IN 1993 I PUBLISHED a short little book called, “If Only I Could Stay.”
Unlike the previous three books I had already written,
this book was intended primarily for Torah-observant Jews.
I was on my way back to Eretz Yisroel after a three-year stay in Toronto,
and I was astonished,
and sometimes bothered,
by the reaction of many religious people to my decision.
When a non-religious Jew asked me,
“Why would you want to move back to Israel?”
I was never surprised.
They had yet to learn and appreciate what Eretz Yisroel means from a Torah perspective,
even in this day and age.
As far as they could see I was moving to a danger zone and a place
lacking financial opportunity.
Pursuing a closer relationship with God from their perspective was no reason to leave behind family, o
pportunity, and the comforts of an advanced society.
However, when I was asked the same question by religious Jews,
it confused me.
They were supposed to know the answer to the question already.
They acted as if they knew first hand that Eretz Yisroel was
the last place God would want a Jew to live today.
Only on occasion did I hear from an observant Jew:
“Wow, I admire you for that.
I have no desire to go there right now in my present situation,
but I certainly appreciate your willingness to live there.”
This type of response I could accept back in 1993 because at that
time I did not see any reason for Jews to suddenly pick up and make
aliyah en masse.
I certainly could not imagine it happening before Moshiach came
given how attached Jews—including and sometimes especially religious
Jews—had become to the comforts and conveniences of Diaspora life.
Thus, at the time I returned back to Eretz Yisroel,
making aliyah was a to-each-his-own kind of a thing.
Understandably, just as I was a fish out of water outside of Israel,
many Jews were fish out of water in Israel.
Nevertheless, did that justify what I often detected as a general
disdain for Eretz Yisroel and making aliyah?
The question became even stronger when I recalled that it was specifically
the rejection of Eretz Yisroel,
back in the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu,
that resulted in 40 years of desert wandering.
It was as if their sin was our sin,
that we had failed to learn the lesson from their punishment,
and that we were setting ourselves up for a similar fate, God forbid.
This compelled me to write the book,
“If Only I Could Stay.”
As the title implies,
the book was for Jews who had lost the “forest for the trees,”
making the Diaspora their new Eretz Yisroel.
“Yes,” I imagined many of them mournfully telling Moshiach,
“I guess we have to go and follow you to Eretz Yisroel.
If only we could stay here in the Diaspora where we feel so at home.”
There is no question that making aliyah at this stage of history is a
personal decision that must take into account many important halachic issues.
Certainly until the Gedolei HaDor—the Torah leaders of the generation—call for mass aliyah,
no one else can with any authority.
Nevertheless, this only addresses the halachic aspect of the issue.
When the Spies rejected the Land of Israel in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time they
too had yet to be obligated to cross the border into Eretz Yisroel.
Somehow their rejection of the Land so loved by their ancestors m
eant so much more than simply the refusal to settle down in that very land.
In fact, it is that very rejection of Eretz Yisroel that is holding up the Final Redemption,
implied by the following:
You will arise and show Tzion mercy, for the time to favor her,
for the appointed time has come.
For your servants have cherished her stones and favor her dust. (Tehillim 102:14- 15)
The appointed time?
The Final Redemption.
The name used by the prophets to refer to the Jewish people in their ultimate state of existence on the Land.
Apparently the transition to that final state of redemption will not be smooth,
and the Jewish people will require Divine mercy to survive it.
The source of merit for such mercy?
According to Dovid HaMelech:
The Jewish people’s intense love of Eretz Yisroel.
What many fail to realize,
especially when it comes to concepts such as aliyah,
is that halachah is just the starting point.
Fulfilling a halachah may be enough from a halachic point of view,
but may not be enough from a hashkofic viewpoint,
and it can make a major difference down the line, as it says:
Once Moshiach arrives wonderful things will happen for Jews everywhere . . .
After the dead are resurrected they will become transformed and will have very lofty natures.
The same type of transformation will occur for the . . .
Jews who remained alive [in Eretz Yisroel],
and their bodies will be like those of Adam HaRishon before his sin and Moshe Rabbeinu.
They will become so spiritual that they will be able to fly like eagles,
which will astound the redeemed exiles.
the Diaspora Jews will become upset and complain to Moshiach,
“Are we not Jews like them?
Why do they merit to fly and live in an elevated spiritual state,
and not us?”
Moshiach will answer them,
“It is quite well known that God deals with a person measure-for-measure.
those who lived in the Diaspora and made efforts and sacrifices to elevate
themselves by moving to the Holy Land merited purity of soul.
Not concerned about their finances and health they traveled over vast lands and crossed seas,
ignoring the possibility of drowning,
being robbed along the way,
or being taken captive by a foreign ruler.
Since they valued spirituality over materialism and physicality,
they merit, measure-for-measure,
to be elevated to this lofty spiritual plane.
You also had opportunities to go up to Israel but instead were hesitant and reluctant.
You were more interested with materialistic status,
which was a higher priority than spiritual growth.
Therefore, measure-for- measure you now remain physical . . .
while those who valued their souls [over their bodies] will be transformed into supernal beings and led into the earthly Garden of Eden.”
(Tuv HaAretz, The Advantage of Living in Eretz Yisroel When Moshiach Arrives)
it is true that most rabbis today do not consider living in
Eretz Yisroel a halachic obligation.
This is why they have not called on Jews to make every effort as
soon as possible to make aliyah.
If we learn anything from Jewish history however,
it is that they may also never have that opportunity to do so before Moshiach arrives.
It is equally true however that when it comes to making aliyah,
halachah is but one part of the equation.
There is another very important part as well,
one that is completely overlooked by many and which can
determine the status of a Jew at the end of history:
At the end of their exile the oppression will be removed from them,
and they will be joyous because they will be at the top of the nations.
The gentiles will give them honor and they will be their leaders,
instead of being disgraced and lowered among them as in the past.
[The name] “Ya’akov” will [apply to] the masses of the people and the lesser among them.
[The name] “Yisroel” [however will apply to] the great ones.
The joyousness from being at the top of the nations will be Ya’akov’s alone,
and not Yisroel’s,
who will desire the return of His Presence to Tzion . . .
They will want the true salvation of the ingathering of the exiles and return to Tzion.
Then God will return them . . . (Malbim, Yirmiyahu 31:6)
Talking About Eretz Yisroel:
The Profound and Essential Meaning of Making Aliyah,
is a look at the “other part” of the aliyah discussion.
It is a book about why the lack of halachic obligation to make
aliyah at this time is the very reason to make it, not avoid it.
At the very least,
this book will make it clear that yearning to live in Eretz Yisroel
is an obligation on every Jew,
and at all times,
even and especially when physically doing so may not yet be possible.
Acting upon that obligation at this time of history is a matter
of personal responsibility and choice.
Not a day goes by that I do not thank God for having already made aliyah,
settling down in the land of my ancestors while it was still “easy” to do so.
I design the cover of a book after it has already been written.
In this case, it was the cover that inspired the book:
the view is right outside my front door and inspires me every day I walk by it.
The breathtaking picture on the back of this book was taken, a
ppropriately, by my son, Moshe, not too far from where we live.
This is not the first edition of this book.
I thank everyone who originally helped me bring it to print,
and each time after that.
Your merit continues, especially given how many people have been inspired
by this book to either make aliyah,
or at least consider it.
Of all the books I have been blessed to work on until this day,
this remains to be one of my favorites.