Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Ester Shaindel bat Sarah Gitel

Redemption in its Own Good Time

Precisely a gradual redemption, a redemption which lacks splendor, which evolves slowly and is played out over an extended period of time - precisely this sort of redemption has the power to uplift all aspects of existence.


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

Iyar 5762
1. Atonement through the Death of the Righteous
2. A Number of Levels
3. Messiah of the Line of Joseph
4. Like a Person whose Firstborn Dies
5. "Its Own Good Time"
6. Here "No Choice," There "No Choice"

Atonement through the Death of the Righteous
The Book of Zechariah teaches that in the process of the Redemption, holy individuals will die, and with their death, a great public mourning will take place. Their passing on will not be viewed as a mere expiration of isolated individuals. Rather, it will be seen as a death that effects the entire nation.

But I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall look towards me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through. And they shall mourn for him that is slain as one mourns for an only son, and shall be in bitterness over him, as one that is in bitterness over a firstborn. On that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. (Zechariah 12:10,11)

Concerning these verses Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra comments: "Before this befalls them they will experience hardship. The Messiah from the line of Joseph will be killed. God will then become enraged and wipe out all of the nations assaulting Jerusalem. This, then, is the meaning of the words, 'and they shall look towards me,' i.e., at that point all of the nations will look towards me to see what I will do to those who thrust through the Messiah from the line of Joseph."
Ibn Ezra, following the opinion of the Sages, explains that in the course of the Redemption there will be two Messiahs: the Messiah from the line of Joseph followed by the Messiah from the line of David. The Messiah from the line of Joseph will be killed in the midst of war and confrontation with the nations. Following him will come the Messiah from the line of David who will not be killed. This being the case, in the above scriptural quote we are dealing with those killed in a struggle with the nations.
In this regard Rabbi Chaim ben Moshe ibn Attar, "Or HaChaim HaKadosh," explains (on Leviticus 14:9) that the death of the Messiah from the line of Joseph acts as atonement for the entire generation. Or HaChaim saw in the death of the Messiah from the line of Joseph an aspect of the principle that the death of the righteous brings atonement. This concept - that "the death of the righteous atones" - is one which stands true throughout Jewish history and is not unique to the generation of the Redemption. All the same, there are things that characterize the deaths of the righteous in the generation of the Redemption.

A Number of Levels
"Our Rabbis of blessed memory," says Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunshitz in his very popular Torah commentary, 'Kli Yakar', "teach that her [Miriam's] death was mentioned here, next to the episode of the Red Cow, in order to teach us that just as the offering up of sacrifices brings about atonement, so the death of the righteous brings about atonement. Yet why, of all things, the Red Cow? After all, despite the fact that Scripture refers to it as a sin offering (see Numbers 19:9), the Red Cow is not really a sacrifice in any accepted sense of the term. Rather, the main point being made is that just as the mother cow comes and cleans the filth of her calf, so too, the death of this righteous woman, mother of all life, has the effect of cleaning the filth of her offspring."

The Midrash finds such scriptural juxtapositions in four different places:
a) The deaths of the sons of Aaron with the laws of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).
b) The death of Miriam with the laws of the Red Cow.
c) The death of Aaron with the Priestly Vestments that atone (Numbers 20:28).
d) The death of Aaron with the breaking of the holy tables of the Ten Commandments. (Deuteronomy 10:2-10)

That the death of the righteous brings atonement may be understood on a number of levels. We will bring a few of them and explain just how they find expression through those who have given, and continue to give their lives in our present war with the Arabs.
1. Death atones on a supernatural level. A Jew's being killed simply because he is Jewish constitutes, in and of itself, a sanctification of God's name. This is hinted at by the Red Cow whose ashes are necessary for ritual purification of those contaminated through contact with the dead - a procedure which defies rational explanation.
2. Death atones because it brings people together. The need to provide mutual support after the loss of a dear one creates an atmosphere of love and warmth. When Israeli soldiers are killed, members of the nation join together in a kind of blood-pact through this shared self-sacrifice. This is hinted at in the juxtaposition of the deaths of Aaron's sons and the laws of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a day of love and self sacrifice for the sake of serving God.
3. Death atones because it leads to repentance. The passing away of a special individual always leads to repentance. Similarly any time a young person is killed the community is stirred to repentance and makes an effort to emulate the righteous individual who is no longer with us. This is hinted at by the Priestly Vestments that symbolize adornment in admirable character traits and good deeds.
4. Death atones because through it the roles of the ones that remain living receive greater emphasis. The righteous individual, because of his good deeds, has a tendency to overshadow everybody else. When he passes away, a vacuum is created that the living are called upon to fill. When soldiers are killed at war a longing for redemption is created and a great desire for its perfection. This is hinted at by the juxtaposition of the breaking of the Tablets of the Covenant with Aaron's death, for through the breaking of these tablets a great longing was born in the Jewish people - the longing for the construction of the Sanctuary.

