As part of their mission to impress upon world Jewry the importance of returning to the Land of Israel, an innovative Jewish organization dedicated to the resurgence of the spirit of Zionism has teamed up with a late Jerusalem kabbalist to spread a long-hidden message of Aliyah (immigration to Israel).
Kumah, an enterprise initiated to reinvigorate a proud Jewish spirit in Israel, took up the project of translating a short and little-known book by kabbalist Rabbi Mordechai Atiyah, when Kumah founder Yishai Fleisher received it as a gift. Entitled "Lech Lecha", after this coming week's Torah reading in which G-d instructs Abraham to leave his home and journey to the Land of Israel, the treatise expounds on the tremendous merit of making Aliyah – and the misfortune of those who will not.
Rabbi Mordechai Atiyah was born in 1898 in Syria. He later moved to Mexico City to lead the Jewish community there, before making Aliyah with his wife and nine children in 1936. Before his death in 1978, he founded the "HaChayim VeHaShalom" (The Life and The Peace) yeshiva of kabbalah, the esoteric and mystical discipline in Rabbinic Judaism, and wrote prolifically, urging Jews to return from the exile and lauding the miracles of Israel's War of Independence.
"My neighbor, who knows I am passionate about Aliyah, brought me Rabbi Atiyah's book one day," said Fleisher. "I was awestruck. I knew right away that we had to get this lucid yet mystical message out to the English-speaking Diaspora community."
Fleisher took on author, translator, and long-time Israel National News editor Hillel Fendel to translate the book into English.
Now, Kumah is publishing Rabbi Atiyah's "Lech Lecha" just before the Torah portion of that name. In a modern twist, the English version will not be in print, nor will it be for sale. The new translation will be available for download on the Kumah website, and free of charge.
"Our single hope is that the masterwork of this venerable rabbi will inspire our brothers and sisters to reunite with us here on our ancestral land," said Fleisher. "We want them to understand – every single one of them – how very important they are to the future of the Jewish people. And that future is in the Land of Israel."
Rabbi Atiyah's work draws from sources in European and in Middle Eastern Jewry, as well as from both Hassidic and Lithuanian scholars.
In "Lech Lecha", Rabbi Atiyah emphasizes the greatness of those Jews who choose to come home to Israel, and likens them to the patriarch Abraham. "Fortunate is one who prepares himself properly and merits to hear the Heavenly Voice announcing to him, “Lech Lecha – Go to your Land.” As the saintly Gerrer Rebbe wrote in his seminal work Sfat Emet on Parashat Lech Lecha: The Ramban [Nachmanides] asked why the Torah tells us that Avraham was told to go to the Land and receive all the blessings, etc. - without having told us beforehand why Hashem chose him in the first place. Based on the Zohar, the answer appears to be that this itself is Avraham’s praise. For G-d tells everyone ‘Lech Lecha’- but they don’t hear it!"
He also warns against slandering Israel or those who live upon it. "If we would like to know the motivation of those who, throughout the generations, stubbornly remain outside the Land or write against the settlement of the Land, it is found in the Zohar (Vayechi, page 225a): 'For the sacred air and the holy spirit has been removed from them, and they breathe the air and ambience of the impure "other side" outside the Land.' And if this is said about the holy [Talmudic sages], then how much more so is this true in our own day."
The Lech Lecha translation project was sponsored by Yossi Gove in memory of Chaim ben Shlomo Gove, his father, and Yoseph ben Yishayahu Masri, his uncle. The brothers-in-law were both born in Mexico, and were interred in Israel after their deaths. Many of their descendants have recently made Aliyah, settling in the Land of Israel.
"Both my father and my uncle had an unbounded love for their fellow man," said Gove. "And it came from a love of the Jewish people." Yet both men were very different. One, Gove's uncle Yoseph, did not live a religious life. However, he instilled in his family a strong desire to connect to the Jewish people, a lesson which ultimately led his son to marry a Jewish woman, become religious, and make Aliyah with his family.
His own father, Chaim, was a very pious man, often staying up late into the night to cry over the destruction of the Holy Temple. On his death bed, Gove's father extracted a promise that his son would bury him in Israel and come visit him annually on his yartzeit. Just a few years after making the promise, Gove himself made aliyah with his family. "My father always said – better to be a ditch digger in the Land of Israel than a doctor in America." According to Gove, his father would have made aliyah himself, but had medical problems which Israel was not equipped to deal with at the time. "My father always missed Israel, though – even though he never even visited."
Ultimately, says Rabbi Atiyah, our greatness – and our mark in the world – are measured by our actions. "…G-d's return to Zion is up to us; He feels bad that we are distancing ourselves!," says the rabbi. "It is all up to us… since G-d "goes into exile" with Israel wherever they go, therefore He anxiously awaits Israel's return to Zion, so that He, too, will be able to return."
Fleisher encourages everyone to visit the Kumah website to download a free copy of "Lech Lecha" in time for this week's Torah portion. "The modern State of Israel is the most exciting project of the Jewish people in 2,000 years," enthused Fleisher. "I am proud to be pushing it forward even further by disseminating the work of the late great Rabbi Atiyah. Together, we can all accomplish his dream, the aspiration of the whole Jewish people."