(Before I dive in, a story to set the scene:)
Britain has few culinary gifts to boast about, but it does excel at pastry and pies. The morning we flew out of Manchester airport (where me and my frum Jewish family got ‘patted down’ by a nice Muslim airport worker, to check we weren’t terrorists…) I took my girls to the one Kosher deli in town, and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat for the flight.
We got some bagels, some fish, some cheese - and then the kids each picked a ‘typical’ British pastry. One of my kids has some fairly serious food allergies, especially to all nuts except almonds and sesame seeds. In Britain, her allergies were life-threatening and we had to carry an epipen.
In Israel, God somehow reduced them down to just annoying - in Israel, she just throws up now if she eats something she’s allergic to, and she’s got a ‘lick’ test which is usually very effective for spotting if something contains dodgy substances.
That kid bought what’s called a Bakewell Tart - a small pie with marzipan, jam and icing - which the nice serving lady assured us only had almonds. (The incidence of food allergies in the UK is so extreme, that most people are very careful to give accurate information about these things.)
After we’d got through the awful, OTT security procedures at Manchester Airport (which were enough to put me off from travelling again all by themselves) - this kid pulled out her Bakewell Tart in the departures lounge, taste tested it, then ate it.
At the last bite, her face went a funny colour, and she started to make a weird gasping / hiccoughing noise. An allergic reaction!
And a far more serious one than she’s had in years and years.
Thank God, she rushed off to the bathroom and immediately threw up, but her throat was hurting her, and she was knocked out for an hour afterwards. Me and my husband said a tikkun haklali for her, I silently asked God to just let us get out of Manchester in one piece, while I walked around the airport looking for the A+E room ‘just in case’ her reaction started to escalate and we needed an epipen again…
BH, the tikkun haklali kicked in, and the crisis abated.
Later, my kid said to me: “Ima, it was so weird! I licked it first and it didn’t tingle my tongue at all! Even when I was eating it, I didn’t feel any tingling - it’s only after I took the last bite that I’d felt like I’d just eaten a big nut.”
What a great allegory for chutz l’aretz!
All a person’s life, they can’t ‘feel’ the damage being done to their souls by living such a superficial, sweet-tasting, gashmius pie of a life in chutz l’aretz. After all, the Bakewell Tart is glatt kosher! They bought it from the kosher deli on the way back from morning prayers!
Even when they’re eating it, it just tastes so yummy and delicious. And then with the last bite before you’re about to step on the plane ‘out of there’ - it nearly kills them.
(It’s a fact that allergies are profoundly connected to emotions, stress levels and a person’s soul. It’s clear to me that my daughter’s soul is far more ‘wound up’ and stressed-out in chutz l’aretz than in Israel (even with all our struggling, and terrorism, and obvious spiritual angst), which is why here her allergies are an inconvenience at most, whilst there, they are literally life-threatening.)
I went to the local shul one of the mornings I was there, to do my hour of hitbodedut (talking to God). I guess I must have felt like I was missing some of the kedusha that you get when a group of Jews congregate together.
KOSHER OVENS VS KOSHER SOULS
In Israel, I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone talk about those topics. Here, the focus (at least for the rabbis I listen to….) is always on improving your middot, developing more emuna, guarding your eyes, treating your kids and spouse more nicely, really trying to give God what He wants.
Of course, God also wants a kosher oven, but that’s so ‘basic’ as to be practically taken for granted. Then I got it:
In chutz l’aretz, a Jew struggles even to keep their ovens kosher. That’s why there’s no time for the real work of ‘koshering the soul’. When you have to drive 30 mins just to get a kosher challah, when you have to pay thousands of bucks just to have your kid in a ‘kosher’ school, you already felt like you did the work God sent you down to do.
That’s only the very, very beginning of the process. The real job is koshering the soul - uprooting our arrogance, our obsessions with making millions, our predilection for spreading gossip and lashon hara about other Jews, for bigging ourselves up at other people’s expense, for staying so angry, and so judgmental, and so 'holier than thou' nasty.
And most of the Jews in chutz l’aretz - even the very best, and most ‘kosher’ Jews - generally don't get anywhere near that incredibly difficult work of spiritual rectification. (Which is a very big reason why these days, I very rarely listen to shiurim from rabbis, even 'big' rabbis who don't live in Israel...)
I know when I made aliya 12 years’ ago, I was broadly of the view that I was a completely fixed, rectified ‘good’ Jewish person who really had nothing more to do to get to the highest level of shemayim.
After all, I had two ovens! And two sinks! And two dish washers!!!!!
After I made aliya, it didn’t take long to realize just how much of the real work of koshering my soul I still have left to do.
And that’s the real difference between chutz l’aretz and Israel: The one place, you feel like you’re ‘complete’ and that you’ve got there spiritually, and that you’re serving Hashem amazingly even by just keeping a kosher home and going to shul on Shabbat. It’s only when you’re about to check out of life that you realize that sweet, superficial, Bakewell Tart of a comfort zone actually killed your neshama.
In the other place, the whole time it can feel like you’re just eating bitter herbs - for breakfast, lunch and supper. But at the end of that process, you finally realize what a life-affirming spiritual ‘cleanse’, what an amazing, deep, spiritual ‘detox’ you’ve just been through.
If you stick with God, you come out of this second process, finally, with a kosher soul.
But there’s no question that the ‘Bakewell Tart’ version of religious Jewish life looks so much yummier.