Friday, May 06, 2016

Independence Comes through Suffering

By Zevulun Orlev

Cemeteries on the Way to Establishing the State

The people of Bnei Yisrael who were redeemed from Egypt went through a period lasting 50 days which served as a bridge between the political freedom gained from their masters and the spiritual freedom of receiving the Torah. Every year in our generation, we go through a period of 23 days which forms a bridge between political independence in 1948 and Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating the spiritual liberation of Jerusalem in 1967. In the spirit of the Haggadah we might say, "At every Memorial Day and Independence Day, every person must view himself as if he himself fought (and continues to fight), completely dedicated to the cause of establishing the State of Israel."

It is written in Yalkut Shimoni, "This can be compared to a father and son who were traveling on a road. The son became weary, and he asked his father, 'Where is the land?' The father replied, 'My son, here is a sign that you should remember. When you see a cemetery in front of you, know that the land is near.' And that is just what the Holy One, Blessed be He, said. 'When you see many troubles piling up on you, know that the redemption is close. As is written, 'G-d will reply to you on a day of trouble' [Tehillim 20:2]." [Yalkut Shimoni]. The path to the Day of Independence is symbolized by the memories of the fallen, in order to stress that the great achievement of independence is not separate from the heavy and painful "price" which is remembered on Memorial Day. As our sages said, "Eretz Yisrael is obtained through suffering."

Like many others among us, I feel personal suffering as I remember friends who fell at my side in battle. My study partner, Moshe Abutbul from Kiryat Gat, one of the paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem in the Six Day War, fell a few centimeters from me as we fought shoulder to shoulder in the area of Sheikh Jarach. Avraham David Katz from Jerusalem studied with me in the Hesder Yeshiva in Kerem B'Yavneh, together with Moshe Ben-Yakar from Lod, were both courageous fighters under my command in the "Ketuva" stronghold at the Suez Canal. They both fell the day after Yom Kippur after fighting for 24 hours without a stop, preventing the Egyptians from crossing the Canal at that point.

In a Natural Way

We might well ask: Why is it that we are required to fight so many times and to give so many precious sacrifices? Why doesn't the Holy One, Blessed be He, perform miracles for us as He did in Egypt, as is written, "G-d will fight for you while you remain silent" [Shemot 14:14]? Why is it that our generation has fewer merits than the generation of those who were redeemed from Egypt?

Many commentators attempted to explain the differences between those who left Egypt and the people of our generation who came to Eretz Yisrael. In his introduction to the book of Bamidbar, the Natziv differentiates between the people of Egypt and those who will later come to our land: "The main element in this book is that G-d changes the behavior of the nation of G-d in the world from the time that they reach Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to the way that they journeyed in the desert. In the desert, they behaved in a glorious manner, accompanied on their right by Moshe, who acted in ways that were above and beyond nature. However, in Eretz Yisrael they went on a path of nature, with the mystic guidance of the Kingdom of Heaven." The author of Meshech Chochma also makes a similar distinction: "The main goal is for the nation to act in a naturel way, with personal Divine supervision, as they would harvest and gather their grains... And such a life is more spiritual and precious than all the life of the world to come... This is not the same as the time of Moshe, when the limits of nature were breached, and every person saw the pillar of cloud and the glory of G-d, with G-d going before them... This is really a life of the world to come, the life of the angels!" [Commentary on Devarim 32:3].

In his book Torah Hamikra (for the Torah portion of Beshalach), Rabbi Shlomo Goren emphasizes that the declaration, "G-d will fight for you while you remain silent," was an exclusive miracle meant only for those who were redeemed from Egypt. The only way to enter Eretz Yisrael is to follow the verse, "Rise up and take possession" [Devarim 1:22], by a process of natural fighting, and to behave in a natural way, with the help of G-d.

The Level of the Faithful

The common basis for the entire population which dwells in Zion must be based on the above concepts. The first level of existence must be physical and based on natural processes. For us, the faithful ones, there is also a higher level as is noted by the Natziv, "with the mystic guidance of the Kingdom of Heaven." This approach by the Zionists who renewed the return of Yisrael to the land was not recognized by the people who were gathered from the various sites of the exile. If forms the common basis for the people of Yisrael and for our future as a sovereign Jewish nation, acting "in a naturel way, with personal Divine supervision," as noted by the Meshech Chochma. The difficulties should not cause us to be deterred or to feel despair. We have learned this from the Midrash of Shir Hashirim: "'My lover is like a gazelle' – just as a gazelle is seen and then disappears, so the final redeemer will be revealed (in the establishment of the State of Israel and the building up of the land) and will then once again disappear (in the wars and the threats to our existence)."

We accept the words of the Gaon of Vilna in his book Kol Hator: "We must be aware that in the time of the footsteps of the Mashiach every problem will be a source of salvation, and the salvation will develop from the problem itself, as is written, 'It is a time of trouble for Yaacov and he will be saved through it (that is, through the trouble itself)' [Yirmiyahu 30:7]. Therefore, heaven forbid that we pull back if there is any difficulty... We must maintain our faith that Yaacov will always be helped from within the troubles, and we will go from the limited boundaries to the great expanses of G-d."

See also Rabeinu Bahai: "When the end comes close, many troubles will gain in strength, and this is a sure sign of redemption of Yisrael. 'Rabbi Yochanan said: If you see a generation which is beset by as many troubles as a flowing river, expect Mashiach to come, as is written, 'He will come as a narrow river, the spirit of G-d will gnaw at them' [Yeshayahu 59:19]. And then it is written, 'And a redeemer will come to Zion' [59:20].'"

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