Rabbi Lichtenstein's aliya

The head of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva gave sensitive and nuanced thoughts on aliya.

Menachem Ben-Mordechai,

Judaism French family makes Aliyah
French family makes Aliyah

When the subjects discussed are sacred, reckless speech is not the way to proceed. We can learn this from the way Rabbi Lichtenstein zt"l talked about aliya.

I recently heard Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb recount his decision to make aliya and guidance he sought from Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt"l. "I was hoping for ten minutes, and he gave me an hour," Rabbi Gottlieb remarked.   

Consistent with his general adinut (refinement), Rav Lichtenstein gave sensitive and nuanced thoughts on aliya. In some scenarios he considered aliya inadvisable, for example: "He didn't feel someone who was in klei kodesh [religious leadership] in America should come to Israel to be a farmer or to be an accountant.” (Rabbi Gottlieb's recollections start at 2:15 here.)

Rav Lichtenstein made aliya in 1971 and lived in Israel over half his life. Unlike some people who make aliya and then hector the Diaspora, Rav Lichtenstein rejected an attitude of belittlement toward fellow Jews. As he wrote in an essay on religious Zionism in the Diaspora after living in Israel for nearly forty years:

"Many Israelis are wont to assume that the primary restraint upon aliya among religious Zionists derives from cleavage to the fleshpots of Egypt. This is a convenient assumption, especially inasmuch as it enables its advocate to flatter himself by basking in the reflected glory of his own comparative idealism. It is, however, also simplistic."

In the vein of the counsel recounted by Rabbi Gottlieb, Rav Lichtenstein related the following account:

"I heard of a case in which a Sephardi educator who had done valuable work in France and, contemplating aliya, came to Israel in midsummer to examine opportunities. Whereupon, despite the fact that he was planning to continue teaching here, Rav Ovadia Yosef sent him a message informing him that wherever he would apply for a position, Rav Ovadia would personally see to it that he should be turned down."

With a moving blend of gratitude and humility, Rav Lichtenstein concluded:

"I hope and trust that I am neither so vain nor so foolish as to fantasize, personally, presumed superiority to peers who have chosen to serve the Ribbono Shel Olam and to service Knesset Israel within the context of continued residence in the Diaspora. And yet, without harboring illusions, I also trust that I am fully appreciative of the spiritual benefits harvested by my family and myself due to pitching our own tent on the soil of eretz hakodesh."

Similarly, Rav Lichtenstein did not view anti-Semitic violence in the Diaspora as something to in effect celebrate for validating Zionism. He wrote negatively of "the rejoicing you encounter among certain staunch advocates of aliya every time they read about a murder in Brooklyn or Long Beach; they make sure to republish it in their newspaper in large type." (In terms of safety, Israel itself does not contrast with the Diaspora so much as mirror it—what with last month's devastating arsons and other carnage like the Sarona Market murders and the Har Nof massacre. The case for aliya should not be based on safety in any event, just as it should not be based on economics.)

The more one reads Rav Lichtenstein's writings or hears him speak, what stands out is his depth of both middot and machshava—character and thought at the core of his being. Religious Zionists who display haughtiness and veiled insult when advocating aliya do no honor to his legacy.