Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Heshbon ha-Nefesh b'Nefesh (For Parshat Ki Tetzteh)

[Somehow, the major point of this post got lost. I have, therefore, highlighted it. I also highly recommend this excellent discussion of the halakhic parameters of hitch-hiking.]

It's Elul, and I'm in the midst of my annual attempt at self-introspection (חשבון הנפש). Sometimes, that effort leads in unexpected directions.

Yesterday, and today, much of my attention has been focused upon the phenomenon known as Nefesh b'Nefesh. It started as I was desperately seeking a tremp to the next town, in order to attend the opening parent's night for my 10 year old. It was hot, and muggy (at 6PM), and I was getting increasingly anxious as each car slowed down at the gate (there are traffic bumps), the driver made every effort to ignore me, and went on.

The first thing that came to mind was the Torah's admonition (in this week's sedra) against ignoring brethren in distress (Deut. 22, 1-4):

You shalt not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back unto your brother. And if your brother is not close to you, and you don't know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it, and you shalt restore it to him. And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his garment; and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother's, which he has lost, and you have found; you may not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

True, there are exceptions (cf. בבא מציעא דף ל' ע"א), but the obvious way that the drivers tried to ignore me (and the other tempist), while they sped by in their empty cars (and drove exactly where I was headed), was both hurtful and aggravating. I then noticed something else. The cars that whizzed by were almost all brand-new mini-vans, driven by new Oleh types. By contrast, the cars that slowed down and asked where I needed to go were always beat up, older cars (what we call מצ'וקמק), driven by native Israelis or veteran Olim. I found myself feeling really uncharitable about the new Olim, who receive their תעודת עולה and תעודת זהות on the plane; are welcomed by bands and adulating crowds; who are accompanied through the Israeli bureaucracy by a phalanx of aides and who (judging from the local chat list) are striving to create a self-possessed Teaneck on the Jordan.

Didn't anyone tell them that Israel isn't America? Here we're supposed to help each other, give each other rides (especially since Egged's service is underwhelming), intervene on behalf of people you don't know and try to integrate into Israeli society. I thought of a story my wife likes to tell of a co-worker whose parents were fairly well off and bought her a car when she got married. The woman felt awkward that she had something that so few of her friends had. So, she decided that the only thing to do was to make sure that she ALWAYS gave rides to trempistim (a fortiori to soldiers and Sherut Leumi girls). Evidently, I thought, in all the discussion of refrigerators and expensive imported tiles, no one told these guys any of the poitive ethos of life here.

Just then, a beat up car picked me up and offered to drive me to my destination. As I got in, Elul came back to haunt me. I remembered how fifteen years ago we made Aliyah alone. We were met by a little old lady from AACI, who said welcome home and come to our offices to meet with an Aliyah Counselor, because we didn't even know what questions to ask. She disappeared and we proceeded to face Misrad Ha-Pnim alone. (For years thereafter, instead of saying 'Go to Hell!' we used to say 'Go to Misrad ha-Pnim!'). With help from friends and family (and a lot of angst and סייעתא דשמיא), we were absorbed (as they say). We lived through the Oslo years, three wars, terror attacks, but also became (to the extent desireable) part of Israel. We earned the highest compliment an Oleh can receive (in this cae from Amnon Scapira): שהמבטא לא יטעה אותך. הם ישראלים בכל לשד עצמותיהם

Anyway, I then realized that what I was feeling was (to a significant degree), jealousy at the Nefesh b'Nefesh crew and their obvious devotion to Israel. They had it very good in the US and nevertheless made the choice to come here. They know just how tenuous things are here. Nevertheless, they came and they are coming. And they are coming just when American values and grit are just what the country needs to survive the gotterdammerung of the old elites. So, yes, they should learn humility and be taught that here we do for one another. Yes, they should be told that in order to make it here you can't look back. Nevertheless, Thank God and God Bless them.

They're coming, ve-khen yirbu.

I will have to work on my jealousy this Elul.

As I had this insight, and kept at my חשבון הנפש, I recalled that Rav Kook זצ"ל once pointed out that the Jews could only enter ארץ ישראל after they'd killed Og, king of Heshbon. Only after you kill your חשבונות is one ready to enter Israel. It's evidently true not only of the Olim, but of the ותיקים as well.

