Would This Sermon Make You Angry?
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
It’s uncomfortable; awkward, even. How does a Religious Zionist rabbi living in New York, Los Angeles or London speak about Aliyah to his congregation? It’s a question I struggled with for over a decade as a rabbi in two different American communities.
Despite my strong feelings about the importance of Aliyah, it was easier to talk about other values, like strengthening Shabbat observance or the importance of attending AIPAC conventions and advocating for Israel. It’s hard to preach what you don’t practice. Telling my congregants “do as I say, not as I do” felt hypocritical. At the same time, I was hesitant to focus on a message more likely to inspire frustration and disappointment than action. And so, despite being a 100% committed Religious Zionist pulpit rabbi, I only rarely made Aliyah the focus of my sermons.
But what if I had adopted a different perspective? What if I had viewed myself not as a hypocritical failure, but rather as an idealistic shaliach in the Diaspora, on a mission to awaken the hearts of our people to return to the Land of our fathers? What if, instead of avoiding the topic, I had given the following speech on Parashat Lech Lecha:
Good Shabbos everyone! Today is a day to speak frankly, and from the heart. This is not a parasha like any other, for this is the week when Avraham and Sarah heard the voice of Hashem – and refused to ignore it.
“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Leave your land, leave everything you’ve ever known, for an unknown and terrifying future! Go to a land where you only haltingly speak the language, where you’ll only own one car and Kedem grape juice costs $8 a bottle!
I have no doubt Avraham and Sarah were frightened. How could they not have been? The thought of Aliyah frightens me too. At least some of you are tech-savvy and could easily get well-paying jobs in Tel Aviv. But me? What would I do? There are more rabbis in Israel than street cats!
I’m not here to judge you. Who am I to judge? I live here in exile too. But as your rabbi, it’s my job to say what needs to be said: We don’t belong here. I’m thankful to America – I truly am! For all its faults, no nation has ever treated us with such kindness! But this isn’t home.
You might be thinking: ‘Rabbi, why are you giving us a hard time? This isn’t what we pay you for! We work hard to be good Jews! We spend obscene amounts of money on yeshivah day school tuition; we force ourselves to sit through your speeches and pinch ourselves to stay awake! And now you’re telling me I have to move across the world and be an immigrant for the rest of my life?’
The truth is, you’re right. You are good Jews! I know how many of you quietly give tzedakah, without need for honor. I know how hard you work to get to minyan during the week, despite your busy schedules. Like Avraham and Sarah in Charan, we are doing Hashem’s work!
And yet… As Rav Soloveitchik once wrote, “Listen! My Beloved knocks!” With clarity we haven’t heard since the time of the prophets, our Father is calling out to us: come home! After two thousand years of silence, He is speaking to us once again – through the miracles of 1948 and 1967, through the ingathering of the exiles, and through the flowering of the Land. Twenty years ago, Modi’in didn’t exist; now, it’s a city of 100,000, with a kosher Waffle Bar to boot! Ramat Beit Shemesh used to be a backwater; now it has over a dozen schools for olim. Israel used to seem like an impossible dream, but these days, the Master of the Universe is rolling out the red carpet for us.
No, this is not my resignation speech. I don’t yet have concrete plans or a scheduled Aliyah date. But I hope, as every Jew must, to soon see that day.
Neil Young once sang, “I’m a dreamin’ man, yes, that’s my problem…” We are a people of dreamers, and it’s a problem we have – thankfully! – never solved. G-d’s call reverberates in our souls, refusing to give us rest. Try as we might, we can never feel fully at home in this land.
Let us find the courage to answer the call, and follow in the footsteps of Avraham and Sarah!
If your rabbi gave this speech, how would it make you feel? Irritated, insulted or inspired? I’d love to hear your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.