If it were not a coronavirus (COVID-19) year, we would all break out our Israeli flags to wave while wearing our blue and white attire as Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) rolls around in Israel. The Prime Minister, President of Israel, speaker of the Knesset, and distinguished diplomats and officials would gather at Mount Herzl for the main ceremony, complete with lighting the torch, musical and dance performances by Israeli celebrities, and fireworks — all followed by jamming parties and barbecues galore, smoking up the country.
While all this might be really rockin’ for the newly independent state of Israel, is that all there is to this day: partying, barbecuing, spraying shaving cream on each other, and banging each other over the head with inflatable blue and white hammers?
Last week, we commemorated Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Many people believe that since we barely survived the horrors of near extermination during the Holocaust, we deserved a state of our own. It is true that the state came into being immediately following that tragic near-annihilation; before the shocked eyes of the world, a strong proud state rose from the Jewish ashes of Auschwitz. But is the Holocaust the reason why we have the state of Israel?
Others give credit to the actions of David Ben-Gurion and those of the 1947 U.N. General Assembly, for mandating a Jewish state in our ancestral homeland of Israel. We were in-gathered from the four corners of the earth and used our abilities, intentions, means, and resources after a 2,000 year exile to become an independent sovereign nation, finally able to defend ourselves.
Do we really deserve the state of Israel due to the Holocaust, a U.N. vote, or the late Ben-Gurion? Is there a deeper, more spiritual meaning to this day? How do we explain this unprecedented chain of events?
“I will take you from among the nations…”
Making the process even more powerful are the words of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 36: 19-24). In one of the deepest and most impressive visions in Tanach (Jewish scripture), he prophesied thousands of years ago about the day in which the exile would end and the Jews would return home:
“I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed through the countries; I punished them according to their ways and their deeds. But when they came to those nations, they caused My holy name to be profaned; it was said of them, “These are the people of the L-rd, yet they had to leave His land. “I am concerned for My holy name which the house of Israel has profaned among the nations… Say to the House of Israel: Thus says the Lord G-d: Not for your sake will I act, O house of Israel, but for My holy name…“I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations… And the nations shall know that I am the Lord — when I manifest My holiness before their eyes through you. I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from out of all the countries, and bring you back to your own land.” (Ezekiel 36: 19-24)
We learn from here that the nations, i.e., the gentiles, will interpret the exile of the Jewish people as proof that, chas v’chalila, the G-d of Israel doesn’t exist. The exile itself is proof to the gentiles that the G-d of Israel is weak. In the eyes of the nations, our exile has been a sign that G-d had abandoned the Jewish people. As Rashi teaches on this passage: “The humiliation of the Jewish People is a desecration of His name, for they say to them: ‘This is the people of the L-rd, and He is not able to save them’.”
But when the chillul Hashem (desecration of His holy name) reaches its fullest expression, G-d won’t take it anymore. He will return us to our Land without waiting for us to return to Him — not because we deserve it, but to reveal His holiness. Even if the Jewish people don’t do teshuva (repentance) and even if the situation of desecration escalates through Crusades, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and Holocausts, G-d will indeed redeem us — not for our sake, but for the sake of His name.
Where is their G-d?
Despite her founders being by and large non-religious or even anti-religious Jews, Israel rose up — and is indestructible — to end the scourge of desecrating G-d’s name. Israel’s very presence in the exile, an unprotected minority, scattered and homeless among the nations, exposed to the majority’s onslaughts, pursued, humiliated and murdered for being weak and cut off from our land, army, and pride, has been a chillul Hashem of the worst magnitude.
From the perspective of the nations who see the Jewish people being pursued, robbed, degraded and murdered, it is completely logical for them to say, “If this is really G-d’s chosen people, and we are capable of doing this to them, then either G-d Himself lacks power or He doesn’t exist at all.” For the non-Jew capable of trampling a Jew without fear, there is no G-d; indeed, this gentile scorns and mocks G-d, proclaiming that He is a challal (empty void) — from which comes the Hebrew phrase chillul Hashem.
