Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not infallible. Yesterday, to his credit, he took responsibility for the current outbreak of Coronavirus in Israel, and promised to lead the way.
A Jewish leader is responsible for the welfare of the Jewish Nation. In the Torah Portion of Balak, we learn how the Jewish People began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav, arousing the wrath of Hashem: “And the Lord said to Moshe, Take all the chiefs of the People, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun…” (BaMidbar, 25:4). Rashi comments that the transgressors were to be punished, but the Zohar says that the leaders of the people were the ones to be hanged, since leaders are charged with teaching the congregation to follow the paths of the Torah. The responsibility resting on the shoulders of the leaders of Am Yisrael is also learned from the special sacrifice that the ruler (Nasi) must offer if he has led the Congregation of Israel astray because of unintentional ignorance, termed shegagah, (Vayikra, 4:22).
Furthermore, the Talmud teaches: “Whoever can prevent the members of his household from sinning and does not, is seized for the sins of his household. If he can prevent his fellow citizens and does not, he is seized for the sins of his fellow citizens. If he can prevent the whole world from sinning, and does not, he is seized for the sins of the whole world,” (Shabbat 54b).
We realize that Aliyah is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the post-Holocaust Jews arriving from Europe, nor for the immigrants who came from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Russia.
In the light of this understanding, we must candidly ask, “Have not the leaders of Diaspora Jewry erred in not teaching their congregations that the goal of Torah Judaism is to establish Torah communities in the Land of Israel, and not in Spain, Germany, England, and the United States? Have the Diaspora Rabbis, educators, organization heads, and parents not erred in failing to encourage their congregations and children to make Aliyah, and to participate in the building of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel, and not to settle down contentedly in Gentile lands, in Paris, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach, working to strengthen Jewish communities in the Exile, with the hope that it will last forever? Have many of the leaders of Diaspora Jewry not erred in not leading by example, by coming on Aliyah themselves, as the Jewish People are commanded in the Torah over and over again?
And now that the plague of Corona and a terrible anti-Semitism are threatening Jews throughout the Diaspora, do many of them not continue to err in not urging their congregations to flee while they can?
We realize that Aliyah is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the post-Holocaust Jews arriving from Europe, nor for the immigrants who came from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Russia. And it will not be easy for the more affluent Jews from the West, who are accustomed to life’s comforts, and who have not been prepared for the challenge and struggle of Aliyah, because the leaders of Diaspora Jewry didn’t prepare them for what was inevitable to any student of Jewish History and Torah.
The Exile was never meant to last forever, but Diaspora Jews weren’t told. When their Rabbis, and yeshiva teachers, and Federation heads retired, they moved to Miami Beach, sunny Arizona, and the Five Towns outside of Manhattan, with only a few brave idealists journeying on to Eretz Yisrael. No one bothered to teach the Jews of the Diaspora that they belonged in Israel, not Brooklyn. No one prepared them for what lay ahead. And now, suddenly, out from the Heavens, the time has come!
Finally, Diaspora Jews are beginning to wake up from their Sleeping Beauty slumber. More and more Jews are signing forms to make Aliyah, not because they want to do what God expects them to do; not because they want to experience Torah life in its most ideal expression; not because of their longing to fulfill the Zionist dream of living in the Jewish Homeland, but because they are afraid for their lives and for the lives of their children.
For the moment, Israel graciously holds out a welcoming hand. For how long, it is difficult to know. After all, Israel has Corona problems of its own, with growing unemployment. Jobs in all spheres are difficult to find. Why should the taxpayers in Israel agree to the allocation of vast financial resources to an emergency Aliyah project to bring olim to Israel and to help with their absorption, when Israeli taxpayers themselves need Government funds to survive the lay-offs and economic crash? True, the Jews of the Diaspora, rich and poor, generously helped Israel in its struggle to build a lasting and powerful State, and we say thank you for that, but unless the billionaires of the Diaspora pick up the tab, the Government of Israel will be hard pressed to provide more than caravans and tents.
Today, we don’t hang up leaders on trees. But at least, like Prime Minister Netanyahu, let the leaders of the Diaspora admit that they led the Jewish people astray. Let them make amends by calling Nefesh B’Nefesh immediately to reserve seats on the emergency planes which Israel is still graciously sending to save Jews from disaster. May they have the moral courage to say, “We erred. Yalla! Follow us immediately to the Land of the Jews!”
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."