In the footsteps of Calev Ben Yefuneh

Growing up in Bnei Akiva in the UK, we were often visited by Shlichim from Israel for what we thought of as the Aliyah Shabbat – Parshat Lech Lecha.

Having spent the majority of my adult life working with Aliyah and Olim, it’s become clear to me that this week’s Parasha – Shelach Lecha (or Shlach – depending on where you’re from), incorporating the story of “Chet Hameraglim” – the sin of the spies –  is far more appropriate, particularly for the biggest potential Aliyah pool – North America.

Reading Hannah Dreyfuss’ blog piece entitled “Aliyah: a sacrifice too big” this week served as a reminder to me that, just as the spies concluded, so too, the majority of the minority of American Jews who have an opinion on the question would sum up Israel as “nice place too visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there”.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised – the 10 dissenting spies only had the desert or slavery in Egypt as alternatives rather than the Mcmansions of Teaneck and Boca, the cheap shopping of Walmart and Costco and less than eye-wateringly-high gas prices.

Still, one-sixth of the spies approved – if one-sixth of the Jews in North America had the attitude of Calev or Yehoshua, then things would be looking pretty rosy – hell – I’d even settle for one-sixth of one-sixth! Unfortunately the number that even truly considers Aliyah on a yearly basis is a fraction of that fraction.

The Land of Israel is central to the Torah. The first words that G-d says to Avraham, the first Jew, don’t concern religious modesty, who can wear a tallit or which hechsher is acceptable. There is no need to extrapolate from a point of grammar or an extension of logic what was intended – “לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך” – “Go for yourself, out of your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land which I’ll show you”. It’s text which shouldn’t require too much explanation.

Many mitzvot can only be performed in the Land. The generation of the exodus from Egypt never merited to cross into the promised land and Moshe Rabbeinu was also punished – getting close enough to glimpse the land but never crossing the Jordan. Every year of the diaspora our ancestors prayed fervently that next year should be in Jerusalem and for what? So that 65 years on from the founding of the State, when the Mitzva of Aliyah has become easier than any time since Yehoshua it’s largely regarded as an option rather than an obligation?

Aliyah is tough and not everyone is in the position to be able to come at this stage in their lives – whatever that may be. For those of you who do have the dream and can make the move – we’ll be delighted to have you at the time when you have properly prepared for this life changing move.

For those of you who recognize Aliyah as an ideal but have a list of buts – please recognises which of those buts are excuses and which are reasons. Start making plans to deal with the reasons so that one day you’ll be able to join us in Israel. Educate yourselves and your children to the important of the mitzva, make sure that Hebrew is given the importance that it needs and push your children to Zionist Jewish Day Camps, long term Israel programs and yes – to lead the way home, knowing that you are planning to follow.

Calev Ben Yefune’s words resonate today – it’s not a ringing endorsement. He recognised the difficulties that were ahead but was ready to pick up the gauntlet and urged those around him to do the same, against the advice of the majority.

עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי יכול נוכל לה – We can indeed go up and take possession of it, for we are truly able to do so.

Next year in Jerusalem – if you (truly) will it – it is no dream.


About the Author
Neil Gillman grew up in the UK but fell in love with the idea of eating all his meals out of a pita when visiting Israel for the first time. His culinary tastes have since developed and he is a keen amateur cook, food blogger and shuk addict. He made Aliyah in 1996 and has been working with Olim from English speaking countries since 1999, He is currently responsible for Aliyah from English speaking countries. The views on this blog are his own.
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