The question is, Have we felt the hand of God in our own lives and responded as did the Jews of old?
That is redemption. That is to know the power of the Mashiach in our lives.
I can name any number of moments of such redemptive power, but one stands out as so powerful as to make it ever-present in my life. A moment when the whole community of Israel witnessed the miracle, felt it as a people even as each of us embraced it in our own lives.
Forty-five years ago. June, 1967. The Six-Day War was racing to its rapid, almost impossible to believe, conclusion. Complete and utter destruction had seemed to have been upon us; now complete victory was within our grasp.
How sweet that victory! How wonderful those days in June, following as they did the tense and terror-filled days in May, when Nasser of Egypt declared that Israel would be “washed away by the seas.” The horror of the Shoah itself seemed to once again weigh down on our hearts and souls.
But victory was there! And with it the certainty that geulah was real and concrete, that Mashiach was indeed knocking.
Everyone knew deeply that we were living during a moment when miracles and holiness surrounded us. There was simply no other way to understand the events around us but as a sequence of miracles. What rational explanation existed for what had transpired in those six wonder-filled days? It was Godly. Messianic.
Miracles were self-evident. Those of us with ears to hear remember the Kol Yisrael announcer choking up with emotion as he declared, “Ani nogei’a b’Kotel!” – “I am touching the Wall.”
Maariv’s banner headline proclaimed, “We are at the place for which we waited 2,000 years.” Rav Goren blew the shofar and his mighty blasts pierced our souls, sounding like the Shofar Gadol must have sounded that day at Sinai.
Our corporeal existence was suffused with the holy. Geulah was upon us!
If only we could have sustained that sense of wonder. If only we could have maintained our embrace of the holy. Perhaps if we had, Mashiach could have come through the door. But, inevitably, such moments of grandeur give way to the everyday. Jobs must be attended to. Children must be fed. Clothes must be mended. Crops must be watered.
It is true, the historical realities of those six days were powerful, but it was in our ability to relate to them that the promise of geulah resided. Even now, it is in our ability to see and embrace the miracles all around us that keeps geulah close by.
What can speak to the close relationship between spirit and flesh more than the association of our desire for redemption with our need for sustenance? Birkas HaMazon is primarily a prayer in which we both make requests and thank God for all He provides. Why then did Chazal insert in Birkas HaMazon the prayer of Racheim, where we ask God to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and its Temple? Rabbi Shimshon Pincus answers with a parable from the Chofetz Chaim. There was once a man who was banished by the king to a foreign land, far from his family and friends. One day the king visited that foreign land and allowed each inhabitant one request. When the banished man’s turn came, he requested that the king provide him with his livelihood, a way for the humble man to make his way in the world.
A simple request. A decent request. But the king was aghast. “You are a fool! You could have asked to return to your family and home, and instead you wasted your request on something peripheral.”
Like that man, Am Yisrael has become so preoccupied with asking God for the needs of this world that we forget to ask Him to return us to our home, to Yerushalayim and to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. So Chazal inserted Racheim into Birkas HaMazon that we might remain focused on what is truly important; so that we do not become distracted by things that inevitably blind us from the Jerusalem of our life.
Racheim, as R’ Naftali Ropshitz notes, is spoken in the present tense – Who rebuilds. God currently and continuously rebuilds Jerusalem. Right before our eyes. What generation can speak to that truth more than our own? The truth that Jerusalem is our holy city. That miracles abound. That redemption is always at hand.