By Rabbi Josh Weinberg October 30 2020 י”ב מרחשוון תשפ”א
Most Jewish tourists who visit Israel encounter Israelis who ask, “do you like Israel?”
“Oh, yes, we love it, we feel so… at home here,” goes a typical response, which is the setup for the inevitable inquiry:
“Ok, so Nu, why you don’t make Aliyah?”
Aliyah. The ultimate Zionist question. The very notion of Aliyah is steeped in ideology: one does not simply immigrate to Israel, one ascends. When one ascends, it’s like going up to the Torah, steeped in holiness and sacrosanct. Despite all his accolades and accomplishments, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion chose to put on his tombstone his date of birth and death and the date he made Aliyah, and nothing else. For Ben Gurion, more important than having declared independence for the first sovereign Jewish State in 2000 years was the fact that he came to Israel on Aliyah.
When God tells Avram, at the beginning of this week’s parasha, to “Go forth from your land” – לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ, it was anything but obvious. God had to clarify further what was meant: וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ. – “and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you.” The text emphasizes that what you, Avram, are instructed to do is anything but obvious. To leave your homeland and your parents’ house for a land that you do not know is not so simple and could come with great hardship, strife, and many challenges. We know of course that the glorification of Aliyah by the Zionist movement was necessary. Those who came in the early years, members of the pioneering generation, faced sometimes insurmountable challenges that led some to return to their countries of origin or, in some extreme cases, suicide.
But what was this all about? In a word, it was about disruption.
Herzl realized it and so did Pinsker, Jabotinsky, Bialik, Ben Gurion, Szold, and all the great Zionists of yesteryear. One had to uproot oneself and take seemingly drastic measures to change the status quo.
The great medieval commentator the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman – 1194-1270 CE) also realized the hardship involved in this. In his commentary to Lech L’cha, he wrote:
כי יקשה על האדם לעזוב ארצו אשר הוא יושב בה ושם אוהביו ורעיו וכל שכן כשהוא ארץ מולדתו ששם נולד, וכל שכן כשיש שם כל בית אביו, ולכך הוצרך לומר לו שיעזוב הכל לאהבתו של הקב”ה:
“In reference to “and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house” [one can discern] that it is increasingly difficult for a person to leave his/her land that he/she resides in, and there are his/her loved ones and companions and all of the others for whom this is also their homeland and birthplace, and for whom their parents household is here as well. Therefore, it is upon us to state that he [Avraham] left everything for the love the Holy One Blessed Be [God].”
Ramban understood the hardship of leaving behind the comfort of one’s home and life for the unknown. He would likely have understood that when we’re asked, “Nu, why don’t you come on Aliyah?” that it’s not that easy and simple. But just like Avram was driven by his love for God (according to Nachmanides), those pioneers who came on Aliyah were driven by belief and ideology. To put one’s principles above material comfort, family, friends, and familiarity is laudable.
For the first time in history we have a Jewish State where – in theory – any Jew can show up and claim automatic citizenship, receive a generous Aliyah package of money and benefits, and begin life – and still, it’s not so simple.
Yitzhak Rabin came to the same realization that something drastic and dramatic was necessary in order to change the status quo. Peacemaking with his life-long arch-enemy required guts, but also faith. He could have easily remained complacent. He could have been resigned to the fact that it would have been more politically expedient not to push for a negotiated arrangement with the Palestinians. The country was split and his coalition was hanging on by a thread. But he forged through and paid for it with his life.
25 years ago today, the zealous extremist, Yigal Amir, also came to the conclusion that in order to foil the peace process he would need to do something drastic. Relying on contrived Jewish legal logic, his plan to assassinate PM Yitzhak Rabin came to fruition. In the morning after reading these very verses from this week’s Parashah he set out to change history and tear apart a nation by murdering the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
Propaganda against Rabin had been brewing among Israel’s extremists, and the atmosphere was dangerously leading towards violence, but Amir’s murderous act sent shockwaves through the nation. That night, 25 years ago, as Rabin stood on stage belting out the ‘Song for Peace’ in his unrehearsed baritone voice, he was still ever the pragmatist pushing forward.
That night, Amir murdered more than one person. He slayed the dream of peace for all those growing up – hoping and wishing for their future to be different. Of course, there were still challenges ahead, and who knows if what Rabin, Peres, Clinton, and Arafat were heading towards would not have ended in failure, as it did 20 years ago. We’ll never know.
But Rabin’s lesson is the same as Avram’s, the last line of the famous song sung from the stage in Tel Aviv:
“אל תגידו יום יבוא הביאו את היום! כי לא חלום הוא”
“Don’t say the day will come. Bring on that day because it is not a dream!”
Sometimes, if we want something to change, we have to take drastic action ourselves. For instance, if we want Israel to act in a certain way and share our hopes, aspirations, and dreams for Israel, we might also want to consider that it is incumbent upon us to show up and help bring those changes. If we want Israel to recognize Reform Jews then we as Reform Jews must be there. Even if you can’t go on Aliyah, as the Ramban appropriately articulated, we must do our part to bring the day. Avram did it, Rabin did it, and so can us all. Hopefully soon enough, we’ll be able to visit again, and be there. We need to forge relationships with our Movement in Israel, and give it as much support as possible. We need to speak Hebrew and communicate in the language of our people, and at the very least raise your voices and speak out, not just about your concerns and critiques but about what you love and what captivates you as well.