Join us each week as we journey across the United States and gather words of Torah from rabbanim representing each of the fifty states. This week we are pleased to feature divrei Torah from Rabbi Ephraim Meth of Fairfield, Connecticut.
King James of Aragon, at the Barcelona Disputation of 1263, was impressed by the following words of the Ramban:
The prophet states that in the time of the Messiah, men will no longer need to teach one another to know Hashem, for they shall all know Me, etc. It is further stated, The earth shall be full of knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea, and it is also said, And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore … Until now, the entire world has been full of violence and robbery … How difficult it would be for you, my lord king, and these, your knights, if they would neither … learn war anymore! … You [still] consider it advantageous to have [weapons and] mail-covered steeds (adapted from Writings of the Ramban, trans. Charles Chavel, vol. 1, pp. 674-675).
The Ramban here delineates two kingdoms. The first, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Messianic Era, is characterized by, among other characteristics, peace and enlightenment. The second, the Kingdom of Sin, is characterized by the imperfect state of affairs prevalent, now as then, in the world.
An oft-neglected theme of Rosh Hashanah is our yearning for the Kingdom of Heaven’s restoration. We pray, again and again, for “the Kingdom of Sin [to] be removed from the land.”
During the Second World War, a new form of government was invented: the “government in exile.” The enemy conquered countries, but the governments of those countries fled to England, from where they continued to govern. They appeared like governments without countries – but reality belied appearance. Their citizens refused to submit to the enemy, and they knew that their government still existed, albeit far away. The government in exile found ways to communicate with its citizens, to coordinate resistance and guerilla warfare against the enemy. The citizens eagerly awaited the return of their government to their land.
Our world is conquered by an enemy. The King of the World does not reign openly over His creations. Hashem’s presence is in exile. His face is hidden. Yet “Hashem’s presence-in-exile” is still something real, it is still connected to its world, and from its hidden place it coordinates all the world’s affairs. Those citizens who are faithful to it do not submit to the enemy, and they only accept orders from it… they eagerly wait each day for the presence to reveal itself once more in the world (R. Shlomo Wolbe, Alei Shur, vol. 2, p. 426).
To which kingdom do we belong? Which government are we loyal to? By what criteria do we allocate our fealty?
Some scholars suggest that a government in exile – or any government, for that matter – is “real” inasmuch as it provides for its citizens’ needs. For this reason, after the Dreyfus Affair, Theodore Herzl concluded that the government of France was not the “real” government of France’s Jews, since that government failed to provide for their needs. Yet provision of needs is a slender and selfish reed upon which to base citizenship. Vichy France may have provided for the Frenchmen’s needs, but the French spurned that government because its values were inconsistent with their own, its cultural agenda at odds with theirs.
Which government are we loyal to? What values do we subscribe to? To what culture do we belong? When I ask these questions, I speak not of the United States. The United States is a country of kindness, and, if all us Americans choose to see it as such, a suitable steward for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Rather, I speak of the contrast between values and cultures that prevail, however imperfectly, over the world, and those that could prevail, those of true peace and true enlightenment, if we committed ourselves to their advancement.