Torah from Israel: Redemption Under Construction

By Rabbi Moshe Taragin

Posted on 05/07/19

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BJL welcomes Rabbi Moshe Taragin and his weekly parsha themed Torah essays

Repeatedly, Dovid Hamelech employs the metaphor of a tower or a fortress to portray redemption. This image of a tall edifice soaring above humanity aptly captures the power of redemption to reshape history. Beyond the metaphoric connotations of a tower, this image helps visualize the image of the Mikdash which we all eagerly await. More specifically, in a poem in sefer Shmuel  Dovid describes this tower as a migdol but in Tehillim (18) he employs the term magdil - which refers to the “process of construction” rather than the actual finished product. Sensing these different terms, Chazal comment that redemption or the “tower” doesn’t occur instantaneously but rather in stages –similar to the stages of a construction project. Though we all dream of the ultimate “finished product” or the “migdol”, we must also tolerate the process or the stages of magdil – the evolution of redemption. To capture this dichotomy between the terminus (migdol) and the evolutionary process (magdil) we recite the term migdol in birchat hamazon of Shabbat while proclaiming the term magdil –during the week.

The same Midrash elaborates the reason for a staged redemption. It is staggered into waves because the Jewish people may not be ready for a complete or abrupt historical shift. After so many years of exile and so many centuries of a dark world under obscured Divine presence, we must gradually “ease” into a new world with vastly different conditions. Over the course of history we lost sovereignty, we abandoned our homeland, we struggled with national identity, and we suffered apparent historical irrelevance. G-d gradually restores these in “stages” so that we can properly acclimate as well as appreciate the various layers of restored identity. So far we have witnessed three chapters of redemption:

Chapter 1 – 1948

In 1948 we experienced the first wave of modern Jewish redemption. It is difficult to determine why we merited this Divine intervention or whether that generation was even “deserving” of redemption. However, one fact is unmistakable- the Holocaust was the darkest moment of Jewish history since the destruction of the Second Temple. To be sure, the intervening millennia were laced with discrimination, hatred, pogroms, expulsions and various other forms of persecution. However, the systematic attempt to rid the entire world of Jews had never been attempted; 13th century France sought to cleanse the French country of Jews, while 15th century Spain tried to purge Jews from the Spanish Empire. By contrast, Hitler conceived of global genocide- to the point that he maintained a list of 200 Albanian Jews while also possessing blueprints of synagogues in NYC ! To the common eye it was almost impossible to discern the presence of G-d in 1945. As any regression of G-d’s presence constitutes a chilul Hashem, 1945 marked the worst chilul Hashem in 2000 years.

A desecration of that magnitude demanded a proportionate restoration of His presence or a Kiddush Hashem of similar dimensions. The return of His people to their ancient homeland, though in no way “compensating for” or justifying the tragedy of the Holocaust,  restored G-d’s presence in human history. The first wave of our redemption was primarily a Kiddush Hashem upon the world stage.

Beyond the restoration of Divine presence, the founding of our State also solved the practical Jewish refugee crisis; homeless Jews who were being ported across the globe while repeatedly denied entry required a homeland. Even though the overwhelming majority if Jews didn’t return home in 1948, Jews finally had a safe- haven of return

Hallel includes a reference to mountains which danced like rams in the presence of G-d. The State of Israel was enabled in 1947 by a UN vote driven by a 2/3 majority. This type of majority was unimaginable during the Cold War era in which the Western bloc and Communist-dominated Eastern bloc harbored such deep mutual animosity, always voting against each other’s platforms. Yet, miraculously these mountains – these two voting blocs - danced in harmony and lockstep to implement the will of the adon kol ha’aretz !

Chapter 2 - 1967

Nineteen years after our initial return, we experienced the second wave of redemption. In 1948 when Jews returned to Haifa and Tel Aviv the world didn’t shudder. In fact, our return in 1948 “solved” the practical refugee crisis and soothed the world’s guilty conscience regarding the Holocaust. When Jews returned to Yerushalayim and to the hinterland of Jewish history in Judea and Samaria, the world took notice. Shamu amim yirgazun (the world trembled) at this reunion between Jews and Yerushalayim and between Jews and History. 1967 announced that Jews had been restored to the historical stage and that history was beginning to hurdle forward. Some nations celebrate our return while others are violently opposed. Either way, Jewish presence in Yerushalayim isn’t a “neutral” event. When G-d’s chosen people return to the locale of the origin of humanity as well as the station of the conclusion of history the entire world “notices”.

