With the Festival of Pesach approaching, it is an appropriate time to explore some deeper understandings of Galut and Geula, Exile and Redemption. In the coming weeks we will present a series of essays on the subject by HaRav Moshe Bleicher, founder of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the City of the Patriarchs.
Galut and Geula Part One
Galut and Geula, Part 1
Based on the book “Binyun Emunah” by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, founder of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the City of the Patriarchs.
HaRav Moshe Bleicher on right with HaRav Shmuel Eliahu.
Translated and abridged by Tzvi Fishman
The Exile is the Valley of Dry Bones
In order to understand the centrality of the Land of Israel to a full Jewish life, it is necessary to recognize the very real differences between life in Israel and life in the Diaspora. This subject was not explored in depth during our nearly two-thousand years of exile, during which Jewish learning focused primarily on the commandments and laws which could be practiced in the Diaspora. Therefore, in this overview of the book “Binyan Emunah” by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, we will try in this series, “Galut and Geula,” to shed light on the very real differences between Exile and Redemption (Galut and Geula), as illuminated in the writings of the Prophets of Israel and the Sages versed in the inner secrets of Torah.
Galut is the destruction of our national framework in Eretz Yisrael, when Israeli Nationhood is shattered, and we are left scattered in foreign countries around the world, living as minorities in gentile lands. Instead of being the Israelite Nation in our own Land, we become American Jews and French Jews and Russian Jews, individuals in alien lands, under foreign governments. The living, energizing Soul of the Nation no longer appears, and we are left like the dry scattered and lifeless bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 37, 1-28).
Hashem’s light in the world, which shines forth when the Nation of Israel is in Zion, is terribly darkened. His Name in the world is desecrated, as the gentiles say that they are mightier than the Almighty, having ousted His Children from the Land which Hashem promised to give them. Christianity and Islam seize center stage, and the light of Israel and Torah are scorned. In effect, not only are the Jewish People “dead” in their true national form, but Hashem’s Presence in the world is in a comatose state with them.
With the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook taught that the Jewish People needed to rise up to a higher understanding of Torah to fathom the wonder of the ingathering of the exiles and resurrection of the Nation in our time, as the scattered bones of the exile returned to life in full form. No longer was it sufficient to study only the “four cubits of Halacha” which we were left with in Galut – the private commandments of the Torah which dealt with our personal lives. Rabbi Kook called the Jewish People to strive for a higher understanding of Torah and Emunah (faith), not a Torah of the individual, based on personal precepts like Shabbat and Kashrut, but the Torah of the Clal, of the entire Nation, the Torah as it was originally intended to be, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael – the Torah of a mighty Jewish Nation, with its own government, army, judicial system, economic infrastructure, agricultural laws, and Holy Temple. We were to embrace a fuller understanding of Torah, a Torah which focused on the entire rebuilt Nation, and not on the individual Jew.
This is the “new light on Zion” which we pray for – our return to a National understanding of the Torah, and a National understanding of who we are as Jews. In rising up to this broader comprehension, we come to realize the paucity of our existence in gentile lands, and we long for our own Jewish Nationhood in our own Jewish Homeland.
The state of our lives to which we became accustomed in Galut, seeing ourselves as American or German Jews, living private lives under foreign governments, must necessarily undergo a radical change as the Geula begins, ushering in a completely new level of life. Therefore, Rabbi Kook teaches, in order to comprehend what is taking place with the Israeli Nation, in its miraculous rebirth, and in order to raise ourselves up to the exalted level of life we experienced during the time of the First Temple – and to which we are returning – we have to learn to see the Torah in a higher light.
Firstly, we have to recognize the exile for what it really is – a graveyard for the Jews. We mentioned how the Prophet Ezekiel compared the exiled to a valley of dry bones. These bones represent the House of Israel in exile. A spirit of life only returns to these bones when they rise up to return to the Land of Israel: “Thus says the L-rd G-d: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O, My People; and I will bring you into the Land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the L-rd, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O, My People. And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own Land; and you shall know that I the L-rd have spoken and performed it, says the L-rd” (Ezekiel, 37:12-14).
