We are all familiar with the long list of reasons why Jews who live in comfortable Diasporas don’t come on Aliyah. There is no need to rehash them here. I would venture to say that in 90 percent of the cases, there is no halakhic support for the many different claims. In a class on the Torah portion “Shelach Lecha,” HaRav Shmuel Eliahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, stated:
“There are absolutely no justifiable reasons to settle outside the Land of Israel. Our Sages teach that the mitzvah to dwell in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah together. All of the Prophets emphasized the eternity of the Covenant and the return of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael. Anyone who does not make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael neglects to fulfill a positive commandment of the Torah. So all-encompassing is this commandment that a person performs it even while he sleeps. What a pity to miss out, every second, the observance of such a vital mitzvah upon which all of the Torah is founded.”
Of course if a person’s parent is sick in the intensive care unit of a hospital in New York, then the son or daughter is temporarily excused from the obligation to make Aliyah. Immediately, there are Jews of the Diaspora who will rise up in protest: “What about the Rebbe of Chabad and HaRav Moshe Feinstein? They didn’t make Aliyah!” I don’t know how these readers compare themselves to the Torah Giants they hold up as examples. In exceptional cases when speaking about the foremost Torah leaders of a large Jewish community there is room to honor the importance of their remaining where they are, but how many Rebbes of Chabad and Rav Moshe Feinsteins are there?
And now that Hashem in His great kindness has established the modern State of Israel, eliminating the need for Jews to remain in exile, we see that the great Torah Gedolim of the Diaspora are no more. And this is only natural when you face the fact that the exile was never meant to last forever.
Why then do so many Jews in North and South America, Australia, South Africa and Western Europe not make Aliyah? In the Torah portion of the week, Rashi explains that a Jew who lives in the Land of Israel has Hashem as his G-d, while a Jew who lives outside the Land is like a person who worships idols (Varikra 37:38). This is due to the fact that Hashem’s Presence outside of the Land of Israel appears in a very dim fashion.
Just as holiness is not indigenous to Gentile lands, the manifestation of the Shechinah can hardly be felt there. Thus our forefather Avraham told Avimelech that there was no feeling of a reverence for Hashem in the territory where the Philistines ruled (Bereshit 20:11). Similarly, King David describes his need to flee to the land of the Philistines as being driven to worship false gods (Ketubot 110A). In his Commentary to the Torah, the Ramban explains this seeming absence of God by informing us that when Hashem created the world He appointed angels to preside over all of the world’s countries except for Israel, over which Hashem governs without the channel of intermediary agents. Thus, for example, in America, the connection between a Jew and Hashem is screened by the intermediary angel who Hashem has positioned to rule there.
Thusly, to all but the most exalted Tzaddikim, it feels that Hashem isn’t there, and thus the fear and reverence for God, and the passionate love for Him and yearning to serve Him are missing. This results in the abnormal phenomenon that the Diaspora Jew feels comfortable living in a foreign land and not in the Land of Hashem (see the Ramban, Achei Mot 18:25).
Please note that I am not coming to criticize the Jews of the Diaspora, but only describing the seeming absence of Hashem in Gentile lands and thus the natural result that serving Hashem is not the number-one priority of Jewish life there. Certainly the Diaspora Jew believes in God, but he or she is generally less motivated to long for Redemption from the exile and to actively participate in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of Hashem’s Kingdom in the world – the goal of the Torah – which can only take place in the Land of Israel.
The Jews of the Diaspora are not to blame. No one has taught them otherwise. Over the long generations of exile, Jerusalem became a faraway dream. The vital importance of the Land of Israel to the life of the Israelite Nation became ignored. So unattainable to the Jews of the ghetto worlds they inhabited, and so unconnected to the day-to-day reality of galut, the subject of Redemption was simply not taught. Mashiach became a nice song to sing but not something to take seriously in one’s future college and professional plans. Large chunks of the Tanach and the Talmud, and uncomfortable teachings of Rashi and other great Torah Sages were skipped over as if they no longer applied. Because no one taught Diaspora Jews the deeper aspirations of Torah, the Torah lost its national essence and became a list of do’s and don’ts for the individual Jew.
Generation after generation of Diaspora Jews literally grew up as “Tinokot Sh’nishbu” like children captive in Gentile lands. Thus, today, when a Jew in America hears the Torah portion of “Behukotai” in shul on Shabbat, even if he reads along in English because he never learned Hebrew, he thinks that the curses of the exile don’t apply to him in the comfortable oasis which he has found in America – as if Hashem has cancelled His warning words and decrees about life amongst the Gentiles and transformed the exile into a deluxe glatt-kosher vacation which will never end.
But Hashem has not forgotten His words, even though we have too often forgotten Him. Hashem is still the same. The Torah is still the same. The teachings of our Sages haven’t changed. Whether we want it or not, Hashem will return His children to the Land of Israel. He will rebuild Jerusalem and re-establish His Kingdom on earth. We have a choice – to participate or to learn the hard way and disappear into Jewish oblivion. Which do you choose?
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."