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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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1948 and the Triumph Of the Naysayers


In 1939, when Reb Sholom Halberstam, brother-in-law of the saintly Bobover Rebbe Shlomo Halberstam, and some other Jews were fleeing from the approaching German armies, they came to a Polish town where the sexton of the synagogue, upon hearing their story, told them to stop running because the arrival of the Messiah was imminent.

To prove it, he took out the book of Daniel and showed them the commentary by Yosef Ben David Ibn Yachya (1494-1534) on Daniel chapter 8, verse 14.

As the Ibn Yachya interpreted Daniel’s vision, the end of the Jews’ exile would come in the Jewish year 5700 – or 1940 C.E. – plus or minus a few years. Coming from the Ibn Yachya, a recognized Torah scholar and contemporary of the Bais Yosef and the Abarbanel, this cannot be taken lightly.

Here is the fateful prophecy of Daniel, according to the Ibn Yachya:

At the end of 5,700 [years] since creation, approximately, a little earlier or a little later, will come the end of the galut with the help of Hashem. [This is so] in order that the Bnei Yisrael should be able to sit securely on their land in the 300 years that will be left before the world will be destroyed as our sages tell us.

What major event took place in 1940, plus or minus a few years? Is it possible the Ibn Yachya was referring to what happened in 1948? Could it be that, according to the Ibn Yachya, Daniel was predicting the creation of Medinat Yisrael?

Maybe we can garner some insight into what the Ibn Yachya was saying by taking a look at his introduction to this prediction. He writes: “The pekida [a glimpse of how the final Redemption will unfold, based on God's assessment of whether a generation merits it] in the days of King Koresh [on whose orders the Second Temple was built] was incomplete, and it was in accordance with their not being ready to accept it. [It was incomplete] because the gedolim [the elite, the leaders] did not want to leave the exile. Only the reikim [those devoid of Torah, the uneducated, the uncommitted] went up with Ezra to Eretz Yisrael.”

Why does the Ibn Yachya tell us what happened during the time of the Second Temple? Why does he elaborate on the refusal of the Jews to leave the galut? Why is this relevant to his prediction of the end of our exile?

Scholars of the Ibn Yachya’s stature (Reb Yosef Karo personally handled his burial) did not utter words lightly. So we have to treat his words like that of a rishon (a member of the first generation of Torah scholars after the gaonic period).

Perhaps the Ibn Yachya posited the Second Temple scenario as one we should not follow. What he seems to be saying is, Let us not repeat the same mistake the Jews committed during the time of Ezra. Let us not have a repetition of only “reikim” going up to Eretz Yisrael and the “gedolim” remaining behind. Let us not have a repetition of an incomplete pekida. (Only 42,360 Jews followed Ezra to Eretz Yisrael, according to Nehemiah 7:66.)

It seems clear the Ibn Yachya was telling us that the Prophet Daniel foresaw a pekida that would occur in or close to 1948. But he also foresaw the non-response, the apathy – even hostility – on the part of some of our leaders to the pekida. Daniel foresaw that just as in the time of Ezra, only the reikim would respond to the 1948 pekida.

I urge all Jews (especially bnei Torah) to look up for themselves the Ibn Yachya’s uplifting and prophetic words. They can be found in the book of Daniel (8:14) in the Orim Gedolim edition of Mikraot Gedolot.

It should be noted that there have been numerous prophecies made about the end of the exile – by, among many others, the Ramban, Saadya Gaon, Abarbanel, Ralbag (footnotes to Igeres Teiman by Rambam), Malbim, and the Rebbe of Komarna – but, unfortunately, none materialized. None, that is, except for the prophecy of Ibn Yachya.

* * * * *

 

A brief review of recent history would help at this point.

As early as the 1890s, the Chofetz Chaim, according to his son, Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaCohen Poupko, felt the time was “that of the footsteps of the Messiah, and that Jews should prepare to return to the Land of Israel and reinstitute the study of those Torah subjects particularly applicable to life in the Land of Israel.”