The Prophet Ezekiel describes the situation of Am Yisrael in exile as being similar to the dead in a graveyard. In contrast, the Geula comes when the revitalized bones leave the cemetery of exile and come to Eretz Yisrael.
In his book, “Binyan Emunah,” Rabbi Moshe Bleicher of Hevron, comments, “There are those who will say that this only a metaphor, and that the Prophet doesn’t really mean to say that we are like dead people when we are in exile, for, as anyone can see, we are living, breathing, and learning Torah. The Prophet, they claim, exaggerates in order to highlight a particular aspect of Galut, but he doesn’t mean to teach that there is an essential, absolute, difference between the time of Galut and Geula, like the difference between the dead and the living. However, this interpretation of the verses is not accurate. The words of the Prophet are meant to be taken literally, at face value.”
In Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s classic treatise of Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” a deep theological conversation between a gentile king and a Rabbi, the king says that the Jewish People in exile are like a body without a head or heart. The Rabbi answers: “You say rightly, but more than this – we are not even a body, but only scattered limbs, like the dry bones which Ezekiel saw in his vision. But even so, O King of the Kuzar, these bones have retained a natural trace of vital power, having once been the vessels which housed the heart, brain, breath, soul, and intellect.”
The Rabbi agrees with the King of Kuzar that Am Yisrael in exile is like a body without a heart and brain. However, the truth is even worse – we don’t have even a body, but merely dry bones. Nevertheless, buried in these dry bones is great hidden life, the “genetic” remnants of the full life we had when we were in Eretz Yisrael, and these dormant “chromosomes” are destined to return to new life at the time of the Redemption. With the ingathering of the exiles to the Land of Israel the DNA of the NATION awakens to new life.
Rabbi Bleicher notes that Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi lived in Spain when he wrote “HaKuzari.” During this era, Torah learning flourished, but he described his personal situation, and the state of the Jewish People in exile, like death and mere dry bones. Thus we see that the description of the Prophet Ezekiel is real. The time of exile is death for the Jewish People. Even though there may be times when things are going well, this is only on an individual level – the Jewish Nation itself remains like scattered bones lacking life. The soul of the NATION is lost.
The Gaon of Vilna explains:
“Since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, our spirit and our crown departed, and only we remained, the body without the soul. And exile to outside of the Land is a grave. Worms surround us there, and we do not have the power to save ourselves from the idol worshippers who devour our flesh. In every place, there were great Jewish communities and yeshivot, until the body decayed, and the bones scattered, again and again. Yet, always, some bones still existed, the Torah Scholars of the Israelite Nation, the pillars of the body – until even these bones rotted, and there only remained a rancid waste which disintegrated into dust – our life turned into dust.”
It must be remember that the Gaon, also known as “the Gra,” lived in the city of Vilna, which was nicknamed “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of the grandeur of Torah which flourished there. The Gaon himself learned Torah with incomparable holiness and purity, teaching scores of students, but with all this, he still declared that this seemingly thriving situation is a state of death, because the Nationhood of Israel, the vessel which brings the light of G-d to mankind, is shattered and missing from the world when the Jews live outside the Land of Israel, scattered around the globe.
All of this may leave the reader perplexed. After all, in America, it seems that Jewish life couldn’t be better! But this is on a private level. By identifying with the culture and life in the United States, the American Jew doesn’t miss being a part of his own Jewish Nation. America takes care of his national needs. Rebuilding the Divine vessel that brings the light of G-d to the world sounds nice, but it isn’t on the agenda. It isn’t possible in a foreign land.
