Dear Richard, thank you for your question. While I believe we spoke about this topic in former blogs, a review is always welcome for new readers and to deepen our basic understandings.
“In our prayers, we ask Hashem to gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth. Doesn't this imply that Hashem will do the gathering Himself and that we are to stay in galut until He brings us to Israel? That's what some learned people in Toronto have told me when I asked.”
We begin the Shemoneh Esreh prayer by saying, “L-rd, open Thou my lips, that my mouth may declare Thy praise.”
Obviously, we don’t stand still and wait for G-d to open our lips so that we can pray. We do it ourselves. While we understand that the power to speak comes from G-d, we realize that He gave us the ability to do so on our own. So we pray without waiting for Him to move our lips like a ventriloquist operating a puppet.
Here’s another example. Also in the Shemonah Esreh, we ask G-d to grant us knowledge, understanding and insight. Once again, to attain this, we don’t just sit around and wait for G-d to miraculously put a encyclopedia computer chip into our brain – we go to yeshiva, open Talmudic texts and study.
Next, we call upon G-d to return us to Him in repentance. Once again, we are to do the work. Our Sages have set down guidelines how we can return to G-d in repentance, and we are to follow their concrete teachings.
We also ask G-d to heal our illnesses and wounds. Everyone understands that we are not just to pray for health, but to actually go to the doctor and do everything we can to find the right medical treatments for our problems, trusting that G-d will help bring them to pass since all healing is His and He gives physicians and medicines the ability to heal.
The same holds true for eating and making a living. We ask G-d to grant us sustenance, but we do the hard work of planting vegetables and harvesting them, and going to work at our jobs to make a living, and actually putting food into our mouths without waiting for G-d to miraculously fill up our bellies.
All of these examples are clear and self evident. But then something happens. Suddenly, when we get to the request for deliverance from the exile, some people forget everything they know and expect G-d to do all the work. Instead of calling up Nefesh B’Nefesh for a free ticket, or simply buying a ticket to Israel ourselves, packing up our belongings and saying goodbye to galut, some of us expect G-d to send a flying carpet and whisk us miraculously to Israel like in a Walt Disney movie for kids.
Suddenly people, even learned people, are blinded by the light. They become deaf and don’t hear that the “great shofar for our freedom” has already been sounded by G-d via Medinat Yisrael. They don’t see that the “banner to bring our exiles together” is the blue-and-white flag of Israel. They don’t see that G-d has already gathered millions of our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth by His down-to-earth vessels of the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh, and the aliyah of Jews from all over the world, some by boat, some by plane, others by foot across scorching deserts. All of the olim in Israel today heard this great shofar and came.
So, Richard, why trouble G-d to do all the work Himself in a miraculous fashion with flying carpets and waves of His magical wand? He’s already gathering the exiles home to Zion. He has been doing it, in the down-to-earth way that He has chosen, for the last hundred years. G-d can do anything He wants. He doesn’t need Mashiach to bring us home. Just open your eyes and look. It’s happening! Mashiach isn’t just our long awaited king, may he come soon. Mashiach is a Divine historical process that is happening now with the rebuilding of the Jewish Nation in Israel! Like we say, “the DAYS of Mashiach,” and “TWO THOUSAND YEARS of Mashiach.” That time is happening now!
That’s the meaning of the Shemonah Esreh prayer: “May our eyes behold Thy return in mercy to Zion.” G-d has been restoring His Divine Presence to Zion for the last 100 years.
Richard, you don’t have to wait for Mashiach to come home to Israel. G-d isn’t waiting to bring us home. Why should you?