Beit Midrash

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Irreversible - The Certainty of Redemption


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

20 Sivan 5783

Seven challenges and responses to the presentation of the State of Israel as the start of our redemption: 

In our Sabbath prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, we define the modern-day return of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel, and the establishment of a Jewish sovereignty here, as "the beginning of the sprouting of our redemption."

Is this a correct definition of today's Jewish State?

Many fine Jews who believe in G-d and follow the Torah do not think so, and therefore do not recite this prayer. They feel that the situation today is simply a continuation of our circumstances during the Exile. In their eyes, the Redemption will include the return of the Jewish People not only to the Land of Israel, but also to the Torah of Israel and to the service of G-d, all of which will be topped off with the construction of the Holy Temple. And since in practice they do not detect any signs of an "enhanced" dwelling of the Divine Presence in our midst, nor do they see open miracles transpiring for the "nation that dwells in Zion" – how can this situation be called Redemption, about which is written, "The land will be filled with the knowledge of God"? On the contrary: Most unfortunately, great parts of our people appear to be spiritually further from G-d than ever before.

Their claim is that it is not sufficient that the Jewish People physically reside in the Holy Land. Our presence here without the Torah is nothing special. In fact, they say, the great virtue of our dwelling in the Holy Land is that we are closer here to G-d than elsewhere in the world. As such, as long as there has been no spiritual revolution among the nation, our dwelling in the Land provides no advantage; the situation of Exile is simply continuing here in the Land.

On the other hand, many others do recite the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, yet differ amongst themselves as to the true significance of today's Jewish State. The crux of the disagreement is whether or not to view the State as the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets. That is, does the establishment of the State mean that we are surely on the path of Redemption and that there is no way back, or does it merely provide an opportunity for Redemption?

Those who take the latter approach feel that while Israel might very well be a part of the Redemption process, the success of this process ultimately depends on our national and personal behavior. If we do not recognize that the State is a Divine gift and do not use it as such, we are liable to derail the entire procedure. As proof, the proponents of this approach cite the famous Sage R. Akiva, who was sure that Bar Kochba was the Messiah, yet was soon proven sadly mistaken. In fact, this failure led to a period of Exile that was even worse than its predecessor. Maimonides explains that this does not mean that R. Akiva was wrong, for he simply defined the situation as an "opportunity for Redemption" – which, because of the sins of the generation, did not pan out. The situation today might very well be the same, according to this approach.

However, there are those who recite the prayer specifically because they are confident that today's national return to Zion is the final, absolute, and no-way-back path to Redemption. "We have left the Exile forever!" they say. How exactly the events will evolve we do not and cannot know; but we are sure that these generations have been witness to, and continue to witness, the fulfillment of many of the Prophecies foreseen for Messianic times. G-d is leading us on a one-way path towards the long-awaited Redemption.

This does not mean that it will be easy or free of tribulations, ups and downs and difficulties and doubts – but we see the overall direction, and it leads straight ahead. The withdrawals from the Yamit-Sinai communities in 1982, and from Gush Katif in 2005, were painful setbacks, but we must keep in mind that the path to Redemption is, by definition, a gradual process that sometimes appears to take one step forward and two steps backwards. The Sages of the Jerusalem Talmud likened it to the moments before the rising of the sun, when it seems to disappear from view for a time even as we know that it is continually rising towards us.

[After presenting these various positions on the national-historic significance of the State of Israel at this point in history, the author has formulated seven challenges to the "certainty" approach, and provided answers as well. We hope to present these in the coming weeks.]

Translated by Hillel Fendel

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