And while the Chofetz Chaim thought the Balfour Declaration of 1917 did not go far enough, he viewed it, wrote his son, as “a heavenly sign regarding the forthcoming redemption of Israel.”

A generation later, the initial response to the 1948 pekida was overwhelmingly positive in Torah circles.

My menahel at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, the great Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, burst out in song and dance when he heard of the UN’s decision to establish a Jewish state.

One of his closest disciples told me that Reb Shraga Feivel made a Shehechyanu with the full name of Hashem (b’shem umalchus) when Israel was created. Unfortunately, Reb Shraga Feivel passed away prematurely. I am convinced that had he been blessed with additional years, he would have fought with all his might not to squander the 1948 pekida.

My rebbe in Torah Vodaath, Rav Gedalia Schorr, upon hearing the news of Israel’s birth, called an assembly of all the students and forthrightly stated that we were in the time of the aschalta d’geulah (beginning of the Redemption).

My rosh yeshiva, the beloved Torah authority Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, also viewed the 1948 pekida in positive terms. He writes in his Emes L’Yaakov (3rd edition) that “Hashem orchestrated the establishment of the State of Israel – in view of the enormous despair that set in among the survivors of the Shoah and in view of the hopeless situation of Russian Jewry – in order to strengthen the Jewish identity and to maintain the bond between the diaspora and the Jewish people.”

Reb Zalman Sorotzkin saw the establishment of the state as a beginning of the Redemption. In the introduction to his Oznaim LaTorah, he thanks Hashem for saving him and his family from the ravages of the Holocaust and for granting them the great zechus to come to Eretz Yisrael to witness the “beginning of the rebuilding of the land and, hopefully, to witness its completion.”

There were many other Torah scholars who responded positively to the 1948 pekida. To mention just a few:

Reb Eliyahu Meir Bloch, rosh yeshiva of Telz, played a leading role in Agudath Israel of America and was a member of the Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah. He actively supported the State of Israel and was enthralled by the ingathering of the exiles and the great expansion of Torah in Eretz Yisrael made possible by its founding.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, author of Michtav M’Eliyahu, writing about the 1948 pekida, declared that “we see an immense act of kindness of Hashem; from the loss of six million of our brothers, to the settlement of our people in our holy land. Woe…to those who will come to the Day of Judgment while remaining blind to this reality.”

Reb Yizchok Meir Levin, member of the Agudah World Presidium and son-in-law of the Gerer Rebbe, responded positively to the 1948 pekida by actively supporting the state. A signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, he was elected to the first Knesset and was minister of social welfare in the first Israeli government.

The three Vizhnitzer rebbes who survived the Holocaust all settled in Israel. They refused even to consider the possibility of living outside the Jewish homeland. Leaders of many other chassidic dynasties moved to the new state, fulfilling their lifelong dreams. The rebbes of Sochotchov and Mozhidz were openly sympathetic to the medina. The rebbes of Ger were outspoken advocates of settling the land.

* * * * *

 

So what happened to all the enthusiasm, the widespread and emotional outpouring of support, for the newborn Jewish state?

Unfortunately, there were many naysayers. Their voices drowned out the kol demamah daka, the hushed heavenly voices, of the Reb Mendlowitzes, the Rav Schorrs, the Rav Desslers, the Rav Kaminetzkys, the Rav Blochs, the Rav Levins, the Rav Sorotzkins. Eventually, the joyful reaction to the 1948 pekida was snuffed out by the naysayers’ juggernaut.

The naysayers were, to quote Rav Dessler, “blind to this reality” of the 1948 pekida. They were blind to the vision of those gedolim who looked beyond the four cubits of their galut and preferred to live in a reborn Eretz Yisrael – the only land where, according the Ramban, Torah can be observed fully and properly.

The naysayers were blind to the miraculous phenomenon of the ingathering of the exiles.

