<i>Beshalach</I>: The Torah of a New Generation

Taking the initiative to advance salvation.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
"Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes; and behold! Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to HaShem. They said to Moshe, 'Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Is this not
The "low soul" that Ibn Ezra speaks of is what modern psychologists have termed "learned helplessness."
the statement that we made to you in Egypt, saying, "Let us be and we will serve Egypt?" For it is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness.'

"Moshe said to the people, 'Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of HaShem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again. HaShem shall make war for you and you shall remain silent.'" (Shemot 14:10- 14)

Understanding that Israel greatly outnumbered Egypt's army at the Sea of Reeds, Ibn Ezra provides a remarkable insight into the above situation. He writes:

"How could a camp of six hundred thousand men fear their pursuers? Why should they not fight for their lives and the lives of their children? The answer is that the Egyptians had been Israel's masters. The generation leaving Egypt had learned from childhood to bear the Egyptian yoke, and they possessed a low soul. Being weak and unaccustomed to warfare, how could they now fight their masters? We see that Amalek came with a small force and, if not for Moshe's prayer, they would have weakened Israel. G-d alone does great deeds and orchestrates events. He arranged for all the males who had left Egypt to die out - because they lacked the strength to fight the Canaanites - until another generation arose who had not seen exile and who possessed an exalted spirit."

Ibn Ezra teaches that, despite their great numbers, G-d did not order Israel to stand and fight because they had been conditioned by many generations of servitude to fear and obey their Egyptian masters. Possessing a low soul made them incapable of revolt. This is why Moshe's prayers were necessary in helping the Hebrews to later overcome the Amalekite ambush (Shemot 17:8-13), and this is why it was necessary for the generation to die out in the desert over the course of forty years. Their children - a new generation raised in freedom - would then be ready to wage war against the thirty-one Canaanite kings.

The "low soul" that Ibn Ezra speaks of is what modern psychologists have termed "learned helplessness." Throughout history, this slave mentality has worked to prevent the Jewish people from advancing our national interests. One obvious example of this neurosis in recent years is the confusion among many great Torah leaders concerning the process of Redemption, and how the Nation of Israel must relate to and interact with the historical events occurring in our era.

The prophets and sages teach that there are two ways in which the Final Redemption can occur. There is the miraculous way (achishena) and the more mundane, natural process (bi'eta). Due to the bitter realities of life in the exile, Jewish communities were conditioned to believe that the Redemption would have to unfold through supernatural miracles. Taking the initiative to advance salvation through conquering and settling the Land of Israel was deemed forbidden in many circles. Rabbis argued that Israel must sit patiently and wait for G-d to redeem His beloved children.

In the ghettos of Europe, where day-to-day life included a terrible fear of Gentile brutality, the idea of Jews valiantly recapturing Eretz Yisrael seemed even more an aberration of nature than G-d performing incredible miracles. As a result of this reality, existing for so many centuries, Jews remained trapped in this mindset even once the political reality had changed.

Other factors also contributed to the Jewish idealization of learned helplessness. Because of the damage inflicted upon Israel by so many false messianic movements, the study of the Redemption process was halted in most European yeshivas, and any attempt to bring the salvation closer through human endeavor became tantamount to an act of heresy. The combination of these factors created an expectation that the Redemption would occur only through supernatural events above and beyond human participation.

This learned helplessness became highly prevalent in Jewish circles during the years leading up to the creation of political Zionism. The handful of Torah giants who understood that the Redemption could (and probably would) unfold through a series of natural historic events were unable to effectively spread their ideas throughout the Jewish world. But by retroactively examining the opinions of these giants, we can recognize how correct they truly were and how important our active participation is to the Redemption process.

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalisher illuminated the way to Redemption in Drishat Tzion. He writes:

"It is wrong to believe that Redemption will come as a sudden revelation of G-d from Heaven, calling upon His people to leave the Diaspora. The vision of the prophets must come true, but not as a sudden event. Final Redemption will come in stages, with the return of the people to the land and ultimately by the coming of the Messiah. Dear friend, you must rid yourself of the illusion that the call of the Messiah will come as a bolt from the blue arousing the sleeping masses. Redemption will come about through an awakening of well-dispersed Gentile leaders and governments viewing favorably the return of Jews to the Holy Land."

