Throughout Jewish history, there has rarely, if ever, been a single group of Jews. It was no different thousands of years ago in the desert either, where a large number of Jews rejected the advice of the spies, and chose to live in the Land of Israel.
That group was made up of the Levites, who are famous for their devotion to God, as well as the Jewish women, as Rashi explains:
The men said, "Let us appoint a leader and return back to Egypt!" (Numbers 14:4), but the women said, "Give us our possession!" (Numbers 27:4).
Today, the Jewish people also seem divided into two major parts, with approximately 6 million Jews living in America, and about 4 million Jews living in the Land of Israel.
However, it is not always the location of the physical person that determines where the Jew is "living." Among the Jews in America, some yearn to live in Israel, while some Israeli Jews yearn to live in the Western world.
God takes everything into account.
Many Jews living in Israel today (especially those who left other lands and made aliyah) are in Israel in order to be closer to God and to give greater reality to their Torah learning and mitzvot. In spite of the hardships they may have encountered, they hold the Land of Israel as a priority dear in their hearts.
TEST OF FAITH
For those Jews who have already settled comfortably in the Land, what is their test at this late and explosive stage of history?
Let us consider the following historical scenario:
In 1942, General Erwin Rommel and his vaunted Afrika Korps stood at the gates of Alexandria, Egypt. German bombers had bombed Tel Aviv, and the Yishuv (Jewish community in Israel) felt it was in mortal danger. It is obvious that the Yishuv could not have stopped the Afrika Korps had Rommel broken through in Egypt.
The Jewish Agency began burning sensitive documents and moving other records out of its headquarters. The Orthodox Yishuv declared days of public prayer and fasting. In the midst of the general fear, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman laid the cornerstone for what would become the great Ponovez yeshiva in Bnei Brak. In response to his incredulous questioners, he replied that God would not forsake His land.
Events vindicated his trust. British Field Marshal Montgomery's victory over Rommel at El Alamein ended the direct threat to Palestine. ("Triumph and Survival," Rabbi Berel Wein, p. 380)
God protects His people in His Land. However, God has on occasion let enemies attack Jews on the Land, and that is what worries many today. We have been exiled from our land before and forced to flee. How do we know it won't happen again, even if only one more time before Moshiach finally does come?
We are not yet privy to such information because free choice is still an issue, and therefore such matters must remain a matter of opinion, not fact.
A close friend told me he was once driving Rabbi Simcha Wasserman during the 1991 Gulf War when Israel was under threat of Iraqi Scud missiles. My friend asked Rabbi Wasserman if the war could bring great destruction to the Jews of Israel. He answered that he could not believe God would allow the Jewish people to build up the Land of Israel, just to destroy it later.
He could not believe God would allow the Jewish people to build up the Land of Israel, just to destroy it later.
Like Rabbi Kahaneman before him, history vindicated his trust in God. After the Gulf War, reams of articles and books testified to the tremendous miracles that saved Jewish lives and property amidst 39 Scud missiles.
In some places of history today, there is another new yeshiva or synagogue every block. Some are magnificent structures, exuding the royalty of Torah and love of holiness. Will God allow them all to be wiped away by evil dictators?
He did in Europe.
However, Israel is not Europe, and 5762 is not 5700. It is an entirely unique period of Jewish history.
The Talmud states that the Jewish people will only have to inherit The Land of Israel two times:
We say like Rabbi Yossi, as it is taught: "Into the land which your fathers possessed, and you will possess it" (Deut. 30:5). There was a first inheriting (in Joshua's time) and a second one [in Ezra's time], but there won't be a third one. (Yevamot 82b)
"There won't be a third one": They won't need to return and re-inherit it again, for the previous inheritance will remain [from Ezra's time]. We learn from this verse that the exile of Titus did not cancel out the holiness of the land. (Rashi)
TOWERS OF ROME
The Zohar (Balak 212b) describes a catastrophic tragedy that will befall future Rome, where "three great towers will fall":
I will show you, but not for now, for these things will only come to be at that time, some after time and some in the days of Moshiach. "A star has gone forth from Yaakov..." (Numbers 24:17).
