Aliyah (plural, aliyot) is a Hebrew word that means “going up” or “elevation.” Aliyah has a double meaning in the Jewish community. It can mean the act of being called forward to read the Torah in the synagogue, and aliyah can also refer to a Jewish person’s move to the land of Israel.
In a synagogue, the platform from which the Torah scroll is read is usually elevated so that those gathered can better hear what is being read. This physical elevation is also symbolic of the heightened honor and responsibility of reading God’s Holy Word. Therefore, when a member of the congregation is chosen to read the Torah, he is “called up,” or receives an aliyah.
Aliyah is also used to refer to the decision of a Jewish person to return to his or her homeland of Israel. The idea of Israel being “up” is based upon Genesis 50:13; after Jacob died, his sons carried his body out of Egypt to the land of Canaan to be buried as he had requested. According to the Talmud, the land of Israel is “higher” than all other lands—not physically, but as the most prominent place to connect with the Lord God. So, in Jewish thought, to move to the Holy Land is to “make aliyah,” to ascend, to move up in the world.
When the Lord Jesus returns to rule and reign in the millennial kingdom, He promises to facilitate the ultimate aliyah, as He gathers the Jewish people to their homeland. Several prophets predict this aliyah: “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:37–38). “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12). “The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel” (Psalm 147:2).
The concept of aliyah is also present within Christianity. The purpose of God sending His Son into the world was so human beings in the bondage of sin can be “brought up” into the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:21). The only way a person can truly experience this spiritual aliyah is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). No earthly honor or geographical move can make us closer to God. Only humble faith in His Son’s death and resurrection can elevate us in the eyes of God (Acts 4:12; Titus 3:5; Romans 10:9–10).