Foreign Soil

Friday, 10 May, 2024 - 9:14 am

A father came to me in tears.

His child studies at an American university and has started to doubt aligning with Jews after October 7. It’s not because of fear. It’s because the ideology he is exposed to on campus, which has spread like wildfire.


The unrest on college campuses across America – and beyond – is alarming. 

Antisemitism is nothing new, but Jews in America have come to appreciate the calm and relative peacefulness that has prevailed for the last half-century.

Knowing that there are enemies that wish our destruction is not new – nor do I expect it to change until Moshiach comes and the world fulfills its purpose of existence.

However, the bigger concern for us as Jews is the fact that there are so many misguided youngsters involved in this. Sadly, a significant number of them are Jewish.

How do we ensure that our own are not misguided?


In this week’s parsha of Kedoshim, we read about the laws of Orlah. For the first three years of a tree’s life, the fruit of the tree are not permitted to be eaten.

What happens, however, if a five-year-old tree is uprooted from one location to another? Are the fruit that grow in the new location immediately permissible, or does the three-year clock start anew?

The law is that it depends on whether it was transplanted with its soil. If the tree was transplanted with its soil, the new fruit are permissible for consumption immediately.

If, however, the tree is uprooted without the soil, then the clock starts over in the new location.

I heard an explanation for this in the name of the venerable Shliach to Melbourne, Australia, Rabbi Yitzchok Groner of blessed memory. He explained that if the soil goes along with the tree, then the tree’s nutrition continues and the new soil is integrated into the old soil. If, however, the roots are transplanted without soil, its nutrients are new and different – and the clock starts over.

The lesson, he explained, is that Jews are like trees. We often establish ourselves in countries and communities, only to be uprooted due to upheaval and oppression. We began in our own land of Israel for a millennium and a half before being expelled. We put down roots in Spain. We put down roots in England. We put down roots in North Africa. We put down roots in Poland and Germany. We put down roots in Russia.

Again and again, conditions brought about the relocation of masses of Jewish people.

In order for our peoplehood to survive and thrive in our new location, we need to bring some of that soil with us. We need to ensure that the spiritual nutrients of our past are the foundation for our future.

If we fail to establish ourselves with the rich soil of our traditions and communities of the past, we risk the outsize and, at times, destructive influence of our new environment.

For a Jewish child or young adult to withstand the influences of enticing and corrupt environments, we must make sure to reinforce them with the verdant and sustaining nutrients of our holy Torah.

We may not always control the narrative on the airwaves or on campuses. But, we can at least provide ourselves and our families with the critical sustenance that our souls crave and need.

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