Israel Forever

For the week ending 12 November 2005 / 10 Heshvan 5766

The First Oleh

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Why does a Jew make aliya (immigrate) to Israel?

Much has been spoken and written about the motivations of Jews voluntarily leaving the lands they grew up in in order to settle in Israel. Too many veteran Israelis fail to truly appreciate the difficulties involved in such a move and actually show a disdain for newcomers. ("Israelis love aliya," it has been cynically put, "but hate olim.")

In this weeks Torah portion we are introduced to the first oleh, the Patriarch Avraham. When G-d commanded him to travel to "the land which I will show you", He made a point of stressing what Avraham would have to give up his land, his birthplace and his fathers home. In his commentary, Rashi explains that the focus on what Avraham was sacrificing with his move would make Eretz Israel more beloved to him and would gain for him a greater reward for obeying the Divine command.

"Whatever the Patriarchs experienced," say our Sages, "is a sign for their descendants." Olim who come to Israel not as a result of persecution or economic distress are also making the sacrifice of leaving land, birthplace and family in order to achieve what the first oleh did a high level of spirituality. It is the desire to come closer to G-d so dramatically demonstrated by olim which will positively influence the secular community in Israel with what is needed to preserve Israel forever.

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