In Awake, Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver teaches:

"Even though natural events will lead to Redemption, this is not simply an historical
These great Torah giants stressed that human initiative would be necessary in bringing about Israel's Redemption.
accident. There are no coincidences in the Universe, since G-d's will is also manifested in the course of natural events. Accordingly, it is for us to rouse the powers that be to treat the Jewish people favorably, whereupon Divine help will surely be forthcoming in the ingathering of the exiles to the Holy Land. As the prophet proclaims (Yishayah 62:10): 'Go through, go through the gates; clear the way of the people; cast up, pave the road; clear it of stones; raise a banner over the peoples.' Yishayah's intention is clear: we must awaken and do all in our power to clear away the obstacles in the path of our Redemption."

In his Reply to the Skeptics, Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher states:

"To our great misfortune there are yet many who mistakenly believe that they will sit in the comfort of their homes when suddenly a voice from Heaven will proclaim Redemption. But it will not be so! The Babylonian exile, though destined to last no more than seventy years, required the practical leadership of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemia to achieve a significant return to Eretz Yisrael. Unlike many of our own contemporaries, they did not say, 'Let every man remain at his place and Redemption will come of itself.'"

Rabbi Yehuda Chai Alkalai, the famed Kabbalist of Sarajevo, wrote of Redemption from within in Raglei Mevaser. He explains:

"Redemption will reach us in a natural way. Had the Almighty wished to redeem His people through miracles, the exile would not have lasted so long. Moreover, in the present Jewish situation, even a naturally attained Redemption would be miraculous. Redemption will grow from within the people and not with the Messiah performing miracles, as in the days of the Exodus from Egypt. Final Redemption will be the result of national initiative aided by G-d, as it is written: 'And the Children of Judah and the Children of Israel will be gathered together' (Hoshea 2:2) and, 'Shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem, release the bonds from around your neck,' (Yishayah 52:2). Yishayah uses the reflexive form to emphasize that Redemption will stem from self-help."

These great Torah giants stressed that human initiative would be necessary in bringing about Israel's Redemption. Their ideas were highly advanced for their time, especially when compared with those of some of their contemporaries. Their teachings represent a Torah of action and not one of learned helplessness.

While today we have clearly not yet tasted complete Redemption, the process has certainly begun to unfold. There exists a sovereign Hebrew state in much of Eretz Yisrael, but in order for us to participate in bringing total Redemption to the world, a higher Torah approach must be adopted. The Torah must be taught in all of its grandeur, as an active Torah that encompasses all of life's facets.

The holy Ohr HaChaim speaks of Redemption and self awakening in his commentary on Vayikra 25:25. It states:

"Redemption will start with a stirring in men's hearts urging them: Do you feel secure living in a strange land, exiled from your G-d? What pleasure does life offer so far removed from the lofty values that were yours, in the presence of the Almighty? Superficial, ill conceived desire will then become repulsive and a spiritual craving will awaken your soul, improving your actions until G-d will redeem. Who will be called to stand in judgment? The Jewish leaders of the Diaspora who throughout the years did not encourage their people to return to Zion will be made to bear the shame of a forsaken homeland."

In Eim Habanim Smeichah, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal writes something very similar on the dangers of passivity. It reads:

"The Orthodox, on the other hand, those zealous for G-d's will, stood aside and took no part in this effort. They remained with their traditional view that 'sitting back and doing nothing is best'.... It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented their followers from going and joining the builders will never be able to cleanse their hands and say, 'Our hands have not spilled this blood.'"

The land – which had lain desolate for so long and refused to provide fruits to any foreign occupier - has blossomed.

A new generation has arisen today, infused with the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and filled with valor and a national energy. It is a generation possessing an exalted spirit, as Israel is again being brought up on our soil. The land – which had lain desolate for so long and refused to provide fruits to any foreign occupier - has blossomed under the sovereignty of her true native inhabitants.

The national energy infused into Israel today has inspired amazing levels of self-sacrifice, even among those not yet observant of mitzvot. Israel has won miraculous victories over enemies at next-to-impossible odds. We have liberated portions of our homeland and revived the Hebrew language after centuries of separation from both. These incredible events are all moving towards one incredible direction - the rebirth of the Israeli kingdom as a world superpower, which will ultimately breathe blessing and light to mankind. There is a Guide to world history and He has been directing events from the very beginning.

HaShem has inspired a new generation with a high national soul - a soul uncorrupted by fear or passivity. Israel must now learn a greater and fuller Torah, which encompasses all of life and that will steer the Hebrew Nation towards complete Redemption.

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