Kissing the ground when you get off the plane. Saying Shehecheyanu. Are these required when one makes aliyah? Rabbi Mordechai Tzion – the mara d’asra of Kehilat Ohr Tzion, in Buffalo, NY, before moving to Israel – addresses these questions and more in his book Oleh Chadash. Below are edited excerpts from that work supplemented by clarifications made by Rabbi Tzion in a recent conversation with The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: I’ve heard of a “Mi Sheberach” said for new olim. Where does this prayer come from?
Rabbi Tzion: There is an ancient custom to recite a Mi Sheberach on all types of occasions. Since this blessing doesn’t contain Hashem’s name, dozens of such prayers have been composed over the course of the generations.
Twenty years ago, a unique Mi Sheberach was published in the parshah sheet of Bar Ilan University for olim chadashim. The prayer was composed around 1948 in Ujda in eastern Morocco for Jews immigrating to Israel. It conveys the hope that the immigrants be protected along the way, that they have long life in the Land of Israel, and that the remaining Jews in Morocco speedily immigrate to Israel.
Whatever wording a congregation chooses, it is certainly praiseworthy to publicly bless olim before their departure to strengthen them, to encourage others to make aliyah, and to sanctify Hashem’s name.
New olim landing in Israel often bend down to kiss the ground. What’s the basis of this practice?
The Gemara in Ketubot (112) states: “Rabbi Abba used to kiss the stones of Acco.” Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda would not only kiss the stones of Eretz Yisrael; he would roll in its dust, in accordance with the verse, “For Your servants desire her stones, and love her dust” (Tehillim 102:14).
The Rambam cites this Gemara and writes: “The great Sages would kiss the borders of the Land of Israel and kiss its stones and roll in its dirt” (Laws of Kings 5:10).
Why did these rabbis kiss the stones and not kiss the dirt?
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook was asked this very question. He explained, in the name of his father, that if Rabbi Abba had kissed clumps of dirt, people would have thought that the holiness of the Land of Israel only derives from the mitzvot dependent on the Land, such as terumot and ma’asrot.
Rabbi Abba kissed the stones – which don’t yield fruit or produce – to demonstrate that the Land was holy in and of itself.
The Mishnah Berurah writes in the name of the Shelah: “I have seen exalted individuals kiss the matzot, maror, the sukkah…and the Four Species, all to express the love of the commandments. Fortunate is one who serves Hashem in joy.” How much more so should an oleh express his love when arriving in Israel in fulfillment of the mitzvah to dwell in the Land, which our Sages state is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifri, Re’eh).
If making aliyah is a mitzvah, why doesn’t a new oleh say a berachah when he arrives?
Rav Yehudah Leib Maimon, Israel’s first Minister of Religious Affairs, explained that several fundamental mitzvot of the Torah that aren’t bound by time, are performed without a berachah. Examples are believing in Hashem, fearing Him, loving Him, heeding His voice, cleaving to Him, not worshipping idols, living holy lives, etc. Just as the commandment to believe in Hashem is constant, so is the command to live in the Land of Israel.
It is generally forbidden to leave the Land, so the mitzvah is incumbent upon us always. In other words, there is no time during which one is exempt from it, and one therefore does not recite a berachah over its performance.
Should a new oleh say Shehechiyanu when reaching Israel?
There are different opinions. Tosafot (Sukkah 46a) write that when a person fulfills a mitzvah that has an aspect of joy, he should say Shehechiyanu. The Tur cites this ruling.
A century ago, Rav Chaim Palagi ruled that a person should not say Shehechiyanu when coming to live in the Holy Land because seeing the land in its desolation evokes pain and sadness, not joy. Needless to say, things have changed a great deal since the time of Rav Palagi when Eretz Yisrael was ruled by foreigners.
Today, with the establishment of Israel and all of its amazing achievements, including Jewish sovereignty over the land, the mass ingathering of exiles, widespread settlement, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the profusion of Torah institutions all over the country, grief over the land’s destruction has turned into great joy.
What was the opinion of Rav Kook?
When the Gerrer Rebbe (the Imrei Emet) visited Israel for the first time, he visited Rav Kook, who told him he should say Shehechiyanu. Accepting the halachic authority of Rav Kook, who was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem at the time, the Gerrer Rebbe recited the berachah.
(This is the fourth of a four-part series on aliyah.)