HOW CAN WE BE SURE THAT THE STATE OF ISRAEL MARKS THE BEGINNING OF ISRAEL’S REDEMPTION?

Our prophets assured us that we would eventually return to the Land and regain sovereignty over it.  The ingathering of the exiles and the resettlement of the Land are clear components indicting that the time of Redemption has come. One who truly contemplates the events of the past century will recognize the great miracles that have transpired and the hand of G-d that has brought it all about.

How Can We Be Sure that the State of Israel Marks the Beginning of Israel’s Redemption?

By Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Berman and Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

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

Simple Logic

Before answering these questions in detail, we must first explain that simple logic indicates that we are living in the era of redemption.  The Jewish people were exiled from their Land 2,000 years ago and have been subjugated and oppressed by the nations of the world ever since.  Our prophets assured us that we would eventually return to the Land and regain sovereignty over it.  The ingathering of the exiles and the resettlement of the Land are clear components of the redemption we so anxiously await, and it all began to occur in our generation.  One who truly contemplates the events of the past century will recognize the great miracles that have transpired and the hand of God that has brought it all about.

The prophets who predicted the redemption also spoke of a spiritual revival, but we have already explained that redemption is a long process that unfolds in stages (chap. 4).  National independence preceded spiritual growth in the previous redemptions, as well.  Evidently, the Jews who lived at the time of Ezra and Nechemyah did not need a prophet to initiate the redemption and allow them to ascend to Eretz Yisrael.  Settling the Land and establishing a Jewish state are mitzvot in the Torah, and there is no need for a prophet to tell us to do so.  The moment the barriers fell away and the gentile nations made it possible, the Jewish people arose, returned to Zion, and inaugurated their redemption.  (The Rambam mentions the need for prophets only with regard to building the Temple and offering sacrifices – Hilchot Beit HaBechira 2:4.)

Most people who doubt that the modern return to Zion is the redemption feel this way only because secular Jews initiated it.  Were the State of Israel a halachic state and its leaders Torah scholars, the vast majority of skeptics would agree that we are living in the Messianic era.  We already cited sources that refute the claim that sinners cannot bring redemption (see above, chaps. 1-2).

We will now answer the questions raised above with solid proofs from our holy sources.  Upon surveying the writings of the Religious-Zionist rabbis, I found (thus far) six reasons why we believe the redemption has begun.  Three of them are based on explicit Talmudic statements, while the other three stem from a careful examination of the way God runs His world.

 

  1. The Ingathering of the Exiles

We already explained above (chapter 4) that if the redemption comes “in its time,” it will not happen all at once.  Rather, it will develop over a long period of time.  We have been experiencing this process for many decades now, and we anxiously await its speedy completion.  The Yerushalmi brings an example of this type of redemption from the Purim story, in which the physical and political salvation occurred before the spiritual one did (see the Yerushalmi at the beginning of chap. 4).

Tractate Megillah (17b) contains one of the most important sources in the Talmud on the topic of redemption.  There, Chazal explain why the Men of the Great Assembly arranged the Shemoneh Esrei prayer in the order that they did.  “Blessed are You, O Lord, Redeemer of Israel” is the seventh blessing, because the final redemption will occur in the seventh year of a Shemittah cycle.  The Talmud explains that the actual redemption will not take place in the seventh year.  Rather, a series of wars will begin that year, while Mashiach will arrive only the following year.[1]  What is most telling, however, is the fact that the Talmud calls these wars “the beginning of redemption.”  The whole idea of “the beginning of redemption” is taken from this Gemara, which indicates quite clearly that the stages leading up to the ultimate redemption are themselves the beginning of redemption.

The Talmud continues to elucidate the order of our prayers based on the order in which the various stages of redemption will occur, delineating the following course of events:

  1. War will break out (which is already considered the beginning of redemption). 2. The Land of Israel will once again bear its fruits (the Blessing for Prosperity).  3. The exiles will return to the Land (“Sound the great shofar…”).  4. Israel’s judges will bring the wicked ones to justice (“Restore our judges…”).  5. The sinners will perish (the Blessing Against Heretics).  6. The pride of the righteous will be exalted (“Upon the righteous…”).  7. This will happen in Jerusalem (“And to Jerusalem Your city…”).  8. Once Jerusalem is rebuilt, Mashiach will arrive (“The offspring of Your servant David…”).  9. Once [the Son of] David arrives, prayer arrives (“Blessed are You, O Lord, Who hears prayer”).  10. Once prayer arrives, divine service arrives (“Be pleased…”).  11. Then, we will give thanks to God (“We thank You…”).

The Tur and Beit Yosef accept this Gemara as the final halachah (see Orach Chayim 115-121), and we arrange our daily prayers according to its conclusions.  Other halachic authorities, as well, derive practical rulings from the order of events mentioned here (see, for example, Responsa Binyan Tzion, sec. 1).