Thankfully, Hashem doesn’t want His People to wander in Galut forever. To insure that we don’t forget that our goal should always be a Torah life in the Land of Israel, our Sages enacted that we pray three times a day in the Amidah, and in the Blessing after Meals, for the ingathering of the exiles, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the return of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) to Zion.We are supposed to long for the higher existence of Geula – of Jewish sovereignty in our own Land, with our Holy Temple in our midst. But to do this, we have to rise up to a higher vision and understanding of Torah. We have to rise up to embrace the Torah of Redemption, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.
More to come.
GALUT AND GEULA – PART 2
Galut and Geula, Part 2
Based on the book, “Binyan Emunah” by HaRav Moshe Bleicher
Scattered Limbs without a Soul
In our previous article, we began to explain the need for a deeper comprehension of Emunah (Faith) and Torah, in order to understand the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in our time. This deeper learning has the power to lift ourselves up to a higher level of existence – the transition from Galut to Geula, from a grave-like existence of dry scattered bones in gentile lands, to our full revitalized life of being a united body and sovereign Nation in our own Land.
In his book, “Binyan Emunah,” Rabbi Moshe Bleicher explains that the Torah defines the parameters of existence, and not the beliefs and opinions of man. An example is the definition of work (Malacha) on Shabbat. The notion of work which is forbidden on Shabbat is not determined by the concepts of man. For instance, human reasoning could maintain that if a person were to perform some difficult labor on Shabbat, this would be forbidden, and if he were to do some work without any effort, this would be allowed. But this is not the case. A person can carry heavy crates from one room to another in his home all day long without transgressing the laws of Shabbat, while if he were to carry a weightless needle in his hand from his house to his neighbor’s house across the street, in a place where there is no eruv, he will have violated the Malacha of carrying an object from one domain to another, whose punishment is most severe. It is the Torah which determines the definition of work on Shabbat and not the definitions of man.
When we understand this idea, we can acknowledge another truth. Just as the activities of life are defined by the Halacha (Jewish Law), all of the events of life, large and small alike, are defined by the Torah. If the Prophet Ezekiel, along with Torah giants like Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi and the Gaon of Vilna, define the exile as death, even if the Galut seems in our eyes to be filled with flourishing Jewish life, one must recognize that it is the Torah which determines the definition of a situation, and that the Galut is indeed a graveyard, because the essence of the Jewish People, our being Hashem’s holy NATION, does not exist there. Of course, we have to explain why this is so. How can it be that a situation which appears to be thriving, materially and even spiritually, for example, Jewish life in New York, with an abundance of Torah learning and observance, is nevertheless defined by the Torah, and by our Prophets and Sages, as death?
In order to understand why the Galut is death, we have to first meditate on the meaning of life. True life is when an organism functions as a whole. For example, no one would say that a severed limb is alive. Or, if you were to place an eyeball on a table, of course it couldn’t see. Without being connected to the soul, the life-force of the body, an eyeball obviously won’t function. The eyeball by itself is dead. Only in its connection to the general body and life-giving soul, can it function and see.
Rabbi Bleicher explains that the reason that the eye cannot function without it being attached to the body is because the eye isn’t a private organ which exists by itself. This is also true for the other organs of the body – the ear, the brain, the heart, etc. If you were to take out all of the organs of the body and connect them together, a man wouldn’t result – only a big, lifeless doll. The thing which gives man his essence as a man is the general life force inside of him. This is what enlivens and operates all the organs of the body, determines their function, and also gives man his consciousness as a man. From this general life force, the different parts of the body receive their value and importance.
Just as a life force animates an individual, the same is true for the Clal, the general community of all the Jewish People, past, present, and future. As we previously mentioned, the Nation of Israel is the earthly vessel which testifies to the Kingship of Hashem in the world. We declare His praise and bring His Word to mankind. While there are individual Tzaddikim (righteous people) who influence the world with their spiritual greatness, the universal Sanctification of Hashem in the world comes through the Israeli Nation as a whole, and not through individual Jews, however holy they may be (Ezekiel, 36:23-24).
