by HaRav Nachman Bulman
Destruction and Redemption
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,
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
* 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
* 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
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
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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