Well, things are finally getting back to order again with the arrival of the wife and children. Thankfully, they had an enjoyable time, and more thankfully, the baby behaved on the plane.
My daughters were a bit in shock over a few things they saw in America. One of those things was this concept (unheard of here) called "Customer Service." They found it very strange to walk into a store with workers actually willing to help you find what you need. Another thing was the size of everything. Everything was much larger than what they were used to. I saw a photo they took of themselves next to huge bags of Doritos (but at least ours are kosher). They saw green forests, fireflies, deer, rabbits, etc., really, a beautiful country. They enjoyed their vacation and now they are back, ready to continue with life.
My wife, however, noted something interesting after they returned. A few of her friends, when hearing about what a nice time they had, seemed … disappointed. It's as if they were hoping that she would return with tales of materialism and gluttony, compared to the spiritual bliss that naturally comes from living in Eretz Yisroel. In their conversations, they attacked the United States (and living there) for those things, compared to the spiritual lives that they are gaining here.
My thought was: if they are so happy with their spiritual bliss, why do they seem so disappointed that my wife did not come back complaining?
Fortunately and unfortunately, life in Israel has, over the years, become more and more … comfortable. We do not have the level of materialism as the United States does, but we are certainly moving in that direction in our own way. Both in basic necessities and in things we don't really need. When I got married, for example, for the first five years, we had no air-conditioning. That was normal. It was hot and we dealt with it. We eventually got a unit, because we were living at the edge of the desert, and it was really, really hot. However, we had only one unit in the main room. The bedrooms had only fans on stands. Nowadays, it's completely normal to have air-conditioning in one's home, and in most, if not all, rooms. I'm certainly not going to complain about that.
Our children? They are given so many prizes and treats by their schools, in some ways I feel that they are being "better" trained for a materialistic lifestyles than I was when I was a child. While their prizes are not up to American standards, they are not so far off and the "education" they are receiving is only forcing us to up the ante.
Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago, one could say that a person living in Israel was automatically living on a far lower level of materialism and were truly happy with it. But now? I don't think such a statement can be said. I know a few who are like that. But those are a few. And even from those few, it's even fewer that their children are like them. Personally, I can probably live a less materialistic life than I do now, however, I cannot force that on my children. They compare themselves to their friends, and that's a big driving force on what they feel they need.
So, again, why did these friends sound disappointed?
To me, it did not take long to think of an answer. In general, when an Israeli hears about somebody's trip to the United States, they ask what you say, what you bought, what you ate, and move on. It doesn't "hit" them in any way. But these Americans who moved here? Why the emotional response?
Perhaps, because only by knocking down the other option they had in life, they feel better about the choice they made. Had they truly felt that they are living on a higher spiritual plane, then, perhaps they wouldn't feel this disappointment. I don't know, it's just a theory.
I know somebody else, around ten years older than I, who was recently flown in with his wife, to some family simcha in the States. He moved here when he was younger and several of his siblings still live there. Some of them are doing very well financially, and he took full advantage of it. So when he came back, he said, "Yeah, it was nice! It was like the honeymoon we never had, but, it's really good to be back home." He enjoyed his trip and he didn't think of the "other option." Why? Because, inside, he truly believes that he belongs here. And while life, on many levels, is still more difficult here, in his mind, those are minor payments he has to make in order to have the privilege to live here.
I believe this is human nature, and something we need to look out for. When we are either not happy with our situation, we find it difficult, or if we are disappointed in ourselves and what we have made ourselves, we often look at "others" and say, "at least I'm not like that." An American living in Israel, might think, "Well, at least I don't live in America leading a life of materialism." A Jew, who deep inside, is not happy with his spiritual progress, might say, "At least I'm not a non-Jew, living a life without meaning," while he lives his Jewish life without meaning. Somebody who's in kollel, yet not learning well, might say, "At least I'm not wasting my days working," while equally, somebody who is working full-time and is not happy with his lack of learning, might say, "At least I'm not some 'bentch-warmer' in a kollel."
By turning and attacking "the other," we are absolving ourselves to make ourselves greater. "At least we're not THEM," becomes our default mode.
For some people, the other side of the hill is always greener. For others, it's always browner. For a spiritually healthy person, he could care less what it is, because he's happy with his side.
A person, an honest person, does not need to look and compare (and put down) in order to feel good about himself. An honest person can take note of his pros and cons and make a game plan to improve. What others do, as long as they don't affect him, have no bearing on his life.
When a person makes a choice in his life, he should do it because he truly believes that this is what's best for him. Yes, there will always be pros and cons to each decision. But one should take them and make the best of them, focusing on his own growth. The spiritually healthy person does not need to constantly put down others in order to [falsely] feel that they are growing. He simply needs to know "where am I holding and where can I improve," in order to feel that growth.
May we all be able to reach such levels.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos!