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The Valley of the Dry Bones and the Advent of the Redemption, Part 2

April 16, 2014

(Part 1)

Two years ago, I was asked to translate the Hebrew textbook Emuna Ug’ula, “Faith and Redemption”, for the native-English-speaking community of high school students in Israel. The book was part of the Jewish philosophy curriculum required of students taking their matriculation exams. I highly recommend the book even for those who are not required to prepare for the matriculation exams, and can provide the rest of the translations gratis for those who would like them.

The second edition of the book had the following excerpts from prominent, anti-Zionist rabbis of the 20th century. While their opinions are important, I feel that 1. they are not true to the messages reiterated by the prophets and the sages and 2. they are in utter contradiction to the opinion of Maimonides, who, ironically, they often seek to to use as a support for their own opinions.

The first is from the the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, who escaped German-occupied Hungary due to the intervention of Zionist activists, and can be found in the introduction to Vayo’el Moshe:

These destroyers have taken the Redemption into their own hands through their repulsive efforts to imitate the nations. They hang their positions on a great tree, Nahmanides, OBM, who wrote in his commentary to Song of Songs that Israel would return to its land with the permission of the kings of nations… it is clear from the continuation of that citation from Nahmanides that “the reason why the King Messiah is [envisioned] as poor and riding on a donkey, is that it is an allusion to the fact that the Jews shall not inherit the land through their bow and sword, nor by horse or chariot (i.e. through force), but rather by the will of the Creator, who will cast down and lay low before them all of the nations…” Here Nahmanides states his explicit opinion that the Redemption shall not come about through any natural efforts, and the Jews will not even have to resort to [using] weapons, merely relying on G-d’s word… And now, anyone with a brain in his skull can understand the terrible tragedy that has befallen us due to our many sins, that a band of sectarians and heretics, heaven forfend, have forced the Redemption and [the return of Jewish] sovereignty before their time, the very same thing that all of the great scholars and saints have dreaded happening ever since the contaminated Zionist idea first began to shine… Even if the members of the Knesset were righteous and holy, it would still be a a terrible, fearsome, and criminal offense to force the Redemption and [the return of Jewish] sovereignty before their time once it has been shown that the prohibition engendered by the oath and the transgression of [acting before the] end binds all of Israel… And if so, all of the participants in this government are partners in idolatry and violators of a prohibition “for which it is better for one to be killed than have to transgress.”

That Zionist state is completely opposed to the holy Torah and is founded on a dreadful heresy, and it is without a doubt against belief in G-d and His holy Torah. It is impossible that these two beliefs, namely, belief in this state and the belief in our holy Torah, can be possessed of one man, as they are exact opposites. They can not share one crown.

This next piece is from R’ Elazar Menahem Shach, Michtavim Uma’amarim, pg. 30, 34-35. R’ Shach was well known for declaring that his opinions were always in line with “the gedoilim”, whereas the opinions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, were not.

Lest you say: “We are a nation with our own land, our own state, our own soldiers, and our own IDF, and we are strong!” I’ll answer you with a question: how long have you had all this? Can it be that before any of this the Jewish people did not actually exist? Is it only through these means that we became the Jewish people?

The Torah, which was given to us more than 3,000 years ago, is what makes us unique… Our condition today is very serious. On one hand, we see signs of a great awakening, with many unaffiliated Jews returning to observance. I do not know if there has ever been a time like ours… On the other hand, we see a threatening and frightful vision of the future: a comprehensive rebellion against heaven… There is an immense difference between an individual who sins on his own and a community of multitudes organized to live in a manner of sin and iniquity.

The matter is even more grievous when there is Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. An individual sabbath desecrator, heaven forfend, can come up with all sorts of justifications, like the difficulty of earning a livelihood, etc. He can deceive himself, but how can those who have all of the governmental tools at their disposal rationalize their actions? Are we not discussing free Jews in our state, the State of Israel, with our own [Jewish] president [prime minister?], with our own regime and army, all self-produced, and who here will trouble them to keep our holy sabbath? The heart cries; the heart aches.

The last piece is based on the speeches of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who, despite his initial anti-Zionism, was eventually the most vocal American rabbinic leader opposed to any land-for-peace (sic) concessions. Because of this, his followers today usually align themselves with the right-wing of Religious-Zionist politics.

