I've just returned from Lakewood where I attended the wedding of my wife's brother. It was my first time there and, contrary to what the blogsphere likes to write, it wasn't the horror I expected it to be. People were polite, some were even friendly despite my knitted kippah and lack of a black hat. No, I didn't get any kibudim but I wasn't looking for any in the first place.
It was, to tell the truth, my first real exposure to the "yeshivish crowd". At the Friday night and Shabbos lunch meals, we listened to several drashos praising the happy couple. After digesting everything that was said, two things struck me.
The first is that this pidgin language "Yeshivish" is a bunch of goobledygook. I once heard it described as "Yiddish for people who can't speak Yiddish but want to pretend that they do". I would say, having listened to several speeches in it, that this is an accurate description, to the point that meaningless phrases and words peppered every speech like verbal tics.
But the more important thing I noticed is that in every drasha there was one prominent subject that was never mentioned: Israel.
Maybe I'm just being sensitive because of my own personal hashkafah but I'm not sure that's the entire reason it bothered me. I heard words of praise about Lakewood, the local yeshivos and other relevant matters but nothing about our Land and I wonder at that.
A few posts ago I wrote about the value of living in a small Jewish community. One of the things I noted was that big communities tend to forget about the golus aspect of Jewish life, given the high level of conveniences available to them. Perhaps this is what I noticed and felt while in Lakewood.
After all, Baruch HaShem, Lakewood is a large community with everything a Torah observant Jew could want - stores, shuls, schools and a kosher grocery store. And one must wonder: on a strictly utilitarian basis, what advantage does Eretz Yisrael have over it? It's hotter there, the political situation is more volatile and for all than the fabulously rich life is financially more difficult as well. In fact, I would be willing to bet that people who live in the New York/New Jersey region can think of nothing that Israel has that is superior to what they have where they are.
But Judaism is not a strictly utilitarian nationality. Not for nothing did our Sages comment that the air of the Land causes a person to become more wise. There is something spiritual, intangible, that makes Israel the superior place for any Jew to live.
But more than this, there is the religious imperative of living in Israel to consider. Our exile from our Land was not voluntary. Our litury, our literature, emphasize our desire to return home to Israel. Do we not pray three times a day for the privilege to return and glimpse the Shechinah in Yerushalayim? Is this a sincere hope or just lip service?
For many, it is a sincere hope. These are the people, both religion and not so, who have made the sacrifice to leave their comfortable homes in golus and return to our Land despite the difficulties this decision has entailed. Of those people I am greatly jealous and I hope to add myself to their number one day.
But for many others, the desire to return to Israel seems to be only a token, a relic left over in the siddur because no one's taken it out. How else to explain the absence of any stated desire to return home? How else to explain that not one single sermon even briefly mentioned that the happy couple should one day find themselves in Israel living a proper and complete Jewish life?
And in the end, that would seem to undermine all their Torah efforts. Yes, the young man may sit and learn all day. His young bride may keep the most kosher home. But they have resigned themselves to golus. Short of the Moshiach (may he arrive speedily but not on Thursday because I have plans) showing up at their front door with business class plane tickets, they will happily live out their lives in Lakewood, convinced they are missing nothing because, physically, they aren't. And so immersed have they, and their compatriots, become in the materialism of their environment that they don't even realize the emptiness at the base of their souls. For a Jew, every day waking up in golus should be a distressing event. Why are we not home in our Land? But do they feel this distress at all? My impression, sadly, was that they don't.
We must never be satisfied with where we are. Until our Temple is rebuilt (again, speedily but not on Thursday) we cannot delude ourselves into feeling comfortable in our environment. Our place is in Israel, not golus. Any community that has forgotten this has, despite its external pieties, forgotten the basis of Judaism.