Aliyah is a unique word, although describing it as a term might be more accurate? ‘Ascending’ is perhaps the nearest English equivalent to this ancient Hebrew word, yet even that offering fails to fully capture its more subtle meaning. This word can encompass both a physical and spiritual ascent, when one is undertaking the act of Aliyah, but with an additional dimension of embracing a far greater power than we can ever hope to achieve alone. Therefore, there is also a mystical element involved. Yet, we’ve just explored this word as an active verb.
In simple Hebrew, an act of driving up a hill can also use this term. One’s corporate body rising to a higher physical plain is an easy concept to grasp. In Hebrew, there is also a noun to describe the subject undertaking this physical act. A male would be called an Oleh, a female an Olah, and a mixed group of people collectively as Olim. How often is the word ‘ascender’ used in the English language? Well actually there is such a word to describe a mechanical device used for ascending on a rope, but I’ve heard no common usage of this word to describe people in the act of ascending a height. So we’re heading into unchartered territory here, should we want to find a ready made interpretation in English.
Observant Jews worldwide are familiar with the expression of getting an Aliyah to the Torah. What does this imply? The Torah in this instance relates to a holy scroll, authored by G-d and handwritten on special parchment. This scroll is brought out for public reading in a house of Jewish worship, such as a synagogue. Most synagogues usually have a few stairs leading to the desk that supports the scroll to be read from. However, there is no set regulation to having to ascend steps to fulfill the honor of making Aliyah to the Torah. However, there is a spiritual act involved for the Oleh, the person ascending.
To summarize before moving on, we have established that Aliyah can involve both a physical and a spiritual ascent, but one can be separate from the other. Two men can both ascend to the place where the scroll is being read, but only the one who received the calling, can properly be associated with the act of making Aliyah to the Torah. Therefore, on a spiritual plain, this term also relates to the actual higher force that one is moving towards.
In Judaism, Aliyah is also the accepted term for the act of a Jew moving to his homeland in Israel. In a similar way from our previous example of two men ascending steps to the Torah, but only one of them is actually about to make a more fuller holy connection with its G-d given words, so the same principle can be associated with a Jew making Aliyah to the land of Israel. Some Olim receive a higher calling than others, Accordingly, one might be attracted to make Aliyah for economical reasons, while another for more religious ones. Yet here is a significant point, the most simplest meaning of the word Aliyah can be applied to both men. In other words there are also degrees in which one can make Aliyah.
So now we have grasped the basic concept that Aliyah involves the simple act of going up somewhere, but can also be attached to the ultimate source of life, depending on where that calling originates from. There is another concept in Hebrew of ‘having kavanah’ that roughly means a sense of direction. Perhaps the second man who accompanied the other to the Torah, just wanted to look at the words written in the scroll, or more closely hear the words of the reader? In such a case, although his calling was not announced through being invited by name to come to the Torah, surely his sense of direction (kavanah) would entitle him to at least an inner less public Aliyah? There is no established answer to this question as only a higher authority can read the hearts of men and women alike. However, it is with this latest thought in mind that I make the point that Aliyah is a universal calling.
Providing one can consciously undertake an act of Aliyah, it is possible to reach the very gates of heaven itself. It is no coincidence that many eastern cults embrace the art of mediation to help focus their mind with kavanah, and then make a degree of Aliyah, through a spiritual ascent. In Judaism however, the spiritual act of Aliyah is undertaken for the key purpose of serving G-d. Jews also do that when making Aliyah to Israel, and regardless of the level of calling they received, their act is still a valid one. In deed, Jews still need to continue making Aliyah, even after arriving in Israel. In this case it is an entire life long journey to ascend the spiritual heights of Judaism. Yet the journey is a very physical one and involves simple to perform acts, just like ascending a hill…however if one is aware of the holy ground upon which that hill rises from, than even such a simple act of walking can be raised to a higher level of awareness.
Aliyah as a universal calling is also a simple act and can lead to untold heights of spiritual blessing. It is important to be aware that each has his or her own destiny, and some are destined for a higher calling. However, supporting the call for Jews to make Aliyah to the Jewish Homeland is certainly an act that should rightfully entitle the donor to also be considered part of an Aliyah Community. Aliyah is a universal calling that will one day involve the nations rising to the task of guiding Jews home. That day will be a blessing for all the good peoples of the earth to share in…one universal Aliyah!