Aliyah Faux Pas

Aliyah Faux Pas

I have erred. I have been guilty of harassing a sweet, kind and defenseless old lady. My only defense is that I hadn’t read this week’s Sforno until now, and that I considered the topic a central pillar of Jewish faith.

For many years now, I have been an unrepentant promoter of emigration of Jews to the State of Israel (Aliyah) to whoever broached the subject. However, with some particular individuals, I would raise the subject myself. One of my special victims, as it were, has been my wife’s grandmother. For years I have been trying to convince her of the advantages of leaving the often dreary restrictions of her apartment on Bennett Ave., in Washington Heights, NY to the more airy, scenic, pastoral setting of the Judean Hills.

Mrs. Tila Tocker, in her soft, sage and Yiddish-accented voice would kindly explain to me that it simply wasn’t happening. Next week, I’ll be celebrating 17 years of talking with her about the subject of Israel. Ever the optimist, I was never one to give up easily. However a story from 3,500 years ago and an explanation from 500 years ago have finally given me some further insight into the issue.

Numbers 10:29-33 tells us how Moses pleads with his father-in-law Yitro (Jethro, but called Chovav in the verse) to accompany them to Israel. Yitro answers:

“I will not accompany you, rather I shall return to my land and birthplace.”

Rabbi Ovadio Sforno gives an explanation of Yitro’s rationale that has put my discussion with the Tocker matriarch to rest:

“That in my old age I cannot withstand the air of a different land and its food.”

Sforno, the physician, implies that Yitro really did want to make Aliyah, however he knew that in his more advanced years it would be debilitating, if not fatal, for his body to adjust to a new environment.

Sforno goes on to explain though that Yitro’s sons did continue with the Jewish nation into the land of Israel, demonstrating the family’s desire for Aliyah.

While in modern times we have witnessed many elderly folk make successful and perhaps even rejuvenating Aliyah, I have a newfound understanding of those who choose not to — for medical as well as for a whole variety of legitimate and important reasons.

May we all make the most of where we are, and move from bad “air” to good “air” before we get too used to the bad.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh ( They have significantly increased the attractiveness, awareness, ease and actual Aliyah to Israel. God bless them.


From Wikipedia

A faux pas (pronounced /ˌfoʊˈpɑː/, plural: faux pas /ˌfoʊˈpɑː(z)/) is a violation of accepted social rules (for example, standard customs or etiquette rules). Faux pas vary widely from culture to culture, and what is considered good manners in one culture can be considered a faux pas in another. The term comes originally from French, and literally means “false step”.

This expression is usually used in social and diplomatic contexts. The term has been in use in English for some time and is no longer italicized when written. In French, it is employed literally to describe a physical loss of balance as well as figuratively, in which case the meaning is roughly the same as in English. Other familiar synonyms include gaffe and bourde (bourde, unlike faux pas, can designate any type of mistake).

Leave a Reply