CAN THE REDEMPTION COME ABOUT THROUGH SECULAR JEWS?

Thus, Redemption does not always unfold as we think it should.  The previous two Redemptions began when the Jews were very deficient in mitzvah observance, and Chazal say that the third (and final) Redemption may occur in similar fashion.  According to R. Yochanan, it can even come to a generation that is completely corrupt.

CAN THE REDEMPTION COME ABOUT THROUGH SECULAR JEWS?

by Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Bergman and Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

[From the book, “Question of Redemption.” For more of Rabbi Lichtman’s writings see the website: https://toratzion.com/]

 

The Ways of Redemption

When Jews dreamed of redemption in the past, they certainly did not imagine it unfolding in its present form.  Everyone believed that a righteous, God-fearing king would deliver the nation and generate a sweeping spiritual revival among the people, causing all of Israel to observe the mitzvot and become righteous Torah scholars.  However, to think that God must execute the redemption as we see fit is extremely reprehensible.  For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, says the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts (Yeshayah 55:8-9).

The redemptive process, from its very inception, has always followed the path that is furthest from our expectations.

 

The Origins of Royalty

Let us begin with the origins of Mashiach’s paternal ancestor.  In Parashat VaYeishev (BeReishit 38), we read the perplexing story of Yehudah and Tamar.  When elementary-school teachers reach this story, they grope for ways to relate it to their students.  It is unpleasant to imagine how this story would be portrayed if it were to happen today.  Certainly, no one expected anything positive or sacred to come out of this.  Quite surprisingly, however, Peretz – the progenitor of King David (“the man descended from Peretz”)[1] and Israel’s entire royal dynasty – was born from this questionable union.

Chazal express this blaring contradiction as follows:

At that time, Yehudah went down from his brothers (BeReishit 38:1):  Yehudah has betrayed, and an abomination has been done(Malachi 2:11).  Said [God], “You have denied, Yehudah!  You have lied, Yehudah!  An abomination has been done in Israel: Yehudah has been profaned, for Yehudah has profaned the holiness of the Lord, which He loved (ibid.)…”

  1. Shmuel son of Nachman began: “For I [God] know the thoughts (Yirmiyah 29:11):  The tribes were busy selling Yosef, Yosef was busy mourning and fasting, Reuven was busy mourning and fasting, Ya’akov was busy mourning and fasting, Yehudah was busy taking a wife, and the Holy One blessed be He was busy creating the light of the messianic king.”  (BeReishit Rabbah 85:1)

Although the Midrash reproaches Yehudah for his deed, God created the light of Mashiach from it!

King David did not have questionable lineage from his father’s side alone; his maternal line also came from quite an unexpected source.  We would have expected Mashiach to be born into a prominent, well-bred, Jewish family.  Who would have thought that he would descend specifically from Gentiles, a family of converts?  Is there a shortage of good Jewish families who are more deserving of the honor?

Ruth, David’s great-grandmother, was no ordinary convert, either.  She came from Moab, one of the most despised nations, from the Torah’s perspective:

An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of the Lord, even the tenth generation shall not enter the congregation of the Lord, forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on your way out of Egypt, and because he [Moab] hired against you Bil am the son of Be or…to curse you.  (Devarim 23:4-5)

This wicked nation wanted to destroy the Jewish people, so they sent their daughters out to seduce the Jewish men.  Therefore, God decreed that they would never be allowed to marry into the Jewish nation.  How, then, did Boaz marry Ruth?  Tradition had it that only male Moabites were forbidden, not females.  But not everyone accepted this, and both Ruth and David had difficulty getting married, until this halachah was finally mandated, after generations of debate.[2]

Besides all this, the Moabite nation came into existence under very shameful circumstances – an incestuous union between a father and his daughter.[3]  And this daughter wasn’t even ashamed to publicize her misdeed, calling her son Moav (“from father”).[4]

Would we have expected King David to be born under such circumstances, filled with sin and iniquity?

