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17 Tammuz 5763 - July 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Destruction and Redemption

by HaRav Nachman Bulman

Once again the Seventeenth of Tammuz has heralded the advent of our Three Weeks of mourning. Once again our remembrance of the destruction of Hashem's dwelling place on Earth will culminate in the soul searing tones of Tisha B'Av's lamentations. In some of us, the discomfort enjoined during this period, the restraints we practice, will awaken a glimmer of recollection for the historic tragedy which stands behind our customs of mourning. Some of us will even recall the blueprint of historic anguish which was drafted in the earliest days of our history during these very weeks.

On the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the fortified walls of Jerusalem were pierced and torn open by our enemies. On the same Seventeenth of Tammuz, so many centuries earlier, the Tablets of the Law were shattered by Moshe Rabbeinu. On the evening of the Ninth of Av our forefathers wept, in loss of faith, when they heard the slanderous report of the spies on the promised land. On the same Ninth of Av so many centuries later, the light of our life was twice extinguished -- the Bais Hamikdash was leveled. But to the masses of our people, the experience of these weeks has almost vanished from living memory.

For many centuries our fathers experienced the deepest pangs of mourning during these days. But their mourning was not one that paralyzed their spiritual energies. It rather awakened those energies. They knew why they mourned. And they knew for what consolation they yearned. They knew the meaning of Golus. And they also knew what the Torah wished them to know of the meaning of Geula (redemption). Their fathers had sinned, and had therefore been driven into exile from their beloved land -- an exile whose termination they had not yet merited. They knew wherein they had committed wrongdoing. They acknowledged their transgressions honestly. They grieved over them sincerely.

They responded with gratitude to the peoples who extended humane treatment to them in the lands of exile. But they never mistook, even under the best of circumstances, those lands of exile for home. Their political allegiances were forthcoming to no lesser extent than that of other citizens of the lands in which they lived. But their highest spiritual allegiances they gave to their portable homeland, the Torah, while never ceasing to yearn, with every nerve of being, for restoration to their own beloved land, the Land of the Fathers. They adjusted themselves to their contemporary surroundings, but never completely. They rooted themselves in the societies which enveloped them, but never completely.

The bitterness and the length of exile sometimes caused them to fall prey to the delusions of false messiahs. Their awakening was not long in coming. Those who refused to part company with those delusions became as withered branches of Israel's tree, and in time fell away completely from the stem. For our people as a people the Messianic vision shone true and pure during all these centuries of exile.

In recent generations however, the vision has become clouded for ever larger segments of our people. Reform came, and tore Zion out of the Siddur. Secular Zionism came and tore the Siddur out of Zion. An inscrutable Divine wrath tore out of our midst millions of Jews in whose souls both the Siddur and Zion refused to be torn apart.

And we, the sad remnants of those millions, have become subject to confusion. Upon us the curse of the tochacha (admonition) has fallen: "And I will surely hide My Countenance from you on that day." The illumination of Divine meaning for our times, has been taken away from us, and our faith in the coming of the Moshiach has become pale . . .

In some countries our material blessings are so bountiful that some of the best of us are lulled into forgetting that: the best Golus is still Golus. And there, in the Land of the Fathers, such mighty events have transpired . . . How shall we look at them? What is the meaning of that test? Are we in the midst of the Messianic age?

Let us read together:

"The king, the Moshiach, will arise and restore the Kingdom of David to its ancient first dominion. He will build the Bais Hamikdash and he will ingather the dispersed of Israel. And the laws will be restored in his days as they were in times of old. Sacrificial offerings will be brought. And shemittah (every seventh year) and Jubilee years (every fiftieth year) will again be observed according to all their commandments that are stated in the Torah. And whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only the other prophets alone but also the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu. . . . And if a king will rise from the house of David who will dwell in the study of Torah and will be engaged in mitzvos like David his father, in accord with the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. and he will incline all of Israel to walk in it and to strengthen its foundation, and he will wage the wars of Hashem, then there is the certainty that he is the Moshiach. If he did and succeeded, and built the sanctuary in its place and ingathered the dispersed of Israel, then he is certainly the Moshiach. And he will perfect the entire world to serve Hashem together for it is said: `Then I will transform unto the peoples a pure speech so that they should all call in the Name of Hashem and serve Him as one.' " (Rambam, Hilchos Melochim, Chapter 11).