New Olim, Elul 5768 (Credit: Jacob Richman)


Anonymous said...

to be dan lekaf zechus: i live in jerusalem, and i never take trempistim. i consider it rash and dangerous to tremp. this may be an american holdover, but there also may be a great deal of legitimacy in my reasoning. if i were a terrorist i could see dressing as an orthodox jew and tremp/giving a tremp, and, well, fill in the rest.

Gil Student said...

It's a cultural thing. In the US it is dangerous to pick up hitchhikers and new immigrants might not have been able to totally throw off that attitude.

Jeffrey said...

1) Gil' right about the US, but tremping is de rigeur in Israel and not giving a ride is interpreted as snobbery (as is insisting on speaking English in mixed company).

2) While Arabs have masqueraded as Jews, that does not excuse not picking up Hayyalim. In Yehudah and Shomron, people tremp INSIDE their yishuv. Not giving trempim is
not a security issue under those circumstances. (I know. I was in the security forces for 10 years.)

shlomo said...

Maybe nobody told them that hitchhiking is normal in Israel (unlike the US). Maybe they believed the security forces' warning that hitchhiking is a danger not only to the individuals involved but to the entire nation, in case someone gets kidnapped. Maybe it's possible that not everyone in a nice new minivan is a new Oleh and other people's experience is that new Olim are indeed willing to pick up trempistim. Maybe there is room to be "dan lekaf zechut" just a little bit for people who perform fewer unrewarded favors for you than you think you deserve, for reasons you know nothing about. And I shudder to think that your Elul consists of finding fault more in other people than in yourself.

Ruthie said...

love u jeff, but watch that teaneck bashing :)

shana tova!

Jeffrey said...

No disrespect intended for עיה"ק טינק יע"א. I just think it's critical for Nefesh b'Nefesh to teach Olim how to integrate with Israelis and us vatiqim. (Like serving in Matmid. =-)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Woolf, are you aware that the vast majority of Israelis do not in fact stop for hitchhikers?

And is it too disrespectful to ask whether you yourself pick up hitchhikers when driving?

Anonymous said...

I think that NB has to do a cheshbo hanefesh for taking on a government role that was given to them without a proper legal tender.

Jeffrey said...

I never thought this posting would generate this amount of heat.

For the record:
1) While many Israelis don't pick up hitchers (and they should be ashamed of themselves if they ignore soldiers), in AYoSh they do if only because we're much more aware and Egged ignores us.

2) I try to pick up trempistim unless I need private conversation. My children, for the record, ALWAYS pick up trempistim, at the yishuv trepiadot and on tghe Tunnel Road entrance.

Jonathan said...

Well, as a reasonably new NBN Oleh (2 years) who just moved to Efrat, I can say that I try to always give trempim when I can, especially knowing that there is no public transportation or taxi service to speak of throughout the Gush. (When I was in Bet Shemesh, I felt less compunction to pick up trempistim, as there is good, frequent bus service there, and about a zillion taxis). I do have three car seats installed, though, so there are times when my car might look like it has three empty seats, but in reality has none. I do feel a bit sheepish driving by in those circumstances, and try to look apologetically at the trempistim as I drive by...

I admit that I still do have the American reflex of "never pick up hitchhikers", but I figure that I managed to shed enough American thought patterns to come on Aliyah, I can shed those hesitations and help out a fellow Jew. (And as a byproduct, help out the economy of the Gush, strengthening our hold on the land).

A Question regarding tremping etiquette: sometimes at trempiadot (e.g. the one just past the Te'enah/Gefen Kikar on the way out of Efrat), there are a line of people asking for tremps. It is more proper to drive forward most of the way to pick up those trempistim, or to stop at the first trempers you approach? It feels like the first ones are "boxing out" the latter ones, but it is often easiest/safest to stop for them.

Jeffrey said...

Kol ha-Kavod! As to the etiquette of tremping, it's a work in progress. Generally, it's assumed first come, first served (though there are always pushy people). The trempiadot are divided into Gush Traffic and Jerusalem. You should stop near the appropriate group. Also, one way of avoiding misunderstandings is to 'sign' where you're going. If you point down, it means your going to the Gush or Hevron. If you point out it meant Jlem.

welcome to our little town.

Anonymous said...

For a better discussion of the halachic issues in hitchhiking, see

Mich said...

Re: the Jews could only enter ארץ ישראל after they'd killed Og, king of Heshbon.

I believe Sichon was the King of Heshbon (סיחון מלך חשבון) while Og was the King of Bashan (עוג מלך הבשן).