The Galus Money Trap
One of the most common reasons/excuses Jews choose to remain in galus is monetary considerations. Many are unwilling to compromise on the material standard of living they have become accustomed to. They obsessively compare Israel to galus in every materialistic sense, inevitably find it inferior in some area, and triumphantly declare that Israel isn't for them. It is a sad commentary on the spiritual assimilation of many Orthodox Jews
Others believe that living in Israel all but assures financial ruin. They know someone who made aliya, couldn't make a living, and was forced to return to galus. Surely if they made the same reckless move, they would join the millions of destitute Jews in Israel who are starving in the streets. They just can't make it in Israel, and there's no point in trying. Echoing the spies who had this notion long before them, “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants.”
As Chazal teach us, a falsehood that persists must have an element of truth to it, and this is no exception. Unless someone has a rare level of faith and commitment, it would be irresponsible to make aliya without exploring parnassa opportunities in advance. Our idealistic actions must be properly grounded in reality.
The problem is when “pragmatism” becomes such a dominant force that idealism is rendered hypothetical.
Torah-observant Jews must confront the following questions:
1) What is the monetary value of finally leaving galus and returning to our homeland? What price should we be willing to pay, if the privilege of fulfilling this dream was a commodity we needed to purchase?
2) What amount of material upgrade is worth leaving Eretz Yisrael to dwell in a foreign land? We are not talking about the extreme case of someone who literally cannot survive in Israel, but those who can live more comfortably outside the land. How much money should be enough to justifiably entice a Jew to leave Israel?
3) In theory, if every Jew could live much more comfortably in galus, or received an overwhelming offer to leave the land, could we allow our collective stake in Eretz Yisrael to essentially be bought out? If not, why not? If there is a critical mass that must refuse such a financial enticement, how many people is that, and how are we to decide who must remain as a token Jewish presence?
4) Shouldn't the many impoverished Jews in galus – including those with expensive lifestyles who still cannot make ends meet – make aliya? Shouldn't the many Jews who use monetary considerations as a reason/excuse to remain in galus commit to aliya if they were offered a lucrative job in Israel? At what point can we fairly say there isn't anything to lose by trying, or that the risk is minimal enough that idealism should push the needle?
5) How do Torah-observant Jews reconcile their “pragmatism” with the fundamental principle that parnassa comes from Hashem? On what basis do they believe that their ability to earn a living – and, by direct extension, God's ability to provide the parnassa He has decreed for them – depends entirely on their remaining in galus indefinitely?
6) Is it not conceivable that the material comforts of galus are a test, even a lure of the yetzer hara to deter Jews from returning home? How can it be that many Jews consider the miraculous return of millions of Jews to Israel in two generations as “the work of Satan”, yet consider the Holocaust the plan of Hashem, and the material comforts of galus as a gift from heaven? Is this not a mental illness?
Orthodox Jews in galus know the Torah perspective to these questions, but they bury it under a grave of rationalizations and deflections. Here it is:
The monetary value of leaving galus is inestimable. No amount of material upgrade is worth remaining in galus, nor leaving Eretz Yisrael for a more comfortable life. Those who are literally forced out of the land by truly extenuating circumstances should leave with the greatest of anguish and the intense desire to return at the earliest opportunity. This is our law and our tradition.
The notion of allowing ourselves to be bought out of our land for any price is anathema. Throughout history we have bought out interlopers who occupied our land (out of necessity, for lack of ability or courage to expel them). The idea of letting foreigners bribe us to willingly abandon our land is incompatible with Judaism. Every individual Jew who allows material enticements – not absolute necessities – to keep him in exile has sold part of his soul and weakened the entire nation. For what? A bigger home? A fancier car? Cheaper groceries? The Jews in the desert remembered the fish and vegetables they enjoyed as slaves in Egypt, and wished to return. Do we shake our heads at their pettiness, then close the Chumash and emulate it?
As long as a Jew can so much as get by in Israel, he should be unwilling to stay in galus for any price. And getting by doesn't mean living a life of excess in the most expensive parts of the country. It means settling the land and finding a way to make it work.
Amazingly enough, and contrary to the common jokes and snide remarks, moving to Israel may even be the best way of preserving one's wealth.
Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal makes an astounding observation in Eim Habanim Semeicha Chapter 3, Section 48. He discusses the Midrashic teaching that Yaacov made himself “like a bridge” to transfer his possessions across the river to save them from falling into the hands of Eisav. Rav Teichtal derives that it is precisely because Yaacov was like a bridge – with only one foot in galus and one foot firmly rooted in Israel – that he merited to save his money. All the years that Yaacov was compelled to dwell in galus, he had one foot out the door. If not for this – if Yaacov had two feet firmly planted in galus – his money would have fallen to Eisav.
Rav Teichtal explains that this is a lesson for the descendants of Yaacov up to our times. Those who turn their thoughts and their hearts away from Israel ultimately lose their money to the goyim. Instead of using this money to redeem the land and rebuild it, it goes to Eisav. However, those who have one foot out the door, eager to leave galus, have the merit of Eretz Yisrael over their possessions as if they were already there. It is the best financial decision they could ever make!
Remaining in galus does not protect a Jew's wealth – it is a primary reason for him to lose it!
Rav Teichtal sums it up with the following stinging comment from the sefer Pardes Yosef: “As long as a Jew does not return to his land, and does not sit under his vine and fig tree, his wealth and his business are utterly worthless.”
I would add the following teaching from Sanhedrin 112A. The Gemara is discussing an ir hanidachas, a city in which the majority of the residents were lured to avoda zara. The entire city must be burned to the ground, including the property and possessions of any righteous people who lived in the city.
Rabbi Shimon asks why the Torah said the property of the tzaddikim should be destroyed. After all, they did not participate in the avoda zara. For all we know, they might have even protested it!
Rabbi Shimon answers as follows: “What caused them to live in the midst of the city? Their money. Therefore, their money is lost.”
This is a stinging message not just for those who choose to live in a “sin city” for monetary reasons, but for those who choose to remain in galus for monetary reasons. Jews who live where they do not belong for the sake of money, at the expense of their spiritual wellbeing and purpose as Jews, acquire a “reverse segula” to lose the money anyway.
I am not a prophet, and I cannot guarantee that everyone who moves to Israel will prosper in the immediate future. That is not the way of the world. Nor do I recommend for people to move without making reasonable plans and preparations (though, the way things are going in much of the world, that might soon be advisable). However, the Torah perspective on the money trap of galus is clear.
Every Jew in galus should have one foot out
the door, and strive to lift the other.