Guide to a chosen and perplexed people

Review of “Faith and Redemption,” by Rabbi Meir Kahane who wrote: "This is the worst of all periods when we could be making it the best."

Tzvi Fishman ,

Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman
INN: TF

In reviewing the very relevant book, “Faith and Redemption” by Rabbi Meir Kahane, I prefer to let him speak for himself, in his always scholarly, passionate, deeply insightful, and inimical fashion. Therefore, after a brief introduction to this just-published and faithful English translation by Rafael Blumberg, I will let the late Rabbi do the talking.

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Meron, surrounded by the political quagmire in the State of Israel, Israeli Arab violence and the growing anti-Semitism and assimilation throughout the Diaspora, the Rabbi’s words ring out with a chilling warning. Rabbi Kahane addresses the problems facing us in Israel, and in the Galut, and sets down the steps we must take in order to bring the final Redemption. He explains that the key to the Redemption is the Sanctification of G-d's Name, and that is to be attained by observing especially those commandments that most show our faith and trust in Him. These include: Jewish sovereignty over the whole Land of Israel; transferring those non-Jews unwilling to accept the Jewish State; caring for all fellow Jews; and mass Aliyah to Israel.

Rabbi Kahane wrote the book in Hebrew while imprisoned for one year in Israel. The Hebrew edition was first published in 1980 and reprinted six times. A detailed account of the events which led to his imprisonment can be found in the excellent biography, “Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought,” Volume Two, written by his wife, Libby Kahane. Ostensibly, he was incarcerated for violating an Israeli military order forbidding him to enter the city of Hevron, where he had conducted several demonstrations demanding that Jews be allowed to resettle the birthplace of the Jewish Nation. While in prison, he wrote the book, “Faith and Redemption,” and continued to write his weekly articles for The Jewish Press newspaper, which allowed him to freely express his prophetic warnings, opinions which the majority of establishment Jews, in America and Israel, did not want to hear.

In explaining the reason for his imprisonment, I used the word “ostensibly” because, as his biography makes clear, the real reason Rabbi Kahane was arrested was because the leaders of the Israeli government hoped to intimidate him and weaken his spirit, in order to crush his public appeal and the growing strength of his Kach Party, which was then becoming increasingly popular.

Like much of Rabbi Kahane’s writing, the messages of the book resonate with truth and clarity today. First, we will present his strong and heartfelt opening (greatly abridged for the purpose of this review) and then, in part two, quote from selected chapters to encompass the overall theme. In most cases, due to limitations of reviewing space, we will omit the wealth of Torah and Talmudic sources which he cites to support his understandings and the paths he sets before us, as signposts to hasten our complete Redemption. He writes:

“How wise and understanding this people could be! What a marvelous country they might establish! What a bright future could be theirs! How magnificent their redemption could be were they, ‘wise and understanding!’

“What splendor, what bliss they could enjoy! What a great blessing could be theirs! What spiritual elevation! What holiness! What truth and freedom, redemption and liberation! The end of all pain and suffering! Were they but wise enough to contemplate all this!

“Yet they are not wise, hence they refuse to ascend to their rightful greatness. They flee the glory and majesty that are their destiny. They eschew the wisdom with which they were blessed, and this renders them what they are today.

“Two pathways, two options. And we have chosen the pathway of insanity, of the, ‘ungrateful, unwise nation.’ A wise and understanding people has become helpless and confused – of its own choosing. An insightful people has been struck blind. They call darkness light and swear that something counterfeit is real. They cling to the absurd and grovel before empty illusions. They reject greatness for pettiness, spurn monarchy for the vulgar and commonplace. They are confused and perplexed and their sensitivities and emotions have betrayed them.

“They lack the sense to see the terrible tragedy crouching around the bend. Or they see it but do not understand what they are seeing. Or they understand but have no idea how to save themselves. Or they see it but repress that awareness. They tremble in fear, seeking shelter under falling trees. They stumble and grab hold of broken reeds. They look forward to a Redemption that will sprout forth from petty politics or other worthless folly. They witness miracles but refuse to recognize them. Salvation comes and they ignore the outstretched hand of G-d. The Jewish People, having abandoned their Maker, wander around like panhandlers, spiritual beggars going door to door and beseeching assistance. They are sunken in depression, living a nightmare of deepening despair. How ironic! How tragic! How frustrating!

“This is the worst of all periods when we could be making it the best.

“This is a moment in history such as our people have never seen, a moment of divine decree promising complete Redemption, or alternately, calamities the likes of which we have never experienced, besides a small taste forty years ago.

