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Appreciating Miracles - Redemption's Foundation

Thanking God for the miracles which He performs for us and recognizing the good which He has bestowed upon us, lies at the very foundation of our redemption. Therefore, even today, if we want God's works of salvation to continue, we must thank Him.
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1. The Importance of Appreciating Miracles
2. Miracles Today
3. Remembering the Exodus
4. Hand in Hand

You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the eternal truth (Psalms 60:6).
Sefat Emet interprets this verse, explaining that God brings about miracles (the same word as "banner" in Hebrew) in order to lift us up, not unlike "a banner on the mountains" (Isaiah 18:3), which can also be read "a miracle that uplifts." And if we merit rising up and acknowledging God's miracles, and thanking Him for them, we reflect "the truth," as voiced in the latter part of the verse. We act as agents in giving expression to an eternal truth.

The Importance of Appreciating Miracles
We find that exile comes as punishment for not thanking God for His miracles. This can be seen in the punishment of the "BeChukotai" Torah portion:
"Then, as long as the land is desolate...the land will enjoy its sabbaths. The land will rest and enjoy its sabbatical years. Thus, as long as it is desolate, [the land] will enjoy the sabbatical rest that you would not give it when you lived there" (Lev. 26:34, 35).

In other words, we were exiled from our land because we violated the sabbatical years. Why is observance of the sabbatical year so important that its violation results in exile?
The reason for this is that in the Land of Israel we should be sensitive to God's providence, and the sabbatical year demonstrates our faith in this providence more clearly than any other commandment. Via this commandment we testify that the land is God's, and the land "enjoys its sabbaths" according to God's will. When this commandment is violated and we forget that God provides for us, the measure for measure punishment of exile results, for exile conceals God's Divine providence.

Likewise, prolongation of the exile comes about as a result of our failure to believe in God's providence: "...with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have remained indifferent to me" (Leviticus 26:40). "Meila" (trespass) means rendering mundane that which is sacred, and one who remains indifferent renders God's works mundane.

We find a similar idea in the "Ki Tavo" Torah portion. Before listing the curses, the Torah relates the commandment of the firstfruits, an obligation which, when fulfilled, effectively acknowledges God's beneficence for giving us the "the good land." In the framework of this commandment, the Torah reiterates the fact that the Almighty gave us the land: "When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you as a heritage, occupying and settling it, you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground produced by the land that God your Lord is giving you ... the land that God swore to our fathers ... giving us this land ...I am now bringing the first fruit of the Land that God has given me ..."

In the curses, however, no mention is made of the fact that God gave us the land, for they are the result of our having forgotten that the land is a gift from God: "...until it has brought down all your high fortified walls, in which you trust , throughout your land" (Deuteronomy 28:52).

It follows that thanking God for the miracles which He has performed for us and recognizing the good which He has bestowed upon us lies at the very foundation of our redemption, and, therefore, if we want God's works of salvation to continue, we must thank God for His miracles - "that it may be displayed because of the eternal truth."

Miracles Today
Our day and age has also seen great miracles. We have seen the Jewish people emerge from darkness into light, from the terrible Holocaust into a national renascence the likes of which we have not known since Temple times. To adopt liturgical parlance, "Were our mouths full of song like the sea, and our tongues full of rejoicing like abundant waves, and our lips full of praise like the expanses of the heavens, we would not be capable of thanking You."

On the other hand, we are today also witness to a phenomena which appears to be a regression in light of all of the energy we have invested in our struggle for the land of Israel. Many feel as if we are once again in a situation of "darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people" (Isaiah 60:2). What are we to think about our redemption now?

Ramban points to a similar phenomenon in our two above-mentioned Torah sources, "Bechukotai" and "Ki Tavo." After Israel confesses its sin and repents, God continues to conceal Himself even more intensely than before. In "Bechukotai" he writes (Leviticus 26:41): "Behold, after having confessed their sin, it would have been fitting for it to be written immediately, 'And I remember My covenant...' [yet it is not,] and it is my opinion that this alludes to the fact that after the confession, God will remain indifferent, and He will bring them again into the land of their enemies. And this indicates that he will bring them into the land and it will not be conquered by them...."

In other words, the redemption and the ingathering of exiles will take place, but God will continue to act in a concealed manner toward Israel, and then they will be faced with the added challenge of recognizing the redemption as God's providence.

We similarly find that in Deuteronomy 31:18, after Israel's confession, it is written, "It is because my God is no longer with me that these evils have befallen us." God will conceal himself: "And I will utterly hide My face." Ramban explains, "After Israel repents in their heart because they have sinned to God...It would be fitting, considering God's great compassion, that He aid them and save them, for they have already disavowed idolatry...[however] He further hides His face from them...not in the manner that He did initially, but such that the face of the redemption be hidden..."

The Sages teach (BeMidbar Rabbah 11:2): "'My beloved resembles a hart.' - Just as the hart appears and is concealed, appears and is concealed, so the first redeemer appears and is concealed...and the last redeemer is no different than the first redeemer.

We have to understand that God's concealed nature today is not concealment of the exile. It is rather a concealment in the midst of the redemption. We must rise up and recognize His kindness, and by so doing merit a complete redemption.

