The Question of Aliyah

by | Aug 8, 2021 | Articles

In an effort to “go green” and fight climate change, the British government has completely banned gasoline vehicles in the entire country, only allowing for 100% electric vehicles.

“But how can they do that?!” you may ask.  “Will they throw away all the non-electric vehicles? Will they tell people who just bought a new car to get rid of it and cough up the money to buy an electric car?”

The answer is: Of course they’re not making this drastic change overnight! They’re transitioning the country to electric vehicles gradually.

The British government created future deadlines when gasoline vehicles will no longer be allowed (by the year 2030 or 2035). So if someone needs to buy a car in 5 years, they’ll purchase an electric car, knowing that the deadline is approaching.

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I am highlighting the long-term vision and goal planning of the British government to explain a question that troubled me.

I noticed that in public Q & A sessions with rabbis, when someone asks the question “Should we all move to Israel?”, the response usually includes a ‘short-term vision’ response.

“Well, it can be really problematic for older kids to move there.”

“It can be difficult to make a living.”

“It’s really not so simple, it doesn’t work out well for many families.”

This type of response always confused me because the person asking a public question is probably not seeking personal advice regarding whether they should pick up their family and move in the near future. At its core, the question seems more philosophical.

Shouldn’t we all be living in Israel?

If it’s a mitzvah to live in Israel, and a tremendous privilege to be able to do so after thousands of years without our land, I wondered why the rabbinical response to the Aliyah question does not include a vision and long term goal planning so that everyone can eventually move to Israel?

For example, a friend of mine recently told her children that she’s moving to Israel when the youngest child graduates high school – so if they want their children to grow up near their grandparents, they should plan to start their adult life in Israel. Her oldest child, who is in high school, was at first a little concerned by this news. But she worked through her feelings and started to strategize: “Well”, she reasoned, “Israel is a high tech country, so I’ll go into engineering so that I can get a good job there”. That’s vision. That’s goal planning.

To summarize my question:

  • Why don’t all rabbis publicly encourage a long term goal of Aliyah?

The first question then inspired a second question:

  • Since many rabbis are not taking this approach, is it fine for us to stay in chutz la’aretz (outside Israel)? Can we just plan to move to Israel “when Moshiach comes”?

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In searching for answers I discovered multiple opinions regarding Aliyah, and I will briefly summarize them here. I will then share my thoughts on what I learned because our job isn’t complete after learning the rabbinical opinions on this issue; we have yet to make it more personal and meaningful.

Rabbinical opinions regarding living in Israel:     

  • There’s one opinion that the Jewish people as a whole need to accept upon themselves the decree of being scattered amongst the nations until the time of Moshiach. This is brought down by the Or Hachaim Hakodesh, on Vayikra 26:33 (in the 49 curses), and it’s based on the famous medrash at the end of Gemara Kesubos. This is the basis of the Satmar shittah.
  • There are some who hold that it’s an obligatory mitzvah to live in Israel if at all possible. One of the classic sources for this opinion comes from Parshas Maasei 33:53, where Hashem says “You should possess the land and then you shall settle in it, for to you I have given the land to possess it.” Ramban holds that we learn from this verse that it is a biblical commandment to live in Israel (i.e., it’s obligatory), and it’s a sin to leave the land.
  • There’s a 3rd opinion which holds that it’s a mitzvah to live in Israel, but it’s not an obligatory mitzvah. You don’t have to, but you can choose to. Rav Moshe Feinstein held by this opinion.

Regarding this 3rd opinion, we can still ask why this mitzvah is not widely encouraged. Just because it’s not obligatory doesn’t mean it’s not important.

There are multiple reasons why the mitzvah of Aliyah is not universally encouraged. For example:

  • Israel is considered to be the King’s Palace and there’s a higher level of conduct expected there. We have a greater responsibility in Israel to observe the mitzvos properly. So moving to Israel needs to be a personal decision by individuals who are committed to observe the mitzvos to the best of their ability. It can’t be publicly encouraged for everyone because not everyone is ready to take that responsibility seriously.
  • The Jewish people have been scattered around the world because we have a job to do around the world. We’re supposed to be a light, raise the kedusha (holiness), and be a positive force around the world. Every soul has a mission, a unique purpose, and some people’s missions are best fulfilled spreading goodness in other parts of the world.

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We now answered the first question: Why don’t all rabbis publicly encourage a long term vision of Aliyah? As explained above, they have many reasons not to do so.

But what about the second question?  Is it fine for us to stay in chutz la’aretz simply because our rabbis are not all encouraging us to move to Israel?

It is trickier to answer the second question because this question is more personal. To answer it authentically, we need to get real and introspective. Intentions matter. What we yearn for matters.

When we hear the opinion that it’s not mandatory to live in Israel…are we relieved? Or are we pained that Hashem does not DEFINITELY want us to be receiving His precious gift?

When we hear the Ohr Hachaim’s opinion that the Jewish people must accept the curse of being scattered amongst the nations….does it feel like a curse to live in America? Or does it feel quite convenient?

When we hear that our tafkid (soul mission) may be better served in chutz la’aretz…are we happy that we’re off the hook? Or do we yearn for our tafkid to be best fulfilled within the borders of Eretz Hakedosha (the Holy Land)?

Certainly, rising antisemitism makes us uncomfortable living in other parts of the world. But putting aside those outside factors, what we’re essentially being asked is:

Do we feel a deep authentic desire to live in the holiest place on earth?

Do we desire to wake up, and fall asleep, and walk and talk and breathe, and learn, and perform mitzvos, in the holiest place on earth?

The next shmittah year is coming up. Are we going to have major FOMO (fear of missing out) that we don’t have the opportunity to partake in this mitzvah? Or are we just happy that buying fruits and vegetables will continue to be simple and easy for us?

For me personally, though I love Israel, I’ve always been happy for other Jewish people to settle the land while I enjoy the comforts of America.  But I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable in my comfort. The complacency I feel in America is making me uneasy. Because when I step back from all the minutia of the machlokes (disagreement) surrounding Aliyah and look at the big picture, I see that there is a deep lack in my life by living in chutz la’aretz. I feel pained by my disconnect from the kedusha of Israel and I want to desire all the privileges of living there more than I desire the comforts of living here.

In searching for answers about the importance of Aliyah, and analyzing my emotional reactions to the answers, I realized that I do not fully appreciate the gift that is Israel and I am not fully sensitive to the fact that I am missing out by living in America.

Rav Zev Leff, in the book “To Dwell in the Palace”, suggests another reason why Jewish leaders do not publicly emphasize the mitzvah of Aliyah. He explains that one of the tragic consequences of secular Zionism was its effect on the Torah community’s emphasis on the mitzvah of living in Israel. For example, Rav Abraham Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, suggested the need to de-emphasize the mitzvah of living in Israel in order to prevent confusion between nationalist Zionism and authentic Torah Zionism, because there is a precedent in Judaism that when a mitzvah is cut off from the tree of life, then confusion can develop around that mitzvah.

However, one of the consequences of de-emphasizing this mitzvah is that many of us are deprived in our education about it, resulting in a lack of our appreciation of the land and our connection to the land.

Therefore, we need to be aware that the ball is in our court. It’s up to us, as individuals, to initiate learning about the kedusha of the land of Israel, develop our connection to it, and, for many of us, initiate our own vision and long-term plan for eventually calling Israel our home.

*To learn more, consider the book: To Dwell in the Palace: Perspectives on Eretz Yisroel edited by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein