The first time I visited Israel, I was disappointed. I was disappointed because I did not feel a connection to Israel at all. I had learned about Eretz Yisrael in school, seen pictures of it, heard stories of it, and I knew it was an important place. So I thought that when I got there I would feel like I was in some place special, spiritual, holy. I tried so hard to feel the holiness when I was there, but I left feeling guilty. Guilty that I should be falling in love with our holy land, the land with so much historical significance, so much religious significance, but I did not feel connected.
My second trip to Israel was a similar story. By that point I was in high school and I was sure that things would be different because I was older. But it was the same story. I tried even harder the second time around to feel connected, to fall in love with Israel, but I had to face the fact that while both times I greatly enjoyed my trips, I did not experience the "WOW" feeling that everyone else I knew experienced. While everyone I knew would rant about how great Israel was, and would long to go back, I just sat there silently. Though I thought I was the only one feeling this disconnect, there were others who felt this way, and one such person felt brave enough to ask this question in an "ask the Rabbi" session I was at. My ears perked up as soon as she asked the question.
The Rabbi responded that there are different types of pleasures in life. Some types of pleasures we experience immediately, such as tasting good food, or smelling a pleasant smell. Others take a little bit of time to experience, such as a friendship or relationship. At the beginning of a relationship you don't feel connected to the person because you don't have shared experience and you haven't built the relationship yet. But picture a long lasting friendship or marriage that has lasted 20 or 30 years. The type of pleasure that a person receives from such a relationship is much deeper than the pleasure one gets from eating a piece of cake. The same is true for Eretz Yisrael.
Visiting Israel is not like visiting other countries. You can't just go and expect to automatically be connected. It is a relationship that you have to build, one that develops over time. But once it is developed, it is deeper than other connections. This answer really hit home for me, and that is why I share it with you today. I was fortunate enough to experience this deep connection first hand during the year I spent in Seminary in Israel.
I recall the first times I went to the Kotel, before my year in Israel, standing there repeating in my head, "This is where the Beit HaMikdash stood" over and over, trying to get it through my head that this was not just some random wall of stones. Perhaps the fact that it was crowded and that there were women pushing me, was unhelpful to my attempt to concentrate, but I couldn't feel anything. I was not overwhelmed or emotional, I just was. Contrast that to experience I had after a few months in Israel, after going to the Kotel many times. I can picture myself standing at the Kotel, closing my eyes, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the mumbles all around me, until emotion floods me and I pour my heart out to Hashem. To this day, the best Tefillah that I ever davened (aside from perhaps Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur davening) was there at the Kotel.
Despite my initial indifference, or perhaps because of it, I can now say that I feel a strong connection to Israel and that I love Israel. It is a deep part of me and a place that is always in my thoughts. My davening is different because of it, especially the parts of davening that mention Israel, and specifically the bracha V'Lirushalayim Ircha in Shemoneh Esrei. I love the hills, the flowers, the sky, the streets, the homes.
I love Eretz Yisrael, our holy land, given to the Jewish people by G-d. I feel that it is easier to feel Hashem’s presence in Israel. I love the spiritual, religious, experience I have there, and I love modern day Israel. I love how today Israel is a homeland where all Jews have the right to be. I love how the entire country celebrates the Jewish Holidays, as opposed to how in the United States celebrating chagim feels strange, separating us out from the mindset of the rest of the country. I love that after centuries Jews can live in the place where we belong, that we have returned after a long exile.
Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, celebrating the fact that we, the Jewish people, have returned to our homeland. And while we ultimately await the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, we thank Hashem for the numerous miracles that He has performed to give us this wonderful gift, of Eretz Yisrael.
Every day we praise Hashem and thank Him for the wonderful pleasures of this world, the ones that we experience every day- food, clothing, shelter. Tonight and tomorrow is a time for us to thank Hashem for giving us a place where we can join together and unite, and for a place where we are able to connect to Hashem, more than any place in the world. Even though it may take time, once we get there, it is worth the effort.
May this gift from Hashem of Eretz Yisrael, which we received again in 1948, be followed by the bracha of peace throughout the world and particularly in Eretz Yisrael. May this be the beginning of the final of redemption, and may the Beit Hamikdash be rebuilt very soon with the coming of Mashiach, to bring us to the days when all Jews will gather from the four corners of the world and unite in the holy land that Hashem gave to us, Israel.