Not only do the nations mock Israel and taunt and profane G-d during the cursed exile, but they spill Jewish blood like water, arguing in their wickedness and cruelty that this must be the will of Heaven. On the heels of Yom haShoah, we need only look to the German nation, a modern day ‘Amalek,’ which surpassed the murderous plans of the wicked Haman of Purim by actually annihilating millions of Jewish men, women, and children, showing no mercy whatsoever.
The Nazis, y’mach Shemam, focused on only one goal — to destroy G-d’s people and leave no remnant at all. For them, the main significance of the annihilation was not only the murder of the Jewish people but to ridicule G-d’s existence and Israel’s destiny, as if the Nazis mocked, “If we can degrade and humiliate, gas, burn, and bury alive all the helpless Jews, where is their G-d to save them?!”
Israel’s Redemption and victory
In response to this chillul Hashem, the prophecies state that G-d comes in anger and wrath to take revenge against the nations and sanctify His name.
When the time for redemption arrives, G-d has pity on His holy people, living in exile among the nations, living under them, subject to and dependent upon them.
Even when the Jews are allowed to live in peace among the nations, they are still dependent on their goodness and tolerance. This is the intent of Targum Yonaton’s rendering of the verse,
“There [in the exile] you will serve other gods (Deuteronomy 28:36)”
Means “There you will serve nations that worship idols.” The fact that Israel lives as a minority in the territory of an alien majority, constantly relying on the kindness of the nations, diminishes the glory of Israel and therefore of G-d.
G-d, therefore, intends to blot out this chillul Hashem in the only way that the nations will understand: Israel’s redemption and their miraculous victory over the nations who blasphemed G-d. Since Israel’s weakness, lowliness, and suffering at the nations’ hands are interpreted as G-d’s weakness and inability to save His people, when the Jews ascend to the heights and are crowned with victory, G-d ascends as well and is exalted and sanctified.
The Footsteps of the Messiah
According to Jewish teachings, even if Israel is unworthy of redemption because of insufficient personal merits, a certain “time” will arrive in G-d’s calculations when He has compassion for His holy name and for the destruction and ruin resulting from the nations profaning it on the earth. This compassion transcends all other calculations and establishes that Israel’s redemption will come — not for their sake, not because they deserve it, for they have not repented properly — but for the sake of G-d’s holy name. For the sake of that, G-d, in His kindness, redeems Israel.
What is that redemption? Rashi says, “What does this sanctification involve? ‘I will take you from among the nations.’” Through Israel’s return to eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and the establishment of a triumphant sovereign state founded against the will of the nations, comes the proof that G-d indeed exists in Israel and He is the Ruler of the universe, the king of kings.
Today, more than ever before, we are right at the very heart of the atchalta de’geulah (beginning of the redemption). This generation has merited seeing what our ancestors have not seen since the destruction of the Second Temple: a rebuilt Land of Israel full of trees and produce, the in-gathering of the exiles, the establishment of a government by the Jews, and miraculous victories over our enemies.
Finally, we are witnessing G-d’s concern for His holy name which has been so desecrated during this 2,000 year exile. The prophet Isaiah teaches us that the Redemption can either come in an instant or “in it’s time.” Unfortunately, we are witnessing a redemption that is not achishena (swiftly and with glory) but rather one of b’eta (slowly, in its time), accompanied by great suffering and pain. It is the type of redemption that G-d brings upon us against our will, since we have not done the teshuvah (repentance) necessary to hasten it.
Time to come home
We learn from our sages (b. San. 98a): “Rabbi Abba said: there is no end of days more revealed than that of Ezekiel 36:8. ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel (for it is near to come).’ Rashi: “When eretz Yisrael yields its produce in abundance, then the end will be near, and no sign of the end of days could be clearer.”
We see this today with the rebirth and flowering of eretz Yisrael. Every Jew who understands this, can — and should — flee the exile of the nations and return to the holy Land now. According to the words of the prophets, G-d has opened the last chapter of the existence of the world and is returning us to our land; it is time to embrace the delightful Land and sanctify G-d’s name.
I invite you to come home and live in the land of Israel with your brothers and sisters. We’re anticipating your arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport and will embrace you with open arms! May we yet merit a swift, sweet redemption with the majority of the Jews living in the land of Israel, and be a true light unto the nations as G-d’s chosen people in our eternal homeland.