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6 Kislev 5762 - November 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Dynamics of Golus Throughout the Generations

by Yisroel Spiegel

When Yaakov Ovinu left his parents' home, he headed for the School of Eiver, where he remained sequestered for the next fourteen years (Bereishis Rabba 68:5). These years were spent in study and self preparation for the upcoming condition of exile through which he would live for his duration in Lovon's home.

When a Jew goes forth into exile, he leaves his geographic location but he never goes into exile from his Torah and his Jewish essence. World history can point to many nations that were ejected from their homeland, but in the end, in the mere course of years, at best some three generations, their national identity was obfuscated and they integrated fully into the countries of their new domain. Jews, however, have a special golus doctrine which enables them to survive with their identity intact, no matter what the circumstances or conditions of their exile. The basis to this credo was laid by Yaakov Ovinu.

"It is important to understand why Yaakov saw the need to disobey, or rather suspend, his father's behest to go to Choron, and remain ensconced, instead, for fourteen years, in the School of Shem and Ever. Was he not already an established `dweller of tents'? One who had spent his whole life studying Torah? Yet, apparently, he understood that the teachings of his father and grandfather, the ovos, would not suffice to protect him in alien territory.

"Avrohom and Yitzchok had both established schools of their own and disseminated Torah to the masses. This was not true for Shem who lived in the generation of the Flood, and Ever who lived in the generation of the Dispersal. They succeeded in rising above their generations and their respective flaws, as did Yaakov. And now that the time had come for Yaakov to leave the proximity of the ovos, he felt he needed extra reinforcement from those who had succeeded in studying Torah even in times of threat, in hostile environments.

"Rashi explains further that everything that Yaakov gleaned in Yeshivas Shem and Ever was transmitted to his son Yosef [during the seventeen years of tutelage]. Apparently, Yosef, who was destined to go forth into exile as well, all alone, would need to be fortified by this doctrine, this code of exile-survival. The teachings of the ovos were not sufficient; he needed the extra reinforcement of the teachings of Shem and Ever, survival tactics that would help him withstand the trials of a hostile environment" (Iyunim Bamikro by HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l).

"And lo, heavenly angels ascended and descended upon it" (28:12). The rungs of ascent represented the subjugating nations of Babylonia, Medea, Greece and Rome (Baal Haturim: Midrash Tanchuma Vayeitzei 2). The Midrash states that the exit of Yaakov from his home to strange lands comes to hint at, to represent, the future exile of the Jewish people. That is why he was shown that even in exile, the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdosh would accompany Jewry. This sanctity would spread to all the houses of worship and houses of study in the very same manner that Mt. Moriah was uprooted and came to join Yaakov, as it were, as he lay at the border between Eretz Yisroel and foreign territory. We see this when Yaakov declared, "Indeed, Hashem is verily to be found in this place." He was shown that even "in this place," i.e. in exile, the Shechina would accompany him and not abandon him or his children. This was a revelation which he had heretofore not known. "And I did not know" (Melo Ha'omer: Maayono Shel Torah).


Yaakov needed to learn this message so that he could take Eretz Yisroel and its sanctity along with him in exile. "How awesome is this place. Surely it must be the House of Elokim, and this be the gateway to Heaven" (28:17). And Rashi comments: "I maintain that Har Moriah was uprooted and came there." The elite of the ovos set a precedent and pattern for future generations. The mobile, "itinerant homeland," the wandering home of the wandering Jew, was none other than the Torah through which he would be able to survive and persevere through all circumstances, in all situations, conditions and vicissitudes -- as our millennia- long exile has surely proven. For every location that became a hostel to Torah incorporated an element of Eretz Yisroel. The Torah transformed and adapted hostile to hostel.

"The Torah does not state that Yaakov `descended' from Beer Sheva but denotes his exodus as a leave-taking, even though we find that all other exits from Eretz Yisroel are referred to as descents. This is because Yaakov Ovinu took the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel along with him. `He exited from there, and so departed its aura, departed its glory' (Rashi). There was no expatriation in that exile, since he took the holiness of his homeland along with him. And therefore, this was not considered a descent for Yaakov, since the elevation of Eretz Yisroel is purely spiritual, it is an advantage of sanctity, not of physical height.

"And this accompanied Yaakov outside of Eretz Yisroel; it was part and parcel of his spiritual traveling baggage. Wherever he went -- there was the virtual, essential Eretz Yisroel" (Maayono Shel Torah p. 122, according to Kedushas Levi).

"`That earth upon which you are lying' (28:13). Rashi brings the Midrash that states that Hashem compacted all of Eretz Yisroel underneath him. Chazal intend through this simile [which is scientifically valid, theoretically, if One were to remove all the empty spaces between the atoms . . . ] to teach us that Eretz Yisroel is not a physical, material entity that we perceive with our fleshly limited eyes. Rather, it is essentially that very space occupied by Yaakov Ovinu, that which is coupled up [mekupal] and condensed under him. That is the essential Eretz Yisroel. The only Eretz Yisroel with significance of any kind is such where, and when, life is lived according to the spirit of Yisroel Sabba, Yaakov Ovinu. When its sanctity is intact in true form, then it can exist even in the location of any diaspora! Eretz Yisroel can exist anywhere since it really represents an elevation of sanctity, not of geography!" (Maran HaRav Elozor Menachem Mann Shach ztvk'l: Talellei Oros, Vayeitzei p. 17).

