Rabbi Leo Dee is an educator living in Efrat, and Israel’s Special Envoy for Social Initiatives. His book “Transforming the World: The Jewish Impact on Modernity” has been republished in English and Hebrew in memory of his wife Lucy and daughters Maia and Rina, who were murdered by terrorists in April 2023.
Let’s travel back in time to the year 67 CE to the 8th of Av. The Romans have already breached the walls of Jerusalem but not quite reached the Temple. The High Priest is dressed in his robes, the serving Kohanim are occupied with their rituals. The multiple rules of Temple purity apply to them, as well as to anyone bringing a sacrifice. The Temple vessels must be treated with care as any inadvertent misuse could result in a significant penalty. In short, there are hundreds of the 613 Biblical mitzvot which apply to the Temple and its complex daily and weekly operations. Compared to this, the rules of Shabbat, kashrut and family purity are far less demanding, a welcome break from the stressful requirements of Temple life!
Then the unthinkable happens. The Romans enter the Temple on the 9th Av and destroy it completely. Suddenly, there is no Temple and no High Priests, and the laws of Temple purity that were so central just a few days before become obsolete. The Jewish people lose about one third of their Torah commandments, and very soon the laws of Shabbat, kashrut, family purity and synagogue prayer become the most prominent expressions of Judaism in the diaspora.
Why is this relevant? Because today we find ourselves at another critical juncture of Jewish life after the massacre of October 7th.
For 2,000 years we have been living in a world of Galut (exile) with a focus on the mitzvot that have helped us to retain our Jewish identity under the harshest of conditions. But this Simchat Torah was marked by the opening of the Torah afresh. While we were reading from the beginning of the Torah about the Creation of the world, we were thrust into a new world - the world of bringing Geulah (redemption).
Besides the circumstantial evidence for this (President Biden making a speech he was surely incapable of making without Divine assistance, a Turkish MP dropping dead in parliament immediately after cursing Israel, and a sudden return to almost complete unity in Israel) there is also solid halakhic basis to this claim. In the Gemara (Masechet Shabbat 63a), Shmuel states that there will be no difference between this world and the Messianic age (Geulah), except that Israel will no longer be under external threat from its enemies (or friends).
The war currently being waged by our courageous fighters has one main goal: to remove the threat of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran from being able to wage war with us again. It may also result in a strategic change to depend less on American military support. Those aims are in line with Shmuel, and the Rambam cites his opinion as authoritative. We are fighting for Geulah.
It is interesting to note that Israel is in its 75th year as a state, marking three full generations of 25 years, which establishes a "chazaka" according to halakha. This triple confirmation means that our existence is firmly established - we are here forever, just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob represented the permanent creation of a Jewish people. Additionally, now that 7.2 million Jews live in Israel - just over half the Jews in the world - we have passed the tipping point of the Jewish nation living in the land of Israel. All of this points to a new reality that is no less stark than the events of the 9th Av 2,000 years ago, but far more exciting.
In our new world, however, there are also new priorities. Whilst Shabbat, kashrut and family purity are still critical commandments, there are even more important mitzvot being done today by Israelis from across the religious spectrum. In 2024, fighting for the security of the Jewish people and settling the land of Israel are the top priorities. Our new Tzaddikim are our brave soldiers, and those securing and building the land and economy of Israel. On Simchat Torah, 1,300 pure souls were taken directly to God's Throne of Glory, to a higher spot in Heaven than the greatest rabbis that have passed. The tragedy of Simchat Torah only makes sense through the lens of Geulah.
We are living in a new reality where the Jews who major in Shabbat and kashrut must learn to value those who major in defending and building the Jewish state (and those who do both). And vice versa. A Geulah world needs all of us. We must all work together to build this next phase of Jewish destiny. May it be fulfilled speedily and in our days.