Are you yearning for salvation?

Exile and Redemption part 4.

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Tzvi Fishman,

Torah scroll (illustration)
Torah scroll (illustration)
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In our last few essays concerning the difference between Galut and Geula, we learned that when Am Yisrael is exiled, its national, Clalli soul is drawn up to Heaven by G-d, so that it won’t become polluted by the impure forces and husks (kleipot) that hold sway outside of the Land of Israel. Not only are the Jewish People in exile, the Shekinah (Divine Presence) is in exile as well. In this situation of exile and national destruction, the Divine National Soul which invigorates the life of the Nation no longer pulses within us, and, according to the Prophets and Sages of Israel, we become like corpses in a graveyard, like dry bones lacking life.

Once again, we will look to the book, “Binyan Emunah,” to shed light on this distressing phenomenon. The book’s author, Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, founded the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the City of the Partiarchs and served as its Rosh Yeshiva for many years, after absorbing the teachings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He writes:

“In this downcast situation outside of the Land of Israel, where the Nation exists like a golem without a soul, it is impossible to educate people in the service of G-d in its lofty, ideal form. To do this, one must rise up to a higher level of understanding in order to encounter the Nation’s universal aspirations and its goal for an exalted national life which sanctifies G-d in its midst, in all of its national doings, in order to bring the entire world to perfection by being a NATION which calls out in the Name of G-d, in contrast to the service of G-d on an individual level alone.”

In the Diaspora, these lofty matters are not grasped by the masses because national Jewish matters no longer find any concrete expression in life. Thus, in the exile, in order to motivate people in the service of Hashem, the educational emphasis must be placed on the private, individual side of life which revolves around the life of the individual, rather than on the Nation or Clal. Therefore, because of this impoverished state of existence, our Sages taught that a Jew is to constantly yearn for salvation from the exile.

The Sages decreed that a Jew in exile must actively yearn for salvation (Sefer HaMitzvot HaGadol, Positive Commandment #1. See also, Shabbat 31A) in order to instill in his, or her, heart, the understanding that our lowly situation in exile is a transitory punishment, that life in the Diaspora isn’t our desired end, and that we lack the main thing that every nations needs to be independent – its own sovereign government in its own land. Thus, the belief in the coming of Mashiach, and the promised salvation, gave needed strength to the exiled Jews, fortifying their ability to survive the terrible persecutions and sufferings of Galut, with the belief that we would eventually return to our own Land and sovereign Israeli statehood.

The majority of people didn’t understand the meaning of Mashiach’s coming, largely because, given their abject situation, they couldn’t begin to imagine how the material world could be elevated and sanctified. The longer the exile lasted, the more the yearning for salvation was reduced to an abstract spiritual desire, but it was almost impossible to think in terms of uplifting all of the powers of life, both the private and the national, the physical and spiritual alike, in order to align them with the Divine Goals and Ideals for all of mankind.    

Instead of being the constitution of the Israeli Nation, the Torah was reduced to a list of private precepts like eating kosher and observing Shabbat. The concept of the “Holy Land” was transformed into a spiritual abstraction. In the minds of Diaspora Jews, it was seen as a more ideal place to recite Tehillim, to learn Torah, and to engage in holy matters. Most Jews in the exile were unable to grasp that the concrete, physical work of farming the Land, rebuilding its ruins, and expanding its settlement, were all holy matters, possessing exalted value in their bringing sanctification to every endeavor, even the most physical, in the building of G-d’s chosen Nation in the Holy Land, the direction and goal of all of the Torah.  

Additionally, the Torah which was learned in Galut didn’t occupy itself with matters which pertained to the Clal, to the rectification of the Nation, or to matters beyond the walls of the ghetto and a Jew’s private worship of Hashem. Thus the national aspect of Torah disappeared along with the original goal of the Torah – to establish a Torah Nation in G-d’s chosen Land. With the passing of generations in exile, this truncated level of Torah observance wasn’t noticed or felt at all. Our situation in exile came to resemble the situation of a man who was raised in a dark cave and never allowed to see the light of day. He thinks that darkness is the natural state of existence and can’t imagine that there can be a world filled with light.

Similarly, the learning of Torah was geared to the life of Galut. When the soul of the Torah is missing its general, national, Clalli illumination, from which all of its details are nurtured, then the Torah is grasped as a mere collection of details and precepts, with no inner vibrancy and life, with no ideal, unifying, life force which unites all of the unconnected specifics into one unified whole. Though students of Torah busied themselves with Talmudic analysis and debate, with great dedication and maserut nefesh (sacrifice), they were not attached to the Torah’s higher levels, to the general, universal, Clalli side of the Torah, to the living life-force which gives meaning and value to all the details. Only the greatest Torah scholars of the generations, like Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the Gaon of Vilna, the Maharal, the Chatam Sofer, Rabbi Kook, and others, occupied themselves with these Clalli, recondite matters.  

Rabbi Kook explains that exile is not merely a punishment, but it has an important task in the tikun (rectification) and purification of the national soul, and in the ability of the Nation to return to its Land. In the time leading up to the exile, Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael descended from its previously exalted level to the point where individuals could no longer absorb the great light which shone on them. During the period when prophecy was rampant, and bands of prophets roamed the streets and marketplaces, the high-powered, general, Clalli, illumination activated both the private and national sides of life, but individuals who had fallen from their level couldn’t appreciate the meaning and value of such an ideal. The capability to build a full, vibrant, flourishing, and valorous life, completely nourished from the wellsprings of purity and holiness, is something which requires the proper vessels of moral preparation and a sturdy edifice of Emunah in the life of the individual. But these vessels were not properly prepared, and people couldn’t maintain this high level, so the powerful and highly energized forces of the Clalli life brought people, and the Nation as a whole, to shatter Torah boundaries, until they sank into the darkness of a deep moral decline and the three severe transgressions of murder, idol worship, and immoral sexual relations.  

This moral downfall brought about our banishment from the Land. In the Galut, we abandoned our former bustling national life and turned into corpses in a graveyard. There, our intensive focus on the spiritual side of life, as if we were detached from the material world around us, represented a type of tikun for our having succumbed to the base physical passions which led to our national destruction. During the almost two-thousand years of Galut, the Nation passed through a refining furnace which came to purify the Israeli soul, and the world of the spirit became the center our lives. The Galut brought devoutly religious Jews to an extreme situation where life in This World lost is enchantment and beauty, and the principle place to experience the value and meaning of life became Olam Haba, the World to Come.

Rabbi Bleicher states: “We can now understand, as the period of exile draws to an end, and Am Yisrael tears itself away from the impure lands of the gentiles, and returns to its Homeland, that this is truly the prophesized rebirth of the Jewish People. We are not speaking about any external process which began with the awakening of the various Zionist movements, but about a process which begins from within, from the soul of the Nation which longs to return and appear in an earthly format – in the form of a Nation which dwells in its Land.

“This process has a tremendous influence on every sphere of life - on the character of the souls that are born, on the powers of life which return to the Nation, on its aspirations and goals, on its miserut nefesh, and bravery in standing up to its enemies, something which was missing for nearly 2000 years.”

In the next article in the series, we will continue our exploration of the differences between Galut and Geula, with the hope that this greater understanding will bring us speedily to a complete Redemption in our time.