Thus, we can say definitively that the redemption has begun if the stages described above begin to unfold before our very eyes.  These are not just signs of the imminent redemption; they are the beginning of redemption itself.  The pioneers who returned to the Land in large numbers, building and preparing it for the return of millions of more Jews, precipitated the redemptive process through their actions.  After centuries of desolation, the Land bore its fruit once again (we will elaborate on this sign shortly).  Five million Jews have assembled in Eretz Yisrael, and the ingathering of the exiles has begun.  Now that three stages are already underway, we can be sure that the entire process has begun, as the author of Responsa Yeshu ot Malko [2] writes:

There is no doubt that [settling the Land] is a great mitzvah, for the ingathering [of the exiles] is the beginning of redemption.  (Yoreh De ah 66)

One of the great halachic authorities of our generation, the author of Tzitz Eliezer, concurs:

The very gathering [of Jews] in Eretz Yisrael is a telltale sign of the beginning of redemption.  (Tzitz Eliezer 7:49, Orchot HaMishpatim, chap. 12)

The Ramban also writes that the ingathering of the exiles is the beginning of redemption:

The beginning of the future redemption will occur with the permission of the kings.  Some of the exiles will gather in Eretz Yisrael, and afterwards, HaShem will extend His hand again [to gather the remaining exiles].  The verse, therefore, says, The Lord your God will bring back your captivity and have mercy on you, and He will return and gather you from all the nations (Devarim 30:3).  (Ramban, Shir HaShirim 8:12)

In addition to the explicit proof from the Talmud, the Malbim verifies the truth of this concept with verses from Scriptures:

I have several proofs from the simple reading of Scriptures – according to my interpretation – that the redemption will arise slowly, like the dawn whose emergence is certain, growing brighter until midday.  At first, people from the Children of Israel will settle in Eretz Yisrael with the permission of the upright and pious kings of the earth, and the Land of Israel will be settled before the coming of Mashiach, as Yeshayahu states explicitly (66:7).  (Shivat Tzion, vol. 2, p. 3)

We are currently in the middle of the third stage – the ingathering of the exiles – and we anxiously await the continuation of the process and the arrival of Mashiach ben David, speedily in our days.[3]

  1. The Rejuvenation of the Land

The Gemara in Megillah (cited above) teaches that the second stage of redemption is when the Land bears its fruit once again.  The Talmud expands on this idea in Tractate Sanhedrin, but a word of introduction is in order before quoting this source.  One of the many “curses” that the Torah lists in Parashat BeChukotai is the desolation of the Land: I will make the Land desolate, and your enemies who dwell in it will be desolate upon it (VaYikra 26:32).  The Ramban (based on a Midrash) explains that this verse actually contains a great promise and blessing for the Jewish people.  It assures us that no other nation will succeed in settling the Land while we are in exile.  Eretz Yisrael will remain desolate throughout the exile, so that we may return to it when the time comes:

The statement, And your enemies who dwell in it will be desolate upon it, is a good tiding.  It proclaims in every generation that our Land does not accept our enemies.  This is a great proof and promise for us, for you will not find in the entire world another land that is so good and spacious, and was always inhabited, but is [now] in such a state of ruin.  Ever since we left it, it has not accepted any other nation; and they all try to settle it, but are unsuccessful.  (Ramban, ibid.)

(When the Ramban moved to Eretz Yisrael towards the end of his life, he wrote a letter to his son describing the terrible desolation he encountered.  In all of Jerusalem – for example – he found only two Jews, painters by profession.)

Rabbeinu Bachya also quotes this idea:

This is a great sign for the Jewish people, for ever since they were exiled from their Land, no other nation settled there.  Rather, it is destroyed and desolate until its children [lit., “its chicks”] return to it.  (Rabbeinu Bachya, BeReishit 17:8)

See also the Tashbetz Kattan cited above (beginning of chapter 9).

HaShem kept His promise throughout our exile, a fact that non-Jewish sources confirm, as well.  The famous author, Mark Twain, visited the Holy Land in 1867, and this is how he described what he saw:

Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince.  The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape.  The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent…  It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land…  Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side…

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.  Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies…  Palestine is desolate and unlovely.  And why should it be otherwise?  Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?  Palestine is no more of this work-day world.  It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is dream-land.  (“The Innocents Abroad,” end of chap. 56)

Everyone who visited the Holy Land during the period of exile had similar stories to tell.  Eretz Yisrael simply refused to let any other nation settle in her midst or bring forth her fruits.  Now we can better understand the meaning of Yechezkel’s prophecy to the mountains of Israel:

But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come.  For behold, I am with you; and I will turn to you, and you will be tilled and sown.  I will multiply people upon you – the entire House of Israel, all of it – and the cities will be inhabited and the ruins will be rebuilt.  (Yechezkel 36:8-10)

The prophet here promises that the mountains of Israel will reawaken before the next stage of redemption, which is the ingathering of the exiles.  Now, since the Torah promises explicitly that the Land will remain desolate throughout our exile, we can undoubtedly use this sign to determine when the redemption has begun.  R. Abba states this clearly in Tractate Sanhedrin (98a):

  1. Abba said, “There is no clearer [sign of the] End [of Days] than this [verse]: But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, [for they are soon to come].”

