You will be better off in Israel

Should we say: Go live in Israel not only because G-d said to go, but because you will be better off, your children will be better off, and all of you be changed for the better and grow in your new country, in ways you just cannot in Galut

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism New Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train over haArazim valley just outside Jerusalem
New Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train over haArazim valley just outside Jerusalem

In 2014, I was visiting my mother in Skokie, Illinois, and heard that a famous Israeli Rabbi was visiting that Shabbos, Parshat Lech Lecha- which, like this year, was designated worldwide to be Shabbat Aliya. The visiting Rabbi was to be speaking at a local Shul, Shabbos morning. I really wanted to hear him, not only because he was from Israel- but also because he was the boss of my son, who happened to be spending that year in Teaneck , NJ, doing Shlichut mainly for the Amiel organization founded by Rabbi Riskin of Efrat, but also part-time for the visiting Rabbi's organization.

The Rabbi spoke wonderfully just before Musaf on Shabbat morning. His main message was; "I encourage all of you to send your kids to live in Israel. As this week's parsha says: ' Lech Lecha- go to the Land of Israel', because that is G-d's command".

That sounds right – but is it?

After davening( the prayers), I waited till I could approach the Rabbi alone: " Rav X, is it OK if I ask you something about what you said, and maybe comment?"

"Sure", said he. "I'm always open to questions and comments. They sharpen my message for the next time".

"Thanks", I said. "My question is: why didn't you say: ' Go live in Israel because it's good for you. Go not only because G-d said to go, but because you will be better off, your children will be better off, and all of you be changed for the better and grow in your new country, in ways you just cannot in Galut (the Diaspora)."

The Rav smiled: "You're right. But I can't tell them that. You see, they would never believe me. Of course it's better for them there, but they'll only see the difficulties: financial, psychological, leaving parents here in the US, etc. The odds are, the parents won't come. I spoke as I did because I just don't want them to stop their kids from coming".

I had to agree with the Rav. His point was well-taken. He had the experience with these Jews, on the US-side of the Atlantic, and in Israel.

Afterwards, though, questions kept popping up in my head. Was he right?

The doctor side of me had to agree that he was. Doctors are constantly playing the odds: what's the most common causes of this patient's problem; what are the odds of success with different diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, etc. The odds were with what the Rav said:  Aliyah is hard- physically, financially, psychologically, etc. So the odds are that the old generation will not pack up their lives in the Diaspora and take the adventure of a life-time, to go live 6,000 miles away in Israel, no matter what G-d commands. It seems to be an undertaking for the young: less baggage, more energy. The Rav seemed right, statistically.

However, the Rabbi side of me could not agree.

Rav Avigdor Nevenzal, of the Old City, has an interesting take on the Avraham story. The Torah says: " ויהי בנסעם מקדם    -as the people of the earth migrated from the east"(Genesis 11,2). The world's population lived mainly in the area of Babylon, aside from a few who made the journey from the east, to the west- they made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. After the Flood, mankind knew that its roots lay in the Holy Land, the land in which Adam had been created, and from which he had been banished. The goal of mankind's quest: return to the homeland, for great benefits, both physical and spiritual, would accrue there. A few made it: Shem, otherwise known as Malki-Tzedek( Genesis 14,18) and his followers made it. Noah had apportioned the world to his three sons, and thus gave the Holy Land to Shem, the Semites. There were also interlopers, as the Aznayim L'Torah explains " the Canaanites were then in the Land"(Genesis 12, 6) – the sons of Canaan didn't belong there, it was not given to them, but they invaded.

So mankind was migrating from east to west, on the great quest to Eretz Yisrael- and they were stopped. Stopped by history's first great dictator, Nimrod, the king who built the Tower of Babel in order to stop mankind's Aliyah. When G-d destroyed the Tower, only one man continued the quest, the journey to Eretz Yisrael: Abraham the Hebrew, Avraham Avinu.

Here we need the help of Rav Matis Weinberg's brilliant approach to the story. As Rashi explains, G-d commands Avraham: "Lech Lecha- go, for your own good and benefit". That means, that if Avraham had answered: "No, G-d, I don't want to go for my sake. I want to go purely Lesheim Shamayim, for Your sake, O Lord"- if that had been Avraham's answer, then he would have flunked the test! This was not merely a test of whether or not Avraham would go on Aliyah. This was a test of his objective and motivation:

Rav Weinberg says that fundamentalists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who do "the Lord's bidding for His sake", are a dime-a-dozen. Even our Jihadi enemies scream out "Alahu Achbar", G-d is great, as they blow themselves and their victims to kingdom come. On the other hand, the real test for the Jew, the real challenge of Aliya, is to do G-d's command for one's own sake- to make the objective the Shleimut, the perfection of the Oleh, the person who goes on Aliyah. The objective is to become a more complete, perfected human being- while the motivation should be that G-d did command Aliyah.

This is the objective that I was indicating to the visiting Rabbi: "Tell these American Jews that in Eretz Yisrael you will become better, more complete, more fulfilled human beings. You will have experiences that you could not possibly have in America, and you, your children , and their children will grow with physical and spiritual benefits that you could not today, in Skokie, imagine". I know that me, my wife, and my kids are totally different human beings than we would have been had we stayed in the US – and all for the better. Except maybe how we drive cars.

Tactically, the visiting Rabbi was right. Odds say the parents won't come, and they won't believe the true picture of the benefits of Aliya, despite and due to the hardships.  Yet the Rabbi side of me says one other thing: "How can you just give up on that older generation?" As Moses said to Pharoah: "Who's going? Why, all of us- with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and all our possessions" (Shmot 10, 9). We saw in the Holocaust, how some saved all comers, like the Bielski brothers- and how others started making distinctions who gets saved and who not. Except when it comes to endangering the all for the sake of stragglers, I'd rather choose the Bielski model.

So who is right? Maybe both of us.