Ahavat Eretz Yisrael: I know it’s important, but how can I emotionally connect to a land that I didn’t grow up in and isn’t part of my culture?
By Mrs. Mali Brofsky
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The best way to answer this question is by looking at a beautiful idea expressed by Rav Soloveitchik on a seemingly different issue. Rav Soloveitchik addresses the famous midrash (Niddah 30b) that questions what a baby does during its nine months of gestation, and continues to answer that the baby is learning all of the Torah during that time. When the baby is born, all that it has learned is immediately forgotten.
Rav Soloveitchik questions – what is the deeper point of the midrash, what is it trying to teach us? Why teach the child all of Torah if it is to immediately to forget all it has learned and absorbed?
The Rav’s answers:
R. Simlai wanted to tell us that when a Jew studies Torah he is confronted with something which is not foreign and extraneous, but rather intimate and already familiar, because he has already studied it, and the knowledge was stored up in the recesses of his memory and became part of him. He studies, in effect, his own stuff. Learning is the recollection of something familiar. The Jew studying Torah is like the amnesia victim who tries to reconstruct from fragments the beautiful world he once experienced. In other words, by learning Torah man returns to his own self; man finds himself. (Rav Solovietchik, Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah)
In other words, Torah is something that is already stored deep within us, and when we learn Torah properly, we experience great identification with the words and ideas of Torah, and they help us forge and create our own unique personalities, each person in his or her own way.
I would like to suggest that the same concept applies to Eretz Yisrael. On one level, everything may seem new, different, and unfamiliar. There is a different landscape, a different language, a very different culture. But at the same time, Eretz Yisrael is hard-wired into the DNA of every Jew – it is our history, it is our geography, it is our destiny. With time, as one gets to know the country, as one travels the land and meets its communities and its people, as one learns and lives the Tanach in the place in which much of its events occurred, as one experiences Eretz Yisrael on shabbatot and chagim, and in the day-in and day-out of day to day life, one begins to realize, with time, that this country, which once felt so foreign, begins to feel very, very familiar. That feeling emanates from a place deep within us, a place that feels that somehow, on some level, we have come home.