MEDINAT YISRAEL – BEGINNING OF REDEMPTION OR NO?
By Rabbi Moshe Kaplan
Ever since the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, a large portion of the Haredi world has rejected the view which sees this historic milestone as the “Alta d’Geula” – the beginning of Israel’s Redemption. How can we understand this? After all, for nearly two-thousand years the Jewish People prayed to return to Eretz Yisrael and to establish our own sovereign state in our Biblical Homeland. The connection between the Holocaust and the birth of the Jewish State, immediately afterward, can hardly be denied. The incredible and Divinely-orchestrated Salvation should be obvious to everyone. Yet the Ultra-Orthodox community, as it is commonly called, until this very day, even after Israel’s miraculous development in all spheres and its many victory in wars, still refuses to embrace Medinat Yisrael as the beginning of the Redemption. Firstly, it is important to address this paradox with humility, realizing that we all have what to learn in the complex and many-sided world of Torah. We must relate to those who disagree with our opinion with love and respect, and attempt to appreciate their point of view by understanding its origin, and upon what outlook it is based. We can even strive to understand the place this opposing view has in the greater scheme of the Redemption process itself. While the sources of fully understanding the depth of this amazing process and its goal are found in the inner depths of Torah, there are books available which explore these topics on a revealed and straightforward level. One such book is “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” written by a great Haredi Torah scholar, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, who himself was staunchly anti-Zionist until the Holocaust destroyed European Jewry. A noted Rosh Yeshiva in Pishtian, Hungary, and Av Beit Din, he wrote the manuscript while in hiding from the Nazis, without scholarly texts to refer to, relying on his phenomenal Torah memory alone. Murdered in 1945 while being transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp, his book survived, kept hidden with a Gentile family and rescued by his children after the war.
In the book’s Forward, Rabbi Teichtal explains why he abandoned his previous strident anti-Zionist orientation, then details in a very halachic and scholarly fashion how the Haredi world as a whole, and many of their great Rabbis, also erred in their understanding of the horrific era which led to the establishment of Medinat Yisrael.
One of the causes was the expectation that the Redemption would come through miraculous means. The reasons why this expectation came about are described in the introductory section, “Historical Context” of “Eim HaBanim Semeichah”(pp. xiii-xiv). One of the reasons is that, over the generations, Redemption coming through human efforts became an impossible option. The inner desire to return to Zion always existed, but after two millennia without Eretz Yisrael as a part of our daily lives, this most basic foundation of Torah became a dream-like hope for the future. As the contrast between the ghetto reality and the hope of restoring the Davidic Dynasty grew, so did the expectations of a miraculous Redemption, for it seemed that it could come in no other fashion. In the last centuries of Galut we were so detached from the exalted period of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel that the concepts of Redemption became transformed into surreal, almost mystical concepts. The thought of our active participation in bringing the awaited Salvation about was replaced by the simple faith that G-d would bring the Redemption when He pleased, without our political involvement, physical labor and self-sacrifice in the effort to reconquer and resettle our Land. Moreover, any attempt to participate in the Redemption process was seen as heretical, implying that G-d couldn’t bring Redemption without us, as if He needed our help! In addition, as a reaction to the false messianic movements, the “leave it to G-d” approach was emphasized. Thus, when one entertains the concept of Redemption as coming by Divine miracle, with the expectation that it come all at once, “out from the sky,” complete from the start, an “all or nothing” attitude can develop. Considering the problems and shortcomings in the State of Israel today, this present ongoing Redemption is certainly not “all,” therefore it is looked upon as “nothing.” In the eyes of the proponents of this viewpoint, Medinat Yisrael, with its secular coating, is obviously NOT what we have been praying for.
The recognition that Medinat Yisrael is indeed the “Beginning of Redemption” necessitates the understanding that there are stages of a developing process that has begun, which will reach fruition over time. Unfortunately, this awareness is ruled out by the demand that everything be complete all at once. All the more so when Redemption comes about through the secular, and even anti-religious, portion of the Nation! Ironically, this “waiting-for-the-Mashiach-to save-us” mindset was a significant factor why the Zionist movement became dominated by the secular. Those with the miracle-mindset maintained their belief that action on our part was unnecessary or prohibited. Thus a “sit back and wait” approach dominated the Ultra-Religious camp (see “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” p. 23). The work of rebuilding was therefore done by the Jews who did not believe in a G-d who would do everything for them.
Thus we see that the expectation of a miraculous Salvation, like the miraculous parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus from Egypt, led the Haredi community and their Rabbis to the conclusion that a Redemption which comes through natural means via wars, international peace treaties, and the hard labor of working the land, is not the Redemption at all. However, in Rabbi Teichtel’s thorough study of the topic, he discovered the Redemption is indeed a natural, dynamic, developmental process which requires our efforts to bring it about. In the beginning of the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachot 1:1) we are taught by Chazal that the Redemption resembles the sunrise which advances slowly slowly, stage by stage. The prototype of the final Redemption is learned from the Salvation of Purim, which was a seemingly natural process, without the Name of G-d explicitly mentioned, as in Megillat Ester. A Redemption which comes in a gradual developing fashion, stage after stage, is indeed a full-scale Redemption, even though it is not complete at the start. And its beginning is indeed “the Beginning of Redemption.”
One of the reasons why the Redemption occurs in this way is to include all of the Nation, the secular and the religious, the pioneer farmer and the Torah scholar, and not only the Tzaddikim. In this fashion, the Redemption which develops by seemingly natural means uplifts everything and reveals that ALL is from Hashem, All is holy, even that which seemed so devoid of Divine Content. This progressive growth to completion reveals (retroactively) that “ein od milvado” – there is nothing outside of G-d’s Divine Plan (see the Ramchal, “Derech Hashem” and “Da’at Tvunot”). Throughout “Eim HaBonim Smeichah” Rabbi Teichtel proves, citing Biblical sources and generations of Torah Authorities, that the general stages are delineated by two phases: first the physical Redemption and then the Spiritual, as depicted by the Prophet Yechezkel:
“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own Land. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all of your uncleanlinesses, and from all of your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart will I also give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit in you, and cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. And you shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I shall be your G-d” (Yechezkel, 36:24-28).
The physical Redemption includes the return to our existence as a full-fledged nation, with a government and army, Israelite economy, agriculture, industry, and hi-tech. This is the foundation of our ultimately becoming “A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” (Shmot, 19:6). As Rabbi Kook explains in his writings, this preliminary, physical stage is part and parcel of the spiritual T’shuva which follows, including the T’shuva of all of the Jewish People and the Jewish Kingdom as a whole, may it come soon, Amen.