Judaism: IDF - Heroes of the Redemption
Jewish tradition speaks of anticipation of the coming of the Messiah – Mashiach Ben David. This scion of the Davidic line will one day appear and lead the Jewish people out of the state of Exile in which they have been enveloped since the failed Rebellions against Roman domination nearly 2000 years ago. He will be invested with the Divine Spirit, have the powers of active prophecy in the Biblical sense, lead all the Jews in a total return to the Land of Israel, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and preside over an Israel free of all political pressures from the Nations of the World..
However, although somewhat less widely known, tradition also describes a leader who is to prepare the way for Mashiach Ben David. He is Mashiach Ben Yosef, a descendant of the tribe of Ephraim, an heir to the traditional role of the Biblical Joseph, or Yosef.
His role is described in detail in the book titled "Kol Hator" (literally the "sound of the turtledove", a quote from the Song of Songs) and written by a student of the Gaon of Vilna – Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer -- abbreviated as HaGra (1720-1797).
This book, printed as an appendix to the volume "Tekufah Gedolah" by Rabbi Menachem M. Kasher, which was published in the wake of the tremendous victories of the Six Day War, describes the Vilna Gaon's approach to the impending redemption which he foretold over two hundred years ago.
The book is attributed to his disciples, who made aliya nearly two centuries ago. This Aliya is known as "Aliyat HaGra" and most Ashkenazi families in Israel today (e.g. the Rivlins) who have been here for over ten generations are descended from these early pioneers, as was Israel's late Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira.
Quoting from chapter 1: "According to our Master HaGra, all the work of Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of the Exiles), the building of Jerusalem, the expansion of the settlement of the Land of Israel in order to restore the Divine Presence, all the detailed activity in bringing about these results, are incorporated in the destiny and function of the First Messiah, 'Meshichah D'Atchalta', – the Messiah of the Onset (of the Redemption), Mashiach ben Yoseph, who embodies the miraculous forces which enable the actions carried out in the 'it'aruta de'letata' the awakening of the earthly mortals, who will act in a natural fashion."
It is the initiative and accomplishment in rebuilding the Land of Israel that will stimulate a heavenly response in promoting this process, called "it'aruta de'le'eilah", leading to its ultimate success.
Kol Hator goes on to elaborate 156 aspects of this activity, reflecting the Gematria (numerical) value of the word "Yosef", which is also the Gematria value of the word "Tziyon" – Zion; this illuminates Mashiach ben Yosef's key role in the furtherance of "Zionism" in the classic literary sense, as well as the modern practical and political sense.
There are biblical references to this scion of the house of Joseph as having an important role to play. In the Book of Ovadiah, 1:18: "And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them and devour them, and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau." This description is one of many references to the War of Gog and Magog in the Tanach, and it describes a decisive role for the house of Joseph.
Another example of the connection of the redemption with the house of Joseph is to be found in Midrash Tanchumah on Parashat Vayigash, para. 11, which states: "Come and see – all that which happened to Joseph, happened to Zion" and proceeds to quote 26 pairs of biblical passages, the first describing a circumstance experienced by Joseph, and the second an event connected to the Land of Israel.
For example: "about Joseph it is written 'and Joseph dreamed a dream' (Genesis 37:5) and with regard to Zion it is written 'when the L-rd brought back those who returned to Zion we were like unto them that dream'"(Psalms 126:1), words that were almost chosen to be Israel's national anthem. This entire Midrash comes to underline the close relationship of the Joseph dynasty with the return to Zion and the Redemption.
The origin of the concept of Mashiach ben Yosef is to be found in the Tractate Sukkah (BT 52a) which gives an explication of the Biblical passage from Zechariah 12: 10-11: "And 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 unto me because they [the Nations that have come against Jerusalem] have stabbed him, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born."
"In that day", the prophet continues, "shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon."
The Gemara in Sukkah wonders who is being mourned in the midst of rejoicing at the impending Final Redemption, for that is the general subject matter of Zechariah in these chapters of his prophecy.
The response is that the mourning is over the death of Mashiach Ben Yosef, who is killed in the struggle with the Nations who have come against Jerusalem to frustrate the Ingathering of the Exiles and the Process of the Redemption.
There are many more sources for this concept of Mashiach ben Yosef, too numerous to elaborate here. However, one can summarize the characteristics of this phenomenon:
- Unlike Mashiach Ben David, Mashiach ben Yosef is not a single individual, but rather an ongoing leadership operating over several generations to advance and protect the Ingathering of the Exiles, the establishment of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, and the development of the Land.
- Mashiach ben Yosef operates in the world of natural forces and does not exhibit openly miraculous powers.
- Mashiach ben Yosef, or some of those playing this role, perish in the struggle and are publically mourned by the Jewish people.
- This mourning takes place in juxtaposition to the rejoicing over the progress in the Redemption process.
Have we merited the presence of Mashiach ben Yosef beside us as we build the Land of Israel after two thousand years of exile?
When Bar-Kochba asserted in 132 CE that he was the Mashiach ben David, he was challenged by the Rabbis of his generation, excepting Rabbi Akiva who accepted his leadership. The dissenting Rabbis tested his claim (BT Sanhedrin 93b) by determining if he had active Divine Guidance. They wished to see if he was capable of "morach ve'daen", using only the Divine Spirit to intuit the positions of two litigants who appeared before him, and decide the just resolution of their dispute, without being told any information by them. This describes the capabilities of Mashiach ben David in Isaiah 11:2-4: "And the spirit of the L-rd shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the L-rd…and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears. But with righteousness shall he judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the land. . ."
Bar Kochba failed this test and so was not accepted as the genuine Messiah ben David by many of the rabbis of his generation. In the end, he indeed failed in this role with the collapse of Beitar.
We do not have biblical sources for testing Mashiach ben Yosef as we do for the descendant of the House of David. Israel's first Chief Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook elaborated on the concept of Mashiach ben Yosef as earthly enabler of redemption, in his 1904 eulogy for Theodore Herzl, using the verses from Zechariah.
Years later, we have only our own understanding to assert with reverence that what is described in the list of four characteristics of Mashiach ben Yosef refers as well to those who gave their lives so that the State of Israel may be established and continue to thrive, those whom we honor on IDF Memorial Day, and who have indeed functioned in the redemptive role of Mashiach Ben Yosef.
Many have commented over the years on the strange and abrupt transition from the solemnity of Memorial Day to the joyous celebrations of Independence Day. Perhaps it is to just this sudden transition from mourning to rejoicing that Zechariah was referring, describing those who are mourned in the midst of redemption.
If this be so, then identifying the brave IDF soldiers who gave their lives for the State of Israel as Meshichei Ben Yosef, paragons of that redemptive phenomenon, may be an obvious conclusion. They, paving the way for what we have and offering the utmost sacrifice for its continuation, each mourned as an "only son", merit all the honor and love a renewed nation can offer.
Yehi Zichram Baruch – may their memories be blessed - and may their selfless bravery and sacrifice bring us the completion of the redemption process in our days.