Thursday, October 25, 2012

Making Aliyah?

Imagine packing up your life and moving to a new country after your 70th wedding anniversary? Well, in February of this year Phillip (95) and Dorothy (93) Grossman of Baltimore did just that and became the oldest married couple to make aliyah. Considering that our forefather Avraham was 75 (and Sarah 65) when they packed for the Holy Land, apparently the Grossmans are now the reigning Aliyah champions.
In fairness though, Avraham and Sarah didn't have the Aliyah Department arrange their flight, shipment of personal effects or new apartment in Rechavia. No welcoming committee picked them up upon arrival in Canaan. So, maybe Avraham and Sarah can still claim credit for immense dedication and faith for having uprooted their lives to start over at an age when they should have been retiring.
The truth is, Avraham and Sarah didn't just make aliyah, they made Aliyah. 
Literally, the term means "uplitfment" or "ascent". Moving to Israel is no simple relocation, it is a spiritual upgrade (or at least, it's meant to be). Talmudic geography notes that you travel up to  Israel, regardless of where you're coming from. That's because Israel is loftier (not topographically higher) than any other country. After all, it is called the Holy Land (and not just by Jews). Emigrating to Israel is meant to be about more than landing  a villa in Raanana; it's supposed to be a journey of discovery, growth and increased Jewish dedication.
Aliyah means that you are uplifted by the process.
Now, how did Israel become a Holy Land? What process transformed it from desert to Divine embassy? You can thank Avraham and Sarah for that. They literally made aliyah, not just the upliftment of themselves, but the upliftment of the land too. They dedicated their lives to making an ordinary location into a place of learning, of discovering G-d and of improved personal conduct. Most people at that time were wholly disinterested in Avraham and Sarah's teachings, but in due course this unique couple garnered a huge following (consider how many religions trace their roots to Abrahamic principles). 
We don't read the stories of our forefathers to discover what they did; we read them to learn what we should be doing.
A chossid once approached the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, to ask his blessing to move to Israel. The Tzemach Tzedek responded "mach doh Eretz Yisroel" (make here into Israel). Israel equals holy country. G-d engineered history to ensure that Jews would land up scattered in the other "unholy" countries so that we could impact them and upgrade them to become Israel-esque. We're living in Joburg at the moment so that we can help Joburg make Aliyah.
Avraham and Sarah started their area-upgrade years before G-d told them to up and go to Canaan. In fact, it was in response to their efforts to imbue the world with spirituality that G-d gave them a holy land. By us upgrading the neighbourhoods we live in, we pave the way for G-d to give us the full-scale version of the Holy Land that will only be unveiled when Moshiach comes, please G-d immediately.

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