Teach Your Parents Well
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
Not long ago, we hosted an American seminary student – let’s call her ‘Shira’ – for Shabbat. Inevitably, the conversation soon turned to her future plans. “Will you be back in Israel next year? Where are you planning to go to college?” Her response – “I hope to stay in Israel, do Sherut Leumi next year and make Aliyah” – delighted us. Another Religious Zionist success story!
Still, nothing in life is simple. Shira explained that her plan was causing a family crisis. Her parents, solid Religious Zionists who shlep into New York City (almost) every year to the Israel Day Parade, strongly objected to her decision. They had sensible arguments: “You’re only eighteen; are you sure you really want to do this?” “You’ll be alone in Israel without any immediate family support. It would make more sense to consider Aliyah after college, together with a husband!” And most painfully: “We love Israel too, but if you make Aliyah, the family won’t be together anymore…”
Since the birth of modern Zionism over 125 years ago, untold numbers of families have struggled, argued and wept over their children’s decision to make Aliyah. Before modern air travel, a child’s Aliyah likely meant a separation of years. Many idealistic young olim, like Rabbi Aryeh Levin zt”l, never saw their parents again.
But hasn’t it always been this way? The debate over Aliyah between parents and children did not begin with Herzl, or even with Rav Mohilever and the Chovevei Tzion. The tension was there from the very beginning of our history:
“Rabbi Meir said: When the Israelites stood by the Red Sea, the tribes strove with one another, each wishing to descend into the sea first. Then sprang forward the [youngest] tribe of Binyamin and descended first into the sea.” Only Binyamin, the “child” among the tribes, did more than talk about redemption; only Binyamin was brave enough to dive into the sea! “Thereupon the princes of Yehudah hurled stones at them” for their brazenness. But the young tribe of Binyamin ignored the insults of the older, more ‘important’ men of Yehudah, and dove headlong into the sea. “For that reason the righteous Binyamin was worthy to become the host of the All-Powerful [i.e., the Beit HaMikdash]” (Sotah 36b).
A short time later, the tragic sin of the spies once again revealed the gap between the generations. It was the fathers, not the sons, who wept upon hearing the report of the ten spies. It was the fathers, not the sons, who valued the “cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic” of Egypt (Bamidbar 11:5) over the blessing of national freedom. And so the fathers, not the sons, were destined to die in the wilderness. Despite the sins of their fathers, the young people of Israel remained true to the Torah and their Land.
I don’t believe that the generation who left Egypt were bad people, G-d forbid. Through years of slavery, they kept the faith, and cried out to G-d for salvation. But after a lifetime of servitude and exile, they had learned to be sensible, to avoid taking risks. And they were afraid – afraid of change, afraid of uncertainty, and afraid of the unknown.
As we age, our minds begin to think differently. We assume that what is before us is merely a copy, a repetition, of what came before, and that the years ahead will look the same as the present. The older we get, the harder it becomes to imagine a future that is different or greater than the life we have known.
Teaneck, Boca Raton, Los Angeles, London – we who spent decades in thriving Diaspora communities like these can easily believe that living in these places is safer and more sensible than a life in Israel – that the future of these communities will be more or less like their past. But the ground beneath our feet is never as stable as we’d like to think.
The return to Zion after 1,897 years of exile should shatter this way of thinking. It is an unprecedented drama, a radical miracle in disguise that has never before occurred in all of human history. Like the Exodus from Egypt, the modern State of Israel is living proof that Jewish history will not remain static, that our future will not be like the present!
Ironically, our children – who lack our life experience and hard earned wisdom – often possess a clearer vision of the future than we do. Unfettered by the past and without the fears and burdens of their parents, they know that the future of our people is not in exile, but in the Land of our fathers.
Shira – if you’re reading this, don’t despair! As Graham Nash said, “Teach your parents well… feed them on your dreams… and know they love you.”
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.