Parshat Lech Lecha celebrates aliyah when we read of the very first oleh who makes his way to Eretz Yisrael as instructed by God. I would like to dedicate this shiur to our alumnae who have joined us in Israel and to those who are still on their way.
Last year the Knesset passed the Aliyah Day Law dedicating a day to “recognition of aliyah as the basis of the State of Israel and its development… and to recognize the event of the entering into the land on the 10th of Nissan”. In the very next line of the law we read – “The Aliyah Day will be marked on the 7th of Cheshvan”.
It is impossible to read those two sentences and not raise an eyebrow. If we have dedicated a day to recognize the events of the 10th of Nissan, wouldn’t the most natural date to do so be the 10th of Nissan? Why is the day marked on the 7th of Cheshvan?
The legislators explained this in the accompanying explanatory notes to the law. The 10th of Nissan is the date that the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael guided by Yehoshua and therefore it is the ultimate aliyah day. However the practicalities of life cannot be ignored. The 10th of Nissan is just 5 days before Pesach when the entire Jewish communal psyche is focused on much more important matters such as how to insert a toothpick into the rubber gasket of my freezer; or does that particular kashrut certification cover issues of kitniyot derivatives?! In addition the Israeli school system already breaks for Pesach at that point, meaning that any educational messages would be lost. It was clear to the framers of the law that despite the important historical connection, the 10th of Nissan is no time for a holiday. As such, the date for Aliyah Day was moved to coincide with the reading of parshat Lech Lecha.
I firmly believe that this seemingly hodgepodge choice of a relevant date is, in itself, the story of aliyah. On the one hand, aliyah is the largest goal of an individual Jew and the Jewish community as a whole. It is very clear that one cannot fulfill the role that God has set for the Jewish people if we are not in Eretz Yisrael. I mean this in the fullest sense of the term. Without the land (including the Mikdash and the social institutions that the Torah mandates), there is no way to fulfill the mitzvoth fully. For thousands of years we have been saying things like “this or that mitzvah doesn’t apply today”. That statement needs to shock our very souls. We have grown accustomed to it and some have even made it into an ideology, but at the most basic level a Jew strives to fulfill God’s will as stated clearly in the Torah.
On the other hand aliyah is a very practical and earthly endeavor. Picking up and going sounds simple, but it is not at all. Everyone has adjustments to make and challenges to face. After one sets foot on the soil of Eretz Yisrael, and even kisses the hallowed ground, they then need to get up and deal with food, housing, employment, family responsibilities, cultural gaps…. and the list goes on and on. If you come with a family the list is exponential.
Just as the law marking aliyah had to bridge the gap between the “right day” and the practical day so too each and every aliyah needs to keep in mind the “right thing” and the practical one.
I wanted to share some interesting letters that I recently came across from some great figures from our past. The letters were written by great Chassidic masters upon their aliyah as they reflected on the move and reported back to family and friends in the “old country”. The topics and concerns could have easily been taken from an aliyah blog of 2017.
1748 – Rav Avraham Gershon MiKitov-
(For a biography see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Gershon_of_Kitov )
In a letter to his brother-in-law the Baal Shem Tov he writes (the translation is mine. To see a copy of the original including many other fascinating historical elements see http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20677&st=&pgnum=276 and the continuation on the next pages) –
I have written you from Constantine and from Hevron and a third and fourth time. Each time I write at length as I want to please you, and you have written me only once at that was so short that even though I wanted to taste the sweetness of your words, I could not…. As I am very lonely here in my bet midrash with my young son. I have not found any likeminded people to be with. They treat me with great respect but the language is different and their nature is different. My only pleasure is your letters and imagining that I am talking to you in person…
The wise men here have asked me to write to you to encourage you to move here as they are eager to see you, but what can I do? I know your nature and you need to daven in your minyan and all of the other issues that have made me despair, knowing that you will only come to Eretz Yisrael when Mashiach comes….
It seems that, in Rav Avraham Gershon MiKitov’s experience, it was not easy to adjust socially even as a recognized rabbinic authority, and that even the greatest of our spiritual giants found leaving the comfort zone to be a major impediment to Aliyah.
