The most significant development in Jewish history over the past 150 years is the establishment of the State of Israel. After two thousand years of forced exile, the Jewish people can determine their own destiny on the Jewish people’s historic homeland, Eretz Yisrael. The Zionist dream is more a reality than a dream. The second most significant development is the mass aliyah of the Jewish people from all four corners of the Earth. I imagine when the Jewish people were exiled out of their land they looked and sounded the same, but upon their return, 2,000 years had transformed them to different shapes, colors and languages. Over the last 120 years millions of Jews have left their adopted lands and returned to Eretz Yisrael.
As the Jewish saying goes, “Two Jews, three opinions.” If a poll would be taken asking why the millions of Jews picked themselves up from their birthplaces and moved to Israel there would certainly be as many reasons as people polled. There is no one reason to move to Israel. Some moved to escape an anti-Semitic land, others to achieve the Zionist dream of developing a Jewish state, and others because G-d commanded the Jewish people to live in Israel, as G-d said, “You shall possess the Land and you shall settle in it, for to you have I given the land to possess it” (Bamidbar 33:53).
In his comment on this verse, the Ramban wrote, “In my opinion, this verse commands a mitzvah. Jews are commanded to settle and dwell in the land for it was given to them, and they cannot reject G-d’s portion (nachalas Hashem.) If it would ever occur to the Jewish people to capture the land of Shinar or the land of Ashur, or anywhere like it, and to settle there, they would be violating this mitzvah.” In this comment the Ramban states his well-known opinion that one of the 613 mitzvot is to live in Eretz Yisrael. In truth, there are two laws in this verse according to the Ramban, the law to settle the land and the law for the individual to settle in the land.
Many Jews look to Avraham Avinu for inspiration to move to Israel. Avraham was the first Jew charged to move to Eretz Yisrael when G-d told him, “Go forth from your land, your birthplace and from your father’s house.” The Ramban’s comments on this verse point out the seeming repetition of the words “your land, your birthplace and from your father’s house.” He wrote, “The reason for mentioning all three descriptions of what Avraham would be leaving to move to Israel is that it is difficult for a person to leave the country where they live, where they have their friends and companions. This is all the more true if this is his native land, and all the more if his whole family is there. It was necessary to say to Avraham that he leave all for the sake of his love of G-d.” It seems leaving one’s birthplace is so difficult that it isn’t worth it without a greater objective – in Avraham’s case, his love of G-d.
The Talmud includes a teaching of Rabbi Shimon the son of Yocḥai who taught, “G-d gave the Jewish people three precious gifts, all of which were given only by means of suffering. The three gifts are Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and the World-to-Come.” The Talmud doesn’t record why Eretz Yisrael (and the other gifts) were given only by means of suffering. It’s easy to apply the modern axiom, “No pain, no gain,” to settling in Israel, and expand our understanding to posit the Jewish people wouldn’t properly appreciate the gift of their own land without suffering to settle it, but there’s more to it than just appreciation.
It is rare to find a Jew who has moved to Israel as a random choice. It’s hard to even imagine a Jew having trouble deciding where to move and just ending up in Israel. Jews move to Israel for a greater objective, and as mentioned above, each has their own reason. There is also a collective dream being actualized by each Jew who moved to Israel, irrespective of their personal reasons.
Together, the Jewish people have returned to their land, and gathered together to build their own nation state. Even Jews who don’t ascribe to a nation state still participate, each in their own way, in the building of this state. When the people join to create something great, there will be growing pains. The Jews haven’t joined together to build something in over 2,000 years. It’s impossible for success of something as significant as the Jewish people reestablishing their homeland to be painless.
One of my good friends likes to say, “Every oleh has their story,” and they’re right. Whether they’ve walked thousands of miles (!!) over the burning hot sands of the African desert, escaped a collapsing Communist Soviet Union, or gingerly walked on to a charter flight from New York, every Jew who has followed Avraham’s path has a story. That story inevitably includes some pain – but ask that new immigrant and you’re almost guaranteed to hear the pain was well worth it. The 2,000 year-old dream of living in Israel made all the struggle worth it.