in competing for Yaakov’s love, and of their pain of infertility. I remembered how Rachel died in childbirth, and called her newborn son Ben Oni, son of my sorrow, which Yaakov changed to Binyamin, son of my right hand.
I had expected to reach the mountaintops of emunah and strength without walking through the valleys of pain. But it was not to be.
Some days, the reach for me to get to the other side of one of the valleys is enormous. On other days, I feel that I have made it across.
I finally understand that the strength and courage, the grace and faith of our matriarchs are present in the everyday Israelis with whom I share my life. I see it in their faces and hear it in the words of the men and women of this country. I saw it during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and experienced it in the hospitals when visiting the wounded. The soldiers and their families conveyed such strength, courage, and emunah.
I went to strengthen, but came back strengthened.
I hear it in words of encouragement we give each other during times of crisis, and feel the closeness we experience when someone has been visited with tragedy. I see it in the tender strength of our young men and women. It emanates from unplumbed inner depths, whose roots lie in the long and transcendental history of our people.
I realize that when we come on aliyah, we have to think not only of our goals, but also of the Almighty’s goals for us. And that can really stretch us.
There are still days when G-d has to carry me. But now, when people stop me on the street and tell me I am glowing, I silently thank Hashem, for He has chosen to carry me when I cannot walk.
And these are the seeds of emunah and of learning to walk in the grace and beauty of the matriarchs that I had so longed for.