In the course of a lecture tour in the United States, we were once guests in the home of Stephanie and David Sokol in the Five Towns. We thought they were a typical American couple, except that I noticed how Stephanie conducted Zoom conversations with Israel day and night. “Should the women have dinner before they take a boat ride on Lake Kinneret or after?” she asked, and “Who is the best tour guide to take them through the alleyways of Tzfat?”
It quickly became clear that Stephanie devotes nearly all of her time to an amazing project that brings Jewish women to Israel each summer. The only condition for coming is never having been here before.
I was privileged to meet a group of these women this week. I spoke to them after they toured Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Caesarea and Masada, and after they greeted their first Shabbat in Israel at the Western Wall (Kotel). But it was how they reacted to their visit that surprised me most.
“We put pictures up on social media and everyone who saw them said they never saw us with such a glow. My husband said he never saw me with such a smile. And my children said they never saw me so happy.” This reaction was not the result of a pair of rose-colored glasses or of an Instagram filter, but of a filter known as the Land of Israel, their home.
During their first Shabbat in Israel, we read these words from the Torah: “A land the Lord your G-d looks after; the eyes of the Lord your G-d are always upon it.”
Thank you, Stephanie and your group, for the privilege of meeting you. If only millions of brothers and sisters like you will be fortunate to visit here as you did. And if only we too – the Israelis, at the height of the tourist season in Israel – will be as inspired by the filter of this land as you have been.
All Beginnings Are Hard – But Following Through Is Not Any Easier
All of us can identify with one or more of the following scenarios: next to our bed, a pile of books that we began but didn’t finish; a computer screen full of open web page tabs scrunched together at the top of the screen; a gym membership that we started up with much enthusiasm but no longer use.
It is clear that this habit of neglecting to follow through is not good for us. In the Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Moshe Rabbeinu warns the people: “Every (kol) mitzvah that I command you this day you shall be sure to do.” Rashi explains that the word kol in this context does not mean “every” but rather “whole” or “entire.” And then Rashi comments with this wise counsel: “If you have started a mitzvah, finish it.”
If you make a commitment, don’t neglect it after the initial enthusiasm wanes. In the course of every meaningful undertaking, a moment arrives when laborious effort will be required to sustain it. Complications are likely to arise and boredom may set in, or you might just tire from the task at hand.
When this happens, don’t give in to the temptation to abandon what you started and jump into another project that may glitter from afar. Do not leave tabs open in your life. Focus on the project in front of you, devote yourself to it, and persevere until it is complete.
You are all welcome to think about one project or task in your lives to which you can apply Rashi’s dictum: “If you have started a mitzvah, finish it.”
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.