- Peninei Halakha
The establishment of the State of Israel removed the disgrace of exile from the Jewish people. Generation after generation, we wandered in exile, suffering dreadful humiliation, pillaging, and bloodshed. We were an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we were regarded as sheep led to the slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. Strangers said to us, “You have no hope or expectation.” That situation was a terrible ĥilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name), because God’s name is associated with us, and when we are degraded, His name becomes desecrated among the nations (see Yeĥezkel 36).
The prophets of Israel prophesied, in God’s name, that the exile will eventually end: “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land” (Yeĥezkel 36:24); “They shall build houses and dwell in them; they shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruit” (Yeshayahu 65:21); “Again you shall plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; Men shall plant and live to enjoy them” (Yirmiyahu 31:4); “And the desolate land, after lying waste in the sight of every passerby, shall again be tilled. And men shall say, ‘That land, once desolate, has become like the Garden of Eden; and the cities, once ruined, desolate, and ravaged, are now populated and fortified” (Yeĥezkel 36:34-35); “I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; they shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them – said the Lord your God” (Amos 9:14-15).
However, after so many years passed without God’s word coming to fruition, God’s name became increasingly desecrated in the world, and the enemies of Israel decided that there is no chance that the Jews would ever return to their land. Even the Sages spoke in hyperbole about the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles, to the point that they said, “The ingathering of the exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesaĥim 88a). But a miracle occurred, and God fulfilled His promise, causing an enormous and awesome kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name). This kiddush Hashem became amplified even further during the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem was reunified and the holy cities within Judea and Samaria were recaptured.
This process – the ingathering of the exiles and the blooming of the wasteland – which gained tremendous momentum when the State was established, marks the beginning of the redemption. As R. Abba said, “There is no clearer sign of the end of the exile than this verse: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is near’ (Yeĥezkel 36:8) (San. 98a).” Rashi comments, “When Eretz Yisrael yields its fruit in abundance, the End will be near, and there is no clearer sign of the end of the exile.”
Nevertheless, many things still need to be fixed. Unfortunately, we have not yet fully repented, and many Jews have yet to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. Despite this, the Sages taught that redemption can come in one of two ways. They interpreted the verse, “I the Lord will speed it in due time” (Yeshayahu 60:22) to means that if we achieve complete repentance, God “will speed it”; i.e., He will hasten the redemption. But if we do not repent fully, the redemption will still come “in due time,” through natural processes (San. 98a). That is, even if Israel fails to repent, when the predetermined time for redemption arrives, certain natural processes will begin to unfold. These processes will be full of complications and severe hardships, causing the Jewish people to return to their land and rebuild it. We will proceed from stage to stage in this manner, until the ultimate redemption materializes. These hardships, which stimulate the redemptive process, are called the birth-pangs of the Messiah. The more we strengthen ourselves in the mitzvot of settling Eretz Yisrael and penitence, the sweeter and more pleasant these birth-pangs will become (based on Vilna Gaon in Kol Ha-tor). Concerning this type of redemption, the Sages say, “Such is the redemption of Israel: at first little by little, but as it progresses it grows greater and greater” (y. Berakhot 1:1).
Explicit verses in the Torah and the Prophets indicate that the order of redemption is as follows. First, there will be a small degree of repentance and the Jewish people will gather in their land, which will begin to yield its fruit. Afterward, God will bestow upon us a spirit from on high, until we return to Him completely.
 My teacher and master, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, explains in detail (in “Ha-medina Ke-hitkayemut Ĥazon Ha-ge’ula,” Li-netivot Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 261-272) that the order of redemption is as follows: first there will be a small degree of repentance, with a return to Eretz Yisrael and a national revival. Then, a complete return to God will ensue. We will mention here a few of the many sources that confirm this idea. In the section dealing with repentance in Devarim 30, the Torah states that there will first be a return “to (ad) the Lord,” which refers to a minor repentance stemming from fear and harsh decrees. Afterward, the exiles will gather in Eretz Yisrael, and then a complete return “to (el) God” will take place. R. Zvi Yehuda explains, based on the teachings of his father, R. Avraham Yitzĥak Kook, that the minor repentance will manifest itself in a return to Eretz Yisrael. (This return began with a holy awakening of love, when the Ĥasidim and the students of the Vilna Gaon immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in the 1800s.) Yeĥezkel 36 also describes the redemption in this order, as does the Talmud (San. 97b). There, R. Yehoshua opines that redemption does not depend on repentance; rather, God will empower a king as cruel as Haman, and this will cause the Jews to repent, albeit only partially. R. Eliezer, who argues with R. Yehoshua on this matter, remains silent at the end of the debate, implying that he concedes the dispute. Other sources that indicate that redemption is independent of repentance include: Shemot Rabba 25; Tikunei Zohar Ĥadash; Ramban’s commentary on Devarim 32; Or Ha-ĥayim to Vayikra 25:28; R. Shlomo Eliasov’s Hakdamot U-she’arim 6:9, especially pp. 273-276, where R. Eliasov quotes some of the greatest Aĥaronim who viewed the modern-day ingathering of exiles as the beginning of the redemption. My teacher and master, Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook adds (op. cit., vol. 2, p. 365) that one who fails to recognize these divine acts of kindness lacks faith, and though this lack of faith sometimes wraps itself in the garb of piety and religiosity, it is actually a denial of the divine nature of the Written Torah, the words of our Prophets, and the Oral Torah. Sanhedrin 98b quotes several Amora’im who were so afraid of the terrible suffering that would occur during the era of the birth-pangs of the Messiah that they said, “Let him (the Messiah) come, but let me not see him.” See other sources in Em Ha-banim Semeiĥa by R. Y. S. Teichtal, Ha-tekufa Ha-gedola by R. M. M. Kasher, and Kol Ha-tor – reprinted at the end of R. Kasher’s book – which contains profound ideas that the Vilna Gaon revealed to his students on the topic of redemption. See also Ayelet Ha-shaĥar by R. Y. Filber, the section entitled “Shivat Tziyon Ha-shelishit.”