Fishman with books he wrote
Fishman with books he wrotecourtesy

Certainly the Simchat Torah attack on Israel was a devastating blow to the country and to Jews all over the world. In addition to the pain over the murdered and victimized, and the national anguish over the IDF soldiers who have been killed and wounded in the ongoing battle, a reaction of shock and wonder filled the hearts and minds of the nation. “How could it be?” people wondered. “How could a country with Israel’s military might suffered such a blow?”

Others wrestled with disturbing questions of faith. “Where was God,” they asked. “Perhaps we’ve been wrong all along in thinking that our era marks the beginning of Israel’s Redemption?”

To answer these questions and to understand that setbacks are also an integral part of Redemption, we will summarize a chapter of the book “Step by Step” written by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, of blessed memory, with translations by Moshe Goldberg. The book’s Hebrew title “Kimah Kimah” refers to a Gemara in Jerusalem Talmud where Israel’s Redemption is compared to the gradual dawning of a new day (Berachot 1:1).

Some ninety years ago, in a sermon on Rosh Hashanah before the sounding of the shofar in the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, Rabbi Kook elucidated the Gemara’s teaching in the following manner:

“We have to understand the meaning of Redemption. For the Jewish People, Redemption heralds the ending of our exile in foreign lands and the re-establishment of independent Israelite sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. We are redeemed from subjugation to the nations. Through terrible world conflagrations, international agreements, and the pioneering self-sacrifice of our people, Hashem brings us home. Our Sages teach that the Redemption unfolds slowly, ‘kimah kimah,’ a little at a time, like the dawning of a new day, gradually, from darkness to light, in a slow developing process which returns the Jewish People to its Land, its Kingdom, and it unique Torah life.”

Over the past few decades we have seen a marked retreat from the towering Zionist spirit which fueled the early Aliyahs to Eretz Yisrael and the struggle to achieve independence in our Land. Giving away large chunks of the Promised Land to our enemies is a reflection of this ill-fated turnabout. Well before the current war in Gaza, the spirit of nationalism and patriotism which characterized the initial stages of revival and rebuilding had lost their vigor, turning into something called “post-Zionism” highlighted by the desire to become a “progressive” Western nation like all others. And while the spirit of Torah has increased throughout the country, there are groups who fight against it with all of their power.

Rabbi Druckman explains how precisely these setbacks are a part of the Divine exalted plan of Redemption that we are very much experiencing in our times, even in periods when the very opposite seems to be happening. Failures and setbacks are an integral part of the process.

When we recall the teaching of the Gemara that the Redemption of Israel unfolds slowly, slowly, “a little at a time” like the dawning of a new day, we come to understand that any given moment is not the true picture but that we must rather wait patiently until we can see the full process with all of its ups and downs. This is because the dawn of day includes darkness as well as light.

Setbacks, whether they come through war, ideological breakdowns, or misguided political retreats, do not contradict the process of Redemption. On the contrary – they are an essential part of it! We are told that before the Garden of Eden, Hashem created worlds and destroyed them. Yeridot (descents) occur for the sake of the aliyah (ascent) which will follow. This is a pattern which Hashem has woven into the fabric of existence, what Kabbalists call “ratzo v’shov” - “running forward and returning.”

It is precisely because of a fall that greater heights can be achieved than were reached before. On the verse, “Do not feel joyous, my enemy – when I fall I rise up. When I sit in darkness G-d will be a light for me” (Micah 7:8), the Midrash states: “If I had not fallen, I would not have risen… If I had not sat in darkness, G-d would not have be a light for me” (Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 628).

A yerida (descent) can be a springboard for an even greater Aliyah (ascent). The Prophet Yermiahu teaches “And it is a time of tribulation for Yaakov, and from it salvation will come” (Yermiahu 30:7). Precisely our of a time of tribulation the salvation of Israel springs forth.

Rabbi Kook describes this developmental process in its relation to Israel’s unfolding Redemption:

“The Jewish People, with their greatness and spiritual fortitude, will never be limited merely to the narrow confines of Dr. Herzl’s vision, in spite of all its beauty, power, and positive value.