We learn from these words of the Rambam -- and in this matter his viewpoint is the unanimous viewpoint of all of Israel's sages -- a number of basic insights.

* The fulfillment of the Messianic faith entails the restoration of the House of David, the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, the ingathering of Israel's dispersed and the total restoration of Torah law in the areas of the sanctuary and the land. If any of these elements are missing, we know clearly that the Messianic vision has not been fulfilled.

* One who does not believe in the Moshiach or, even if he does believe in him but does not wait for his coming, denies not only the teachings of the prophets but the teachings of the Torah and of Moshe Rabbeinu as well. This faith is then primary in the Torah, and is not derived merely by implication, or through sources secondary in importance to the Torah.

* What are the qualifications by which the claims of the Moshiach may be judged? First and foremost he is a person who is descended from the house of David. He is neither a deity, nor a movement, nor a process. He is a person. Second, he is infinitely more than a gifted statesman or a military leader. He is a scholar of the Torah and observes its mitzvos. His study and observance are in accord with both the Written and the Oral Torah. He is not neutral with reference to the observance of the Torah on the part of the people of Israel. "He inclines all of Israel to walk in its ways."

He does not see himself as a military leader whose military fortunes are unrelated to G-d's will. "He wages the wars of Hashem." When do we know definitely that his Messianic claim stands confirmed beyond doubt? His having brought about the ingathering of even all of the exiled Jews in the world is insufficient testimony. In addition to having brought about the ingathering of the exiles he must also have "rebuilt the Bais Hamikdash" in its place.

* What is his relation to the rest of humanity? It will be vastly more than to project an example of great technological progress with limited means or even of the application of the ideals of social justice to the life of a society. His proper function will be "to perfect . . . the whole world to serve Hashem in unity." As long as all of humanity has not been brought to the service of G-d, we know that the Messianic vision has not yet been fulfilled.

What will be the character of the inner life of the people of Israel during the days of the Moshiach?

"The Sages and the Prophets did not yearn for the days of the Moshiach so that they might rule over all the world or that they might rule over the nations, or that the nations might hold them in esteem, or that they might eat and drink and rejoice -- but rather that they should be completely free for the pursuit of the wisdom of Torah; so that there would be none to oppress them or to distract them in order that they might merit the life of the world to come . . ." (Rambam, Hilchos Melochim, Chapter 12).

The Messianic faith of the people of Israel was not motivated by imperialistic designs of any sort. (Of such designs we are innocent, thank G-d, to this day.) Nor was it motivated by the desire for good public relations or the desire that the nations of the world extend honor and glory to us. Nor was it motivated by the desire for material pleasures or joys. It was motivated solely by the yearning for the building of a Jewish society which was to be suffused and enveloped totally by the life of Torah and its wisdom.

A Jewish society whose fundamental life principle is not that of Torah has not yet experienced the fulfillment of the Messianic vision.

What will be the moral and economic situation of humanity in general during the Messianic age?

"And at that time there will be neither famine nor war, neither jealousy nor competition, for the good will be bountiful, and all pleasures will be abundant as the earth. And the entire world will be engaged solely in the quest for the knowledge of G-d alone. And therefore the people of Israel will be great sages -- they will know things that are concealed -- and they will grasp the knowledge of their Creator to the extent of Man's capacity. As it is said: `For the earth is to be filled with knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean.' " (Ibid.)

As long as the world still suffers the pain of famine, the anguish of war, the curse of jealousy, the destructiveness of competition -- as long as the world is engaged, with all too few exceptions, in the pursuit of the knowledge of everything to the exclusion of G-d - - as long as the people of Israel itself is sadly lacking in the "grasp of the knowledge of the Creator" of the universe -- we know that the Messianic age has not yet arrived.

When we say Kinos this year let us strive a bit harder to experience the agony of Golus through a renewed understanding of how far we are from Geula. And let us resolve to prepare ourselves and our surroundings, so that we might be a bit more worthy to receive the consolation of the coming of Moshiach for whom our people has pined unto its last breath through all the centuries of exile.

And surely, no small part of such preparation would be the commitment of our utmost capacity to building a Torah society in the Land of Israel.

HaRav Nachman Bulman's first yahrtzeit is 26 Tammuz. This essay first appeared in the Jewish Observer, June 1964.

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