From the Editor – Chanukah 5784
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
Safety or Destiny?
Now is the time to come home.
I know what you’re thinking: “Now? Of all times to call on Jews to uproot their lives and move to Israel, you chose this moment? Israel is a war zone! Who in their right mind would leave the safety of suburban America to move to Israel? We all hope to be in Israel one day – but today is not that day.”
But are Jews in the Diaspora really safer than Jews in Israel? The explosion of antisemitism throughout the world should make us pause. Over the last few months, a Berlin synagogue was firebombed, Jewish homes in Paris were spray painted with Stars of David, and over 100,000 protestors in London screamed “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” All this as Jews are violently assaulted in Chicago and New York and many American universities become no-go zones for Jewish students.
It’s true that living in Israel is not exactly a walk in the park. But every Jew – whether we make our home in Israel or the Diaspora – now lives in the shadow of October 7. Every Jew is a potential target. Frankly, my family feels safer living in Efrat, where we are protected by our holy soldiers and volunteer security team. With all respect to the many wonderful gentile police officers of the Diaspora, I’d rather put my trust in our own warriors, who are fighting for their people and their Land.
Still, it’s worth asking a more fundamental question. Should “safety” be our primary life goal? Does G-d really want us to make the “safer” choice?
Preserving life is one of our greatest values. From the words “vachai bahem,” “he shall live through them” (Vayikra 18:5), the rabbis learn that we should not give up our lives to fulfill a mitzvah, but rather “you should live by them, and not die by them” (Sanhedrin 74a). Unlike our radical Islamic enemies, who happily sacrifice their children for jihad, we recognize the infinite value of every Jewish life. Nevertheless, there is far more to being a Jew than ensuring we and our children remain safe.
When G-d commanded Avraham to leave everything he ever knew for “a Land that I will show you,” was He telling Avraham to play it safe? When David the shepherd boy walked into the camp of Israel and volunteered to fight Goliath, did he choose the “safer” path? When Esther said to Mordechai, “then I will go to the king contrary to the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16), was she making a “safe” choice? When Matityahu and his sons rose up to battle the mighty Greeks instead of moving to Cyprus, did they do so after weighing the pros and cons and concluding that revolution was the “safest” approach? When young men and women from the Diaspora choose to serve as lone soldiers in the IDF instead of majoring in psychology at Rutgers, are they foolishly putting their lives at risk?
If “safety” was our highest ideal, G-d would have commanded Avraham to settle in a small village in Montana or the Australian outback instead of a Land fought over by empires since the beginning of time. Israel was never intended to be a “safe haven” for Jews, a Land where we would no longer have to defend ourselves from our enemies. Rather, as Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook often said, the strength and sacrifice needed in Israel simply takes a different form. Whereas in exile, our strength is expressed through “For it is for Your sake that we are killed all the time, [that] we are considered as sheep for the slaughter” (Tehillim 44:23), in Israel we stand up with heroism and pride as the Maccabees did when they rebelled against the Greeks.
After our neighbors Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee hy”d were murdered, I remember having an open conversation with my brother about what it means to live in Israel. We agreed that we would rather our children grow up here and be a little traumatized but deeply connected to our people than have our children grow in the Diaspora without that trauma, but distant from the joy and suffering of Am Yisrael. As strange as this may sound, I thank G-d everyday that we made Aliyah in time to be here for this war, that my family has the merit to play a minor role in the epic story of our nation.
Israel is not a “safe space,” not yet. But the present and future of our people is here, in the Holy Land. It is here, in the Land G-d promised us, where we will write the next chapter of Tanach, where Jewish heroes are made every day.
The day has come to embrace our destiny. It’s time to come home. G-d is calling.
“I will whistle to them, and I will gather them, for I have redeemed them…” (Zechariah 10:8).
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.