During the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, it is an appropriate time to take a deeper look at the difference between Galut and Geula. Galut is the destruction of our national framework in Eretz Yisrael, when Israeli Nationhood is shattered, and we are left scattered in foreign countries around the world, living as minorities in gentile lands. Instead of being the Israelite Nation in our own Land, we become American Jews and French Jews and Russian Jews, individuals in alien lands, under foreign governments. The living, energizing Soul of the Nation no longer appears, and we are left like the dry scattered and lifeless bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Hashem’s light in the world, which shines forth when the Nation of Israel is in Zion, is terribly darkened. His Name in the world is desecrated, as the gentiles say that they are mightier than He, having ousted His Children from the Land which Hashem promised to give them. Christianity and Islam seize center stage, and the light of Israel and Torah are scorned. In effect, not only are the Jewish People dead in their true National fullness, Hashem is dead with them.
Rabbi Kook taught that the Jewish People needed to rise up to a higher understanding of Torah to fathom the wonder of the ingathering of the exiles and rebirth of the Nation of Israel in our time. No longer was it sufficient to study only the “four cubits of Halacha” which we were left with in Galut – the private commandments of the Torah which dealt with our private lives. We had to strive for a higher understanding of Torah and Emunah, not a Torah of the individual, based on personal mitzvot like Shabbat and Kashrut, but the Torah of the Clal, of the entire Nation, the Torah as it was originally intended to be, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, the Torah of a mighty Jewish Nation, with its own government, army, judicial, economic, agricultural laws, and Holy Temple; a Torah which was focused on the Clal and not on the Prat. This is the “new light on Zion” which we pray for – our return to a National understanding of the Torah, and a National understanding of who we are as Jews. In rising up to this greater comprehension, we come to realize the emptiness of our exile existence in gentile lands, and we long for our own Jewish Nationhood in our own Jewish Homeland.
The state of our lives which we became used to in Galut, seeing ourselves as American or German Jews, living private lives under foreign governments, must necessarily undergo a radical change as the Geula begins, ushering in a completely new level of life. Therefore, Rabbi Kook teaches, in order to comprehend what is taking place with the Nation, in its sudden rebirth, and in order to raise ourselves up to the exalted level of life we experienced during the time of the First Temple – and to which we are returning – we have to learn to see the Torah in a higher light.
Firstly, we have to recognize the exile for what it really is – a graveyard for the Jews. We mentioned how the Prophet Ezekiel compared the exiled to a valley of dry bones. These bones represent the House of Israel in exile. A spirit of life only returns to these bones when they rise up to return to the Land of Israel: “Thus says the L-rd G-d: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O, My People; and I will bring you into the Land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the L-rd, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O, My People. And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own Land; and you shall know that I the L-rd have spoken and performed it, sys the L-rd.”
The Prophet Ezekiel describes the situation of Am Yisrael in exile as being similar to the dead in a graveyard. In contrast, the Geula comes when the revitalized bones leave the cemetery of exile and come to Eretz Yisrael.
In his book, “Binyan Emunah,” Rabbi Moshe Bleicher of Hevron, comments, “There are those who will say that this only a metaphor, and that the Prophet doesn’t really mean to say that we are like dead people when we are in exile, for, as anyone can see, we are living, breathing, and learning Torah. The Prophet, they claim, exaggerates in order to highlight a particular aspect of Galut, but he doesn’t mean to teach that there is an essential, absolute, difference between the time of Galut and Geula, like the difference between the dead and the living. However, the words of the Prophet are meant to be taken literally, at face value.”
In Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s classic treatise of Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” a deep theological conversation between a gentile king and a Rabbi, the king says that the Jewish People in exile are like a body without a head or heart. The Rabbi answers: “You say rightly, but more than this – we are not even a body, but only scattered limbs, like the dry bones which Ezekiel saw in his vision. But even so, O king of the Kuzar, these bones have retained a natural trace of vital power, having once been the vessels which housed the heart, brain, breath, soul, and intellect.”
The Rabbi agrees with the king of Kuzar that Am Yisrael in exile is like a body without a heart and brain. However, the truth is even worse – we don’t have even a body, but merely dry bones. Nevertheless, buried in these dry bones is great hidden life, the “genetic” remnants of the full life we had when we were in Eretz Yisrael, and these dormant “chromosomes” are destined to return to new life at the time of the Redemption.
Rabbi Bleicher notes that Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi lived in Spain when he wrote “HaKuzari.” During this era, Torah learning flourished, but he described his personal situation, and the state of Am Yisrael, like death and mere dry bones. Thus we see that the description of the Prophet Ezekiel is real. The time of exile is death for the Jewish People. Even though there may be times when things are going well, this is only on an individual level – the Jewish Nation itself remains scattered bones lacking life. The soul of the Nation is lost.
The Gaon of Vilna explains:
“Since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. And exile to outside of the Land is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves from the idol worshippers who devour our flesh. In every place, there were great Jewish communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones still existed, the Torah Scholars of the Israelite Nation, the pillars of the body – until even these bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste which disintegrated into dust – our life turned into dust.”
It must be remembered that the Gaon lived in the city of Vilna, which was nicknamed “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of the grandeur of Torah which flourished there. The Gaon himself learned Torah with incomparable holiness and purity, teaching scores of students, but, with all this, he still declares that this is a state of death, because the Nationhood of Israel, the vessel which brings the light of G-d to mankind, is shattered and missing from the world.
All of this may leave the reader perplexed and perhaps annoyed. After all, in America, life couldn’t be better! He makes a good living, his kids learn in excellent Jewish schools, they have lucrative careers awaiting them after college, everything is hunky dory – but this is all on a private level. Identifying with life in America, he doesn’t miss being a part of his own Jewish Nation. Rebuilding the vessel that brings the light of G-d to the world sounds nice, but it isn’t on his agenda. It wasn’t a part of his learning in yeshiva, so why think of it now? He’s content with keeping Shabbos and eating kosher food in a foreign gentile land. This is his Galut.
Thankfully, Hashem doesn’t want us in Galut forever. During these Three Weeks, we are supposed to mourn over the exile from our Land and former National grandeur. We are supposed to long for the higher existence of Geula – of Jewish sovereignty in our own Land, with our Holy Temple in our midst. But to do this, we have to rise up to a higher vision and understanding of Torah. To the Torah of Redemption.