Rashi comments:

When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruits in abundance, the End will be near, and there is no clearer [sign of the] End [of Days]. [4]

  1. Abba did not provide us with yet another description of the generation of redemption. Rather, he gave us a sign by which we can know for sure that the time of redemption has arrived.  He realized that if the redemption occurs in a natural fashion, some people may doubt its authenticity.  Therefore, he singled out an unmistakable sign.  Rashi did not mention anything about extraordinary fruits; he simply said that the Land would bear its fruit abundantly, a situation that certainly exists today.[5]

Long before the Zionists succeeded in reviving the Land, R. Akiva Eiger zt”l confirmed the validity of this sign, saying that if the Jews manage to grow fruits in Eretz Yisrael, that would be a clear sign of the imminent redemption (testimony of his disciple, R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer zt”l, Shivat Tzion, vol. 2, pp. 51-52).

 

Other Clear Signs

Immediately following R. Abba’s statement in Sanhedrin (98a), the Talmud mentions three other signs that signal the approaching End of Days.[6]  Our Sages did not provide us with these signs for naught.  Apparently, they foresaw a time when people would ask, “Has the redemption begun?”  No signs are more explicit than these are, and through them we can unequivocally define our era as “the beginning of redemption.”

  1. Elazar gives two signs: 1) there will be a lack of wages for both man and animal, and 2) Torah scholars will be at odds with one another. Shmuel adds: 3) all prices in the marketplace will be equal.  All of these signs have come to fruition in our times.

Unfortunately, we are far from a situation in which Torah scholars live together in peace (see the Maharsha there).  Rabbis from certain camps are unwilling to even listen to their counterparts in other camps.  If a particular rabbi belongs to this sect of Chassidut or that stream of Judaism, he will never be asked to speak in certain places, his works will be banned, and his novel Torah insights will be ignored in particular yeshivas.  Some (so-called ultra-Orthodox) newspapers refuse to grant the title “rabbi” to those who do not espouse their worldview.

The revered Chafetz Chayim zt”l explained how the other two signs came true in his generation.  Because of the industrial revolution, far less people were needed to do a job.  Therefore, wages for both man and animal became scarce.  In addition, the rise of international trade caused the prices of goods to be, more or less, equal throughout the world:

In our days, we see that all the signs mentioned in Perek Cheilek [the last chapter in Sanhedrin] concerning the redemption have come to fruition…  Prior to the coming of Mashiach, there will no longer be wages for man or animal.  (We see this with our own eyes.  Due to the proliferation of railroads and [other] machines, workers and animals are not needed as much, and they sit idly by.)  [The Sages] also say there that all prices will be equal.  This is for the same reason mentioned above.  The price of wheat is practically identical everywhere…  The Talmud mentions other signs [in that chapter], and we see that all of them have come true in our time…  In truth, it is more likely that the time [of redemption] has already come, but [we are] now [experiencing] the birthpangs [of Mashiach].  This is what happened at the end of the Egyptian exile: even after the time came and [the Jews] were told that they would be redeemed, [Pharaoh] intensified their hard labor even more.  (Shem Olam, Sha ar HaHitchazkut 12)

 

  1. National Independence

The Talmud states in several places that the main characteristic of the Messianic era is national independence:

There is no difference between this world and the days of Mashiach other than [Israel’s] subjugation to the kingdoms.  (Sanhedrin 99a)

The Rambam accepts this opinion as the final halachah, implying that national independence is the main aspect of redemption:

The days of Mashiach are [part of] “this world,” and [during that period] the world will function normally.  The only [difference is] that Jewish sovereignty will be restored, as the earlier Sages said, “There is no difference between this world and the days of Mashiach other than [Israel’s] subjugation to the kingdoms.”  (Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2; [also see Hilchot Melachim 12:2])

Immediately before this statement, the Rambam describes a situation in which the Jewish people are able to learn Torah and perform mitzvot with great ease.[7]  According to our assessment at the beginning of chapter eight, we have witnessed great improvement in this area in the last few decades.

In any event, all of this demonstrates that political independence is an important part and a major sign of redemption.

