Redemption through Repentance or Agony
Our Sages have taught us that the ‘Geula’ (Redemption) can come in two ways: Speedily and joyfully, by means of complete repentance, or in a natural process – by way of anguish, forcing us to return to our Land and heritage. “If they (Israel) will be worthy, I will hasten it (Redemption), and if not, they must wait till the right time will come.” If they are worthy – “with clouds of heaven” – in a heavenly manner, and speedily; if they are not worthy – “lowly and riding upon an ass,” slowly, and in a natural way entailing suffering (Talmud Sanhedrin 98a). The fact that the Redemption can come by means of repentance is obvious and understandable; because of our sins our Holy Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our Land, and by means of complete repentance we will return to our Land and the Temple will be built. Likewise, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) – the harbinger of the Redemption – when will it arrive? He answered him: “Today even, if you will only hearken to His voice!” (ibid).
What is unique is that even without complete repentance the Redemption will come, because this is the purpose God designated for the world. The world was created in such a way that its inner nature continually unfolds until the complete Redemption is reached. However, when the Redemption comes naturally – it comes by means of horrible suffering, through which the world is refined and made ready to receive Divine enlightenment.
Combination of Both
How fortunate we are to witness in the last generations the emergence of our redemption, throughthe ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and the settling of the Land. From what we have seen to date, the Redemption in our generation is developing in a combination of the two paths, with the natural and anguish-laden path leading the way, similar to the simple understanding of the verse (Isaiah 60:22): “I the Lord will hasten it in its time.” In other words, even within the normal time of the Redemption, the more people awaken to repentance, the more they hasten and bring closer the Redemption, and lessen its suffering. The basis of awakening to repentance is Israel’s return to its Land, as we have learned from the Torah, Prophets, and the words of our Sages, that the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and settling of the Land of Israel are the foundation of the Redemption, and on top of this comes the appearance of Divine Presence and the building of the Holy Temple.
The Beginning of Awakening
Although in every generation the ‘gedolei Yisrael’ (eminent Torah scholars) yearned to make aliyah to the Land of Israel, over two hundred years ago, in the Hebrew year 5537 (1776), a significant awakening began. The most important student of the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, made aliyah with 300 Hassidim, thus laying the foundation of the Hassidic community in Israel. Yet, there was still no explicit mention of the mere act of aliyah effecting the hastening the Redemption.
The first person to speak about this explicitly was the Vilna Gaon. His students related that on numerous occasions he would speak to them anxiously, saying that the Redemption would be quickened only through the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and building the Land; and only by way of building the Land would we be saved from the terrible suffering of the birth pangs of Mashiach. The Vilna Gaon himself set-off for the Land ofIsrael, and even departed from his family by leaving a last will and testament; however, from the heavens he was instructed to return, and so he did. Nevertheless, he continued to encourage his students to make aliyah toIsrael and build the Land.
In the year 5569 (1806), nearly ten years after the Vilna Gaon passed away, the first group of his students ascended to the city of Safed, under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov. About two years later, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, the author of the book “Pe’at HaShulchan” joined him. Together with them were Rabbi Hillel of Shklov, other eminent Torah scholars, and men of deeds. Over time, many of them moved toJerusalem. Terrible troubles plagued them; however, they were strengthened by the words of their great Rabbi concerning the importance of the mitzvah to settle the Land. And thus, from one generation to the next they grew in numbers, established themselves in the Land, and became the foundation of the Ashkenazi “Old Yishuv” in Israel. In their virtue, the first neighborhoods outside of the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem were built, and some of them were amongst the founders of the “New Yishuv,” and places like Petach Tikva.
Had we merited answering the call of the Vilna Gaon and his students, there is no describing how many pogroms and sufferings we would have been saved from. Also, the Jewish nation would have remained more connected to Torah and mitzvoth, for masses of Jews would have witnessed with their own eyes how, thanks to guidance of the Torah, life is improved. Leaving the Torah stemmed from a feeling that anyone connected to it remained behind. The entire world was busy establishing countries and new regimes, while Judaism was engaged in survival – under increasingly difficult conditions. Had we already began to build the nation and the Land, the great vision of the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and building the Land in the light of the Torah as expressed by the Prophets, would have filled peoples hearts. All the gifted Jews who assimilated and gave their expertise to foreigners – in the fields of science, culture, diplomacy, and economics – would have invested their strength in the Land of Israel, for the sake of their nation and homeland. The Jewish State would have been founded earlier, not from pressure caused by troubles, but because of the mitzvoth of the Torah and the vision of the Prophets. In addition, the problems with the Arab population would have been negligible; simply because we did not arrive here en masse, was there room for many Arabs to migrate to Israel in recent generations.
Despite Suffering Jews Remain in the Diaspora
We did not merit ascending to the Land of Israel on the basis of the mitzvah to settle the Land and the vision of the Redemption, and the sufferings intensified. Some fifty years after the awakening of the Vilna Gaon’s students, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher and Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher arose and began encouragingthe Jewish masses to make aliyah to Israel and bring the Redemption. As a result of this, the number of Jews making aliyah increased. However, we were still far from achieving the overall goal; the sufferings of the Diaspora escalated, anti-Semitism intensified, the process of abandoning religion accelerated, and many Jews began to assimilate in the Diaspora. Several decades later a number of ‘gedolei Yisrael’ in Eastern Europe arose, amongst them Rabbi Shmuel Moholiver, Rabbi Mordechai Elishberg, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (the Natziv), encouraging aliyah to Israel in the framework of the ‘Hibat Tzion’ movement. By then, the number of Jews who had left the path of Torah and mitzvoth had increased. Those eminent rabbis agreed to unite with the non-religious public leaders for the purpose of settling the Landof Israel. As a result of their actions, the immigration known as “aliyah rishona” (first aliyah) was inspired (starting from 1881). The majority of Jews making aliyah at that time were religious, but they were far from the spiritual level of the Vilna Gaon’s students, who were brilliant Torah scholars and righteous individuals. Despite that, among the new immigrants at that time were also a number of important Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe (the great uncle of Rabbi Kook), who joined the moshava of Yehud, and became its rabbi. And although the new communities continued to grow, nevertheless, the masses of Jews did not answer the call to return to Zion.
