In the Gemara Megillah 17b the Rabbis ask what prompted the men of the Great Assembly, who arranged the blessings of the Shmonah Esreh in a specific order, to place the blessing for ingathering of the exiles after the blessing for yearly sustenance:
ומה ראו לומר קיבוץ גליות לאחר ברכת השנים – דכתיב ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבוא.
In answer, the Gemara brings the verse from Ezekiel 36:8: “But you, O mountains of Israel , you shall give forth your branches and lift up your fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon be coming.” Rashi explains: “the ingathering of the exiles is at the time of the blessing of the years.”
Rav Eliyahu Bakshi –Doron, former Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, in an article back from 1991, wrestles with the challenges of the mass Aliyah from the former Soviet Union. He notes that the government department once called “Misrad ha-Aliyah — the Office of Aliyah” was changed to “Misrad ha-Klitah – the Office of Absorption.” This was done in response to Israel’s experience with the early waves of Aliyah after the establishment of the State. In those early years, the focus was on bringing Jews to Israel and finding housing, ignoring social, cultural and spiritual support, with lasting negative consequences. Rav Bakshi Doron explains: “Absorption has its own conditions. Every plant and tree has conditions of climate and absorption in the ground that are unique to it… The essential problem is not Aliyah but Absorption (Ketav Et, Torah she-be-al Peh, 5751, 32-39).” The Israeli government has recognized that Olim Hadashim need sustained guidance and assistance to integrate successfully into Israeli society. The ingathering of the exiles needs the support of a complex economic, cultural and spiritual infrastructure – the blessing of the years.
The term “klitah – absorption” is evocative. The image comes from the way a newly-planted seed or sapling comes to take root in the land, to start to draw nutrition and flourish in symbiosis with its locale: terroir as the wine aficionados call it. In planting and transplanting, a skilled farmer pays attention to the total ecosystem: conditions of soil, water, air and light, the proximity of other allied vegetation, as well as of threats. The plant needs comprehensive care to be able to grow new roots and filaments, to spread its branches and leaves, to absorb from its environment and to be absorbed into and contribute to its environment.
The Gemara uses the term klitah in connection with agricultural mitzvot, and also with the walls of Jerusalem, which “absorb” offerings brought from the Land such that they remain permanently in the city, to fulfill their respective mitzvot. The cities of refuge are called “arei miklat,” literally “cities of absorption” that absorb refugees who have shed blood unintentionally, to protect them from revenge. The entire Land of Israel is also said to absorb refugees fleeing slavery, granting them permanent and irrevocable freedom and the opportunity to create new lives. Rabbi David Ibn Abi Zimra explains that “because of the greatness and holiness of the Land of Israel, the Torah considers it like a city of refuge for this purpose, so that the whole world shall long to dwell in it and desire it and long to take shelter in its shade (Tshuvot 5:27).”
There are also negative forms of absorption. In this week’s parsha for Bnei Erez Yisrael, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed” Korah’s rebel group (Num. 16:32). In this week’s parsha for Bnei Hutz la-Aretz, the culpable spies complain that the Land of Israel “eats its inhabitants (Num. 13:32).” When absorption imposes crushing loss of identity and integrity, can be destructive. But all absorption involves some degree of dis-integration – something the culpable spies did not understand. As Rebbi Dov Baer of Mezritch observes, every seed, in order to grow, needs to decompose and pass through a state of Ayin, of divine Nothingness, to be creatively renewed (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov). The nullification of ego and prior narratives of identity that comes with absorption in the Land of Israel is a delicate, yes, dangerous, but ultimately creative and transformative process. In the Land of Israel, be ready for transformation.
And then there is absorption in the Land of Israel that is heart-breaking beyond understanding. The day after we arrived in Israel, thirteen year old Hallel Yaffa Ariel of Kiryat Arba, Zikhra kadosh, Ha-Shem yinkom damah, was murdered in her bed by a vicious Palestinian teen. Laid to rest in her Land, her death is felt in the broken hearts of every one of us. This has been followed by a series of attacks, including the murder of a father, Rav Michael Marc, and serious injury of his wife and two children, also in the Hevron area just a few hours ago.
דברים פרק לב
כי דם עבדיו יקום ונקם ישיב לצריו וכפר אדמתו עמו
“He will avenge the blood of His servants, render vengeance to His adversaries, and His Land will atone His people.”
Absorption in the Land of Israel is a delicate and profound process, becoming one with our People, our Land, our divinely-guided destiny. Our own experience as newly-minted Olim has been supported on all sides. Nefesh B’Nefesh has facilitated our Aliyah and Klitah thus far with consummate professionalism and personal care. We have been welcomed with great warmth, especially by a wonderful chevre of Young Israel of Sharon Olim who took time from busy lives to meet us and dance with us at the airport, including members of the Browns, the Brenners the Bermans, the Gusovskys, the Barnharts, the Gopens, the Liberman-Primes, the Secundas, and the families and other friends and family. A special mention to the Warrens, who came to Israel to celebrate their son Ariel’s induction into the IDF. We are deeply proud of you, Ariel. And also, a very special mention to our daughter Atara and her family, who organized the whole welcome. We are especially grateful also be here in time to celebrate our granddaughter Ahuva becoming a bat mitzvah. I hope I didn’t miss anyone – it was such a whirlwind of joy.
It’s hard to describe this experience. There’s a deep inner release. Your very body starts to feel a part of the Land. Your consciousness feels immersed in all the souls who have lived in this amazing place over millenia, trying their best to deepen their humanity, expand and elevate their consciousness and find their everlasting bond with our Land, with our People and all People, our eternal bond with Ha-Shem.
יחזקאל פרק לו פסוק ח
ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבוא:
“And you, O mountains of Israel , you shall give forth your branches and lift up your fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon be coming.” Bimehera, be-yameinu.
I am so grateful to Hashem that He not only allowed us the great privilege of making Aliyah, but also brought us all back together.
It is such a treat to be able to read your elegantly written and deeply felt Divrey Torah. We are on the same wavelength, Rabbi.
I wish you much success and growth from strength to strength. It was great to meet you both at Ben Gurion.
See you soon, B’Ezrat Hashem.
Meir and Anne, every blessing for you as you are absorbed into Israel, and as your hearts, minds and humor enliven the lives of those with whom you live. I am so happy you were welcomed big. I remember vividly the moment my plane landed in Israel when I was 14 and visited for the first time; I was by myself traveling to spend the summer with my uncle’s family in Nahalal. The plane door opened on the tarmac. It seemed the light itself was stronger, the air sparkling and the dirt of the earth, dry as it was, sacred. Although I didn’t drop to my knees because I was adolescent and self-conscious, I wanted to. The ancient land seems to sing and emote wherever you go. The nomadic tents with scraggly animals and desert landscapes are out of ages past. The cities trumpet We Are Here. Thank you for your words and for including me on your list. We will visit when we can.