However it wasn’t just the international community which took notice. Boneh yerushalayim Hashem nidchei yisrael yechanes- G-d constructs Yerushalayim and gathers scattered Jews. Between 1948 and 1967 limited waves of Jews voyaged to the fledgling state; the return to Yerushalayim and to the Biblical corridor stoked the Jewish imagination and launched both mass Aliyah as well as large scale tourism and visitation. Relatedly, millions of Russian Jews whose identity had been emasculated by the Communist regime rediscovered their Jewish heritage and were literally magnetized to their homeland. The second wave of our redemption –punctuated by the great miracles of the 6-day war- amassed Jews back to their homeland while propelling the struggle to achieve internationally-recognized sovereignty in the entire land of Jewish history.

Chapter 3- The Past 25 Years

About 25 years ago the third wave of redemption began to emerge. Despite the supernatural interventions of 1948 and the historical revitalization of 1967, the State remained small and vulnerable - more pitied that respected. Over the past 25 years Israel has emerged as a military superpower, as well as cultivating a robust democracy and a stout economy. Stabilizing a strong democratic society is even more impressive given our continuing struggle with security. In general, security concerns demand the surrender of personal liberties. Despite our constant security threats we have managed to construct a fairly stable democracy- in the very region of the world in which human liberty is suppressed and political freedom curtailed. Our ability to preserve the dignity of life and the sanctity of human liberty is itself a kiddush Hashem.

Our economic growth has aroused broad international curiosity. The tribe of Zevulun resided along the Western coast of Israel and conducted maritime commerce. Moshe blesses them by cryptically describing ‘nations who will call a mountain’ (amim har yikra’u).  Explaining this oblique reference, Rashi asserts that non-Jewish trading partners would initially visit the coastline of Israel for purely commercial interests. Once arriving, their piqued curiosity would draw them to Yerushalayim to better understand the notion of a “One G-d”; Israel’s financial sway translated into religious encounter. In the modern era, having established itself as tech hub, Israel attracts ‘trading partners’ from around the globe. Intrigued by our people and its unique history, our “business partners” are quickly discovering the deep-rooted mission of Judaism which is blossoming in Israel.

Of course, the most dramatic element of this “modern emergence” is the unprecedented mushrooming of Torah study. Whenever Jews achieve national pride Torah energy surges and Torah study expands. The exhilarating explosion of Torah study is the most cosmic element of this third stage of redemption.

Though the State of Israel has already revolutionized so many different sectors, two emergent developments are particularly intriguing. Having discovered off-shore gas reserves, and currently in the process of constructing an underwater  pipeline to Europe, Israel is rapidly becoming a major world-supplier of energy– lending a modern meaning to our role as ‘or la’goyim’- a light for nations. We are literally providing light, heat and energy to the modern world. Additionally, Israel is currently spearheading a dramatic revolution in medical technology and cutting-edge procedures- a process which will radically alter worldwide medical treatment in the coming decades. Fueling human progress and curing human illness is an integral component of our calling as Jews- to teach the world about G-d and to advance human prosperity in accordance with His will.

In 2019 we are living through the exciting third stage of redemption and the third stage of Kiddush Hashem while awaiting so much more!!

Rabbi Moshe Taragin has been a Ram at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion for the past 23 years. He has Semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, a BA in Computer Science from Yeshiva College, and an MA in English Literature from City University. Rabbi Taragin previously taught Talmud at Columbia University, lectured in Talmud and Bible at the IBC and JSS divisions of Yeshiva University, and served as Assistant Rabbi at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.

In addition, Rabbi Taragin currently teaches at the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion. He is the author of an Internet shiur entitled "Talmudic Methodology" with over 5,000 subscribers a weekly shiur on Pirkei Avos with over 1400 subscribers and has delivered hundreds of audio shiurim featured on the Yeshivat Har Etzion “Audio Beit Midrash” (KMTT) as well as on YU Torah online.

Rabbi Taragin has authored a Yom Ha’atzmaut Machzor for Koren publishing house.