Real Pleasure and Making Aliyah - Part 1
I'm going to start this blog post with an admission; I found writing this particular post difficult. I started and stopped it several times, deleting what I had more than once.
Interestingly enough, I have been thinking about addressing this topic for some time now, but what really motivated me to finally get some thoughts down about it was the following article:
'The six million Jews' on Arutz Sheva. It's a great read, I highly recommend if you have the time. (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/23241).
If you don’t have the time - at a high level it's about two things - firstly its about encouraging the Israeli government to change Aliyah so that it's more aligned with 'Western' expectations. That being, access to nicer homes, support for educational credentials earned in North America so that the Olim can find better paying jobs. In other words, making Aliyah more financially attractive to Western Jews. Secondly, the article is about addressing the question - 'Why would Israel ever do that!?' - because quite frankly it seems like a bit of an odd request at the very least, or political suicide for any politician brave enough to take up the cause. So why is the author suggesting this approach?
Because you're about to disappear.
If you're a Jew, you could disappear
Swallowed up by Mitzrayim. The assimilation rate is currently above 50% for sure, but it appears more to be in line with 80%+. In another generation, the same number of Jews who did not leave Mitzrayim when Moshe Rebeinu took them out (4/5 ths) are about to disappear……..again. Also - coincidentally enough, about the same number of Jews lost in the holocaust.
The author is therefore making an urgent appeal to save North American Jews. And she is right - they will likely be lost forever unless something is done, and soon.
It got me thinking about why some Jews choose not to make Aliyah. While there are various reasons, there appears to be some 'big categories', and one of those certainly seems to be 'Stuff', or 'Materialism', which is what we're going to talk about. It’s a big topic.
With that context, let's go back to why I've found this one particularly hard to write. It's mostly because the answer to the question as to why materialism shouldn’t be a concern in making Aliyah is very complicated to convey. It’s ultimately a better solution to the problem articulated above by the author, albeit possibly harder to implement in today's day and age. If the concept can be communicated clearly and convincingly however, then perhaps it will aid someone in understanding how they can make Aliyah, and decouple themselves from this issue. Im going to caution however that it is a very dense topic that is hard to understand, and usually takes years of study. It's really not 'blog' material, but it has to be discussed, and so, I'm going to try.
Maybe, just maybe, B"H a small amount of what I wish to communicate will make it into the post, and be intelligible.
Is "Westernizing" Aliyah the answer to our troubles?
So let's go back to our topic - 'Stuff' or 'Materialism' and pleasure. It's all kind of wrapped up in the same rats nest together anyways.
Stuff refers to the actual physical objects, or objects of acquisition that make us 'happy', and materialism refers to all of the intangibles that we pursue because we're told it will make us 'happy', or it should be our desire. After all isn't the slogan of the US 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'?
I'm talking about things like career, retirement, birthday parties, New Years, friends, science, the 4th of July, liberty, values, the detached home and the white picket fence etc. Some might argue this is 'culture' - but I would argue its much more pervasive and broad than that. Yes culture is in there, but it extends much farther. It includes 'pleasure' as a goal, but it also speaks to how we view ourselves, and what our expectations in life are.
And let’s face it, we in the 'Western world' have big expectations.
We expect we have the chance at an incredible career, that will challenge our minds, and enrich our lives. We expect a reasonable chance we can become more wealthy than our wildest dreams. We expect that we should own a 4+ bedroom house and have 2+ cars. We expect that there should be meat on the table just about every night, and if we're vegetarian or vegan, we expect we have all of the options to do so, and the supplements to keep us healthy. We expect world class education for ourselves, and children if we choose to have them. We expect top notch affordable healthcare that is able to tackle and solve the most difficult diseases and illnesses. We expect to have plenty of leisure time where we can pursue our dreams and be entertained by whatever we desire. We expect to be able to go to tropical or exotic vacations and be waited on hand and foot. We expect that one day when we are little older, we will be able to retire, and not work ever again, and enjoy life, and that's just the high level.
We expect a lot more than that even.
This is what we have inherited.
Addicted to Pleasure
We pursue pleasure like it's water, and we're marching through the desert; thirstily sucking it down like it’s a life giving elixir. We've been told to do 'whatever makes us feel happy' - and what is the result?
We're a bunch of addicts. Pleasure addicts, plain and simple. We run after that next 'thing' that is guaranteed to make us finally happy; whether it’s a promotion, or a new car, a new video game or a new lover. And does it make us happy? Yes, for a short period of time until the high wears off, and then we're looking for the next thing to make us happy. Over and over the cycle goes, never ending.
So no wonder when many 'Western' Jews think about making Aliyah the idea is less than appealing. They can't get their X in Israel, whether it be their Starbucks, Walmart, 3rd car, 4 bedroom house, tuna, steak, rockin' career, boat, cottage, fishing, golf, basketball, football, designer bag….whatever it is. It hurts to not have our pleasures, physically and/or emotionally.
I'm going to tell you a secret in a way that I don’t think is often taught in Torah lectures in this manner. They say it, but in much more eloquent and succinct ways than I can. My way is a little more raw and crude, but it's what I got - so here it goes.
When you're able to wean yourself from the material addictions, and wind yourself down from the 'materialism crack', life becomes a whole lot more sweet. It's incredible.
Life starts to mean something. Your sense of 'flavor' in life comes back. It's like watching a sunset in color for the first time. It's like the difference between eating bland porridge and eating Moroccan or Indian food. Things that you thought were important are no longer important. Some stresses start to fall by the wayside never to return. You're no longer controlled by your impulses and desires. You see life in a whole new way, and it's truly incredible. But you have to commit to it. You can't do it half way in order to feel that level of satisfaction and enjoyment.
There is no shortcut. It's not easy, and the journey never ends, but it is real, and it is true.
So you're curious about how all this is possible - how do we do it? The answer is simple.
Learn Torah. Live Torah. Drink Torah. Breathe Torah.
In that order; start first by learning Torah. Then start living Torah. After you've gotten a handle on living Torah, drink Torah, and finally breathe Torah.
Why is Torah the answer? It's a legit question. On a higher level - we can say that Materialism pulls you in, and distracts you from what you are supposed to be doing, but on a practical level it's a bit more obvious, and well…practical.
Materialism creates a reward response in your brain. You get 'high' from the pleasures you are pursuing, whether that is the promotion, or the new car, or the fancy house, the nice kitchen etc. Inevitably, you are unable to enact discipline in yourself because you want the next 'high'. You lose control of yourself, and start focusing on 'what feels good', as opposed to 'doing what is right'. You get mired deeper and deeper, you drop your Torah observance, and the next thing you know…you're assimilated. America is your home. The 4th of July your favorite holiday. Work is more important than Shabbat. That goy is looking mighty fine, and what's the harm if you take a little nibble anyways? Kosher? That's antiquated. Boxes on my arm? That doesn’t feel good, and what is this business in telling me all of the things I can't do?! I want to do what I want to do!!
And there it is. We've disappeared.
So why cant you learn something like meditation and have discipline that way?
Kosher meditation is a good thing, but to answer the broader question there - Torah is Emet. It was designed to keep you healthy, and happy. Nothing else in this world can help you break out of Materialism because the other 'things/fads' - like hot yoga, or the Atkins diet etc are not Emet. They were not infused with holiness. They are transient and will not last. If you're honest - you'll see the truth in that statement.
In the next post we'll tackle some examples of how Torah is healthy for you, how you can start to make a change for the better, and for others that may not be swayed by the argument, a more practical way of looking at the problem.