<I>Shemot</I>: The First <I>Aliyah</I>

Who were the first olim to Israel? At first glance, it might appear that the honor of the first Aliyah belongs to Avraham and his family.

Aloh Naaleh,

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Who were the first olim to Israel?

At first glance, it might appear that the honor of the first Aliyah belongs to Avraham and his family. It is interesting to note, however, that while Avraham responded to God's call of "lekh lekha" by following Him to Israel, the Torah never refers to those travels as "Aliyah". The sojourn from his father's home is simply "halikha", walking.

The term Aliyah first appears when Ya'akov's sons return home from their discovery of Yosef in Egypt ("vaya'alu miMitzrayim" in Bereishit 45:25). It is repeated to Ya'akov by God when He promises that Ya'akov will return to Israel for burial ("ve-Anokhi a'alkha gam alo" in Bereishit 46:4).

The idea that Aliyah is specific to moving to the Land of Israel from Egypt is reiterated in our parasha, where we find God's twice-repeated promise to bring B'nei Yisrael to the "land flowing with milk and honey." In both instances, the promise is expressed in terms of Aliyah - "uleha'aloto... el eretz tova u-rehava" (Shemot 3:8) and "a'aleh etkhem... el eretz zavat halav u'devash" (Shemot 3:17).

On a simple level, this is merely a question of geography. Egypt is to the south (although the concept that all maps face northwards is a relatively modern concept) and most of Egypt is physically lower than most of Israel. Throughout Tanakh, someone who travels from Israel to Egypt is yored, "going down"; someone who travels in the other direction will, by definition, be oleh, "going up".

Nevertheless, it seems obvious that there are other connotations to the term, as well. The "fleshpots of Egypt" are symbolic of many communities in exile. The recognition of a calling towards a more spiritual life represented by the land chosen by God for His people is, indeed, an Aliyah - towards which we should all be striving.
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Rabbi Shalom Berger was born and raised in Brooklyn. He came on Aliyah to Israel with his family in 1991. Today, he works at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar-Ilan University.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.



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