David’s successor, King Shlomo, also entered this world in an unexpected way.  Shlomo’s mother was Bat Sheva, the woman who David originally took in a sinful manner.[5]  True, David repented for his misdeed,[6] but did Jewish kingship have to emanate specifically from such an episode?

Another Jewish leader arose in an unexpected fashion.  Moshe Rabbeinu was the product of a marriage that the Torah subsequently forbade – Amram and his aunt Yocheved (Shemot 6:20).  A child born from such a union after the giving of the Torah is considered illegitimate (VaYikra 18:15).  Moreover, he grew up in a pagan house (Pharaoh’s palace) and was raised as the son of the one who wanted to annihilate all Jewish males.  Moshe spent most of his life among Gentiles, becoming an integral part of the Jewish people only at the age of eighty.  Is this how we would have imagined the birth and upbringing of the man who transmitted the Torah to Israel?

Did anyone expect the Purim salvation to sprout from an intermarriage (Esther and Achashveirosh)?

Now let us examine Israel’s spiritual state during the previous redemptions.

 

The Exodus from Egypt

Were all Jews God-fearing people at the time of the exodus from Egypt?  Did they all keep their ancestors’ traditions meticulously?  Scriptures (Yechezkel 20) and Chazal indicate that the exact opposite was true.  Citing a Midrash Mechilta, Rashi teaches that the Jews were steeped in idolatry at the time, lacking even one mitzvah in whose merit they could be redeemed:

[God said] “The time has come [for Me to fulfill] My promise to Avraham and redeem his descendants, but they have no mitzvot to perform in order to be redeemed… for they are steeped in idolatry.”  (Rashi, Shemot 12:6)

The Jewish people had reached such a low spiritual plane that even Moshe Rabbeinu did not believe that they could be redeemed.  He, too, thought that redemption cannot occur unless the nation is completely righteous (Rashi, Shemot 3:11).  Indeed, today’s oft-repeated question – how can a spiritually debased people be worthy of redemption? – has a basis.  It is truly difficult to understand this; even Moshe Rabbeinu had trouble with it at first.  Nevertheless, redemption came specifically in this manner.

We must also remember, painfully, that only a minority of the nation was privileged to leave Egypt.  Eighty percent died in the Plague of Darkness, because of their sins (Rashi, Shemot 10:22).  Midrash Tanchuma (BeShalach 1) quotes R. Nehurai as saying that only one out of every five thousand Jews left Egypt, and one opinion in the Talmud places the ratio at one in 300,000 (Sanhedrin 111a)!  Despite all this, the redemption began.  Let us not forget that the Plague of Darkness, in which the sinners perished, was the ninth plague that descended upon the Egyptians.  Even though Israel’s spiritual state was very poor during the first eight plagues, the redemption began and progressed.

 

The Period of the Judges (Shoftim)

The Judges inferred from this precedent that redemption is possible even when the nation is steeped in sin:

The spirit of the Lord was upon him [Otniel] (Shoftim 3:10).  R. Tanchuma expounded: [Otniel] examined what the Holy One Blessed be He said to Moshe in Egypt – I have surely seen (ראה ראיתי) the affliction of My people (Shemot 3:7).  What do these two “seeings” (ראה ראיתי) represent?  [God] said to [Moshe]: “I see that [the Jews] are eventually going to stray after the [golden] calf.  Nevertheless, I have seen the affliction of My people.”  Thus, Otniel deduced: whether they are worthy or not, He must redeem them.  (Rashi, Shoftim 3:10)

Gideon, another Judge, declared, “If our ancestors [who left Egypt] were righteous, let God save us in their merit; and if they were wicked, just as He performed wonders for them without reason, let Him do the same for us” (Rashi, Shoftim 6:13).  The Malbim explains that this is why Gideon asked God for a special sign before going out to war.  He, too, thought that redemption cannot take place when the nation is undeserving.

