I came to learn in Eretz Yisroel after three years in Beis Medrash (post high school). I grew up in Lakewood, New Jersey, and, like most of my friends, when I came to learn in Eretz Yisroel I had no long-term intentions. I came to do the two-year Eretz Yisroel experience. Like most bochurim, this obviously included Shabbos seudos at the homes of many different types of people.
At one of those Shabbos meals, the question was posed: “How can people live in chutz la’Aretz if there is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel?”
I was put on the spot, because honestly, I had never thought of it. I was indeed aware there is a mitzvah according to the majority of opinions, but somehow that all was theoretical knowledge. I totally ignored the step of applying my knowledge to my actions—I just honestly never thought about it.
After that Shabbos seudah, I decided to research the topic a little bit, until I discovered that Reb Moshe Feinstein ztz”l wrote a teshuva that there is no obligation to live in Eretz Yisroel, rather it is a mitzvah kiyumis—a mitzvah that one gets sechar for doing—but is not an absolute chiyuv to do.
I was happy. As far as I was concerned the “issue” was resolved. There is a legitimate opinion that there is no chiyuv to live in Eretz Yisroel, therefore I could live happily ever after in Lakewood. Case closed.
Sometime after that I had a conversation about this with a talmid chacham I knew. He told me something that changed my life. He asked me if, as a Yid, I saw mitzvos as a burden, or am I happy to be part of the Am Hanivchar (Chosen Nation) excited to do ratzon HaShem even if it isn’t the easiest thing. Without too much thought, I knew that the answer was the latter—a Yid has to be happy with his mitzvos and not look at it as if it is a burden.
He told me, even if we accept Reb Moshe’s view (which I understood not to be the pashtus), why does that give you the security to live in chutz la’Aretz? You have a mitzvah that is definitely ratzon HaShem to live in Eretz Yisroel, so even if it is not a chiyuv, shouldn’t you want to try to do it? He added, you don’t think it is easy? Many mitzvos aren’t easy and that just increases the sechar, as the Mishna in Avos says, “l’fum tza’ara agra.”
This talmid chacham continued to note that the many maalos of living in Eretz Yisroel mentioned throughout the Torah and chaza”l such as, “Eretz asher Einei HaShem…” meaning HaShem’s special Hashgacha Pratis in this Land or the famous gemara (Kesuvos 110b) stating the difference between one who is living in Eretz Yisroel and one who is living in chutz la’Aretz, concerning their relationship with HaShem. I once again was aware of these maalos, but somehow, I never thought about trying to apply them to my life. He asked me to forget about if it is a chiyuv or not, am I not interested in all these maalos?
I thought about this for a while and took it to heart. The reason a Yid is in this world is to do ratzon HaShem, not to look for loopholes in it. The ratzon HaShem in this case is very clear—HaShem wants Yidden to live in Eretz Yisroel.
I was just a bochur at the time, but when I started shidduchim my condition was clear. I went back to the States for shidduchim like the norm, but I knew that for the long term, I needed to live in Eretz Yisroel. My parents thought I wasn’t being rational, but they agreed I can “try” my condition for a year, and to rethink it if I still don’t find my bashert by then. A year passed and I started getting nervous, but then HaShem sent me my bashert, and B”H she agreed with my condition eagerly.
We got married B”H and started off in Yerushalayim, which was the normal place chutznikim my age lived. I continued learning in the same yeshiva I did as a bochur. My wife B”H found work for an American company through the computer. Neither my parents or my in-laws were financially supporting our stay in Eretz Yisroel, but we had Siyata Dishmaya and my wife had decent work. After a little less than a year, however, we realized that we barely could afford our budget, and this was without the added expenses that come with children. It was a hard but obvious decision: We knew we had to move out of the mainstream Yerushalayim to somewhere where the expenses were much cheaper.
After looking at the various options and spending a Shabbos here and there, we moved to the community we thought made the most sense.
B”H we are very happy, and I thank HaShem daily for letting me live my dream in Eretz Yisroel, as the gemara says, “duchta deMoshe v’Aharon lo zachu lah…” a place where even Moshe and Aharon did not merit….
For me, adjusting to our new community outside Yerushalayim wasn’t such a big deal. I continued learning in the same yeshiva in Yerushalayim, taking a bus every day.
For my wife it was more challenging. We moved from a mostly English-speaking community, to a building where almost nobody knew English. It took time, but eventually she got connected to the English-speaking community there and also learned to make friends with our Israeli neighbors.
The chutznik community gave us a lot of chizuk. It wasn’t a group of people of which most were moving back after 2-3 years. It was an oylam of people doing the same thing we were doing.
– Yekusiel A., Gush Etzion
This article is part of our Haaretz Hatovah series featuring Yidden living in, settling, and building up Eretz Yisroel. For more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.