I had an insight today that I wanted to share with you.
My wife and I are, with G-d’s help, traveling to Israel this week. As someone who lived in Israel for 16 years, has Israeli citizenship, has children and grandchildren in Israel and so many friends and relatives, going to Israel once a year has been a given for the nearly 30 years I have been living in Dallas.
Suddenly, COVID-19 hit! Israel closed its borders. And kept them closed. And then opened them — for a moment — only to close them again. And even when opened, only with quarantining for almost the entire length of time I could get away to visit, so what’s the point?
So over two and a half years have gone by without being in my beloved Israel, not seeing the kids, not praying at the Kotel…
What occurred to me today is that there’s a hidden blessing in this misfortune.
Taking Israel for granted is not a good thing. Something important which we take for granted loses its importance in our eyes. That’s true with many things in life and this is no different.
A close friend and mentor of mine once made a profound statement: “When we got the Kotel we lost the Kotel.” What he meant to say was, as long as we could not approach the Wailing Wall, because it was in Arab hands, every Jewish heart longed for the opportunity to stand at the Wall, to touch and caress its ancient stones, to join the millennia of Jews who have poured out their hearts there to the Al-mighty. Once we received it in 1967, for most it has become another tourist attraction. Since it’s so readily available, for most Jews living in Israel it’s a place rarely to be visited. (Although, of course, for many it is not that way and remains a very special place.)
Israel itself is like that. For some 2,000 years Jews were pining away, their tears drenching their prayer books and Psalms with the desire to set foot in the Land of Israel. When it became a reality, it surely became a beloved place to visit and a place close to our hearts. However, its availability and the ease to travel there has undoubtedly taken a toll on our appreciation of the tremendous merit to “walk four cubits” in the Holy Land. (Other things which take place there may also minimize that feeling as well, but that’s perhaps for another column.)
Enter COVID-19. Restrictions. Closed borders! Suddenly people are fighting to get to Israel. Just let me in!!
Sometimes we need to be denied something to appreciate it fully.
Now, for the first time in a long time, I get teary-eyed at the thought of actually making it to Israel!
May we all appreciate the gift that we of our generation have that we have the opportunity to visit and connect to Israel. To breathe its air and soak up its holiness. And perhaps, maybe even entertain the thought of moving there!
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.