Yaakov Ovinu's challenge was to pull down the Divine Presence to the level of domain, to rest on earth, as we see, "And he called the name of that place `Beis El'" (28:19). The gemora says: "Not like Avrohom, who called it a mountain, and not like Yitzchok who called it a field, but like Yaakov who designated it as a house. A dwelling place" (Pesochim 88).

Avrohom was the first who drew down [like a magnet] the Divine Presence in Eretz Yisroel from the level of a mountain, which one visits only occasionally [because it is less accessible]. Yitzchok drew it down further and made it even more accessible, like a field, which one frequents in summer and winter to tend to the agricultural needs of the land. Yaakov Ovinu, epitome of the ovos, drew it even closer, so that one need not go forth in search of the Shechina, for It would verily dwell immanently in one's domain. He thus made everything holy, everything was in the purview of this sanctity and one need not go forth to look for it. Even mundane things were imbued with holiness (Tiferes Yisroel, Tchortkov, p. 22).


How marvelous it is that the selfsame doctrine of golus which Yaakov learned in the House of Ever and which he bequeathed to his son Yosef, is what stood us, his descendants, throughout our latest exile, "the exile-amidst- Jews," as Dr. Nosson Birnbaum labeled it.

R' Moshe Sheinfeld was even stronger in his designating this exile as a "golus in the midst of Hebrew-speaking goyim." This label was stuck onto the secularists over forty years ago when they staged riots against the chareidi Yishuv in Jerusalem over the right to keep the Meah Shearim area closed to traffic on Shabbos.

Upon that occasion, R' Moshe Sheinfeld argued that those Hebrew-speaking goyim despised Torah Jewry for its having mounted the barricades to prevent the Jewish people from assimilating among the nations and causing it to be reduced to "a small nation in a very small country, encircled by enemies and subjected to the threat of annihilation."

How relevant are his words to the situation today! We are carrying on the way of Yaakov Ovinu as shown to us by our teachers and rabbis who illuminate our path and guide us along. They show us which direction to take and how to conduct ourselves along our varied obstacle course and to see to it that Hashem dwell in our midst as Yaakov intended when he made a House for the Shechina.

Yaakov struggled for twenty years in the home of Lovon the trickster and swindler. "And I did not learn from his wicked deeds," as Rashi notes. On the contrary, after Lovon overtakes him in the chase, Yaakov presents his case against Lovon, proving how he dealt honestly, with full integrity, towards his employer. He is careful to give him an exact account for every single penny. "I have been with you for twenty years. Your sheep and goats did not drop their young nor did I eat the rams of your flock. I guarded the sheep lest they fall prey to predators. I held myself accountable for any sheep that was missing. Nothing was stolen by day or by night." (The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh deals at length with the details of his absolute honesty, reliability and trustworthiness. Everything that Yaakov did was imbued with holiness, even his mundane acts.)

There is no separation between the beis midrash and the street, between Torah study and the necessity to make a living. "In all your ways, know Him" and "To know Your way in the land." One must have an awareness of Hashem's presence in all things, even the earthly ones, for a Jew's obligation to the commandments of the Torah is absolute and all- encompassing, not only when we are sitting at the table of the King, so to speak, when the Beis Hamikdosh is standing in Zion and we are living in peace and serenity, but in every place, at every time, under every set of circumstances. When we are in exile, when "during the day I was consumed by the dry heat and by night, by the frost. And sleep would evade me." When we are being persecuted and tortured -- then, too, must we live according to the Torah, "And Yaakov called it house." A house where one resides constantly.


At the end of thirty-four years of separation, there takes place a dramatic reunion between Yaakov and Eisov. Possibly, Eisov forgot all about Yaakov, gave him no second thought. Even if his assassin-grandson Elifaz was foiled, Eisov could trust Lovon to "take care" of Yaakov and see that he not flourish. "And Lovon tried to uproot everything." At any rate, Eisov never thought that he would meet the same Yaakov who had persevered as a meticulous observer of Torah. Surely Lovon had had some detrimental effect upon him, to dilute his holiness if not to sway him to his evil side altogether.

And yet, not only does he encounter Yaakov alive and well, but he sees him accompanied by four wives and eleven children, many servants and huge flocks of livestock. Yaakov reads Eisov's mind: Granted that he is hale and hearty, granted that he has acquired great wealth, but surely he must have been contaminated by being close to Lovon, polluted by the evil atmosphere. Yaakov cannot have maintained his spiritual level; he cannot have preserved the purity of "You shall give truth to Yaakov."

