Make No Mistake – the Exile is a Curse
by Tzvi Fishman
These days in Israel you hear a lot about the need to change previous erroneous and tragic conceptions in order to move Israel forward in its gradually unfolding metamorphosis into becoming the powerful, spirit-filled nation envisioned by the Prophets of Israel, independent in its Homeland and strongly attached to its Biblical roots and Torah identity.
Certainly, after the war with Hamas and the eradication of the evil it embodies, Israel will have taken a significant step forward in its mission to bring Hashem’s blessing of goodness to the world. The atrocities which befell us on Simchat Torah, and the terrible loss of Jewish life which has continued, have awakened the Israelite Nation in the Chosen Land to face the fact that we have strayed in many different ways from our historical mission of clinging to God and bringing His teachings to the world through the establishment of a moral and holy nation in the Land of Israel which will be an example for all of humanity. Indeed, slowly but surely, conceptions are beginning to change. For example, more and more Israelis are coming to realize that chopping up our ancestral homeland and giving pieces away to the Arabs is not the path to peace. Many are also beginning to understand that without Divine Assistance our military might is not enough to save us from our enemies.
If this painful “slap in the face” befell Hashem’s Chosen People in Hashem’s Chosen Land, how much greater danger the Jews in the Diaspora are facing in their unwillingness to abandon gentile lands where Jews are strangers in countries not their own and where assimilation and anti-Semitism are increasing every day. Just as Israel is being forced to change former false conceptions in order to move forward on its Divinely directed journey of bringing God’s teachings to the world, the Jews of the Diaspora must change previous erroneous conceptions to move forward in heeding the call of our Prophets of Israel to abandon the Exile and to return home to the Promised Land. The conception that is perfectly OK to live in gentile countries must be erased. The Exile must be seen for what it is – a curse and not a wonderful place to live.
As we begin the Book of Shemot we first encounter the curse of galut when we are forced to live outside of our Homeland in an alien gentile land. After the Children of Israel enjoyed a few good years in Goshen the Torah tells us that Yosef died. The Midrash reveals a deeper understanding to this verse by explaining that Yosef, the epitome of sexual purity, symbolized by having conquered his passion when tempted by Potifar’s wife, made sure that the Jews safeguarded the commandment of circumcision throughout his reign, faithfully maintaining their high standard of sexual purity. However, when Yosef died, the Jews no longer performed the mitzvah of brit milah and they began to intermarry with the Egyptians and engage in their unholy and idolatrous practices. What does this lead to? All of the good which the Jews brought to Egypt is forgotten and the Egyptians turn against them with hatred and the harsh decree of slavery, as the Psalmist states: “He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” (Tehillim 105:25. Also see Midrash Rabbah, Shemot, 1:8, on the verse “And Yosef died…” See the “Ohr HaMidrash” there.)
Make no mistake my friends. Exile is a punishment not a blessing. The conception of the “good life” for Jews in America or France or Australia must be changed. Just as a new generation arose in Egypt that didn’t know Yosef, a new generation has arisen throughout the world. After the horror of the Holocaust and the slaughter of 6 million Jews, the gentiles put aside their hatred of the Jews as if in expiation for their bestial behavior which allowed the genocide to occur. Today, this respite of grace has ended. The new generation doesn’t remember the Holocaust or learn about it in schools. Many even deny that it occurred. Their hatred against the Jews has returned. This isn’t the first time this cycle has transpired. Many times throughout our history, after a period of atrocities and pogroms, Jews enjoyed a few hundred years of peaceful existence whether in Spain, or Russia, or Germany. Then pow! The scourge of anti-Semitism returns, again and again and again, reminding Jews that they don’t belong in foreign lands.
The esteemed Torah giant, Rabbi Yaacov Emden wrote generations before the Holocaust:
“When it seems to us, in our present peaceful existence outside of the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this to me is the most poignant, deepest, most obvious and direct cause of all of the awful, frightening, monstrous, and unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora” (Siddur Beit Yaacov, Introduction, pg.13).
The universally revered Torah Sage, the “Ohr Samaoch,” Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen from Dvinsk, writes in his classic treatise on the Torah, “If a Jew thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem, then a raging storm wind will uproot him by his trunk, a tempest will arise and spread its roaring waves and swallow and destroy and rage forth without pity” (Meshech Chochmah, pg.191).
Regarding the curse of galut, it written in the Torah, “Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot, (Devarim, 28:65). In his commentary to the Aggadot in the Gemara, Rabbi Kook explains:
“Many people thought that although Israel suffered many evils and troubles in Exile, in their heart they believed that the evils are not intrinsic to the nature of the Exile, but rather due to our behavior – that the way we relate to the nations draws their hate upon us. They postulated that if we could only know how to change our behavior properly so that we would deserve to be loved by the nations, then the very Exile would turn into a wonderful place for us and we will find the peace we seek. These lost sheep could have likened the Exile to a water cistern, which is dangerous only to the careless, but those who respect it properly could drink from it and quench their thirst. The fact is that in vain were they tempted to seek love, for the nature of Exile does not allow for it to serve as a resting place for the Jewish People. But even if the Jewish People were to strive to find new ways to make a living and support themselves, ways which would allow them to live their own lives according to their traditions and according to their Torah, they will not succeed because of all the various vermin who stand ready to engulf and destroy them. Therefore, rather than the Exile be like an empty water hole (despite the fact that industrious hands may make some use of it), the Exile is in essence a pit full of snakes and scorpions, not a place where one can say: ‘I have found rest.’ One cannot imagine that by adjusting his attitude to this pit he will be able to say, ‘I have found respite.’ The truth is that this curse is a form of a blessing, as it says (Devarim, 28:65): ‘Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot.’ This causes the eyes of all Israel to long for the Holy Mountain and the Sweet Land, so that they may know that the Exile will never be a suitable oasis for the sheep of Yosef, for it is a pit full of snakes and scorpions, always a place of anger and pain, (Ein Ayah, Shabbat 14B).