I’m often asked why I made aliya, what it is that drives me to stay in Israel despite the constant war, and personal trials and tribulations.
I was once told by a Rabbi living in Israel that I am “limiting myself” by insisting on only dating men who are committed to staying in Israel. I thought to myself “ya, I’m also limiting myself by insisting the guy keep shabbos and kashrut, hell, being adamant about marrying a Jew is also very limiting.” But since I’m not generally in the habit of being chutzpadik to Rabbi’s however wrong or misguided I believe their hashkafot to be, I kept my thoughts to myself. This pesach, however, when faced with the question again I answered very simply: “I live in Israel for the same reason I keep kosher and keep Shabbat – because G-d told me to.” I was unprepared for the Rav’s next question: “If that’s the case is everyone living outside of Israel transgressing a commandment the same way they would if they ate pork? To which I answered “no.” And in my head I added “it’s worse.”
“Because G-d said so.”
This would not have been my answer four years ago. Certainly, my attachment to Israel was always very strong and when I wasn’t in Israel I inexplicably felt that “something” was missing, that my life lacked a certain purpose, that I was always a little lost. The question of “why do you live in Israel?” would have prompted an answer such as “because Israel is my home.” “I feel G-d’s presence more strongly.” “I feel purposeful and a sense of fulfillment.” But, answering in terms of what G-d expected of me? Not Likely. I would not have considered putting “living in Israel” in the same basket as “keeping Shabbat” and “keeping hilchot negiah” in terms of a halachic imperative. I cannot say that it was a feeling of duty or desire to fulfill G-d’s commandments that first brought me to Israel but an awareness of a halachic obligation has increasingly been the driving force that keeps me here.
It has taken a long time to internalize the fact that ultimately, I observe mitzvot out of a sense of “hitchayavut” – obligation and duty. G-d cut a deal with Avraham, that contract was passed onto Yitzchak and Ya’akov and then onto B’nei Yisrael until finally, we stood at Har Sinai and G-d proclaimed “anochi hashem.” He became our G-d and we became His people. I, as a decedent of Avraham and whose soul was present at Ma’amad har Sinai am also under this contractual obligation. On tisha b’av we will read the following pasuk from the book of d’varim: "...לא ישכח את ברית אבותך אשר נשבע להם" No matter how badly we lust after sin, G-d will not forsake the contract of our forefathers which he swore unto them, so why would I? Certainly on a day to day, mitzvah by mitzvah basis I find questions and challenges all the time. However, for me the bottom line that “G-d said so” is just that simple.
For a Jew, keeping Shabbat is not a choice. Non Jews are prohibited from observing Shabbat for it is a gift that G-d bestowed unto the Jewish people alone. People ask me “why do you live in Israel?” as if living here is a choice for me. More and more I realize I live here, davka, because it's not.