Imagine you walked into a synagogue somewhere in New York or Los Angeles and the rabbi greeted you with open arms, saying: “Welcome, Blessed of God. We are all greatly honored to have you here. Whatever you need, in all your spiritual and Jewish needs, I am here for you, but I strongly encourage you to leave. Sell your house, quit your job, and get out here! Abandon your community, your hometown, and your adoptive country and go to Israel. Leave behind even your parents and siblings, if need be, so long as you make it to Israel.”
Perhaps this would be a shocking thing to hear from a rabbi, but these are the words I expect your rabbi to say to you. And I don’t think my expectations are unreasonable.
Rabbis are highly respected because they are wise and learned in Torah. As Torah scholars, I am sure they understand the importance of Jews living in Israel. It is a prerequisite for many Torah Commandments. In many ways, you cannot lead a Jewish life in exile. Which means, rabbis should obviously want to lead their congregants to Israel, and I am surprised that many are not actively doing so.
The reason they are not doing so is because they make exceptions, based upon their own priorities and the mistaken priorities of their congregants. As the leader of a congregation, a rabbi should naturally want to attract congregants, not encourage them to leave. This would negate his own interests.
Say that a rabbi puts his self-interests aside and encourages his congregants to leave for Israel, he will then be faced with their own self-interests and objections, as his congregants might naturally come requesting exemptions. They might say, “I have a sick mother who can’t travel now. I have a good job and don’t want to lose it. My children are in good schools, and I don’t want to uproot them. I can’t speak the language or deal with the mentality. I am in the middle of a college degree. I just started a new business. My wife is against it. I’m not Jewish enough for Israel, to receive citizenship.”
What is a rabbi to say to all this? If he angers his congregants, or so much as annoys them, they will abandon him and his congregation, but not for Israel. Perhaps they will find another rabbi or perhaps they will be fed up with Judaism. If the Torah insists upon the importance of living in Israel, then perhaps in their eyes Torah observance will be of less importance.
Can you blame a rabbi for being more accommodating? I can, and that is exactly what I am doing now. I think a rabbi should take pride in seeing his congregants leave to Israel, and he should leave with them, to help lead them to success in Israel.
I think rabbis in America and in all the lands of our exile, should sell their homes and minimize their possessions, serving as an example to their congregants. They should start renting month-to-month instead and have their bags packed and ready to leave together with the last of their congregants. They should put up signs on their synagogues that read, “In the process of relocating to Israel.”
And what of the congregants? Well, if all rabbis had the guts to stick to the program, there would be no need for exemptions. The congregants would see the signs on the wall and that everyone is leaving, and they would not want to be left behind. Instead, they might want to be first in line.
Rabbis, I may not be your rabbi, but Moses is, and I think you should learn from his example. A main goal of Moshe Rabbeinu’s was to lead the children of Israel out of exile in Egypt and into the Land of Israel.
You would think that leaving Egypt was the hard part, especially convincing the likes of Pharaoh to let our people go, but God took care of that rather quickly. Going to Israel was the hard part, because of the types of leaders we have.
Dear rabbis, I am sure you remember the ten spies and I doubt you want to be one of them. They spied out the Land for us, but brought back a slanderous report, calling it a land that consumes its inhabitants. They spoke to the people’s fears and hesitance, giving them good reason to reject the whole purpose of their exodus. Instead of coming to Israel, as God Intended for them, their generation died in exile, Moses included.
Which is why I expect our rabbis to overcome their personal battles and do what is right for the Jewish people, not what is expedient or convenient for them or their congregants. It may be hard to make Aliyah, with many impediments, real or imagined, and with many hardships acclimating to a new life in Israel, but it is necessary for our future redemption.
It is either that, rabbis, or accept that you are leading your congregants to die in exile, to wander in the wilderness until a new and bolder generation is born, one that fears God and loves Him more than yours.
Yshai Amichai made Aliyah from Los Angeles in 2001, settling in Israel, where he met his wife and where they raise their six children. He may be contacted at: email@example.com