Ever wonder why moving to Israel is called “aliyah”? The Hebrew word aliyah means to go up. In the Torah, the Jews are described as going up from Egypt to the Land of Israel. After the Spies demoralize the Jews in the Wilderness with their false report about Eretz Yisrael, Joshua and Calev urged the Jews to continue on their journey up to the Land. The ascent to the Land of Israel isn’t necessarily a geographic measure of altitude. There are higher places in the world. The measurement is spiritual. In the spiritual sphere, Eretz Yisrael is the most elevated place in the universe. Spiritually, Eretz Yisrael towers over every other country. Its exalted spiritual loftiness isn’t dependent on the level of the religious observance of the people living there. The Holy Land is supremely holy in and of itself.
When a person is called up to the Torah, it is known as an aliyah. Similarly, when a person moves to Israel, he or she experiences a tremendous ascent. It is like being rocketed into outer space. It is like journeying to another planet, because Eretz Yisrael possesses a totally different, holy atmosphere than the rest of the world. In a very real sense, being in Eretz Yisrael is like being on the moon, gazing back down at the tiny Diaspora, far far away. Ask an oleh and he will describe the same feeling. Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael is light years beyond Jewish life anywhere else. Nothing can compare to it. Nowhere else comes close. The towering kedusha of Eretz Yisrael exists in an entirely different dimension than all other points on the globe. While the Land of Israel has trees and mountains like other lands, Eretz Yisrael is a spiritual, metaphysical, mystical concept which transcends time and space. In fact, as our Sages teach, when a person comes to the Land of Israel, he receives a new soul. The soul of Clal Yisrael. He is no longer a small, isolated, individual Jew. Upon entering the Land of Israel, the Hebrew letters in his soul experience an atomic chain reaction, and his soul becomes elevated and expands to merge with the all-encompassing soul of the Clal. He becomes a giant Jew, a builder of the Nation of Israel, connected to the Community of Israel in the Land of Hashem (See the book, Eretz Yisrael, the Teachings of Rabbi Kook, Ch.7).
The famous Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, teaches that true prayer and faith is only possible in Eretz Yisrael. He states, “To be a true member of the Jewish People is to always move to higher and higher levels, and this is impossible without the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. The same is true of prayer. The ascent of prayer comes about on the Land of Israel” (Advice, Eretz Yisrael).
I feel it all the time. Living here is like being on a different planet than New York or Montreal. When you stand at the summit of the Mount of Olives and gaze out over Jerusalem, you literally experience that you are standing at the very top of the world – the connecting point between Heaven and Earth, where Creation all started, and where its climax is to come to a drama-packed conclusion with coronation of Hashem as supreme master and King of the world.
Rabbi Nachman writes that only when a Jew attains the level of Eretz Yisrael, is he worthy of being called “a man of strength and valor.” Only when he has gone through this battle successfully, rising to the heights of holiness, and triumphing over all the obstacles that are set in his way, can he be called “a hero of war.”
Rabbi Nachman also teaches that the motive for coming on aliyah should be purely spiritual, to draw closer to G-d. “A person who goes there with this aim will surely benefit. Merely by stepping foot on the Land, he will become merged with it and be transformed by its sacred character… Pray to G-d to give you desire and yearning for the Land of Israel, and then you will succeed in reaching it… Genuine enlightenment and wisdom come only in the Land of Israel.”
With G-d’s help, we will continue his theme during the upcoming holiday. Remember, the mitzvah of succah is a segulah for coming to the Land of Israel – so build your succah well!