Remembering the Exodus
It would appear that the commandment to remember the Exodus from Egypt includes an obligation to thank God for the miracles which happen to us in each generation. This is the meaning of the Talmudic adage, "In each generation one must see himself as if he left Egypt." The Sage Rabba adds, "And one must say, 'He took us out of there.'" What has Rabba added that was not already implied in the said adage?

It would seem that, according to Rabba, it is not enough for one to remember the Exodus and see himself as if he too was there. Rather, one must reflect upon his own real and actual Exodus from Egypt. How does one do this? One does this by reflecting upon his own present redemption and including it in the redemption from Egypt.

We can bring proof for this explanation from a Baraitha (Berakhot 12), which relates a disagreement between Ben Zoma and the Sages regarding whether or not we will continue to recall the Exodus for Egypt even in the World to Come. The Sages say that remembering the Exodus will not be completely done away with; rather, it will become of secondary importance in light the future redemption. This, moreover, does not apply specifically to the Messianic Era, for, after all, Ramban learns that the words, "it shall no more be said, As the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt..." (Jer. 16:12) were already fulfilled in the days of Ezra's redemption from Babylon (i.e., the first redemption, from Egypt, became secondary in light of the latter redemption, from Babylon).

This implies, then, that in every generation one must view his own redemption as being of primary importance. This is also implied by the Talmud (ibid.) when it states (in the plural!) that "latter hardships cause earlier hardships to be forgotten." In this manner it is possible to say that our own redemption is of primary importance, and the redemption from Egypt is of secondary importance in comparison.

Let us provide an even deeper explanation of how Ezra's redemption managed to overshadow the redemption from Egypt. Doing this will allow us to better understand our role with regard to the present redemption.

Meshekh Chokhma addresses the question of why the initial sanctification ("Kedusha Rishona") of the Land of Israel was only temporary in nature while the second sanctification persevered, extending even to the Days to Come. (Rambam explains that the initial sanctity resulted from military conquest. When the conquest ended, so did the sanctity. Second sanctity, however, resulted from legal possession ("Chazaka"), and therefore was not nullified. This explanation, however, calls for clarification. Was not legal possession also nullified? Furthermore, does not military conquest imply legal possession?).

Meshekh Chokhma explains that this is because the first conquest was brought about through miracles and the Divine Presence in the Temple - for ten miracles could be witnessed in the First Temple. When the miracles and the Divine Presence left, so did the sanctity. But the second appearance of sanctity, which came through the efforts of the nation of Israel, was not discontinued.

Meshekh Chokhma continues, explaining admirably (and basing himself upon Ramaban's novllae to tractate Shabbat) that in the first exile the people furnished a strong protest against the Torah, claiming that they were no longer bound by its commandments in the diaspora, and therefore the sanctity was rescinded. But when they again received upon themselves the yoke of the commandments in the exile - for "they received it upon themselves again in the days of Achashverosh" - and then returned to the Land of Israel, it became clear that this is our land even when we are exiled from it.

Upon this backdrop, he explains the verse (Exodus 15:16) "Until Your people passes through, God, until this people You have acquired passes through": "Until Your people passes through, God," - this is the first Temple, in which God's name was revealed; "until this people You have acquired passes through" - this is the second Temple in which God's name is not mentioned; and in the third Temple, the words "the Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established" will be fulfilled - this is the Third Temple which will descend in flames from heaven.

What is unique about the Third Temple? If we are worthy, it will come upon heavenly clouds, miraculously, a flaming Temple from heaven. If, however, we are not worthy, it will come like a pauper riding on a donkey, it will be built according to the laws of nature. How is this hinted at in the words "the Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established"?

Hand in Hand
The Talmud (Ketubot 5a) explains: "The work of the righteous is greater than the work of heaven and earth." We can understand that the work of heaven and earth is God's doing. At the same time, we would assume "the work of the righteous" to be their good deeds. The Talmud informs us, however, that "the work of the righteous" is a reference to the Temple. The verse in Exodus states, "that Your hands established," and it appears that these are the "hands" of God. Rashi explains, though, that the work of the righteous is to be considered the work of God's Own hands. The righteous pray for rain, and God brings rain - and this is considered the work of the righteous.

In light of this we can understand the concept of the Temple being built with two hands: the righteous bring this about via God, and together there are two hands (See Avot DeRabi Natan, end of chapter one, where it is written that the Temple is built with two hands, however, the evildoers cause there to be only one hand, and this is in keeping with what we have written here, that if man fails to cooperate with God, all that remains is the one hand of God. See also Tosfot Ketubot, s.v. "Yadi Yasda Eretz Viymini Tafcha Shamayim," that the earth is in the left hand and the heavens in the right, and this also hints at the "two hands" we have been discussing). We must strive, then, to cause God's Presence to rest upon our works so that it be considered as if it were the work of God Himself.

What makes the final redemption unique is the fact that we are called upon the restore the land, the throne, the legal system, etc, and all of this is to be done in keeping with the Torah. Furthermore, all of this must be carried out amidst conditions that did not exist in the past and incorporated into a modern system of living together which is at the same time faced with heavy immigration absorption.

If we succeed in causing God's Presence to rest upon our work, we shall merit being agents in the fulfillment of the words, "'the Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established.' These are the acts of the righteous, and "Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land eternally," for when the entire awakening comes from above, it is as if there is only one hand, but when there is also an awakening from below, the two hands are combined and come together as one.

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