According to the dictum of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement, we are to “live with the times,” to live with the Torah portion of each week in order to understand the context behind events that occur both in our personal lives and in the world at large.
At times the correspondence is not obvious, but through expending effort to delve deeper, incredible connections between events in the Torah portion, and that which we are now witnessing, become apparent.
Accordingly, it was no coincidence that the events that took place last week in France were during the opening Torah portion of the Book of Exodus. Just as this portion relates the exile and oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt, so too, last week was a clear example of oppression during our present exile. As the sages teach, the exile in Egypt is the archetypal exile for all exiles that follow.
The Dilemma of Aliyah
One of the results of recent events in France is the renewed debate regarding the importance of Aliyah to Israel. There are probably very few families in France today who are not debating whether to stay in France or to move to Israel. Already last year approximately 7,000 French Jews came to live in Israel due to the rapid increase of anti-Semitic attacks throughout France. Even before the recent events they were predicting almost double that number for this year.
The question of whether Jews should move to Israel now or remain in their host countries so that those governments will be more inclined to support Israel is a topic by itself and beyond the scope of this article. Even if there is still sound reason for remaining in the Diaspora, and while we should thoughtfully consider those who will remain behind because they are unable to take that step yet, one cannot ignore a larger historic dynamic that is taking place; namely the ingathering of the exiles that has been proceeding unabated for the last few generations.
One hundred and forty years ago there were approximately 35,000 Jews living in the area of the future State of Israel. Today that number is more than six million, and according to most estimates, within a very short amount of time there will be a majority of Jews living in Israel for the first time since the destruction of the First Temple.
From the time Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were promised by God that their descendants would inherit the Land of Israel, it has been the central focus of Jewish consciousness. When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush He immediately informed him that when he takes Israel out of Egypt they will be going to a land, “flowing with milk and honey.”[i] Additionally, almost all the books of the prophets spoke about the future ingathering of the exiles. Even before the prophets the Book of Deuteronomy states clearly that Israel would be brought back to its homeland after a long and cruel exile.
The debate over Aliyah cannot be resolved from facts and figure, but by departing the way historical precedent is treated in a textbook, into the realization that the prophecies of old have begun to be fulfilled in our present day.
One Last Exile
One final point worth making is that in Jewish tradition we speak of four exiles – Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome – that the Jewish people would endure. The exile in Egypt is not counted among them as it is the archetype on which all future exiles are based. Yet the Zohar includes a tradition that at the end of the last exile of Rome there would be one additional exile, that of Ishmael. The events of the last hundred years seem to confirm this prediction.