Elsewhere, the Rambam gives a possible scenario of redemption in which a righteous king “fights the wars of HaShem,” presumably meaning that he will conquer the Land (see Hilchot Melachim 11:4).  Granted, we have yet to be blessed with a leader who “meditates on Torah and occupies himself with mitzvot” (ibid.).  Nonetheless, we are now ready for such a situation.  After all, an organized national framework must exist in order for a king to arise.  If the next Prime Minister is a God-fearing Jew, chances are that he will be able to fulfill the continuation of the Rambam’s words and complete the redemption.

Many years before the establishment of the State, R. Akiva Yosef Schlessinger [8] wrote:

One cannot deny what one’s eyes see.  Praise God, the words of Shmuel, which the Rambam codified into law, have come to fruition only here in Eretz Yisrael.  Namely, “There is no difference between this world and the days of Mashiach other than [Israel’s] subjugation to the kingdoms.”  Praise God, the glorious government here does not oppress Jews at all, nor does it prevent them from serving HaShem.  Praise God, everyone can do as he pleases, to “guard the path of HaShem” in the best possible way (thank God).  Without a doubt, this is the beginning of redemption, with the help of HaShem.  (Kollel HaIvrim, 5715 [1955] edition, p. 19)

 

  1. Zionism’s Miraculous Success

         

Anyone who studies the history of the Zionist movement surely recognizes that it received special assistance from Heaven.  This becomes especially apparent when one reads articles written against Herzl during his lifetime.  People scoffed at his belief that such a dream could come to fruition.  Can anyone imagine convincing hundreds of thousands of Diaspora Jews to make aliyah today?  And don’t forget that Israel’s economy is relatively good these days, not in a shambles like it was back then.  How did Herzl succeed in bringing tens of thousands of Jews back to their Homeland?  Herzl was an unknown journalist when he began publicizing his writings.  How, then, did he manage to convince so many Jewish communities to heed his call and assemble at the Zionist Congress?  Some delegates traveled for days to get to Basel, paying the expenses out of their own pockets.  Could such a convention succeed today – a convention devoted to discussing the issues of mass aliyah and the establishment of an imaginary state?

How is it that so many thousands of Jews heeded his call, accepted his leadership, and immigrated to a barren land?  How did they succeed in draining the swamps and overcoming malaria?  How did they manage to do what all the nations failed to do before them?  Never before in history did a nation regroup after thousands of years of exile and dispersion and return to its ancient homeland.  Many good people in Herzl’s generation thought (justifiably) that the creation of a Jewish state was a wild dream.  Herzl’s vision was entirely unrealistic, but with God’s help, it came true.

How did the young State manage to win five major wars against enemies far greater in both number and strength?  Rationally speaking, Israel should have been decimated.

Not long before Herzl came on the scene, R. Shmuel Mohaliver zt”l [9] wrote these words:

Have you not yet seen the finger of God in all that has happened to us?…  In the span of six years, cities and villages have risen from the dust…  The fields are filled with wheat and barley; grapes and vines cover the mountains.  Fourteen colonies have been established during this period, and more than three thousand Jews work in them.  No longer are the holy paths filled with thorns and thistles, leaving almost no way for people to tread on them…  Jerusalem, which has been desolate and ruined for so long, rejuvenated itself like an eagle.  Is this not a wondrous sign that HaShem has remembered His nation and His land, and that He has not rejected His holy city, Jerusalem? …We have merited actually seeing all that our imaginations envisioned six years ago, when no one in his right mind believed that such a grand vision could come to fruition so quickly…  Did all of this happen accidentally?  Can anyone muster the strength to say that God’s hand was not involved in all of this?  (Shivat Tzion, vol. 1, pp. 13-14)

After witnessing the miracles of the War of Independence, R. Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l [10] commented:

It has been almost two years since we were privileged to see that HaShem has remembered His nation, saving us with the beginning of redemption, and Israel’s Defense Forces have conquered the majority of western Eretz Yisrael.  (Kuntras Har Tzvi, printed together with R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher’s Derishat Tzion, p. 48)

Some retort by saying that the State of Israel is the work of Satan.  We, however, trust the Gemara that states, “Who performs miracles?  The Holy One Blessed be He!” (Berachot 50a).

 

  1. The Nations of the World Consent

For hundreds of years, the nations of the world oppressed us mercilessly.  They expelled us from their lands, robbed our money, and murdered us.  Would anyone have believed that these very same nations would eventually agree to return their theft and allow us to establish a Jewish State?  Would today’s nations agree to such a thing?

It is important to remember that all the previous redemptions were initiated by the Gentiles and began with their consent.  God could have brought the Jews out of Egypt by Himself, miraculously, without the Ten Plagues.  However, the Children of Israel did not leave until Pharaoh sent them out on his own volition.  They began their journey only after Pharaoh said, Rise up and go out from among my people (Shemot 12:31).

The Purim redemption began when King Achashveirosh himself commanded Haman to dress Mordechai in royal garments, lead him through the streets on the king’s horse, and proclaim, This is what shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor (Esther 6:11).

The redemption at the time of Ezra and Nechemyah also began with the proclamation of a gentile king.  Cyrus’s declaration started the process that led to the building of the Second Temple.

Two prominent Rishonim – the Ramban and the Radak – assert that the third and final redemption will begin in similar fashion.  We already quoted the Ramban’s statement that “The beginning of the future redemption will occur with the permission of the kings…” (see sec. 1 of this chapter).  Likewise, the Radak writes:

Salvation is solely in the hands of HaShem, and He brings it about through mortals, as He did with Cyrus during the Babylonian exile.  In the future, as well, HaShem will bring Israel’s redemption through gentile kings, by inspiring them to set the Jews free.  (Radak, Tehillim 146:3)

Many great rabbis viewed the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as a parallel to Cyrus’s declaration.  In fact, even before Lord Balfour became Britain’s Foreign Minister, the Chafetz Chayim zt”l wrote:

One should not wonder how we can expect the redemption to come quickly, seeing that we are currently in the midst of an intensely difficult period…  The Holy One Blessed be He sometimes inspires all the kings of the nations to recognize the truth and seek Israel’s welfare, as it says regarding Cyrus…  (Shem Olam, Sha ar HaHitchazkut, chap. 14)

 

The Turkish Government

The Jews received permission to return to Zion even before the British took control of the Land.  In the mid-1800s, after tarrying for hundreds of years, the Turkish government decided to encourage Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael.  At that time, R. Chayim David Chazan, the Chief Sefardic Rabbi of Jerusalem (the Rishon LeTzion), recorded these words:

Our eyes see HaShem’s wondrous and lofty deeds and His Divine Providence over Israel.  For behold, The heart of a king is in the hands of the Lord (Mishley 21:1), and HaShem has placed kindness and compassion in their hearts to free us from bondage.  The kings wish to glorify and exalt the pride of Israel and elevate our name in the world, something that has never happened before.  Ask the previous generations, from the time of Israel’s exile.  Every generation passed through the sea of troubles, [tasting] clusters of bitterness…  Who can hear and see such things and not realize that The Lord favors His people, He glorifies the humble with salvation (Tehillim 149:4).  HaShem desires us.  Behold, My Beloved sent forth His hand through the hole (Shir HaShirim 5:4).  He is awakening us to salvation and redemption…  But if, God forbid, we act negligently in this matter and my Beloved turned and left (ibid. 5:6) and we search for Him but do not find Him, [at least we will know] that through these things the Holy One Blessed be He awakens us and informs us that He desires wholly burnt offerings (עולות).  [That is, He desires] to elevate (להעלות) Israel to the highest heights.  This is the meaning of until it pleases (ibid. 2:7).  And since the King of Israel and its Redeemer draws us with wonders and signs, we, His servants and His nation, will run after Him…  I declare these words fearlessly, for this is what we must do in order to bring about the beginning of redemption.  (Shivat Tzion, vol. 2, p. 53)

 

The San Remo Conference

Three years after the Balfour Declaration (1920), the League of Nations gathered in San Remo, Italy, and ratified Great Britain’s decision to create a Jewish national homeland in Eretz Yisrael.  After the conference, R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (author of Or Samei ach on the Rambam and Meshech Chochmah on the Torah) [11] wrote this in a public manifesto:

Now, however, Divine Providence has arranged matters such that a command was given at the assembly of the enlightened kingdoms in San Remo that Eretz Yisrael would belong to the Jewish people.  And since the fear of the oaths [12] has faded away and [we now act] with the permission of the kings, the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael – which is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah – has returned to its place…  And if HaShem allows this [trend] to grow and blossom like a rose, as it did in the days of Artachshasta [i.e. Cyrus]… it is surely a matter of paramount concern.

Granted, at that time the prophets encouraged them with divine prophecy.  But who knows?  Perhaps just as the destruction of the Second Temple took place without prophecy… so too, the cornerstone laying [of the Third Temple] will take place without prophets; its restoration being similar to its removal…  (Shivat Tzion, vol. 2, p. 101)

This last statement answers an important question.  Why hasn’t God sent a prophet to inform us that the redemption has begun? [13]  Where is the explicit announcement from Heaven?  R. Meir Simcha explains that just as the Temple was taken from us without a prophet, so too, its restoration will begin without a prophet.

The second Rebbe of Sochatchov, R. Shmuel Bornstein zt”l (son of the Avnei Neizer and author of Shem MiShmuel on the Torah),[14] also viewed the San Remo conference as a clear sign from Heaven:

Until now, we saw no heavenly sign proving that HaShem desires us.  On the contrary, we encountered obstacles every step of the way…  Now, however, we have seen the fulfillment of the verse The sound of my Beloved knocks (Shir HaShirim 5:2), and HaShem has inspired the kings of the earth to designate the Holy Land for us.  A number of Rishonim assert that the future redemption will begin just like the Second one did, when the Jews were remembered through Cyrus…  (Abir HaRo im, vol. 1, p. 106)

 

The Partition Plan

                On the sixteenth of Kislev, 5708 (Nov. 29, 1947), representatives of the international community met once again to decide the fate of the Jewish people.  In an unprecedented, historic decision, the United Nations adopted the proposal to establish a Jewish State (along with another Arab one).  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik viewed this event as clear Divine Providence:

No one can deny that the establishment of the State of Israel, in a political sense, was an almost supernatural occurrence.  Both Russia and the Western countries jointly supported the idea of the establishment of the State.  This was perhaps the only proposal where East and West were united.  I am inclined to believe that the United Nations organization was created specifically for this purpose – in order to carry out the mission which divine providence had set for it…  Someone who at that time observed matters well with his spiritual eye could have sensed the presence of the true chairman who presided over the discussion – i.e., the Beloved!  It was He who knocked with His gavel on the podium.  (Kol Dodi Dofek, translated by Lawrence Kaplan in “Reflections on the Holocaust,” p. 69)

 

  1. Ya’akov Moshe Charlop zt”l concurs:

There is nothing more wondrous than the fact that representatives of the nations who were known to hate [the descendants of] Ya’akov would talk in such a manner.  This can only be compared to [the biblical story of] Bil’am, who was told [by God] what to say.  The same thing happened with all the delegates [of the United Nations].  It is hard to believe that such an occurrence has any connection to nature.  Therefore, it is [clearly] miraculous, showing that wonders occur in nature…  I only wish that those who claim to have pure faith would at least admit that HaShem has remembered His nation.  (From a letter written to his daughter and son-in-law four days before the establishment of the State, reprinted in HaTzofeh newspaper, 4 Iyar, 5727 [1967])

The world’s very willingness to give us back our Land is similar to Cyrus’ declaration, which inaugurated the second redemption.

 

  1. All Types of Jews Awaken to the Idea of Aliyah

For hundreds of years, only small numbers of Jews immigrated to Eretz Yisrael.  Then, in a most wondrous fashion, the Zionist ideal began to spread throughout the nation.  Yearnings for the Land and aspirations to rebuild it sprang up in every city and community.  This was not a passing phenomenon in a particular country.  Rather, it affected all Jewish Diasporas.  Even the isolated Jews of Yemen were inspired to make aliyah in the year 5642 (1882).[15]  Could such an awakening have happened accidentally?  More likely, HaShem sent forth a special spirit to inspire His children to return home.  R. Yehudah HaLevi concludes his Sefer HaKuzari with these words:

For Your servants cherished her stones and favored her dust (Tehillim 102:15).  That is to say, Jerusalem will be rebuilt only when the Children of Israel long for it with all their might, until they favor her stones and dust.

In chapter six, we discussed why HaShem chose secular Jews, of all people, to initiate the redemption.  One answer (no. 2) subverted the entire question.  R. Eliezer Waldenberg (the “Tzitz Eliezer”) explained that HaShem purposely brought the redemption through irreligious Jews to enable us to recognize, beyond any doubt, that He caused it all to happen.  Who would have thought that such people would stir themselves to rebuild the ruins of our Land?  Is there any logical reason why they would put so much effort into this cause?  After all, they declared unabashedly that they wanted to create a state “like all other nations,” and such states already existed throughout the world!  Can an awakening predicated on superficial nationalism have enough strength to drive such a great undertaking and motivate such self-sacrifice?

Had Torah scholars initiated [this movement], people would have said that [they did so] because they desire and yearn for the Holy Land, in order to fulfill the mitzvot that depend on it…  Then, we would have denied that this spirit came from Heaven.  But now that the initiative came from people whom we never would have thought would advocate such an idea, it must have emanated from HaShem.  (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 7:48:12)

  1. Yehoshua Kutner also took notice of this wondrous phenomenon:

Especially now that we have seen the great desire [for Eretz Yisrael displayed by all types of Jews], including lowly, average, and upright people, it is almost certain that the spirit of redemption has sprouted.  (Responsa Yeshu ot Malko, Yoreh De ah 66)

The Netziv of Volozhin derived a unique concept from the aliyah movement that began to take root in his lifetime:

We have seen that HaShem is with His nation Israel’s spirit in every part of the world, settling desolate portions of the Holy Land and establishing colonies for the outcasts of Israel.  The voice of HaShem knocks on the doors of our hearts, saying, “Make an opening for Me with your deeds, for the time has come for Eretz Yisrael to no longer be described as abandoned or neglected.”  God’s curse that the Land shall be desolate has been removed, and a covenant has been made concerning this [annulment], saying, “I shall remember the Land.”…

We see that Divine Providence has begun to populate the desolate areas of the Land with its children…  Since this idea has stirred the Jewish people from one end of the earth to the other, wherever they are scattered, and [since] the voice of the masses is like the voice of the Almighty speaking through His prophets, we must follow His voice and trust that HaShem will complete our [work]. (Shivat Tzion, vol. 2, pp. 5-7)

This comment provides us with another answer to the formidable question raised above (sec. 5): why has no prophet come to inaugurate the redemption?  The Netziv explains that there is no need for a prophet.  The “voice” that has permeated the Jewish collective (Klal Yisrael) has the status and force of divine prophecy.  An awakening that sweeps through every segment of the nation, in every corner of exile, is a clear sign that such is God’s will.

 

Most Gedolim Agreed

We will conclude this chapter with a little-known fact.  Shortly after the establishment of the State, more than two hundred of the greatest rabbis of the Land issued a proclamation indicating that they agreed with the position set forth in this chapter.  Dated Friday, 20 Tevet, 5709, the document opened with these words:  “We thank HaShem for granting us the privilege – with His abundant mercy and kindness – to witness the first buds of the beginning of redemption, through the establishment of the State of Israel.”  Some of the more famous signatories were R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, R. Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky, R. Yechezkel Sarna, R. Zalman Sorotzkin, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and R. Isser Yehudah Unterman.

Former Sefardic Chief Rabbi, R. Ovadyah Yosef shlita refers to this proclamation in one of his responsa:

Many great gedolim view the establishment of the State as the beginning of redemption.  [This historic event] can be compared to a passage in the Yerushalmi (Berachot 1:1): “R. Chiya and R. Shimon ben Chalafta were walking [in the Arbel valley at dawn] when they saw the glimmering of the morning star.  R. Chiya the Great said to R. Shimon ben Chalafta: ‘My master, so is the redemption of Israel – at first little by little, but as it progresses it grows greater and greater.’  Why so?  When I sit in darkness, the Lord is a light unto me (Michah 7:8).”  Furthermore, [the Talmud states] in Megillah (17b), “War is also the beginning of redemption.”  And the brilliant R. Menachem Mendel Kasher [zt”l] cites, in his work HaTekufah HaGedolah (pp. 374-78), a proclamation entitled Da at Torah (Torah Outlook), signed by practically all of the generation’s gedolim, in which they refer to the establishment of the State of Israel as the beginning of redemption.  (Yabi a Omer, vol. 6, Orach Chayim, sec. 41) [16]

 

[1] If Mashiach can only come within a year after Shemittah, why should we anticipate his arrival “every day” (as the Rambam states in his Thirteen Principles of Faith)?  Moreover, why does the Talmud state elsewhere that a person who declares, “I will become a Nazir the day Mashiach arrives” is forbidden to drink wine the rest of his life (Eiruvin 43b)?  The prohibition should apply only one year out of seven!  Obviously, then, the Talmud (here in Megillah) is giving only one possible scenario of redemption, not a definitive date.  The main principle that we glean from this Gemara is that Mashiach’s arrival will be preceded by a series of events called “the beginning of redemption.”  The Talmud’s scenario of Mashiach arriving only one year after the beginning of the process is probably referring to the achishenah (“I will hasten it”) form of redemption.  If it comes “in its time,” however, it will take much longer.  (See chapter 4, especially the quote from the Or HaChayim HaKadosh.)  It is possible that towards the end of the process something special will happen on a Shemittah year.  In any event, the continuation of the Gemara (cited shortly in the main text) describes the full process of redemption, which has undoubtedly begun.  After all, the Land is bearing its fruits and the exiles are returning home every day.

[2] R. Yehoshua of Kutno – 5580-5653 (1820-1893).  He was one of the leading advocates of the modern-day return to Zion.

[3] Another Talmudic statement hints to the fact that the main feature of the Messianic era is the ingathering of the exiles:  “We have a tradition that if it [the Racham bird] sits on the ground and whistles, Mashiach will come, as it says, I will whistle to them and gather them (Zecharyah 10:8)” (Chullin 63a).  It is interesting to note that the bird that will signal the coming of redemption is specifically an unkosher bird.  (Perhaps this is another allusion to the idea that we developed in chapter 4.)  Furthermore, the first verse that the Rambam cites to prove the concept of Mashiach is The Lord your God will bring back your captivity and… gather you (Devarim 30:3) (Hilchot Melachim 11:1).

[4] The Maharsha offers two explanations.  First he writes that during the exile “the Land does not bear its fruits in normal fashion.”  This concurs with our explanation above.  Alternatively, he explains that R. Abba is referring to extraordinary fruits, like the ones that once existed in Eretz Yisrael.  Rashi apparently prefers the first explanation, as does the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya (cited above).  In addition, the Maharsha’s second interpretation makes sense only if the redemption occurs miraculously (“I will hasten it”), as we explained in chapter 4.  See also the Ramban’s comment in his introduction to Milchamot HaShem, cited in the introduction to this work.

[5] A simple reading of the Gemara implies that “the End” (Keitz – קץ) refers to the redemption itself.  After all, Daniel asks, How long until the wondrous end? (12:6).  Rashi, however, states only that “the end will be near,” implying that the redemption has not yet begun when this sign appears.  In any event, it is clear that the curse of exile – i.e., the desolation of the Land – has ended (see Rashi, Zecharyah 14:7).  The efforts of the pioneers who rejuvenated the Land constitute a part of one of the stages of redemption, and the prophet’s clear sign alludes to them.  God was certainly pleased with their actions, for the Land responded to them, revealing to us the sign of the imminent End of Days.  The Talmud’s wording also indicates that its entire purpose is to determine when the redemption has actually commenced.  The Talmud provides us with numerous signs of redemption, both in Tractate Sanhedrin (where R. Abba’s statement is found) and elsewhere, but nowhere else does it declare, “There is no clearer sign.”  Rashi simply uses the language of the verse – for they are soon to come.  The blossoming of the Land is a sign that the End is near and that the Jews will soon return to their Land.  The ingathering of the exiles is itself the “Keitz” of redemption, as we explained above.  The Gemara in Megillah teaches that the first two stages of redemption are considered the beginning of redemption, even if – perhaps – they are not yet called the Keitz.

[6] It is important to note a distinction between R. Abba’s sign and the other ones.  R. Abba’s sign is portrayed in Scriptures as part of the redemption itself, while the others are merely signs, or symptoms, of the final generation.

[7] The Talmud records the following prayer:  “Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known to You that we want to do Your will.  But who is preventing us [from doing so]?  The Evil Inclination (lit., ‘the yeast in the dough’) and the subjugation of the kingdoms.  Please save us from them, so that we can, once again, perform Your desired statutes wholeheartedly” (Berachot 17a).

[8] 5598-5682 (1838-1922).  R. Shlesinger was one of the foremost disciples of the Ketav Sofer.  He served as the rabbi of Pressburg and led the battle against the Enlightenment.  His most famous work is Lev HaIvri, a commentary on the Chatam Sofer’s last will and testament.

[9] 5584-5658 (1824-1898).  R. Mohaliver served as the rabbi of Bialystok and was one of the greatest supporters of the Chibat Tzion (Love of Zion) movement.

[10] 5633-5720 (1873-1960).  R. Frank served as a judge on R. Shmuel Salant’s rabbinic court and later became the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.  His writings include Responsa Har Tzvi and Mikra ’ei Kodesh.

[11] 5603-5686 (1843-1926).

[12] See note 4 in the introduction to this work.

[13] R. Meir Simcha writes in Meshech Chochmah (BeReishit 50:24) that the Tribe of Efrayim made this very mistake when it left Egypt without permission from a prophet.  However, the oath not to rebel against the nations and return to the Land forcibly (“as a wall”) was still in effect at the time.  In our era, on the other hand, the Gentiles granted us permission to return.  In the letter quoted above, R. Meir Simcha asserts that the beginning of redemption – “laying the cornerstone” – will possibly occur without a prophet.  God willing, we too will be privileged to receive an explicit prophecy regarding the building of the Temple and the altar, as the process unfolds.

[14] 5616-5686 (1856-1926).

[15] The wise men of the community found an allusion to this aliyah in a verse in Shir HaShirim (7:9): I said, I will ascend בתמר (lit. “in the palm tree”).  The letters of the word בתמר correspond to the Hebrew equivalent of the year 5642 – תרמ”ב.

[16] We must emphasize once again that it is not our intention at this time to address the question of how to express our thanks to HaShem for His wonderful gift.  Some recite Hallel with a blessing; others omit the blessing; and some express their thanks in alternative ways.  This issue requires a special treatise on its own and is given over to debate even among those who believe that the State is the beginning of redemption.  (See Rav Ovadyah’s responsa inside, where he deals with this question.)  The goal of this book is only to demonstrate to the skeptics the validity of our claim that the establishment of the State is part of the redemptive process.

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