For centuries Jews had been praying three times every day: “Raise the banner to gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth to our land.” After the 1948 pekida, this prayer was answered on an almost daily basis as hundreds of thousands of Jews from every point on the globe streamed home.

The naysayers were blind to the Ramban (commentary on Song of Songs, 8:13); to the Radak (Psalms 146:3); and to the Vilna Gaon (Kol Hator 1:3), all of whom said the redemption would come with the permission of the nations of the world. The historic decision by the United Nations in November 1947 was, of course, followed five months later by the 1948 pekida – the birth of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.

The naysayers were also blind to the emergence of the phenomenon called the ba’al teshuvah movement and the catalytic role played by the emergence of the State of Israel. When in recent times had there been such an eruption of teshuvah, of returning to Jewish roots, as occurred in the years following the 1948 pekida?

And the naysayers were blind and oblivious to the enormous explosion of Torah study, Torah research, and Torah institutions brought about by the 1948 pekida. Behold the unbelievable spread of Torah learning in Israel: the multiplicity of Torah publications and Torah publishing houses; the plethora of yeshivot; the profusion of kollelim and seminaries; the myriad of chesed institutions.

This “irreligious state” the naysayers complain about is the prime repository of Torah knowledge in the world today and is home to the greatest assemblage of Torah giants on earth, whose opinions are accepted by Jews worldwide.

There has not been so much Torah in Eretz Yisrael since the destruction of the Second Temple, but the naysayers remain in total denial.

* * * * *

 

A simple question to the naysayers: Is the modern State of Israel any less religious than those states that existed in the days of Achav or Menashe or Yerovom ben Nevot? To put the question in more sweeping terms, is the modern State of Israel any less religious than were the Jewish states under most of the kings of Israel and Judah? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102, 2) says that during the reign of King Achav there wasn’t a single lawn in all of Israel that did not have an idol on it. And yet his armies were victorious in battle.

And let’s not mince words: Is it not primarily the fault of we ourselves – we frum Jews – that the government of Israel is not religious? Was there ever a mass frum aliya to Eretz Yisrael? Did we answer the call in the state’s formative years, after Europe had slaughtered Jews in the millions and vomited out those who survived, and when the gates of Israel were wide open and the land was crying out for its children to come home? To ask the question is to answer it.

What about prior to World War II, in the twenties and thirties? Or before that? We know quite well who answered the call of the land as it roused itself from its 2,000-year slumber: Hashomer Hatzair and Gordonia, socialists and communists, agnostics and atheists. They were the Jews who answered the call. We did not. Perhaps we had valid reasons, or reasons that seemed valid at the time, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground. We are in the minority, and to the victor belong the spoils.

Secular and left-oriented political parties have never forced their way into the Knesset or the government. They were voted in. They had their supporters. We did not.

This was the situation we found ourselves in at the time of the 1948 pekida: Hashem was entreating, beseeching and cajoling us to enter His abode. The gates of Eretz Yisrael were wide open. (Was it mere coincidence that the first Jewish state in two millennia came into being at about the same time air travel was becoming faster, safer, and more convenient?)

The motherland was crying out for her children to return home: “Come live in our beautiful land. Come see with your own eyes the great potential for Torah and mitzvot. Come out from among your persecutors and killers. Come take part in rebuilding the palace of the King.”

What was our answer? Just as in the days of Ezra – and exactly as the Ibn Yachya warned us against – our answer was a shrug of the shoulders or, worse, a denial that God had anything to do with the return of Jewish sovereignty to Eretz Yisrael for the first time in 2,000 years.

If Torah has flourished in Israel to the extent it has, just imagine what would be if hundreds of thousands more Orthodox Jews had gone home after the founding of the state.

Again quoting Rav Dessler: “Woe…to those who will come to the Day of Judgment while remaining blind to this reality” of Israel.

Bezalel Fixler, a survivor of the Transnistria death camp and a musmach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, is a writer whose work appears in Dos Yiddishe Vort, The Algemeiner Journal, and The Jewish Press.

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