“Up until now, the way that practical and theoretical Zionism has achieved its political and diplomatic potential in all areas is noble and sublime. We are called upon from the depths of our experience as Yisrael to support this with all of our spiritual and physical strength. But all of this together is merely Zionism’s physical body.

“Thus we are duty bound to immediately inject the soul into this ornate body, so that it will be well worth its name… For the root of Zionism is the holy and exalted source, the Tanach… This (Zionism) is not the voice of a despised nation merely trying to seek a safe haven from its pursuers… Rather it is the voice of a holy nation, the choicest of all, ‘Yehuda the lion cub’ waking from its long slumber. Behold it is returning to its heritage – ‘To the pride of Yaakov, whom He loves, Selah’” (Letters of Rabbi Kook, Vol.2, pg. 208).

Rabbi Druckman explains that Zionism possesses two levels. First is the Zionist “body” manifested in the ingathering of the outcast to Zion and the rebuilding of the country and its nationalistic values.

The second level is the Zionist “soul” – the return of the nation to its spiritual roots. The return to the Land is not merely a means to flee the tribulations of exile, but rather to fulfill the mission of Am Yisrael in establishing the Kingship of God on Earth.

The first physical part of the rebuilding is also a type of t’shuva in its return to our Homeland, but it isn’t enough. The time comes when the nation feels that something is lacking and begins to search for its soul. Because the early Zionism of our pioneer days lacks the soul which the nation seeks, there comes a detachment from Zionist ideals to the point where onetime staunch Zionists are ready to surrender large chunks of the Land. Rabbi Kook predicted this sorrowful state of affairs more than 100 years ago:

“These days, all the hearts of the people are distant from these matters (of secular Zionism) because their love for Zion does not include the spirit of the living G-d, nor holiness and faith linked with courage, a pure heart, and love for the eternal L-rd. It (Zionism) should be linked to the soul and to the source of life of the Community of Israel for all eternity, and this is the only basis which can truly last forever. And thus the Jewish People move further and further away from loving our Holy Land…

“We can plainly see how the love of the People and of the Land, and a fondness for the language, and more, combined with a revulsion for the Torah, can lead to hatred and loathing, and it will be just a matter of time until this turns into a weakening of the heart” (Introduction to “Etz Hadar”).

Rabbi Kook wrote this at a time when secular Zionism was still a lively movement growing in support. Nonetheless he understood that the enthusiasm for Zionism would not last if the movement failed to draw inspiration from the holy spiritual roots of the nation.

Elsewhere, Rabbi Kook wrote about this disintegration in even harsher words:

“The arrogant hand, armed with anarchy and the ways of the other nations, and without any memory of the true sanctity of Yisrael, hiding its foundation with a cloak of false nationalism, scraps of Jewish History, and a love for the language, clothing life with an external brand of Yisrael instead of the internal aspect that is completely Jewish, is on the way to becoming destructive and monstrous. In the end it will lead to hatred of the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael” (Letters of Rabbi Kook, Vol.1, pg 182).

Rabbi Druckman notes that secular Zionism cannot maintain its initial form forever. It must come to embrace its spiritual roots and draw nourishment and strength from the Torah. However this transformation can only come about through the removal of the outer husk before the fruit can be eaten. Similarly, a seed planted in the ground goes through an initial process of disintegration before it can sprout.

If this process of growth were to be filmed only during the stage of decomposition everything would seem to be lost. But when we view the entire time-lapse of the process we come to understand how the setback led to the rejuvenation and growth. Adopting this vision we can expect great strides forward in the aftermath of the current war we are fighting.

As we say in our morning prayers, “It is a time of tribulation for Yaakov and from it salvation will sprout.” We can already see a great surge in patriotism, national unity, and the growing realization that all of our Biblical Homeland must remain in our hands. Out from the present darkness a new and even greater light of Redemption will surely shine. May it be soon.

The book “Step by Step” can be obtained at: