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Is the State of Israel the beginning of Redemption?

A top student of Rav Kook, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlop, wrote that the establishment of the State of Israel was the "beginning of the Redemption"...Rav Kook's son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, also felt that way. My question is: On what do they base this?


Rabbi Shmuel Ariel

Heshvan 9 5782
Translated and adapted by Hillel Fendel

Question: [Ed. note: Not all of the claims in the question are well-founded.A top student of Rav Kook, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlop, wrote that the establishment of the State of Israel was the "beginning of the Redemption," or what we call today, reishit tzmichat ge'ulateinu, "the beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption." Rav Kook's son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, also felt that way. My question is: On what do they base this?

Clearly, the process of the State's formation was replete with Divine providence and miracles, meaning that G-d wants the People of Israel in the Land of Israel. But isn't it going a bit far to say that this is actually the beginning of our long-awaited Redemption? Many of the great rabbis in Europe actually felt the opposite, that the Redemption cannot come about via heresy and opposition to Torah and sanctity – and the State has certainly attempted to crush religious matters over the years, such as what it did with the Yemenite children, etc. It is also insufficient to say that many of the signs of the End of Days have already started, such as the blossoming of the Land of Israel after 2,000 years of near-desolation, or that the Gaon of Vilna wrote that Redemption will happen in the year 5708 (1948) – first of all, because in these matters it is known that we do not rely on various calculations, and secondly, these signs indicate only that we are in the period before the Redemption – known as the "footsteps of the Messiah" – but not in the actual Redemption.

In addition, the Torah states that the nation must repent before the Ingathering of the Exiles! So how can we say that what we are seeing is the actual Ingathering? In addition, is it not true that we must also first experience the arrival of the Davidic Mashiah, the war of Gog u'Magog (Armaggedon), and more

Answer: The main reason to say that we are witnessing the Beginning of the Redemption is not various signs, calculations, or the like – but rather from what we see with our own eyes as we look around! Redemption is a multi-faceted concept, but three of its very fundamental components are these: the Nation of Israel's return to its land; the abolition of our subjugation to foreigners (AKA renewed national sovereignty), and the blossoming of the Land of Israel. We see these three things happening in front of our eyes! As follows:

Ever since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash nearly 2,000 years ago, our people have been scattered all over the world, whereas today, practically half the nation has already returned home! (Both of these stages were predicted by our Prophets.) In stark opposition to our history over the past many centuries, the current Jewish entity in Israel is the largest and strongest in the world - physically, politically, and spiritually. It is sovereign for the first time in nearly two millennia, and the Land of Israel is "bringing forth its fruits" (in the words of the Prophet Ezekiel) most abundantly after centuries of desolation.

This is precisely what is described in the Bible and in the words of the Sages as fundamental elements in the Redemption process – and we see them happening before our very eyes! Spiritually as well, the number of people studying Torah is inestimably greater than at any time in the last very many centuries – and the Land of Israel is, once again, the very center of it all.

Of course, together with these positive developments we know there also exist not a few problems, both materially and physically. There are sizable parts of the Redemption that are still missing, such as spiritual rectification of the entire nation and of all humanity, as well as the building of the Holy Temple, the kingdom of the House of David, and more. We can therefore certainly not say that the complete Redemption has been attained. But since a very significant part of the Prophets' and Sages' description of the Redemption have come true, we can surely say that we are at the beginning of the process.

You ask: "How can we say that we are in the middle of the Ingathering of the Exiles?" And I ask you: "How can you not say so?" We see that over the past 100 years, more and more Jews have returned from the Diaspora to our Land, and today practically half of them are already home. What other name can be given to this process other than "Ingathering of the Exiles?!" For even if the Mashiah were to arrive today, half of his ingathering work would already be done for him, leaving him with only half the nation to bring home!

[There is one other way of explaining this phenomenon, and that is to say that G-d is planning, Heaven forbid, to destroy the Land again, exile all the remaining Jews, and then begin the "real" ingathering process anew. Does this scenario appear logical? I don't think that even Satmar would believe this. [Ed. note: Not to mention that our traditional sources say clearly that G-d will not exile us for a third time, nor will He bring the process so close to completion without actually completing it.]

You mentioned the dispute among pre-Holocaust Torah giants regarding whether the return to Eretz Yisrael was/is part of the Redemption process or not. In my humble opinion, it is not logical to apply to our times statements that were made then, since the two situations are so totally different. A century ago, the Jews in the Holy Land were a very small fraction of the total world Jewish population, perhaps 2%. Nor was there Jewish rule here then. No wonder that many rabbis of the time found it difficult to see an Ingathering and the start of Redemption. But today, when the Jewish People are sovereign, and half the nation has come home, is it reasonable that many Torah giants would say now what they said then? We can of course not put words in their mouths, or be sure what they would say today – but it would also be unfair to them to take their statements of then and apply them to today without taking into account the great changes that have happened.

You wrote that according to Maimonides, the Mashiah will bring about the Ingathering of the Exiles – meaning that the situation cannot yet be considered the Ingathering, for the Mashiah is still not here. But in fact, Maimonides also writes there that the Mashiah will first establish a Jewish kingdom, then make war against our enemies, and only later ingather the exiles. This proves that many Jews will be here even before the Messiah officially ingathers them – for how can a Jewish kingdom be built and a war be won without the presence of many Jews? Thus, the likely scenario is as is happening right now: Huge numbers of Jews will come to the Land before the Mashiah, who will later gather home the remainder!

In addition, the Talmud (Megillah 17b) explains the order of the blessings in our Sh'moneh Esreh prayer, saying that they follow the order of the Redemption. Thus, the Ingathering (blessing #10) precedes the building of Jerusalem (#14) and the establishment of the Kingdom of David (#15).

Maimonides himself states that the precise chronology of the stages of the Redemption cannot be known "until they actually occur." He adds that in any event, "the chronology and the details thereof are not a major principle in Judaism." The main thing is just the very belief in the Redemption and the Mashiah's arrival, while the details of exactly how and what are marginal at present. As such, there is no point in questioning a given description in the Rambam, when in fact we see with our own eyes that it is happening slightly differently.

You also said that it appears from the Torah (Deut. 31) that national repentance will precede the Ingathering of the Exiles. But again, I will first ask you how the national return that is happening before our eyes can be described as anything other than the Ingathering of the Exiles. In addition, it must be emphasized that the Torah itself does not provide a conclusive depiction of the nation's spiritual status at the time of the Redemption. In Leviticus 26, the Torah specifically does not mention national repentance or anything more than "confession of sins" – whereas the reason given for the Redemption is simply the covenant that G-d made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Yes, repentance does appear in Deut. 31, but in the next chapter, neither repentance nor confession are mentioned. In the latter account, in fact, the reason for the Redemption is given as the Divine desire to avoid the "desecration of His name" inherent in the very fact of Israel's presence in Exile.

It appears, therefore, that there are various possible scenarios for the Redemption – and G-d will choose, likely based at least partially on the Jews' spiritual status at the time, how it actually unfolds. The ideal would be, of course, that the entire nation repents and finds its way back to Torah, thus leading to a full Redemption. But even if this does not happen, sadly, the Redemption can still come – either because of our Patriarchs' merits and the Covenant G-d forged with them, or in order to end the desecration of G-d's Name. This is in accordance with the Talmudic ruling, following a dispute on the matter among the Sages, that "Redemption is not contingent upon repentance" (see Sanhedrin 97b-98a, Taanit Yerushalmi 1,1).

Another point to ponder: The question as to how precisely to define this period of history is an important one – but it should not affect the way in which we actually conduct our lives and perform mitzvot. It is sometimes thought that the decision whether to help build up the Land of Israel, or serve in the IDF, is dependent on whether we view our period as the "Beginning of Redemption." But in fact, the two are not connected: The mitzvah to settle the Land applies always, even if the Redemption has not yet started. The same is true for the mitzvah of helping defend the lives of the Nation of Israel by serving in the IDF. Of course, when we can view these mitzvot as part of a great historic process marching us towards the Complete Redemption, it shines them in an even greater light. But we are obliged to fulfill them in any event.

The opposite is true as well: Those of us who view this period in terms of Redemption may not sit back, relying on the fact that "G-d is taking care of things," and therefore exempt ourselves from seeking to rectify this world as best we can. Even if Redemption has started, we still have a great say as to whether there will be impediments or delays or, conversely, shortcuts and an earlier estimated time of arrival. We are not permitted to sit passively by, but rather must act – on both the material and spiritual planes – to ensure that the process moves along as positively as possible.

And finally, I must add that though stories such as the children of Yemen are stains on our history, and other problematic issues of "religion and state" still exist - it is grossly inaccurate to say that the State wishes to crush all matters of religion and sanctity. On the contrary, it is the State that encourages, financially and in other ways, many Torah enterprises, enabling and facilitating the fantastic growth that has made Israel the Torah center of the world.

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