Da’at Torah Concerning the Situation in the Land of Israel

After the Holy One, blessed be He, saw the affliction of his people Israel, that they were being slaughtered and murdered and subject to terrible decrees, he gave them, by means of the exile, the chance to act according to their will in every which way… At that time, the Jewish people were given the possibility to behave like a holy nation according to to their free and good will and according to the holy Torah which was given from a holy source… Therefore, if the Jewish people take advantage of this opportune time and behave properly, this would be a wonderful opportunity for them to show how they are fit to merit the Redemption, but instead, the leaders argued over whether or not to mention the Name of Heaven in the Declaration of Independence… And so, to our great misfortune, the Jewish people have again failed to raise themselves, to exploit the opportunity and prove that the Redemption can come about.

In light of all the above, when we come to categorize the change in the status of the Jewish people in the land of Israel 30 years ago, we can say: does it save [Jewish] lives? Yes. Does it allow for Jews to study the Torah and observe the commandments with ease? Yes. However, has establishing an independent Jewish regime in the Holy Land moved us in the direction of the Redemption? No and no! It is obvious that this has no relevance whatsoever to the Redemption or the beginning of the Redemption, for “due to our sins we have been exiled from our land,” and all the while that we have not eliminated the cause, our sins, we can not be rid of the result, the Exile. Only once we get rid of the reason for the Exile, and the Jewish people repent, only then will it be possible for the Redemption to come about through our true Messiah.

Maimonides has already ruled that the exile shall end thusly (Laws of Kings and their Wars, 11:4): “If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its commandments as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of G-d… builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah. He will then improve the entire world, motivating all the nations to serve G-d together…”

Here we have a clear ruling that the Exile shall persist until “a king shall arise from the House of David…” and only once he rebuilds the Temple, and after that gathers in the dispersed of Israel, only then will they know that he is certainly the Messiah… And based on all this, it is understood that our era is not the beginning of the Redemption, and the immigration of tens of thousands of Jews to the Holy Land is not the ingathering of the exiles, but merely a means of saving many Jews during the Exile.

However, once there has been such a large ingathering of Jews, they need some means of leading themselves (but not a monarchy, Heaven forfend, as that will only be with the coming of the Messiah) as leadership is a necessity when ever there is a conglomerate of Jews… Similarly, with regards to ensuring national security via “chariot and horses,” as is natural, but we must remember that none of this is in anyway related to the issue of redemption… Rather, we shall be redeemed by our true Messiah.

Now, let us read Maimonides in his own words (Laws of Kings and their Wars, 12:2):

There are some Sages who say that Elijah’s coming will precede the coming of the Messiah. All these [the War of Gog and Magog, and Elijah’s future ministry mentioned in the previous law] and similar matters cannot be definitely known by man until they occur, for these matters are undefined in the prophets’ words and even the wise men have no established tradition regarding these matters except their own interpretation of the verses. Therefore, there is a controversy among them regarding these matters.

Regardless of the debate concerning these questions, neither the order of the occurrence of these events or their precise detail are among the fundamental principles of the faith. A person should not occupy himself with the Aggadot and homiletics concerning these and similar matters, nor should he consider them as essentials, for study of them will neither bring fear or love of God.

Similarly, one should not try to determine the appointed time for Messiah’s coming. Our Sages declared: ‘May the spirits of those who attempt to determine the time of Messiah’s coming expire!’ Rather, one should await and believe in the general conception of the matter as explained.

Every time I merit to celebrate the completion of the study of a tractate of the Talmud, I like to mention that the long version of the qaddish mentions all of the “matters of the redemption” Maimonides was referring to:

Exalted and hallowed be His great Name, (1) in the world which He will create anew, (2) where He will revive the dead, (3) construct His temple, (4) deliver life, (5) and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, (6) and uproot foreign idol worship from the land, (7) and restore the holy service of Heaven to its place, (8) along with His radiance, splendor and Shechinah, and (9) may He cause his salvation to sprout [what we call the ingathering of the exiles] and (10) hasten the coming of His messiah, in your days, and in your lifetimes… 

Note that the short version of the daily qaddish incorporates all of these matters into the expression “and may He give rise to His Kingship,” and that if the qaddish is any indication, the advent of the Messiah will be the last facet of the Redemption to appear.

More importantly, from this we see that Maimonides himself did not declare that the events of the Redemption have to occur in a specific order, unlike the views of the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Shach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and others who opposed the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel precisely because they preceded the advent of the Messiah. More so, we have been made witness to the ingathering of the exiles happening first, and it could very well be that the Temple will be rebuilt before he appears.

(Part 3)


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