“There are Jews living in the exile who understand nothing at all. The have cut themselves off from faith, from the nation, from the Jewish soul and corpus, from the least affinity to anything Jewish. Having been born ‘free-thinkers,’ having declared their lack of any dependence on their heritage, in their own eyes they are no longer Jews, but Americans or Frenchmen or Europeans or ‘citizens of humanity.’ On the other hand, there are those who have arrived at a convenient, reasonable ‘accommodation’ with their Jewishness. They are Jews, but they view the diaspora as their future, their permanent home. They concede very little to their religion, and they do not demand much in return. Happily and complacently they imbibe what the delicious exile has to offer. Their futures seem bright and rosy. Their brows are not furrowed with worry, their hopes are high, their future is tranquil.

“Both groups walk in darkness, immersed in illusory bliss, totally unaware of the significance of this terrible hour. They are ignorant of the destiny that has been decreed for them and that awaits them – as Jews. Their children are dropping out of the march of history, falling by the wayside, victims of the thirst for alien waters and foreign doctrines, assimilation, mixed marriages, and the curse of our times – total apathy regarding their Jewishness. A spiritual cancer is eating away at them.

"Simultaneously they notice the rising wave of anti-Semitism with its burning hatred that will not be quenched until the last Jew is eliminated – G-d forbid, and it makes them stop and think. Theirs is a world gradually turning insane. The earth is quaking under their feet in the exile. As violence increases, non-Jews feel increasingly insecure, and the eternal scapegoat waits trembling to be discovered. Those Jews sit anxiously on their pot of flesh, and their own insecurity eats away at them. They feel something terrible and threatening, somber and certain. The world is about to destroy itself, and the Jew will be served up as a sacrifice.

"And in the Land of Israel. In the Land of Israel, thirty-years young and three-thousand years old, the Jew bears witness to idols being smashed, illusions being dispelled, security and certainty being undermined and values collapsing.

"O, how did the proud city become so perplexed! A country that performed so magnificently just yesterday, and today is groping like a blind man in the dark. In the exile they call conferences and confer committees of investigation, congresses and leagues against defamation. They create idols and call their idols by the names of ‘Liberalism,’ ‘Enlightenment,’ ‘Democracy,’ ‘Public Relations,’ ‘Finding Favor,’ ‘Humaneness,’ ‘Brotherhood,’ ‘Temples,’ ‘Conservativism,’ ‘Reformism,’ ‘Melting Pots,’ and ‘Low Profiles.’ They believe that through these they will be saved, and that these will save their bodies from their non-Jewish enemies and the bodies of their children from their non-Jewish friends.

"And, in the Land of Israel, they continue to create new-old political parties, play ‘musical chairs’ to form majority or minority governments. They create protest movements and form nationalist parties that are ‘pure’ or ‘flexible’ or ‘concerned with peace.’ They nag at the world's conscience, form alliances and engage in realpolitik. They engage in all the Jewish stunts and tricks, while in Heaven above, there is only divine wrath and bitter mockery. This is because with all their desperate, wretched plans, with all their solutions and illusions, their entire farce, the main component is missing. It has disappeared. The only factor, the important and decisive one – G-d! The Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He! We have wasted enough time on vacuous, petty, pointless nonsense.

"The time has come for us to recall who the Jewish People are. Peace? Security? Tranquility? Only, ‘if you follow My laws.’ There is no other way, and all the desperate ‘answers’ from right and from left are just illusions, just "Further Confusion to the Perplexed." Not Leftism. Not Nationalism. The Jewish People have but one interpretation to the historic process – the Divine One.”

What does this Divine solution require from us? The Gemara states that although Hashem will redeem the Jewish People with or without repentance, the Nation’s willing return to Torah and mitzvot will hasten the Redemption and bring it about in a much less painful fashion, (Sanhedrin 97B). Nonetheless, Rabbi Kahane explains, it is not enough to cling to those mitzvot that naturally come to mind when we think about ‘religiosity.’ The crucial test of repentance to G-d is faith and trust in Him and in His omnipotence, which find expression in the most challenging commandments facing the Nation.

“The first yardstick,” he writes, “is the difficult, ostensibly impossible mission of making a courageous, stalwart decision to apply the sovereignty, and control by the Jewish People and by the Jewish State, to every portion of the Land of Israel that comes into our hands. And all the more so that we must refuse to betray the Holy Land by handing over any portion of it to non-Jews. This is a very difficult yardstick, whereby G-d measures our sincerity and faith and trust in Him.

"After all, herein lies our confrontation with the entire world. Herein lies the threat of international condemnation. The danger that we will lose our ‘ally.’ Through this determination, through our devotedly taking hold of the Rock in whom we trust, we are faced with the frightening possibility – for those lacking faith – of political isolation. Who will help us? Who will give us weapons, money, oil? How can our people dwell alone?”

The next necessary step to Redemption is to oust from the Land all non-Jews who refuse to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over all of its borders.

Rabbi Kahane writes: The second yardstick – the most daunting test, the most difficult trial, is to activate the divine dictate regarding the Arabs of the Land of Israel, enemies of the Jews and of the Jewish country, a time-bomb concealed in our heartland. Our fate, our future, our lives, depend on our readiness to stand alone against the whole world and to take the Jewish steps we were commanded to take by G-d, the L-rd of Hosts of Israel. And we must understand that without these steps, without a solution to this danger, all the attempts, and all the talk about adding settlements in Judea and Samaria, are pure nonsense...one more settlement and one more town will not save us, and whoever fights for a hilltop but ignores the Ishmaelite mountain, doesn't understand a thing.

