Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Eretz Yisrael
A Simple Jew asks:
In your posting for the yahrzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk you wrote of your feelings of attachment to him. Given this tzaddik's great love for Eretz Israel, did you ever contemplate moving to Eretz Israel as he did in 1777? Also, do you believe that living in Eretz Israel is a central point in his teachings?
Chabakuk Elisha responds:
For generations, Chassidim (and non-Chassidim for that matter) have longed to go to Eretz Yisroel. The Baal Shem Tov's desire and unsuccessful journey to reach the Holy Land is legendary, as it was similarly so for many subsequent Tzaddikim. Indeed, reaching Israel was an ideal sought after throughout our history, and especially by Chassidim. Reb Mendel made it and remained there, and one must ask what that meant to him and to chassidus.
The importance is further highlighted by the fact that Chassidim throughout Europe were told to, and did, send much needed funds to support the community R' Mendel had established, and a number of Chassidim eventually joined R' Mendel's community.
It is generally accepted that R' Mendel left Europe because of the many persecutions Chassidim experienced at the hands of the Misnagdim. However, it cannot be the only reason as R' Mendel and the Chassidic movement was still growing with great success, and R' Mendel was the leading figure. R' Mendel would probably have been the single leader of Chassidus and successor to the Maggid. Was he simply fed up with the struggles of Europe? Especially in light of the hardships he still had to endure in Israel, it is unlikely that that's all there was to it.
With this in mind, it would have to be said that living in the Holy Land was a significant, if not the most significant, element of R' Mendel's legacy today. But, R' Mendel also stated that the Land of Israel is not acquired with ease; it is a great zechus to live there - a zechus that not everyone merits. He would pray constantly that the Eretz Yisroel would accept him and continue to allow him to live there. Chazal also tell us that even those who live in Israel are not necessarily treading Holy Land as malachim, we are told, throw earth from chutz leaaretz under the feet of those who do not deserve to tread the Holy soil.
Sure, I wish I was in Eretz Yisroel, and I hope I will be one day. I also regret that I didn't move there when I was young (when it would have been much easier), but unfortunately, for now, I remain in America. Personally, I'm an American boy and with a house full of children and adjusting would be hard on many levels - but I pray that I will get there one day.
In the interim, I can try to live with this story: It is told that in 1857 there was a Chossid of the Tzemach Tzeddek that wanted to move to Israel. When he asked his Rebbe for a brocha, the Tzemach Tzedek said, "Mach da Eretz Yisroel" (basically, wherever you are, make that place into Eretz Yisroel)
(Picture courtesy of Akiva of Mystical Paths)