Messiah of the Line of Joseph
Or HaChaim (in his Torah commentary to Leviticus 14:9) adds something which is unique about the Messiah of the line of Joseph:
By means of this (the death of the Messiah of the line of Joseph) the Almighty adorns Himself in vengeance, the exact opposite of the attribute of mercy, and brings destruction upon the evil nations. Throughout the Exile, the nations brought evil upon the Jews yet never received evil in return. Via the Messiah from the line of Joseph God is awakened to vengeance upon the nations for their evil ways and brings the Redemption for the sake of his holy name. After two thousand years of being afflicted by the nations, we request that they not stand in the way of our redemption. In response to their confronting us at the time of the Redemption God declares war against these nations.

The need for the death of the righteous during the time of the Redemption is diminishing and we pray that the process of our redemption not call for the death of more righteous:

You will find that the Holy Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of blessed memory) writes that one must have intention in the fixed daily prayer to pray for the sake of this righteous one, that he not die. That is, for by virtue of our prayers his merit will grow and he will continue to live and our own death decree will be nullified.

"Like a Person whose Firstborn Dies"
"Radak" (Rabbi David Kimchi), regarding the passage we opened with (Zechariah 12:10), explains that there will come a time when the death of the righteous will be an uncommon event:

Next, he says that if it should happen that one of them be stabbed in battle, even an ordinary person among them, they will express great astonishment. How is this possible? They will consider such the beginning of decline and submission before their enemies, like Joshua when the people of Ai struck down thirty-six Israelites. He exclaimed, "Ah God!" and said, "What can I say after Israel has turned and fled before their enemies." The same will now occur if they see that even one of them has been thrust through. They will be astonished, "and they shall look towards me regarding those whom the nations have thrust through," i.e. because he has been thrust through, "And they shall mourn for him," like a person who only has one son and he dies, or like a person whose firstborn dies.

Radak points out that during the period of the Exile, or at the beginning of the Redemption when Jews die sanctifying God's name, it will not make an overwhelming impression on the entire nation. Yet, the more that the Redemption advances the phenomenon of death through sanctification of God's name will become an uncommon event, to the point that if such an occurrence takes place, it will make a great impression on the entire people. Therefore, this passage describes the terrible pain as evidencing that, in general, we are in the period in which the Almighty reveals Himself to us through love and kindness, and not through suffering.

"Its Own Good Time"
The hardships which we have been forced to endure recently have had the effect of hurling us about. This is, in fact, one of the purposes of suffering - to cause human beings to change, to ascend, develop, and be redeemed. The Sages pointed out long ago that there are two possible directions that the Redemption can take:

Rabbi Yochanan said: "The Messiah will appear either in a generation which is completely deserving or completely undeserving. Completely deserving, as it is written (Isaiah 59:16), 'Your people are all righteous, they will inherit the land forever.' Completely undeserving, as it is written (Ibid. 48:11), 'And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no intercessor...' In addition, it is written, 'I will act on my own behalf.'"
Rabbi Alexandri said, "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi pointed out a contradiction: It is written (Ibid. 60:22): "speedily," and it is written: "in its own good time" If they merit it: "speedily"; if not: "in its own good time." (Sanhedrin 108a)

The words of these Talmudic sages follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua who holds that the People of Israel are redeemed even when then do not repent of their own initiative.

Rabbi Eliezer says, "If the people of Israel repent, they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed." Rabbi Yehoshua said, "True, if they do not repent they will not be redeemed. But the Almighty appoints for them a King whose decrees are barbarous, like Haman, and Israel then repents..."

We see that in a generation which does not manage to repent on its own, God disciplines them until they reach a state in which they have no choice but to repent. One would think that repentance performed out of love, and not because of suffering, is a loftier sort than that which results from fear of punishment. In the same respect, the "speedy" sort of redemption which appears in a generation which is completely deserving appears to be of a finer quality than a redemption "in its own good time," for the undeserving generation. Numerous authorities, though, have demonstrated at length that it is far from being as simple as it might seem.

An immediate redemption is one that comes ahead of its time while the natural conditions are still not ripe. For this reason, it unfolds in a miraculous manner. This sort of redemption bears the capacity to redeem the supernatural realm, yet is unable to redeem our more complex natural daily existence. Precisely a gradual redemption, a redemption which lacks splendor, which evolves slowly and is played out over an extended period of time - precisely this sort of redemption has the power to redeem all aspects of existence. Immediate redemption is a redemption of the righteous, but we desire the sort of redemption which includes the entire House of Israel and not merely the upright.