But Yaakov dashes Eisov's hopes. He sends messengers to declare that "I lived with Lovon, yet I guarded/observed the 613 commandments." Here I am just as I was before. I learned the rules of golus-survival; I am equipped with the tools to withstand the test of a harsh and hostile environment such as I encountered in the home of Lovon.

This is the Toras hagolus, the doctrine of exile- management, of survival, which I learned in the House of Ever, and which I transmitted to Yosef -- particularly to him of all my sons for he will have to face the challenges of being on his own, of contending with a threatening environment.

The rest of Yaakov's sons descended to Egypt, but not before Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead lehoros, to establish a yeshiva, a House of Study. For them, this -- the teachings of the ovos -- would suffice as protection, says R' Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l. Our Torah sages, faithful shepherds which they were, bequeathed to us this awareness. They especially fortified us for the difficulties of our present exile, the "golus amidst Hebrew- speaking gentiles," through Torah-true education, the holy yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools and all the rest.

And here we stand today, some fifty years later, with our sanctity preserved and intact. "I guarded the 613 commandments." Thanks to these alone have we succeeded in surviving, though the political setup has not changed in the least. We are still "a small nation in a small country, surrounded by enemies and threatened constantly by annihilation."

"This is the nature of yeshiva attendance in our times as well. In times of yore, when every Jewish home was permeated with Torah and pure yiras Shomayim, no danger faced a youth in his parents' home and in his immediate environment. This is not true for our present day. We are a vulnerable generation, exposed to the perilous winds of heresy which blow threateningly, attempting to ruin every last stronghold. Our security, our well being, our blessing lies solely within the four cubits of Halocho, the four walls of the beis hamedrash, even if a person does not find personal advancement in his study. Today, our yeshivos serve as a fallout shelter, a Noah's ark which protects us and preserves us from deterioration in our G-d-fear and from plummeting to the abyss of heresy and materialism" (Talellei Oros by R' Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky zt'l). *

This was the approach of our Torah leadership, their defense against the bitter realities of the internal exile: to repulse the invasion from the outside and augment the holiness from within, increasingly, so as to mitigate the impact of the enemy and weaken it. This was our protection against a hostile environment -- the creation of a strong inner hothouse of holiness.

Less than half a year after the establishment of the state, R' Moshe Sheinfeld published an article titled, "The Exile of the Shechina in Israel." It delineated a gloomy scenario of Orthodox Jewry versus an adamantly antagonistic secular government. It is interesting to quote several parts from it whose relevance is still very actual; they address the selfsame conflicts which we face in this country today:

"A heavenly voice issues forth every day from Mt. Chorev, castigating humanity over the debasement of Torah. It calls to us and to our children to rebel. Not with fists and firearms, for we denounce the decisive role of strongarm power, of might makes right, especially in the area of a spiritual struggle. We call for a rebellion within our hearts and in our internal awareness.

"We are commanded to believe, fully and wholeheartedly, that if, G-d forbid, the entire Jewish nation were to exchange Hashem's Torah for a code of law which it devised, it would be devoid of all authority and obligating validity. A court of law, even if it be titled a supreme court, whose judges are not worthy of their office, which operates contrary to the law of Torah, is a meaningless formality. Every government which boasts sovereignty and legislative authority separate from the Torah -- is an illegal entity, even if it is elected by the people. `You shall not follow the majority to err,' and the oath which the Jewish people made at Mt. Sinai shall never be abrogated . . .

"In short, if G-d forbid, a secular government be established in the state of Israel, we will be forced to recognize it as a pragmatic reality, but no power in the world can coerce us to recognize its validity halachically. Furthermore, if Jerusalem becomes our capital once again and the borders of our country expand eastward to Jordan, even reaching the borders established by Dovid Hamelech through conquest, and even if our economy flourish and the fear of our military be imposed upon all of our neighbors -- we will continue to rehearse, to ourselves and our children, the fact that so long as the Shechina has been banished from Israel, we must continue to deny that the ultimate Redemption has begun.

"Our bitter, harsh existence here denotes the pre-messianic period of suffering. But so long as our King is still shackled, as it were, and the Shechina has not yet returned to its resting place to rule in Eretz Yisroel, this state of affairs cannot be considered the redemption. We are still immersed in the exile and the Shechina's suffering is also our own" (Digleinu, Tishrei 5709).

From then until today, we nurse that rebellion and fan it within our hearts and our internal consciousness. At the same time, however, we march with the counsel of our Torah sages and luminaries, along the path blazed by Yaakov, choice of the patriarchs: the tents of Shem and Ever have increased and expanded. And even though we must still "reside alongside Lovon," yet we continue to "preserve the 613 commandments." We still nurse the selfsame hope expressed in the past by Yaakov Ovinu, that "I return in peace to my father's house." Rashi comments: In peace -- sholeim -- whole, intact with his Torah, [he prayed] that he not forget all that he had learned in preparation for residing in Lovon's house.

The holy Torah is our only lifeline, our only hope, everywhere, under every condition and in every circumstance.

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