"It is no coincidence that the Torah talked about conquering the Land and removing its non-Jewish inhabitants using a single Hebrew root: ‘You shall conquer [veyarashta ] the Land,’ (Deuteronomy, 6:18), and, ‘You shall expel them [veyarashta otam] and live in their land,’ (Deuteronomy, 12:29). Without a solution to the problem of the Arab residents there will be no serious progress with settling the Land. Whoever advocates settlements but refuses to deal with the problem of Ishmael will certainly fail.”

The third yardstick which measures our faith in Hashem, and which opens the gateway to Redemption, is in loving each individual Jew and the Jewish People as a whole, by concretely caring about their fate and distress, demonstrated by our readiness to give of ourselves in terms of upholding the principles of righteousness, justice, mercy, and self-sacrifice.

However, Rabbi Kahane makes clear, this all-encompassing love is not blind. “We must understand that loving our fellow Jew demands that a Jew rebuke his brothers – for their own good, and for the good of the entire people which is bound up together by cords of mutual responsibility, all with a shared destiny. ‘You shall surely rebuke your fellow Jew,’ (Leviticus, 19:17). Our Sages commented, ‘Even a hundred times,’" (Bava Metzia 31a).

Rabbi Kahane emphasizes that the need to rebuke, on behalf of the overall good of the Nation, applies to the State of Israel as well. “Just as the State of Israel has to be the State of the Jews, so does the State of the Jews have to be the Jewish State. All our lives are in danger if we do not fulfill this vision. After all, from the Torah's perspective, a State of the Jews that does not undertake the yoke of mitzvot and accept Torah law has no authority, divine legitimacy, or even moral right to exist. This, too, is part of loving one's fellow Jew, because without mitzvah observance, G-d will bring down upon all, a terrifying punishment.”

Nonetheless, he writes, a Jew must be careful to avoid misplaced extremism. “G-d forbid he should fall prey to hatred, for love and hatred cannot coexist. Our goal must be serving G-d with tolerance, calm and understanding. How can our secular brethren, raised in irreligious homes, understand and how can they want to obey G-d's commandments if we do not explain it to them? You cannot compare explaining it a hundred times to explaining it a hundred-and-one times when someone is cut off from reality, and such is the situation with the secular, who do not understand that the reality is G-d and His decrees, and that all the rest is a transient dream. We must teach them and teach them again, and all of that with love and brotherhood and friendship. Groundless hatred destroyed the Temple in the past, and Heaven forbid it should bring upon us further calamity.

A final key to Redemption, Rabbi Kahane explains, is that the Jews of the Diaspora must liquidate the Exile, by their own choice and actions, by making Aliyah without waiting for Mashiach to do everything for them. In doing this, they will demonstrate the trust in Hashem upon which the Nation’s salvation depends.

He writes: “The religious Jew is building himself a new Jerusalem in the lands of contamination and abomination, Brooklyn, or Golders' Green, or Toronto. The Rebbe runs his hassidic court and the Rabbi gives his weekly sermon. Yeshivot and ritual baths are business as usual, and the Jew makes the sweet, ‘Golden Exile’ his home. ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ That is the outrageous lie that the Jew spouts at the end of every Yom Kippur and every Pesach Seder, sitting wrapped in his tallit and ‘kittel,’ scrupulously and piously fulfilling all the mitzvot down to the last detail, while venting his wrath and indignation against the ‘irreligious.’ Every year, he lifts up his eyes reverentially towards heaven, without shame, lies, cheats and distorts as he cries out to his G-d, ‘Next year in Jerusalem…’

"And it is his full intent to remain next year in Brooklyn, or Golders' Green, or Toronto… Woe to the eyes that witness this! Pay no heed to the learned explanations and excuses of all those Jews, religious and not, who justify their living in the exile. The Jew does not remain in the exile because, ‘he can help Israel more by staying there and sending money,’ or because he ‘can provide Israel with political support.’ The religious Jew does not live there without a G-d because ‘Israel is not religious enough.’ Those are nothing but pathetic excuses brazenly pulled out of thin air in order to justify oneself and quiet one's guilt pangs. The reason good Jews, religious or not, remain in the exile during the miraculous redemption period is that life is easier there, Israel is ‘dangerous,’ it is too hard to start a new life, too hard to learn a new language and too painful to lower one's standard of living.”

Not all readers will enjoy the author’s “tell-it-like-it-is style,” but the persuasiveness of his arguments, backed by a wealth of Torah sources, make this book a must read for anyone seeking a better understanding of our times and greater insight into what the Master of the World expects from His Chosen and often perplexed People.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."

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