Yesterday, I spoke with an old friend from the States. He lives a half-and-half, Modern Orthodox life, half in Judaism, and half in the secular American culture around him. Shabbos is Shabbos, with all the trimmings, but come Motzei Shabbos, he drives to the cinema to catch the latest movie. For years, I’ve been pushing the virtues of a true Jewish life in Israel, but he always has one excuse or another why he can’t come.
Yesterday, he said, “Look, I know that aliyah is a mitzvah. It’s probably the biggest mitzvah there is. Everything your opponents write on your blog against living in Israel is a lot of hot air. Instead of just admitting that coming on aliyah is just too big an undertaking for them, they come up with a lot of excuses, blaming Israel, but they know as well as everyone else that living in Israel is the real thing for a Jew. Most of us, like me, are stuck here. Mentally, financially, culturally. I’m not a pioneer, willing to leave everything behind and start my life anew. Besides, my wife isn’t interested at all. That’s the way it is with most of us. We try to make the best of it, supporting our Jewish communities here, and doing whatever we can to help Israel. In an ideal absolute sense, what you write is true, but it just isn’t practical for most of us.”
I was moved by his honesty. Of course I realize that aliyah is a gigantic undertaking – precisely because it’s the greatest, all-encompassing mitzvah there is. And because it’s the most important mitzvah, the yetzer hara works overtime to prevent Jews from performing it, pulling the wool over their eyes in a thousand different ways, convincing them that all of their arguments are correct.
In last week’s Torah portion, it says, “And you shall conquer the Land and dwell in it, for I have given you the Land to possess it” (Bamidbar, 33:53). This is a commandment of the Torah as the Ramban makes clear in his commentary on the Torah: “This is a positive commandment, enjoining that they dwell in the land and possess it, because it was given to them, and that they should not despise the inheritance of Hashem…. Here we are commanded with this mitzvah, for this verse is a positive command” (there). Elsewhere, the Ramban states, “Behold we are commanded with the fulfillment of this mitzvah in every generation.”
As I have said, I realize that aliyah is a hard and very demanding mitzvah. For those people who would like to come, but simply cannot for whatever valid reason, their situation prevents them. But that does not mean pretending it isn’t a mitzvah to ease their consciences. Living in Israel remains a mitzvah. It’s simply a mitzvah that they are not able to do.
But for all those who can come, but don’t, especially our young people in the foreign lands of galut, rejecting aliyah is a tragic mistake. These unfortunate souls are victims of all sorts of mistaken views and of the people who expound them. Even for those who insist that there is no obligation from the Torah to come on aliyah today, living in Israel is still a mitzvah, and there is no rabbi in the world who will say otherwise. And certainly, everyone who wants to please Hashem and observe all of the mitzvot as best as he can, will do all he can with the means at his disposal to come on aliyah too. After all, this is the meaning of a “Hasid,” as the book “Mesillat Yesharim” explains on the trait of Hasidut/Saintliness:
“The root of Saintliness is epitomized in the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Berachoth 17a), "Fortunate is the man whose toil is in Torah and gives pleasure to his Creator." The underlying idea is this: It is known which mitzvot are binding on all of Israel and to what extent one is bound by them. However, one who truly loves the Creator may His Name be blessed, will not endeavor and intend to fulfill his obligations by means of the duty which is acknowledged by all of Israel in general, but will react in very much the same manner as a son who loves his father, who, even if his father gives only a slight indication of desiring something, undertakes to fulfill this desire as completely as he can. And though the father may air his desire only once, and even then, incompletely, it is enough for such a son just to understand the inclination of his father's mind to do for him even what has not been expressly requested. If he can understand by himself what will bring pleasure to his father, he will not wait to be commanded more explicitly or to be told a second time.
“We notice at all periods and at all times, between all lovers and friends - between a man and his wife, between a father and his son, in fine, between all those who are bound with a love which is truly strong -that the lover will not say, ‘I have not been commanded further. What I have been told to do explicitly is enough for me.’ He will rather attempt, by analyzing the commands, to arrive at the intention of the commander and to do what he judges will give him pleasure. The same holds true for one who strongly loves his Creator; for he, too, is one of the class of lovers. The mitzvot, whose behests are clear and widely known, will serve as an indication to him of the will and desire of the Blessed One. He will not say, ‘What has been explicitly stated is enough for me,’ or ‘In any event I will discharge my obligations by doing what is incumbent upon me.’ To the contrary, he will say, ‘Since I have seen that God's desire inclines towards this, I will use it as a sign to do as much as I can in relation to it and to extend it into as many areas as I can envisage the Blessed One's desiring its being extended into.’ Such a man may be called ‘one who gives pleasure to his Creator.’
“Saintliness, then, is a comprehensive performance of all the mitzvot, embracing all of the relevant areas and conditions within the realm of possibility” (Chapter Nineteen).
While living in Israel is a Torah commandment, even for those who say otherwise, someone who wants to be saintly in his service of G-d will surely do everything he can to come here.