When the Zionists began to show initiative and take matters into their own hands to bring the exile to an end, the proponents of this passive “we can’t do anything” school of thought, rose up in protest. We were to wait in exile, they claimed, until the Mashiach brought us to Israel. Any attempt on our part was trafe!
Interestingly, the Rambam himself, in his famous, “Letter of Teman,” writes:
“Those who seduce themselves and say that they will stay in their places until the king, Mashiach, comes to the lands of the West, and only then will they depart and go forth to Jerusalem – I don’t know how the decree of destruction will be stayed from them. Rather, they are transgressors, and they cause others to sin. For there is no set time for the coming of Mashiach on which to depend, saying that he is close or far. The obligation of the commandments is not dependent on the coming of the Mashiach.. Rather, we are to busy ourselves with Torah and precepts, and to strive to fulfill everything we can…. However, if a man will stay in a place where he sees the Torah is waning, and where the Jewish People will be lost with the passage of time, and where he cannot stand by his faith, and say, ‘I will stay here until Mashiach comes and survive where I am’ – this is nothing but an evil heart, a great loss, and a sickness of reasoning and spirit. This is my opinion, and Hashem knows the truth.”
Which Jewish community in the Diaspora hasn’t faced the potential danger which the Rambam describes in his letter, that with the passage of time, both Judaism and Jewish life were endangered and often wiped out? Where are the once great religious centers of Russia, Eastern Europe, North Africa, or Spain? Today, throughout America (though the faithful of Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey, Boca Raton, and Palm Springs claim that it could never happen to them), many once-prominent Jewish neighborhoods are now slums. Buildings which housed synagogues have been converted into churches. Assimilation in America is more than sixty percent. In spite of a few, isolated, Torah communities, Judaism in America is taking a beating. In contrast to this, the baal-tshuva movement in Israel is constantly growing, and assimilation hardly exists.
Today, thank God, the Master of the World has given us a Jewish State in Israel. He has given us a flourishing society and a powerful army to defend ourselves from our enemies. We have Jerusalem back in our sovereignty, and Israel has greatest concentration of Torah learning and Talmidei Chochamim in the world. The miraculous rebirth of the desert land, the amazing advancements in all fields of endeavor, and the equally amazing ingathering of Jews from around the globe, are all the fulfillment of ancient prophecies come true. All of these incredible developments which we can see with our eyes, and which we have helped bring to pass under the guidance and blessing of God, are all aspects of Mashiach and our promised Redemption. These are thing which are happening now! The Master of the Heaven and the Earth hasn’t waited for the arrival of Mashiach. He has brought all this about through wars, and international treaties, and the bravery and self-sacrifice of the Zionist pioneers, religious and non-religious alike. All of this is a part of Mashiach.
The Rambam states:
“In the future, the Mashiach will arise and bring back the Kingdom of David, restoring it to its original sovereignty” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:1).
Rabbi Kook would emphasize that the Mashiach’s premier assignment was to restore Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. And yet, in our time, Jewish sovereignty has already been restored over large portions of Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam writes that Mashich will do this. How are we to understand this seeming contradiction?
Rabbi Kook explained:
“The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that the Redemption comes about, “Little by little, like the dawning of the day” (Berachot 1:1). The Redemption unfolds in gradual stages. As major step in the process is the establishment of Jewish sovereignty of Eretz Yisrael. Until our time, it was not clear how this would occur. Now, thank God, it is crystallizing and progressing before our eyes. The days of Mashiach encompass a great number of stages, as our Sages reveal in the expression, ‘Two thousand years of Mashiach’ (Sanhedrin 97A and B). This is also implied in the expression which we say toward the end of the Shacharit prayer, ‘The years of Mashiach.’ The ingathering of the exiles, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael – Medinat Yisrael – are clear steps in the process and revelations of Mashiach. The revelation of the exile’s end began to appear with the settlement of the early moshavim, as our Sages teach, ‘There is nothing more revealing of the end of the exile than this, as the Prophet says, ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My People Israel, for they will soon be coming’ (Ezekiel, 36:8). Rashi explains, ‘When Eretz Yisrael gives forth her fruits in abundance, the end of the exile is near, and there is no surer sign of the end of the exile than this’ (Sanhedrin 98A). This is clearly happening today. We see the blessing on the Land and on her fruits – grapes, bananas, oranges – each day we hear of greater agricultural success. Just yesterday, the Land was a desert, and today we export fruits to all the world! This is a quiet miracle of the days of Mashiach. We have to accustom ourselves to see this as the work of Hashem. Likewise, with the great immigration of our People and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over our Land – these are all aspects of Mashiach orchestrated by the Master of the World, the Causes of Causes. The restoration unfolds every day. The Master of the Universe is not idle, God forbid. Today, we are in the middle of the road, in spite of all the complications which will all be worked out over time. Medinat Yisrael is the statehood of the days of Mashiach, which begins with revealed events and concludes with hidden matters like the revival of the dead. There is no contradiction between these two facets of our Redemption, the revealed and the secret. For we are dealing with our unique Divine Nation, with the Statehood of Am Yisrael, a normal State which must weather the all sorts of trials, and with this, a State where prophets will once again roam. The Redemption doesn’t only evolve through obvious miracles. We also experience the quiet miracles of a desert land yielding bushels and bushels of fruit, of cities built on sand dunes and swamps, and of a Nation reborn in the ancient Land. All of this is a part of Mashiach. And it is happening now.”