The Establishment of the Zionist Movement
As anti-Semitism grew in Europe, so did the number of Jews who stopped observing Torah and mitzvoth. Many of those who left religion hoped that by doing so, and by assimilating amongst the non-Jews, their troubles would end. However, anti-Semitism continued to grow. Some of the Jews who tried to integrate with the non-Jews eventually realized that one’s Jewish character is unique and cannot be escaped, and that only through the establishment of an independent Jewish state in the Land of Israel, could the Jews be saved from growing anti-Semitism. Thus, the Zionist movement, headed by Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, was founded. Some of the ‘gedolei Yisrael’ supported the movement. Eventually, they organized themselves into the framework of the ‘Mizrachi’ movement. There were some gedolim who were opposed to the Zionist movement, mainly because they were worried that the masses of people would be drawn after the lifestyles of its non-religious leaders.
The Holocaust and the Establishment of the State
The Zionist idea, together with rising anti-Semitism, provoked larger groups of Jews to support aliyah and the expansion of settling the Land, and call for the establishment of a Jewish state. Nevertheless, the painful truth must be stated: the majority of Jews, whether religious or not, did not participate in the Zionist movement, and remained in the Diaspora. The Jewish community in Israel lacked the strength to raise the banner of Jerusalem, and call for the establishment of the State of Israel.
Only after the Holocaust did it become clear to many Jews that an independent Jewish state in the Land ofIsrael was imperative. Thousands of refugees from Europe and from Arab countries immigrated to Israel, and thus, the State of Israel arose and was soundly established.
Time for Teshuva
We are still on the path, and must learn from the Torah and the word of God revealed through history, that if we merit acting properly in settling the Land in Judea and Samaria on the basis of Torah and mitzvoth, we will merit bringing the Redemption in joy and tranquility – consistent with the order of redemption by means of repentance. However, if we are negligent, God forbid, in accordance with the order of natural redemption, difficult sufferings are liable to befall us, God forbid, in order to straighten our ways.
May it be His will that we merit enlarging all the communities in Judea and Samaria, and the Land gives off its produce abundantly; that we are gathered from all four corners of the earth to our Land, and walk upright in it; and that God will remove the heart of stone from our flesh, and give us a new heart and spirit, to learn Torah and observe mitzvoth; and that all the desolate hills will flourish and give off their fruits, all the waste cities will be settled and built and filled with flocks of people and righteous individuals; and we shall all know God.
The Date of Yom HaAtzma’ut
The fifth of Iyar can fall out on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday (Shabbat). When it falls out on a Friday or Shabbat, there is good reason to fear that the celebrations and ceremonies will cause public desecration of the Sabbath. Therefore, it was decided at the request of the Chief Rabbinate, that wheneverYom HaAtzma’ut falls out on a Friday or Shabbat, the holiday is celebrated on the previous Thursday (the 3rdor 4th of Iyar). And when Yom HaAtzma’ut falls out on a Monday, the preparations for Yom HaZikaron(Memorial Day), which begins on Saturday night, cause many Jews to violate the Sabbath. Therefore, it was decided at the request of the Chief Rabbinate that both of these special occasions be postponed by a day, establishing Yom HaZikaron on the fifth of Iyar and Yom HaAtzma’ut on the sixth of the month. In practice, then, on three of the four days on which Yom HaAtzma’ut can fall, we celebrate it either before or after its actual date.
We find a similar concept elsewhere. Out of concern that one might carry a shofar or lulav onShabbat, the Sages canceled these mitzvot. Therefore, when Rosh HaShanah falls out on Shabbat, we do not blow the shofar that day, and when the first day of Sukkot falls out on Shabbat, we do not take the Four Species. Thus, the Sages canceled biblical commandments in order to avoid Sabbath violation, but we may not change the actual date of a holiday since it is written explicitly in the Torah. Rabbinic ally ordained holidays, however, may be postponed or observed earlier. For example, when Purim falls out on Shabbat, we read the Megillah and give gifts to the poor on Friday, read the special Torah reading and say Al HaNissim onShabbat, and eat a festive meal and send portions of food to others on Sunday (Sh.A. O.C. 688:6, M.B. 18). And when Tish’a B’Av falls on Shabbat, we postpone the fast until Sunday (see, Sh.A. O.C. 551:4, 554:19).
The same is true of Yom HaAtzma’ut; it all depends on how the holiday was instituted. Whichever day the representatives of the people and the Chief Rabbinate decide is the day to celebrate the establishment of the State is the day that we must thank HaShem for His salvation.
It is interesting to note that the declaration of independence also took place earlier than originally planned, in order to prevent Sabbath desecration, for the British Mandate ended on Friday night, [May 14, 1948], at midnight, but the heads of the National Council did not want to declare statehood in the midst of Sabbath desecration, so they moved the declaration up to Friday afternoon, the fifth of Iyar.