by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Rav Soloveitchik’s 1956 address, Kol Dodi Dofek (The Voice of My Beloved Knocks), is legendary for its articulation of the shared destiny and shared fate of every Jew, and the distinctions between the two, but even more for the section on the six divine knocks on the door of history that was occasioned by the establishment of the State of Israel. The Rav began this part of his address as follows, in free translation:
“Eight years ago, in the wake of the night of horrors punctuated by the terrors of Maidanek, Treblinka and Buchenwald, in the night of gas chambers and ovens, the night of concealment of God’s countenance, the night when the Satan of doubt and destruction reigned and sought to drag the Lover from her home to the Christian Church, the night of endless searching for the Beloved, in that night the Beloved materialized and arose. The Lord who hides in the glorious unknown suddenly appeared and began to knock on the door of the tent of the oppressed and sorrowful Lover that turned in its bed due to the spasms and sufferings of Gehinnom. Out of these beatings, and as a consequence of the knocks of the Beloved, the State of Israel was born. How many times did the Beloved knock? It seems to me we can count at least six knocks.”
And then the Rav listed the six knocks, synopsized here, the modern revelation of G-d’s hand in history. “First, the knock of opportunity was heard in the political arena… No one can deny that from the standpoint of international relations, the establishment of the State of Israel, in a political sense, was an almost supernatural occurrence. Russian and the Western countries together supported the idea of the establishment of the State of Israel, perhaps the only recommendation on which they united. I tend to believe that the United Nations was created only for this purpose...”
“Second, the knock of the Beloved could be heard on the battlefield. The small Israeli Defense Forces defeated the powerful armies of the Arab countries. The miracle of the “few defeating the many” happened before our eyes. Even more astonishing, God hardened the hearts of Yishmael and directed it to go to war against the State of Israel...”
“Third, the Beloved began to knock as well on the door of the theological tent and this might be the strongest knock of all. I have emphasized several times when speaking of the land of Israel that all the claims of Christian theologians that God deprived the Jewish people of its rights in the land of Israel, and that all the biblical promises regarding Zion and Jerusalem refer, in an allegorical sense, to Christianity and the Christian Church, have been publicly refuted by the establishment of the State of Israel as false assertions that have no substance or root.”
“Fourth, the Beloved knocked on the hearts of the bewildered and assimilated youth. The divine concealment in the early 1940’s confused the minds of Jews in general and the young in particular. Assimilation grew and the push to escape Judaism and the Jewish people reached its peak. Fear, despair and ignorance caused many to abandon the Jewish people… Suddenly, the Beloved knocked on the hearts of these perplexed youth, and His knock…slowed, at least, the process of escape.”
“The fifth knock of the Beloved is perhaps the most important of all. For the first time in the history of our exile, divine providence has surprised our enemies with the shocking discovery that Jewish blood is not hefker. If the Jew- haters term this “an eye for an eye,” we will agree with them. If we want to preserve our national-historical existence, sometimes we have to interpret “an eye for an eye” literally.”
“The sixth knock that should not be ignored was heard when the gates of the land were opened. A Jew who flees from an enemy country now knows that he can find a secure refuge in the land of his ancestors. This is a new phenomenon in our times. Until now, when Jewish populations were uprooted from their places, they wandered in the wilderness of the nations without finding a refuge in another land… Now, the situation has changed.”
From the perspective of more than six decades later, the fourth and fifth knocks have proved challenging. Assimilation is as bad or worse today than it was then, and the expression of Jewish identity as having only ethnic but not religious significance has allowed too many Jews to abandon Judaism and still support the State of Israel. Of course, some of Israel’s loudest critics are also Jews.
And recent events have underscored the difficulty the world has with the fifth knock: that Jewish blood is not hefker – ownerless, insignificant and unrequited. Responding to Israel’s forceful defense of its border with Gaza against encroachment by a hostile, bloodthirsty enemy intent on Israel’s destruction, the self-styled moralists who cannot hide their Jew hatred lamented that no Jews were killed, as if some macabre form of chivalry demands casualties on both sides of a conflict. Fortunately, Israeli leaders ignore those calls but such ethical deformations are commonly applied to Israel, and only Israel, by its foes.
