Many Diasporians argue: “Why should I live in Israel when I can do the mitzvot in the Diaspora just as well?”
Firstly, the mitzvah to live in Israel is a commandment of the Torah, and you can only do it if you live in Israel. An Orthodox Jew does his or her best to observe the commandments as completely as possible. It isn’t always easy to keep kosher and pray three times a day, but we do it. The same applies to the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
Secondly, the value of a mitzvah performed in Israel is greatly magnified when it is performed in the Holy Land, where the commandments are supposed to be performed, as opposed to its value when performed in an impure gentile land whose atmosphere is filled with spiritual barriers. As the classic treatise on Jewish belief, “The Kuzari,” teaches: “The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel and no performance of the commandments can be perfect except there. Many of the Torah’s laws do not concern those who do not live there, and heart and soul are only perfectly pure and clean in the place which is known to be especially selected by God” (Kuzari, 5:23).
Thirdly, many people have a distorted understanding of Judaism, believing it to be merely a list of ritual commandments like keeping kosher and putting on tefillin. They don’t realize, or haven’t learned, that the Torah is, first and foremost, the constitution of the Jewish Nation, the Nation of Israel, as we say in the blessing over the Torah, “who chose us from all of the nations.” Hashem chose us as a Nation and brought us out of Egypt to be “a Nation of Kohanim and a holy People.” We can only be a Nation in Israel. Anywhere else in the world, we are scattered individuals, or communities, but we can’t be a Jewish Nation with our own Jewish government, Jewish army, Jewish language, Jewish calendar, Jewish courts, and the like. We need our own Jewish Land for that. In addition to having to do our own private mitzvot like keeping Shabbat, our mission is to sanctify the Name of God in the world and that is done through the life of the Nation in Israel, and not as always fragile minorities in foreign lands, as the horrors of Parshat Bechukotei make clear. Thus, to sanctify the Name of God and increase His honor in the world, we have to be in Israel.
Fourthly, people shouldn’t be fooled by the temporary “haven” they have found in America. Throughout history, wherever Jews lived, sooner or later, the goyim reminded us, in a very unpleasant fashion, that we were strangers in their land. People are deluding themselves if they think it can’t happen in the United States. In a way, it already is. Intermarriage is skyrocketing, decimating America’s Jewish community with a kiss.
The Hebrew word, “aliyah,” means “an ascent.” One speaks about “going up” to Israel. Since Israel is the Holy Land, anyone who moves here from the Diaspora is considered to be on a journey of spiritual ascent. One reason is that in joining the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, he, or she, is elevating his private, individual life to the much greater life of the “Clal,” of the Jewish Nation as a whole, sharing in its most cherished aspirations and dreams.
Tragically, a misunderstanding of Judaism is taught throughout the Diaspora, which sees Diaspora Judaism as an end in itself, and not what it really is – a punishment of exile in foreign lands until we return to our own Holy Land. Instead of teaching their communities that the goal of each and every Jew should be to live a Torah life in Israel, as is explicitly expressed in our daily prayers, and repeated again and again in the Torah, Jewish leaders and educators in the Diaspora work toward strengthening Jewish life in the exile itself. Because the educational goals of the Jewish establishment in the Diaspora are misdirected, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who live there don’t know any better. In their innocence, they believe they are doing the right thing in educating their children to become successful Americans, Frenchmen, or Australians, instead of encouraging them to build their lives in the Jewish homeland as proud independent Israeli Jews. The result of this tragic policy is the growing rate of assimilation that is decimating Jewish communities around the world, except in Israel where assimilation hardly exists.