[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.