1762 – Rav Yosef Sofer (we don’t have much biographical information on him) (http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20677&st=&pgnum=283)
…and now I have to give thanks to God and describe the greatness of Eretz Yisrael that contains all good things in ways that no other location has. Anyone who says that Eretz Yisrael is not a good place to live is part of the advice of the spies in the slander of the land. However, one who comes here needs to come with money in hand or have a good profession so that they can support themselves, and in this respect it is similar to all other places. No one ever received it for free….
In the same breath, Rav Yosef Sofer rejects any disparaging remarks towards the land while expressing a very practical approach regarding how to put bread on the table.
1793- Rav Avraham Kohen Mikalisk
It is not an endeavor for the weak; it will not be resolved in a day or two, nor a month or even a year. The adjustment process takes years. As it says “each man will see themselves as having been born there” meaning that anyone that comes to the holy place must go through the same stages as the birth of a child, pregnancy, infancy, childhood etc. until they become tied and connected to the land. This process varies from one person to another, how long it may take and how turbulent it may be. ..
The metaphor he uses of a birthing process is based on a beautiful perek of Tehilim (87):
- A Psalm of the sons of Korah; a Song. His foundation is in the holy mountains.
- The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
- Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah
- ‘I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon as among them that know Me; behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this one was born there.’
- But of Zion it shall be said: ‘This man and that was born in her; and the Most High Himself doth establish her.’
- The LORD shall count in the register of the peoples: ‘This one was born there.’ Selah
- And whether they sing or dance, all my thoughts are in thee.
א לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח, מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר: יְסוּדָתוֹ, בְּהַרְרֵי-קֹדֶשׁ.
ב אֹהֵב יְהוָה, שַׁעֲרֵי צִיּוֹן– מִכֹּל, מִשְׁכְּנוֹת יַעֲקֹב.
ג נִכְבָּדוֹת, מְדֻבָּר בָּךְ– עִיר הָאֱלֹהִים סֶלָה.
ד אַזְכִּיר, רַהַב וּבָבֶל– לְיֹדְעָי:
הִנֵּה פְלֶשֶׁת וְצֹר עִם-כּוּשׁ; זֶה, יֻלַּד-שָׁם.
ה וּלְצִיּוֹן, יֵאָמַר– אִישׁ וְאִישׁ, יֻלַּד-בָּהּ;
וְהוּא יְכוֹנְנֶהָ עֶלְיוֹן.
ו יְהוָה–יִסְפֹּר, בִּכְתוֹב עַמִּים: זֶה יֻלַּד-שָׁם סֶלָה.
ז וְשָׁרִים כְּחֹלְלִים– כָּל-מַעְיָנַי בָּךְ.
The Daat Mikra explains that in passuk 4 people are described as being from one or another locale while in God’s eyes He decides to register ones’ nationality in Zion. We may have been born on many points on the globe but the real and true nationality of a Jew is in Zion.
The process of actually making it to Eretz Yisrael is a birth, carrying with it many challenging stages; the anticipation of the pregnancy along with fear of things not working out; the actual birthing process, which I am told is extremely difficult while at the same time the most awe inspiring feeling in the world. We need to learn everything anew as a newborn, slowly gaining basics skills obvious to the “adults” around us. We need to self adjust and redefine ourselves as adolescents until finally we emerge as full grown adults in our new environment.
Avraham Avinu was the first Oleh. He was also the first to be forced to leave the country because of economic constraints and to return once again. The story the Torah tells us is a very real one with all the challenges intact.
In just two weeks we read about the next Lech Lecha that Avraham Avinu is challenged by, the call to the akeida. Arriving in Eretz Yisrael is not the end of the challenges – it signals bigger and higher goals to reach for.
Aliyah is a sweet dream, albeit with challenges. It is a dream that I cannot imagine living without.
Let’s allow the Divine call of Lech Lecha to reach every member of the Jewish people and work together to make Eretz Yisrael our registered home.