“Go forth from your country, from the land of your birth and from the home of your father to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
Land. God’s first commandment to Avram (who would later become Avraham the father of the Jewish people) was about land.
In the bible, description and order is significant. Here the description is one indicative of understanding the difficulty in uprooting oneself, leaving behind the known for an unknown land. The order of the description is from the general to the personal, from the least difficult to the most difficult to leave – country, place of birth, family.
It is profound that this commandment comes before any promises to Avram and without explanation. Before discussion of his future, before the tale of the birth of his son or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Before Avram became Avraham, a specific land was chosen for him.
The 7th day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan coincides with “Lech lecha,” the Torah portion in which Abraham is told to leave his home to go to the promised land. That is the date the Israeli government chose for Aliyah Day, to celebrate the contribution of immigrants to the State of Israel. Accordingly, Aliyah Day was (officially) this past Friday. There were different events and celebrations most of last week (leave it to Israelis to celebrate one day with a week of events!).
Aliyah is the Hebrew word for immigration of Jewish people to the State of Israel. The word literally means “ascending” and is the same word that is used for pilgrimage and for reading from the Torah. These are spiritual events, where the person transcends the norm, ascending to a higher level in fulfilling this activity. This means that, for a Jew immigrating to Israel, returning to our homeland, is an act of spiritual significance.
Israel was waiting for Avram before he became the father of the Jewish people. Before God granted Moses the 10 Commandments. Before any other element that would form our Jewishness, this land was waiting to become our homeland.
Following the commandment to emigrate was the first step on the path that transformed Avram from a regular person to the father of the Jewish people (as well as the father of the Arab people), to becoming the person he was meant to be.
As an immigrant myself I can testify to the difficulties of emigration. Life in America was comfortable. We had a nice home, a good life. Moving to Israel meant a new language, a different culture, figuring where to live, how to live, work… the challenges, almost impossible anticipate and seem endless. Why bother? Why should my family leave and move to Israel?
Because we are Jewish.
We stepped into the unknown, not for a more convenient or comfortable life but for self-actualization. For a life that is more real. To be who we are supposed to be.
“Go forth to the land that I will show you.”
For a Jew, moving to Israel goes beyond changing environment or culture. It is ascending to a place of higher spiritual fulfillment and actualization. Being in the Land is no less spiritually important than any religious activity or ritual. In some ways, it may even be more important. There is a reason this is the first commandment.
A Jew can be Jewish anywhere but aliyah to Israel and living in Israel is one of the main ways a Jew fulfills his or her Jewishness. It is a matter of strengthening the tribe and actualizing oneself.
Whenever a Jew makes that step is a reason for us all to celebrate.