Thursday, May 26, 2022

Parshas Bechukosai: The Old Golus is Over - Short Live the New Golus!

In my current occupation as a licensed tour guide in Israel (now that COVID seems to have finally ended), it is my privilege to greet many of my brothers and sisters who can visit our Holy Land again. They are excited to be visiting Eretz Yisrael after being denied that opportunity for the past two years. 

I highlighted the term visiting, as, unfortunately, most of them have no intention of realistically considering the possibility of Aliyah and are content to remain living in the Diaspora for the time being. There certainly are some very legitimate reasons for remaining in the Diaspora for now – I had the privilege of Aliyah only some five years ago – and each person must judge what is best for their family. I only want to look at one of the reasons that I often hear, considering  Parshat Bechukosai.

The argument that I am speaking of is that “We are still in Golus because Mashiach has not yet come. Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) has little or no religious significance, as many of the founders were irreligious or even anti-religious. The State continues to be a secular state that is an affront to the Torah. The Golus is still in full force whether you live in Boro Park or Bnei Brak; we will comfortably await the coming of Mashiach elsewhere.”

At the end of the lengthy Tochacha (Admonition) section describing the long and terrible Golus that we will undergo, a verse appears that we are quite familiar with from the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf:

וְזָכַרְתִּ֖י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֣י יַעֲק֑וֹב וְאַף֩ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֨י יִצְחָ֜ק וְאַ֨ף אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֧י אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶזְכֹּ֖ר וְהָאָ֥רֶץ אֶזְכֹּֽר (ויקרא כו:מב)

Then will I remember My covenant with Yaakov; I will remember also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham; and I will remember the land. (Vayikra 26:42)

A quick analysis of this verse results in two obvious questions:

  • Why the reverse order from the usual, chronological and ancestral one?
  • Why are there seemingly three separate covenants listed, rather than “I will remember my covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov”?

In a masterful treatment that can only be briefly excerpted here, Rav SR Hirsch זצ"ל explained that there were three separate covenants. “The names of the Patriarchs represent not individuals, but historic archetypes through which the power of the Divine covenant becomes manifest”.

We are remarkably familiar with the lives of Avraham and Yaakov, about whom the Torah elaborates at length. The Hittites recognized Avraham in his time as נְשִׂיא אֱלֹקִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ,a “Prince of G-d you are amongst us” (Breishis 23:6). Universally recognized as the supreme citizen of his time, the object of admiration near and wide, he was beloved for his ability to bring the message of G-d to the world. By contrast, Yaakov led a life of unremitting hardship and trouble. When standing before Pharaoh, Yaakov says about his life מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי, "few and unpleasant have been the years of my life" (ibid 47:9). He suffered from Eisav, Lavan, Shechem, Joseph…. a life which had little respite from difficulty.

About Yitzchak, however, we know little – he is given minimal “screen time” in the Torah. Even in Parshas Toldos, the one Parasha purportedly devoted to Yitzchak, most of it is really about Yaakov and Eisav. Chapter 26 is the only one in which we read about Yitzchak himself.

The Yitzchak we find there is a paradox. On the one hand, he is persecuted, on the other hand; he is highly successful financially. Driven from place to place, dealing with the intransigence of his neighbors, he is told, “Leave us, as you have become mighty from us (from somehow taking our wealth)!” He emerges unscathed with their grudging admiration. Avimelech and Phichol come to him to make a non-aggression pact. Yitzchak asks, “Why do you come to me; do you not hate me?”. And in a statement worthy of the UN, they say, “Let there be a pact between us, so that if you do us no harm, as we have not harmed you (What????) and we did only good and sent you in Peace (Are you Kidding???), for after all (We are forced to admit) you are blessed by G-d” (ibid 26:28-9).

In summary, Yitzchak lives a life in which he is grudgingly tolerated and respected, not loved. A life in which he has both financial success and the hostility and envy of his neighbors; without the crushing difficulties of Yaakov, but far from the glory of Avraham’s social status. He is somewhere in the middle: not in the greatest of times, but not the worst of times either.

This is reminiscent of the prayers associated with each of the Avos . Avraham is associated with the morning – a new day full of light and promise. Yaakov is associated with night, a time of darkness and fear. Yitzchak is associated with afternoon/evening, somewhere in between; not dark but not full of joyous light (Brachos 26b).

With this background, let us see how Rav Hirsch learned the verse in Bechukosai.

As the end of the Golus draws near, a time will come that it will be evident that Hashem remembers the covenant with Yaakov. “I will be with them through all the long, long nights of their exile. I will transform even the darkest night of their exile into a shining revelation of Divine Guidance.” We will make it through the worst of times; bloodied but very much alive. Then, when the time will come that “their measure of suffering is full, when they have inscribed their loyalty to the Torah with their heart’s blood upon the pages of world history” and the covenant with Yaakov is fully realized, it will finally be time for the covenant of Yitzchak.

During the Jacob period, they had to endure the hatred of the nations. Now, like Isaac, they will suffer the envy of the nations. . . In the midst of growing prosperity, living among nations wavering between humaneness and envy, they will have to preserve their unique character as did Isaac. They will have to employ their resources, ampler and less restricted than before, for a more perfect and multifaceted fulfillment of their unique mission in the Golus. . .”

