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I recently returned home to my residence in Jerusalem after an extended stay in the United States. Returning home has always been a difficult and challenging exercise for me. It is not only the enormous amount of mail that seemingly awaits my attention or the frantic messages left on my Israeli phone – most of which  are unimportant or now irrelevant – as much as it is the necessary readjustment to the realities of life that living on one's own brings.
There is a great deal of difference between being busy at home and busy while on the road traveling. The former is real and pressing while the latter is somehow more ephemeral and dreamlike. Spending money in a foreign country is always easier and less thought out than doing so at home. Though we are never to be thought of as permanent creatures in this world, we nevertheless feel ourselves rooted in our home environment. Being in a strange environment, no matter how hospitable and comfortable it may be, reinforces within us a state of temporary rootlessness and impermanence.
On returning home everything familiar becomes new again and it is not only jet lag that has to be overcome. One has to remember all of the places where certain objects were placed for safekeeping or convenience. Old habits need to be relearned and returning home opens a new chapter in one's life story.
But the old chapter still inhabits the home. One’s home is crammed full of memories of varying emotional pleasantness and discomfort. Opening the door to one's home upon returning from a long absence opens the door to all of those memories as well. And one of the great challenges in life is how well one can deal with past memories in present situations.
Memory always associates individuals and events with the places where one was when those events occurred. Returning home is therefore not only a physical challenge but perhaps more importantly a psychological one as well. It takes time and effort to readjust this clock and to place it in proper perspective regarding current life and actual situations.
Memory will not be denied its appearance in our minds and lives and, to me at least, it remains one of the great challenges of returning home. It is not the restocking of our pantry that troubles us. It is that this pantry is flooded with situations long gone but always residing in our hearts and homes. So, all of the steps that are necessary to be taken to return to normal living when one returns home are part psychological and also emotional.
Realizing this and coping with this challenge represents the true task involved in returning home after a long absence. It is not for naught that the rabbis of the Talmud frowned upon too much travel. It is simply too taxing to have to always return home.
It is especially challenging to return to Israel and Jerusalem. For then, not only are our personal memories revived and strengthened but the religious and national memory of the Jewish people have to be dealt with. There are many tempting places in the world where one can live in relative comfort. But they are devoid and empty of lasting Jewish content. They may have a past but deep down in our hearts and minds we all recognize that any future that they may possess is at best limited and in the eyes of history, only temporary.
So, when one returns to Israel one accepts upon one's self not only the memories of the past but the vision of the Jewish future as well. And for many Jews that is a very daunting task. The little four-year-old girl getting off the ElAl plane asks her mother about those strange letters on the signs. The mother is forced to explain to her, probably for the first time in the lifetime of the child, about the Hebrew language, the Jewish people and that Israel is the Jewish state. Such are the burdens and joys of returning home.
Shabbat shalom


Berel Wein

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