It has been 62 years since the Rav’s address, time enough to humbly suggest another six divine knocks – six more indications of the hand of G-d in the history of Israel.
First: the capture, trial and execution of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. The Mossad tracked him down in Argentina and in an operation whose success still defies comprehension, abducted him in May 1961 off a Buenos Aires street, and hid him for more than a week until they could spirit him out of the country to face trial in Israel. Naturally, the New York Times condemned the operation (as did the United Nations), oleaginously opining that “no immoral or illegal act justifies another.” (The Times failed to acknowledge that it had never saw fit to condemn the Holocaust while it was occurring.)
For sure, the operation was dangerous, heroic and nearly flawless in execution but the broader point was historic. It was a declaration by Israel that the state represents all Jews – and all of Jewish history. Even though Israel did not yet exist during the perpetration of the Holocaust, it saw itself now as the custodian of the history of the Jewish people. When President Yitzchak Ben-Zvi rejected Eichmann’s clemency request, he tellingly cited in the margin of the document the verse from I Samuel (15:33) that described the death of Agag, king of Amalek and tormentor of Jews: “Samuel said: ‘As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women.’ And Samuel decapitated Agag before the Lord at Gilgal.” That Israel defied the world and deputized itself to execute justice against the enemies of the Jewish people was an crucial assertion of its national identity.
Second: the great and stunning victory in the Six Day War of 1967. The Arabs had endeavored to eradicate the State of Israel and drive its citizens into the sea, long before there were any settlements that could serve as the predicate of their current enmity and deceptions. There has been much revisionist history in recent times about Israel’s advantages, including the claims by some that prevailing over the Arabs was a foregone conclusion. Those who remember the mass graves dug in Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim at the time think otherwise. It was an incredible, odds-defying triumph, with Israel handily defeating seven powerful Arab armies while outgunned, outmanned and out armed, and tripling the size of its territory in less than a week.
For sure, most Israeli governments in the ensuing decades celebrated the awesome miracle by attempting to divest itself of the fruits of victory, and most of the land captured has sadly been surrendered already. But that doesn’t detract from the divine gift (that we have failed to fully appreciate). As recorded by Rav Yaakov Filber, a leading disciple of Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, in his work “Ayelet Hashachar” (1974): “If the redemption of Israel was just the fruit of our deeds, we would still
be dwelling in the tiny Israel of 1967, just like if it was up to the government alone we would have long ago abandoned our heartland to foreigners. Anyone who penetrates to the depth of these events will sense, and each day it becomes clearer, that even as we build the State of Israel, develop its economy… forge its army and play diplomatic games, none of these establish the course of events. Behind them stands the divine might that forces us to advance in accordance with His sublime plans for redemption, as the Midrash states, ‘I am asleep from redemption but God is awake to redeem me.’ As Rav Kook wrote, God is the Master of war. “The illusion that our fate is only up to us was burst in a number of days… Divine Providence did not concede that the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Hevron and Jericho… should not be within the borders of Israel. And if the government of Israel aborted the redemptive process at the “Green Line,” and no one would give the order to the IDF to advance in all directions, … then Providence emerges to compel those who dwell in Zion to redeem the homeland. No force in the world can arrest the wheel of redemption of Israel, and there is no complete redemption without the complete land of Israel.”
Third: the raid on Entebbe on July 4, 1976, a moment that will never leave those who lived through it. It was another spectacular rescue. The IDF flew several thousand miles through mostly hostile territory to liberate 104 Jewish hostages seized by Arab terrorists on an Air France flight from Paris to Israel. The Jewish hostages were not all Israeli citizens; yet, Israel proclaimed to the world that it saw itself as responsible not only for Jewish history but also for Jews of the present and future – and wherever they might be. I was in Israel then; the sense of unity and love for all Jews was overwhelming. Israel would risk the lives of its own citizens to save Jews anywhere. (Naturally, the UN condemned the feat, with the former Nazi Kurt Waldheim criticizing this “serious violation of the national sovereignty of a UN member state.” He was untroubled by that same UN member state harboring terrorists and their hostages.) The rescue was another divine knock – G-d’s presence was tangible in the unbelievable achievement.
