This morning, the streets of Israel are littered with tens of thousands of now irrelevant campaign flyers blowing in the wind – a reminder that governments come and governments go, but the word of the Lord endures forever.
Amongst the piles of garbage are flyers boldly proclaiming that it is forbidden by Judaism to vote in the Zionist elections. These poor, confused souls who distributed these flyers forget that Abraham, Issac, and Jacob were Zionists. They forget that Moses was a Zionist, and Joshua, and King David, Rabbi Akiva, the Maccabees were all ardent Zionists too. They forget that Hashem is the biggest Zionist of all. After all, who has transformed the State of Israel into a dynamic world leader, in almost every field of endeavor, in such a short time, if not the Master of the World? It is He who returns His People to Zion, in fulfillment of our prayers. These people don’t like the way He is handling things.
One of their ridiculous claims is that God wouldn’t bring our Redemption about through secular Jews like “the Zionists.” Even though everyone can clearly see that this is exactly what Hashem has done in the last few generations, it isn’t kosher enough for some tastes.
In order to address their groundless claims, and keep others from being led astray by their blindness, we will excerpt some explanations from a small, but very important book, “A Question of Redemption,” written by Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Bergman, and translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, who also gave us the wonderful translation of the incredible book, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah.”
Can the redemption come about through people who fail to keep God’s commandments?
When Jews dreamed of redemption in the past, they certainly did not imagine it unfolding in its present form. Everyone believed that a righteous, God-fearing king would deliver the nation and generate a sweeping spiritual revival among the people, causing all of Israel to observe the mitzvot and become righteous Torah scholars. However, to think that God must execute the redemption as we see fit is extremely reprehensible. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, says the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts(Yeshayah 55:8-9).
The redemptive process, from its very inception, has always followed the path that is furthest from our expectations.
Were all Jews God-fearing people at the time of the exodus from Egypt? Did they all keep their ancestors’ traditions meticulously? Scriptures (Yechezkel 20) and Chazal indicate that the exact opposite was true. Citing a Midrash Mechilta, Rashi teaches that the Jews were steeped in idolatry at the time, lacking even one mitzvah in whose merit they could be redeemed:
[God said:] “The time has come [for Me to fulfill] My promise to Avraham and redeem his descendants, but they have no mitzvot to perform in order to be redeemed… for they are steeped in idolatry” (Rashi, Shemot 12:6).
The Jewish people had reached such a low spiritual plane that even Moshe Rabbeinu did not believe that they could be redeemed. He, too, thought that redemption cannot occur unless the nation is completely righteous (Rashi, Shemot 3:11). Indeed, today’s oft-repeated question – how can a spiritually debased people be worthy of redemption? – has a basis. It is truly difficult to understand this; even Moshe Rabbeinu had trouble with it at first. Nevertheless, redemption came specifically in this manner.
We must also remember, painfully, that only a minority of the nation was privileged to leave Egypt. Eighty percent died in the Plague of Darkness, because of their sins (Rashi, Shemot 10:22). Midrash Tanchuma (BeShalach 1) quotes R. Nehurai as saying that only one out of every five thousand Jews left Egypt, and one opinion in the Talmud places the ratio at one in 300,000 (Sanhedrin 111a)! Despite all this, the redemption began. Let us not forget that the Plague of Darkness, in which the sinners perished, was the ninth plague that descended upon the Egyptians. Even though Israel’s spiritual state was very poor during the first eight plagues, the redemption began and progressed.
The Second Temple Era
Scriptures state clearly that the Jews who returned from Babylonia with Ezra and Nechemyah were extremely irreligious. Many of them, including sons of officers and the High Priest, married foreign wives (Ezra 9:2). They had forgotten the Torah to such an extent that they were unaware of the mitzvah to build sukkot (huts/booths) on the holiday of Sukkot (Nechemyah 8:14). They desecrated the Sabbath openly, making it the market day in Jerusalem. The Talmud tells us that many of the returnees were the most wretched Jews possible – bastards, foundlings, etc. (Kiddushin 69a). Some of them even committed immoral sexual acts, like those of Sodom and Gomorrah (ibid. 70a, with Rashi). Despite their shortcomings, however, God redeemed them and even held them in high esteem (ibid.).
That generation had its share of “anti-Zionists,” as well. Reish Lakish (the Talmudic Sage) asserts that the redemption in the days of Ezra and Nechemyah was short-lived because of those Jews who refused to return to Zion (Yoma 9b). In other words, we could have merited eternal redemption 2,500 years ago, had all Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael.
R. Yehudah HaLevi strongly denounces these slothful Jews in his classic Sefer HaKuzari (2:24). When the King of the Kuzars asks why the Jewish people do not ascend to Eretz Yisrael nowadays (in the eleventh century!), the Jewish sage answers mournfully:
Alas, King of Kuzar, you have exposed my point of disgrace! Indeed, this sin prevented the fulfillment of that which God had destined for the Second Temple… For Divine Providence was ready to rest upon [the Jews] as at first, if they had all willingly heeded the call and returned to Eretz Yisrael. However, only a minority took heed, while the majority – including the most prominent among them – remained in Babylonia, acquiescing to exile and bondage, just so that they would not have to part with their dwellings and businesses… If we would be prepared to draw near to the God of our forefathers wholeheartedly, He would save us as He saved our ancestors in Egypt. But since that is not the case, our utterances of “Bow at His holy mountain,” “Bow at His footstool,” “Who restores His presence to Zion,” etc. are like the chirping of the birds, for we say these things without proper intent.
Thus, redemption does not always unfold as we think it should. The previous two redemptions began when the Jews were very deficient in mitzvah observance, and Chazal say that the third (and final) redemption may occur in similar fashion. According to R. Yochanan, it can even come to a generation that is completely corrupt (Sanhedrin 98a).
The Netziv’s Conclusion
Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (the Netziv) lived most of his life in Volozhin, where he served as av beit din and rosh yeshiva of the foremost Torah center in Europe at the time. He wrote many books, including Ha’amek She ’eilah, Ha’amek Davar (on the Chumash), and Meishiv Davar. He publicized the following paragraphs in a book called Shivat Tzion – a compilation of letters from great Torah authorities in favor of the modern-day return to Zion:
We must not speculate that this great matter [the resettlement of Eretz Yisrael] should have occurred differently, as people visualize it in their mind’s eye… Indeed, one must not express his opinion to God, as the prophet Yeshayah says, For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, [says the Lord]… We must not be overly wise and say that it has to happen in a different way. (Shivat Tzion, sec. 1, p. 17-18).
Ezra the Scribe gathered a few thousand Jews in Babylonia, all types of people – great Torah scholars, God-fearing individuals, and also men who had foreign wives, people who regularly violated the Sabbath, and those who had no Torah knowledge whatsoever. These people worked together and prepared the Land for settlement, until it was eventually filled with its children. We, too, must awaken to the sound of God’s desire, which resonates from one end of the earth to the other, wherever our brethren are scattered… all types of Jews… (ibid., sec. 2, p. 6).
So, brothers and sisters, don’t let election results in Israel give you another excuse for not coming home to Israel. Don’t remain on the sidelines – become a part of Hashem’s wonderful and mysterious plan!
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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