It is possible to discern, then, in the course of redeeming a generation that is entirely undeserving, even greater Divine Providence. This is the sort of redemption that God does not bring about in response to the acts of the righteous. This is a redemption which God brings in order to redeem His name which has been profaned among the nations. God runs the entire process of the Redemption, and clearly God's program for redemption is the best one possible.
It is possible to view the process of "repentance through suffering" in the same way. Such repentance possesses an elevated status because is unfolds via the direct will of God. It is a necessary element in the universe. Such necessity demonstrates that without repentance the universe would be unable to endure.

Here "No Choice," There "No Choice"
Our beloved teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, zt"l, in his book "Lintivot Yisrael," wrote an article addressing the concept of "no choice." Rabbi Kook distinguishes between the sort of battles which were carried out in the Exile amidst the tragic setting of "no choice," and the "no choice" wars of the Jews here in the Land of Israel. In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for example, Jews, understanding that there was no other choice, that whatever path they chose they were doomed, decided that at least they would go down fighting. Our wars here in Israel for the right to exist, instill in us the belief that ours is a just cause. Every one of our wars here fills us with the recognition that we are battling a war for the new universal justice that must materialize in the Redemption. This is the difference between the "no choice" of the Exile, and the "no choice" of the Redemption. Our "no choice" situation in the Redemption can turn into a principle that we choose of our own free will and clear understanding. What had been "no choice" turns into "choice."

This was the case with the giving of the Torah. On the one hand, the Torah was given to us by force; on the other hand, the Israelites exclaimed, "We shall do and we shall hear!" Rabbi Yehudah Liva, better known as the "Maharal of Prague" explains that it was necessity to give the Torah by force in order to make it unmistakably clear to the whole world, and to the People of Israel, that without Torah there is no Israel, no Jewish people. This is an absolute divine truth: that the Torah and the Jewish people are one. By virtue of the power of this coercion, the Israelites exclaim "We shall do and we shall hear!" with even greater sincerity. Their "no choice" turns out to be the one and only choice desirable. The same is true regarding our bond with the Land of Israel. The Jewish people come to despise the Exile, and arrive, even against their will, at the conclusion that the only direction left is to abandon the Diaspora and to go to the Land of Israel. Yet, the external circumstances that force us to return to the Land of Israel at the same time instill in us the choice of desiring this land. We become aware of the undeniable fact that only in the Land of Israel can the Jewish people have a national existence full of sanctity.

According to this conclusion it is possible to understand the words of the anointed priest who speaks with those going out to battle: "He shall say to them, 'Listen, Israel, today you are about to go to war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be frightened, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them" (Deuteronomy 20:3). Rashi comments on this verse, saying, "These are not your brothers, and if you fall into their hands they will show no pity upon you. This is not like the war of Judah against Israel concerning which it says, 'Those who were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil dressed all of those who were naked among them, garnished them, put shoes upon them, gave them to eat and drink, anointed them, carried all the weak upon donkeys, brought them to their brothers, in Jericho, the city of the palm trees, and then returned to Samaria.' Therefore be strong in battle."

Yet, why should the priest, a spiritual leader, lecture soldiers going off to war concerning the brutal nature of the enemies? Why should he need to tell them that there is no choice, the cruelty of the adversary demands that he be defeated? Why does the priest not awaken the soldiers to the great and lofty ideal of Israeli military victory, the importance of the sanctification of God's name in the world, or the morality of war? The answer is that it must first of all be made clear that the war is one of "no choice." This recognition allows for a deeper understanding of the fact that Israel's wars are not merely wars for survival. They are much more than this. They are tantamount to the struggle for divine justice. It becomes clear that Israel's salvation and the establishment of justice in the world are interrelated and united goals.

We are battling this year against our cruel enemies, whose acts reflect those of Amalek. This war is making it more and more clear to the People of Israel that we lack a partner for making a covenant of peace. As a result of this situation, which God has forced upon us, we will arrive at the understanding that our making a covenant over this land is not given over to our freedom of choice, for the Land of Israel is the land of our life, and there is no room for a corrupt non-Jewish national rule in its midst.
The same is true regarding the nature of repentance in this generation. Repentance that comes via hardships begins as a no-choice situation. But this "no choice" can turn into a deep recognition that there can be no Jewish people without repentance, and that repentance will come by way of complete freedom of choice - repentance through heartfelt desire.

Some of the biblical verses here were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah," others from the Jerusalem Bible (Koren).

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