What is the Jewish Aliyah?Aliyah in Hebrew means "elevation" or "going up" and can refer to two different parts of Jewish life. It either refers to being called up to say the blessing before or after reading the Torah in the synagogue, or it refers to moving to the land of Israel.
It is considered a great honor to be given an Aliyah—to recite the blessing over the Torah. In the center of the synagogue is a raised platform, called a bimah, from which the Torah scroll is read. So the person physically ascends the platform to recite the blessing and is therefore elevated above the congregation, but there is a spiritual aspect to this elevation as well. It is also a drawing closer to God, connecting with Him through the reading of His Word. Reciting the ritual blessing is considered a way to give testimony to the truth of the sacred text. Depending on the type of Jewish service and the day of the week or holiday being celebrated there are anywhere from three to seven different scripture readings and blessings to be recited. The honor of being given an Aliyah is typically awarded to members of the synagogue who are commemorating specific events in their lives like an upcoming wedding, a birth of a new baby, remembering the anniversary of a parent's death, celebrating a coming of age, or leaving for or returning from a long journey. Many Jews look forward to the opportunity of "going up" to the bimah, ascending the platform, and reciting the blessing over the Torah.
The other use of the term Aliyah is employed when a Jewish person decides to "make Aliyah" and immigrate to the State of Israel. Israel's Law of Return gives automatic rights to Jews and their descendants for assisted immigration, settlement, and citizenship into the State of Israel. Large scale immigration of Jews to Palestine began with the Zionist movement in 1882. And since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, more than three million Jews have moved there. Historically many have arrived as refugees, fleeing persecution and political strife elsewhere in the world. Today, however, most Jews making Aliyah to Israel are voluntary immigrants moving there for ideological, economic, or family reunification purposes. The return to the land of Israel is a recurring theme in Jewish prayers and holiday services and is considered an important commandment. The return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land is also associated with the coming of the Messiah. It is believed the Messiah will redeem the land from Gentile rule and return all Jewish people to the land of Israel to live under His reign of justice and righteousness.
Jerusalem is 2700 feet above sea level, which is higher than many of the surrounding areas where Jews have lived (Egypt, Babylonia, and the Mediterranean Basin). So going to Jerusalem and the temples that had been there involved an ascent. Thus, returning to Jerusalem, or Israel in general, has been referred to as "going up." Despite the physical elevation, there is also a spiritual aspect to making Aliyah as Israel is seen as the best place to relate to and connect with God Almighty. Making Aliyah to live in the Promised Land is seen to be a way to reach a higher level of spirituality, connect with God, and live according to His law.
Of course, the Bible teaches that the only way to draw closer to God is through repentance and reliance on Jesus's sacrifice (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). God desires people to draw closer to Him, so He made a way for that to happen that relies on no geographical move or human bestowed honor. A humble heart and faith in His Son's death and resurrection is all it takes to elevate us in the eyes of God (Romans 10:9–10).
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