There are nations of the world which also call upon the Name of G-d and praise His greatness, but in the very same breath, they are capable of murdering millions and carrying out the most savage, bestial acts. In contrast, when Am Yisrael calls upon the Name of G-d, it is to reveal and establish the Divine Ideal and Morality in the world, with the altruistic aspiration of bettering the life of all mankind.
Rabbi Bleicher writes: “While the world has greatly advanced in scientific and technological spheres, when it comes to morality, the improvement is far less noticeable. Much of mankind is still enslaved to primitivism, to idol worship, and its seemingly more sophisticated offshoots like Christianity, without the awareness that that the world has a single Soul, the Source of Ideal Unity, which gives value to everything. Lacking this understanding, the majority of the world lives an illusion, and walks like a blind man in darkness. In contrast, the recognition that the world has an Ideal Goal, and that the forces of life derive their value from a universal, unifying Divine Truth, gives existence a new exalted stature, and reveals that it is possible to live a life of purity, holiness, and nobility, on a lofty and transcendental level” – not only for an individual, but for nations as well, and for humanity as a whole.
“This lofty moral recognition is the innovation which Am Yisrael brings to the world. ‘This Nation have I created for myself, they will declare My praise.’ The ability of Am Yisrael to declare the praises of Hashem, to illuminate the world and liberate it from its truncated framework of private interests and egotistical concerns, from its bondage to individual lusts, by attaching all of the forces of life to their ideal Divine Source through the Torah, this stems from the unique vision of Am Yisrael that recognizes the existence of a single unifying Divine Goal which stands at the foundation of the world – the recognition that there is a single unifying force of life that lends ideal meaning to all of the details of life. This is a great Kiddush Hashem, the ability to reveal in life the Universal Unity which gives life to everything.”
The Nation of Israel was created to illuminate this Universal Truth of Divine Unity, to declare the Universal Kingship of G-d. When all of Am Yisrael gathers in its Land, with the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt on Har HaBayit, this Divine life-force appears in the life of the Israelite Nation, in all aspects of its national existence, in their most ideal and healthy format. But even before the Beit HaMikdash is built, the return to the Land and the Nation’s rebuilding, even in its early, outwardly secular stages, injects the dry bones of the Jewish People with a mighty national vitality that astonishes all other nations in the miraculous nature of its rebirth.
Rabbi Bleicher continues: “Like with an individual man, whose soul gives life to all of his organs and limbs, so too, when Am Yisrael returns to Eretz Yisrael, its unique, national life-force, which only comes to life within the Nation when it dwells in its Land, radiates its powers to all of the national faculties of the Nation, and to every vista of its life. The more the Nation is true to its inner essence and draws vitality and strength from the Divine Source of its life, the healthier it will be, and it will succeed in achieving its mission in the most complete and ideal fashion.”
This is a life of national Kiddush Hashem, where the Divine Presence is revealed in our midst, through the realization of the ideal, universal, Divine Goals and Aspirations in the life of the Nation, a holy Nation living its national life guided by the Torah.
However, when the Nation of Israel is exiled from its Land, and its general, national format is lost, along with the national life-force that goes with it, then its very essence undergoes a drastic descent. To protect itself from the impurity of exile, its general, Clalli soul ascends to the celestial heights, and no longer functions as the battery source of the now scattered and splintered Jewish People. Exiled from its Land, and unable to exist in its national format, the individual (prati) side of life becomes dominate, and the forces of life appear separately, seemingly independent, one from the other, like scattered dry bones. In this way, the level of life changes, and the entire observance of Torah and its commandments falls into a totally different category of performance – the practice of the precepts without their inner national essence. Scattered throughout the Diaspora, the Jewish People lack the vivifying Divine Soul of the Nation – like a body without a head or a heart. We become scattered communities, like dismembered organs, without any true, national Israeli life of our own.
To be continued….
On the Weekly Torah Portion