Fourth: the ingathering of the exiles. One of the most breathtaking, and seemingly farfetched, visions of the ancient prophets of Israel has come to pass in our day. The Torah itself referenced it :“Then the Lord your God will restore your captivity and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And the Lord your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. And He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers” (Devarim 30:3-5).
Many other prophets, such as Yechezkel (Ezekiel) prophesied similarly: “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries and I will bring you back to your own land” (Yechezkel 36:24). Seventy years after statehood, Israel boasts the ingathering of Jews from more than 110 countries, from every part of the globe. And since “even the beneficiary of the miracle doesn’t always recognize the miracle” (Masechet Nidda 31a), we don’t often attribute the appropriate significance to this momentous, and divine, act, staggering in its implications. G-d kept His word, and is still engaged in the task of “dragging each Jew by the hand to the land of Israel” (Rashi, Devarim, ibid).
Fifth: The Torah revolution. If the Rav saw the slowing down of the processes of assimilation, we have seen the renaissance of Torah in the modern era. For all the criticism of Israel from many Haredi circles, the State of Israel remains the largest beneficiary of Torah study on earth, and more Jews today are studying Torah in the land of Israel than at any point in Jewish history since we left the wilderness 3300 years ago. This accords with yet another prophecy of Yechezkel: “I will sprinkle pure water on you and you will be purified, and I will purify you from all your impurities and idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will place within you a new spirit. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Yechezkel 36:25-26). What is his “new heart?” Radak comments: “it is a listening heart, a ready spirit to receive God’s words with love.”
This process was even abetted by the “Foundations of Law” adopted by Israel in 1980 during the Menachem Begin years that called upon the courts to decide difficult legal matters without precedent “in the light of the principles of freedom, justice, equity, and peace of Israel’s heritage.” True, the secular objection to “Jewish law” was duly watered down to “Israel’s heritage;” but what is “Israel’s heritage” but Torah? It certainly trumps Ottoman law. The Torah has been reborn, and all modern questions can be perceived through its prism.
The sixth knock: Israel as the Start-Up Nation. To the consternation of the world (and its neighbors), Israel has become an economic and technological powerhouse, and even an exporter of energy. Again, Yechezkel envisioned this day: “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is near. For I will care for you: I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. I will settle a large population on you, the whole House of Israel; the towns shall be resettled, and the ruined sites rebuilt. I will multiply men and beasts upon you, and they shall increase and be fertile, and I will resettle you as you were formerly, and will make you more prosperous than you were at first. And you shall know that I am the Lord” (ibid 36:8-11). As the Talmud (Masechet Sanhedrin 98a) notes, “there is no more explicit manifestation of the end of days than this, as it is stated: “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is near.” Maharsha adds: “As long as the Jews are not on their land, the land does not yield its produce accordingly, but when it begins again to yield its produce in abundance, it is a sign that redemption is near and that Israel has returned to its land…In the future trees will yield its fruit daily… And this is something miraculous…”
Certainly this means more than oranges. Rav Kook wrote that we have to expand and innovate appropriately in all worldly matters, both in natural things and in labor, because "God made everything for a purpose.’ Our national life is only complete when we are able to harmonize technology and Torah. It could be no other way. The return of the Jewish people to our natural habitat enables us to bring the Torah to its full expression, which benefits the world immeasurably. Soon, the world will realize that as well.
If the hand of G-d re-entered history in a dramatic way in 1948, its visibility has only increased in the ensuing 70 years. There have been setbacks, to be sure, and almost all self-inflicted, but the settlement and flourishing of the land of Israel, the proliferation of Torah and the ingathering of the exiles, and the recognition by the world of Israel’s role as the repository of Jewish history and the place of Jewish destiny, has sanctified G-d’s name and blessed our generation.
May we appreciate our blessings and our Benefactor and always do our share in furthering His will and our national destiny until the era of complete redemption dawns.