The best way to describe the difference between the national mentality of redemption and exile is by the varying levels of apathy and initiative, of personal responsibility and blaming the divine.
The starkest example of this difference is the prophet Yermiyahu. The book of Yermiyahu recounts the pleadings of the prophet with the people of Israel to take responsibility for their behavior and change their actions before a terrible tragedy befalls the nation. He begs and pleads with the leadership to take personal responsibility and with the people to show initiative. This is before the destruction of the 1st temple while the people of Israel are still a free and sovereign nation, Yermiyahu still believes the nation controls its own destiny.
It is held in common belief that the same prophet, Yermiyahu, either wrote himself or compiled the book of Eicha which we read on the fast of the 9th of Av. The five chapters show none of the pleadings for action or for taking responsibility we find in the book of Yermiyahu. Instead, we find the prophet relating the destruction brought down on the Jewish people by God. There are references to the human enemies of the Jewish people who perpetrated this destruction but only as of the messengers of the almighty. The request of the prophet is not for the nation of Israel to repent and take action but is directed at God to have mercy and return us to our previous glory.
This distinct difference in national vision follows the Jewish people throughout our national history and continues to affect our daily lives as a nation today. The mentality of personal responsibility among the nation and its leaders is how a free and independent nation is expected to behave. While leveling all of the responsibility on the almighty is the way of the exile.
One great example of the opposing exile and redemption mentalities can be found in the lead up to the holocaust. While the Zionist movements like Betar were encouraging their members in pre-war Europe to emigrate to the land of Israel and control their own destinies, the leading rabbinic leadership at the time was encouraging its members to do as the Jewish communities of Europe had done for centuries, pray and study harder and trust in the almighty. Ultimately the exile mentality of most of the European communities lead to the near-complete destruction of European Jewry. While at the same time the Beitar and other Zionist movements who chose the way of redemption went on to found the state of Israel and greatly strengthen and grow the Jewish communities across the united states and elsewhere.
We need not go as far back as the first temple period or even to more recent but still a long time ago as the holocaust. We need only travel back to August 2005 and Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan” the destruction of all the Jewish communities of Gaza, to understand how deeply ingrained the exile mentality is in the leadership of the Jewish people today. We need only to examine the directives given by the leadership of the religious Zionist camp which was the plans biggest opposers. They directed the entirety of their community to pray, study and beg God for salvation. They pointed the finger at the almighty instead of the leadership and the people who supported them. They didn’t direct their communities to take control of their destiny and defend the principles they lived by. Instead, they went the way of Eichah, they begged the Almighty for salvation and redemption.
Today we are a free and independent nation once again living in our land, yet we still act as though we are stuck in the exile. We as a nation refuse to hold our leadership, both on the left and right, responsible for their shortcomings and failures. We as a nation have not accepted the yoke of personal responsibility to navigate the way forward. Instead, we leave the responsibility with the almighty. Whether from a religious perspective of god himself or from a secular perspective that views higher unknown powers as controlling the politics of the time.
It is about time the Jewish people start to recognize the times in which we live and start correcting our actions to reflect the reality. We are no longer a downtrodden people wandering amongst the nations surviving. We are once again a strong independent sovereign people in our own land. The time has come for us to take personal responsibility for ourselves and hold our national leadership, our local communities, and ourselves responsible for the outcomes of our actions.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Times of Israel