 

The Second Temple Era

Scriptures state clearly that the Jews who returned from Babylonia with Ezra and Nechemyah were extremely irreligious.  Many of them, including sons of officers and the High Priest, married foreign wives (Ezra 9:2).  They had forgotten the Torah to such an extent that they were unaware of the mitzvah to build booths on the holiday of Sukkot (Nechemyah 8:14).  They desecrated the Sabbath openly, making it the market day in Jerusalem.  The Talmud tells us that many of the returnees were the most wretched Jews possible – bastards, foundlings, etc. (Kiddushin 69a).  Some of them even committed immoral sexual acts, like those of Sodom and Gomorrah (ibid. 70a, with Rashi).  Despite their shortcomings, however, God redeemed them and even held them in high esteem (ibid.).

That generation had its share of “anti-Zionists,” as well.  Reish Lakish (the Talmudic Sage) asserts that the redemption in the days of Ezra and Nechemyah was short-lived only because of those Jews who refused to return to Zion (Yoma 9b).  We could have merited eternal redemption 2,500 years ago, had all Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael.  R. Yehudah HaLevi strongly denounces these slothful Jews in his classic Sefer HaKuzari (2:24).  When the King of the Kuzars asks why the Jewish people do not ascend to Eretz Yisrael nowadays (in the eleventh century!), the Jewish sage answers mournfully:

Alas, King of Kuzar, you have exposed my point of disgrace!  Indeed, this sin prevented the fulfillment of that which God had destined for the Second Temple…  For Divine Providence was ready to rest upon [the Jews] as at first, if they had all willingly heeded the call and returned to Eretz Yisrael.  However, only a minority took heed, while the majority – including the most prominent among them – remained in Babylonia, acquiescing to exile and bondage, just so that they would not have to part with their dwellings and businesses…  If we would be prepared to draw near to the God of our forefathers wholeheartedly, He would save us as He saved our ancestors in Egypt.  But since that is not the case, our utterances of “Bow at His holy mountain,” “Bow at His footstool,” “Who restores His presence to Zion,” etc. are like the chirping of the birds, for we say these things without proper intent.

Thus, redemption does not always unfold as we think it should.  The previous two redemptions began when the Jews were very deficient in mitzvah observance, and Chazal say that the third (and final) redemption may occur in similar fashion.  According to R. Yochanan, it can even come to a generation that is completely corrupt (Sanhedrin 98a).

 

The Netziv’s Conclusion

  1. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (the Netziv)[7] publicized the following paragraphs in a book called Shivat Tzion – a compilation of letters from great Torah authorities in favor of the modern-day return to Zion:

We must not speculate that this great matter [the resettlement of Eretz Yisrael] should have occurred differently, as people visualize it in their mind’s eye…  Indeed, one must not express his opinion to God, as the prophet Yeshayah says, For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, [says the Lord]…  We must not be overly wise and say that it has to happen in a different way.  (Shivat Tzion, sec. 1, p. 17-18).

Ezra the Scribe gathered a few thousand Jews in Babylonia, all types of people – great Torah scholars, God-fearing individuals, and also men who had foreign wives, people who regularly violated the Sabbath, and those who had no Torah knowledge whatsoever.  These people worked together and prepared the Land for settlement, until it was eventually filled with its children.  We, too, must awaken to the sound of God’s desire, which resonates from one end of the earth to the other, wherever our brethren are scattered… all types of Jews…  (ibid., sec. 2, p. 6)

 

[1] From the Lecha Dodi prayer.

[2] See Yevamot 76b and Ruth Rabbah 7.

[3] See BeReishit 19:31-38.

[4] Rashi, ibid. v. 37; Devarim 2:9.  Primary source: BeReishit Rabbah 51:11.

[5] See II Shmuel, chap. 11.

[6] See Tehillim 7, with Rashi.

[7] 5577-5653 (1817-1893).  The Netziv lived most of his life in Volozhin, where he served as av beit din and rosh yeshiva of the foremost Torah center in Europe at the time.  He wrote many books, including Haamek She eilah, Haamek Davar (on the Chumash), and Meishiv Davar.  He was one of the greatest advocates of Religious Zionism and one of Rav Kook’s mentors.  Kibbutz Ein HaNatziv is named after him.

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