Rav Kook Torah

The Atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael

The Unhappy Immigrant

Under the influence of Rav Kook, an American Jew came to Eretz Yisrael with the intention of settling there permanently. One day, however, he showed up the Rav’s house and requested a farewell blessing. For some reason, he had decided to return to America.

“Why are you leaving so suddenly?” asked the Rav.

“Rebbe,” replied the man, “I am sick of life here in Eretz Yisrael. I cannot stand the Sabbath desecration and overall disdain for our religion that is so rampant among the pioneer settlers of the Land. Therefore, I have decided to leave the country and return to America.”

These words, coming from the mouth of a simple, well-meaning Jew, giving voice to the yearnings of his soul, agitated and shook the Rav’s heartstrings; but he contained himself. With a gentle smile, he turned to his guest and asked where he lived in America.

“My home is in Denver, Colorado,” replied the American Jew. Then, with a distinctive patriotism, he began describing the beauty of the city, with its overlooking mountains and remarkably crisp and pleasant air. “There are no narrow, filthy alleyways” — he added mockingly — “like here in Jerusalem. There the streets are broad, the houses large and elegant, and trolley cars speed through the city.” He then went on to speak, as if spellbound, about the beautiful nature that surrounds Denver.

After a while, the Rav interrupted the man and said: “If I am not mistaken, Denver has a lot of tuberculosis sufferers. A man from Jerusalem recently returned from a trip to America and told me that when he was in Denver he met many people with incurable, chronic diseases. If what you are saying is true, that Denver’s climate is so healthy and invigorating, why are there so many sick people there?”

“Does Your Honor really think,” replied the American Jew with silent indignation, “that those sick people are natives of Denver? They all come from other cities, where fresh air and sunshine are sorely lacking. They contracted this terrible disease (TB) in their hometowns and came to Denver, on doctor’s orders, to benefit from its fresh air and hopefully recover.”

“Of course,” continued the man, “some people come with a very advanced form of the disease. They neglected their condition for a long time and came too late. Their lungs are so full of bacteria that there is almost no hope of recovery. That man from Jerusalem must have met some of those people in the streets of Denver, and he mistakenly thought that the city was to blame for their miserable condition. That naive man didn’t realize that this city, with its healing air, actually brings relief and rehabilitation to thousands of desperately ill patients from all around the world.”

The Air of Eretz Yisrael

Rav Kook interrupted the flow of the man’s words and replied in a calm and gentle manner: “Think about what you are saying! The air of our Holy Land is also special; it makes one wise and has the ability to heal. Hapless Jews have come, and continue to come, to Eretz Yisrael from all over the world, where the foreign atmosphere of the lands of exile had a detrimental effect on their spirits, poisoning their souls. These Jews were on the verge of assimilating, God forbid, into the gentile culture and dying a spiritual death on foreign soil. Fortunately, though, the Healer of the Jewish people provided the cure before the ailment and infused them with a breath of life, inspiring them to love and yearn for Eretz Yisrael. They come to this therapeutic environment to breathe in some fresh air and spirit.”

“If you see so many affected souls here in the Holy Land, people with spiritual and emotional ailments, realize that they were born elsewhere. Had they not come here as soon as they did, they would have been in danger of assimilation. They are seriously ill, but we must treat them when they come here, just like they treat the tuberculosis patients in Denver. I firmly believe that the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael will have a positive, blessed influence on many of them, bringing them both physical and spiritual health.”

(An Angel Among Men by Simcha Raz (translated by R. Moshe Lichtman), pp. 431-434)