Rav Hirsch then goes on to describe a later stage of the Covenant of Avraham, and of the Land, which we can surmise will be at the time of the coming of the Mashiach.

In a tragic comment that we can look back at through the prism of terrible hindsight, Rav Hirsch further wrote of his time in Nineteenth century Germany regarding the Covenant with Yaakov, “This stage is already behind us. As Yaakov, we have proved ourselves brilliantly”. In recognition of the opening of the ghettos and the unprecedented freedom and opportunity of Western European Jews, he felt that “Now we are facing the test of the second stage Isaac Covenant; to walk, free and independent among the nations, not to fear to be different, and to remain undeterred by envy. . . a test we still have to pass. Only then can we look forward to the last stage of Golus, in which we will win the respect of the Nations not although we are Jews, but because we are Jews . . ."

In hindsight, it is so bitter to know that this hope was tragically premature, specifically in Germany...

It should be clear to anyone with a clear view of the amazing times we live in that we are in an intermediate stage. Some call it Ikvasa D’Meshicha. Some call it Aschalta D’Geula. Rav Hirsch says that Hashem called it “Bris Yitzchak” – the Isaac Covenant.

Nevertheless, it is clear to me that we truly live in the Yitzchak age in our time. With the unprecedented wealth, power, and influence of Jews throughout the world, with the amazing resurgence and rebirth of observant Judaism, and most of all, with the great gift that is Medinat Yisrael, we have passed into a different relationship vis a vis the Nations of the world.

This essay is long already, but my prime contention is this: There are not only two binary states, namely Golus and Geulah, Exile and redemption. It should be clear to anyone with a clear view of the amazing times we live in that we are in an intermediate stage. Some call it Ikvasa D’Meshicha. Some call it Aschalta D’Geula. Rav Hirsch says that Hashem called it “Bris Yitzchak” – the Isaac Covenant.

It is a time when Jews – very much including Orthodox Jews – have reached unheard of levels of wealth, power, and influence in the countries they live in. They are very prominent among the leaders in business, government, science, academia, culture and the entertainment industry (a mixed blessing). The Torah world is flourishing as it has not in thousands of years, with hundreds of thousands learning at advanced levels, a massive proliferation of yeshivos, kollelim, Bais Yaakovs and seminaries. We live in a time of hundreds of thousands celebrating the Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi, endless availability of kosher food, and a thousand other indicia of a Golus far different than the bad old days of Poland, Galicia, and Iraq.

Moreover, without getting into the debates about the religious significance of the State of Israel, one cannot deny the miracles that are evident there every day. A strong army and security forces protecting Jews as never before. The economy, high-tech industry, infrastructure, science, and culture that have been developed in a nation of survivors after merely 70 years is nothing short of miraculous. And with all the problems, the level of Torah learning and observance dwarfs all of the major accomplishments in America and elsewhere and, again, is a vastly different type of Golus than in the bad old days of Lithuania and Ukraine.

It is the Isaac Covenant – a new and different Golus. It is a time when we must follow the way of our Patriarch Yitzchak, and only thus get through this singularly exciting, promising, and yet challenging time. It requires strength, courage, and fearlessness to face the unbelievable opportunities we have and not run from them.

It is well known that there are two possible modes of the Messianic arrival, represented by the words of Yeshaya בעיתה אחישנה, "I will hasten it, in its time".  if we merit it, it will come quickly, if we do not, it will come in its time, developing (in the words of Rabbi Hiya) קמעא קמעא - a little bit at a time.  It is plain to me that the second mode is what has been developing in Eretz Yisrael for the past one hundred years at least.

And it is a time to recognize that Hashem is waiting for us to embrace the gift that He has given us. It is time to recognize that the time that Jews were welcome and tolerated in America may be coming to a close, as we always knew it would someday. It is a time to heed the words of Rav Yehuda HaLevi in the Kuzari (2:24) and not follow the unfortunate example of the Jews who, rather than returning to Eretz Yisrael with Ezra, decided to stay in Babylon, and ignored the “knocks of G-d” in which he called on us to come back home. It is a mistake to think that everything will be exactly the same, and one day Mashiach will appear out of the blue and call us back. Although that was one possible scenario, it is quite clear that the other one is unfolding, in which the Geulah is opening up a little at a time.

Finally, I deeply believe that underlying many of the deep problems in the frum world is that in many quarters there is too much insistence on pretending that the same approaches to the problems we face - be it in relations with non-Jews, Chinuch, attitudes towards money, openness to the outside world, relations with Arabs in Eretz Yisrael - will work despite living in a vastly different world a hundred and more years ago. If only it would advise our entire approach to the world in the time we are privileged to live in - if our decisions would be based not on attitudes developed in a world that is no more, but in our current status - I believe that many of our problems in Klal Yisroel would be greatly alleviated.

It is time to recognize not that Golus is over, but that we have entered a new and different stage, which requires different responses than in the past. It is time to come home.

Published in the Jewish Press May 27, 2022


Ckuttner said...

Really thought-provoking and inspiring. We often feel too old to make aliya, but we really do need to keep this in our thinking.

YLO said...

Thank you Charles - we look forward to seeing you however you get here!

YLO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chanon Simon said...

well said. coming home!

YLO said...

Great to hear it Chanon!!! Please be in touch!