Our Aliyah Chronicle

By Shmuel Katz

About 15 years ago, I heard a shiur on Shavuot night at The White Shul given by Rabbi Tuvia Silverstein on the topic of techeilet on tzitzit. His well-organized shiur led me to the conclusion that the murex trunculus snail is the source of biblical techeilet dye.

I was vastly intrigued by the possibility and went to my LOR (local Orthodox rabbi) to consult him. I explained about having heard the shiur, expressed how motivated I was to possibly perform the mitzvah as commanded (check out the end of last week’s parashah) and asked for advice on how to proceed. I remember being very excited at the possibility.

After reflecting for a minute, he turned to me and commented that the issue is not clear and then said to me, “Maybe there is something else in your life that you can look to improve.” I was inspired by his comment and thought that he was trying to tell me to be better in “the basics” before looking to non-standard methods of improving my observance.

I took it to heart. I thought about it and realized that he did not say not to do it, but rather that there might be other, more significant things I could do to improve. At that point in my life, it was an answer that I needed to hear (and one that has stayed with me over the years) and continues to be as valid to me today as it was then.

As the years passed, I heard additional shiurim on the topic and read a book or two about it as well. Although I would have to search through my files, I am pretty sure that I wrote an article about snorkeling off the coast of Zichron Yaakov one chol hamoed, trying to find the murex trunculus snail along the shores of the Mediterranean; that was a terrific tiyul.

I kept toying with the idea, but never quite got to the point where I was ready to buy myself a set. Yet, as we are in Israel more and more, the motivation to do so got stronger and stronger.

As I have written in the past, it is clear to me that you have to be (at least) just a little bit crazy to make aliyah–moving across the ocean to a place you don’t quite understand. Olim tend to be a passionate group as a whole, and if we are a little bit crazy or passionate about one thing, we tend to be passionate or crazy about other things as well.

There are many things tied to the Beit HaMikdash and tied to the land of Israel that we either cannot perform or perform at a level beneath that prescribed in the Torah. The process of living in Israel has made me much more conscious of how much we lack in our religious life, which seems strange to me, since I also believe that our daily lives are much more spiritual here than they were in America.

For example: we have Birkat Kohanim every day here (and as a Kohein I have a strong bond to this berachah). Yet, each time I do it, somewhere deep inside I am also keenly aware of the fact that I am unable to perform the many other duties of a Kohein. Despite Israel’s seeming broadening of my religious experience, that broadening only serves to highlight how much more I am missing from the spectrum.

We separate terumah from produce, yet we cannot give it to the appropriate people. We keep shemittah, but only on a rabbinic level. There are quite a few mitzvot that we lack the ability to observe in their totality. The longer we live here, the more I feel this shortcoming on a personal and internal level. This, I hope, is a benefit of living here, and I know for sure that it helps me focus my concentration and tefillot on a daily basis and certainly during the Three Weeks/Tishah B’Av.

I have, over the past couple of years, extended this feeling to techeilet. Here was an opportunity to try to perform a mitzvah as commanded, something we lack the ability to do in other parts of our lives. I have been ever closer to jumping in as time passed.

When my father, who has been here on an extended visit since before Pesach, invited us to join him at a tour and demonstration at the ptil techeilet factory with the intent of beginning to wear techeilet strings in our tzitzit, I decided that the time was right. My father, who consulted with a well-known posek in determining if/how to perform this mitzvah, as the leader of our family, gave me the push to finally make the change.

Last week, I took Mordechai and Moshe (along with my youngest brother, Ozer, and his son Nachi) and we joined my parents in touring the techeilet factory. We saw the whole process in action and, at the very end, got ourselves new techeilet strings. I personally tied my tallit tzitzit and last Shabbat was the first day that I (and my father, who was with us for Shabbat) wore techeilet.

Although it is not a korban Pesach (or any korban), a mitzvah for which I yearn, and it is not even something which is tied to living in Israel, it still helped me feel a bit closer. Which I think was the same reason behind not putting them on 15 years ago as well. Yet another change for the positive that is a (personal) benefit of life here in Israel. v

Author’s Note: While I always appreciate feedback on my articles, please refrain from sending your halachic objections or comments for this article. I followed halachic counsel and this article is not about the halachic issues but rather our personal journey as olim.

Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a gap-year yeshiva opening in 2013. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at shmu@migdalhatorah.org.


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