This teaches us that in the future, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will build Jerusalem and one star will spark within 70 pillars of fire and 70 sparks will receive light from it in the middle of the sky. The other 70 stars will be swallowed within it. It will give off light and blaze for 70 days.
At the end of the sixth day it will become visible at the beginning of the 25th day of the sixth month. It will be gathered in at the end of 70 complete days and be visible in the city of Rome, and on that day, three great walls will fall, a great hall will fall, and the power of that city will die.
The September 11 attack may be hinted to in this Zohar. Amazingly, the attack on "three great walls" occurred on the 23rd day of the sixth Jewish month, Elul. According to some commentators going back hundreds of years, the accurate text of the Zohar is "23rd day" not "25th day," since the latter can never fall out on "the sixth day" of the week. This is due to a calendric technicality whereby Rosh Hashana, the first day of Tishrei, never occurs on a Wednesday.
Why does the Zohar mention Rome? Ancient Rome fell over 1,500 years ago, and nothing like this has occurred in modern Rome?
Rome the city may remain in Italy, but Rome the concept can be the Western world today.
Historically, all modern nations can trace their roots back to ancient peoples, and all modern day philosophies can find their roots in ancient philosophies as well. "Rome the physical city" may remain today in Italy, but "Rome the concept" can be in the Western world today, in part or in whole.
But what difference does it make to look for an ancient source for a modern catastrophe, and a somewhat vague one at best? Either way, this horrible act of terrorism killed over 5,500 innocent people. American confidence was severely jolted, and the world economy took a big blow. And now, a new war has begun that could easily result in a world war, to no one's benefit.
The Ineffable Name of God, which at this time of history is too holy to be pronounced as it is spelled: Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh, is actually made up of two parts: Yud-Heh and Vav-Heh. The unified Name represents periods of history when God's Presence is revealed and known, and the divided Name represents periods of time when God's Presence is hidden. This is why the prophet said of the Days of Moshiach:
On that day, He will be One, and His Name will be One. (Zechariah 14:9)
It is Amalek's wish and drive to keep the Names divided (Rashi - Exodus 17:16). Here's how he does it:
...[Amalek] made [the Jewish people] cold and lukewarm after you had been boiling. For, all the nations were afraid to war against you [when you came out of Egypt], and [Amalek] came and led the way for others. It is like a boiling hot bath into which no living being could enter, until a wild person came and jumped into it. Although he scalded himself, he cooled it for others. (Rashi - Deut. 25:18)
Amalek causes people to doubt in the reality of God and His hand in the affairs of man and specifically that of the Jewish people. Amalek hopes to sever any perceived connection between the will of Heaven above and the events of earth below. Perceived randomness destroys the meaning of history and denies a person to learn from his mistakes and turn his heart back to God.
It makes the attack on the World Trade Center and the results random, planned and carried out by terrorists, but devoid of any Heavenly meaning.
In the year 1656 from creation, or 2105 BCE, a major flood wiped out all living creatures, except for Noah, his family, and a small animal kingdom. It took Noah and his sons 120 years to build the Ark that saved them. And, they were forced to build it in full view of all the people of their time, who mocked them to no end and disbelieved their warnings of the impending flood.
The rest is history. The Great Flood came, man was washed away, and Noah and his family were forced to begin mankind anew one year later. The Flood waters rose above the highest mountain 15 cubits (about 30 feet), while the Ark listed down in the water 11 cubits (about 22 feet).
What difference does it make to know how severe the devastation was?
The numerical value of Yud-Heh, the section of God's Holy Name corresponding to His revealed and perceived Presence, is 15. The numerical value of Vav-Heh, the part of the Name corresponding to the hidden hand of God that works through nature, is 11.
This is why the 15 "ascended," while the 11 "descended" -- indicating a split in the Name while the two sections moved in opposite directions. It was the measure-for-measure punishment against the Generation of the Flood, because the point of the Ark and the other "natural" changes to history are messages from God to wake up and change our way of life. However, given the choice to ascribe the subtle messages to God or to nature, they chose the latter, pushing the hand of God further away in their minds.
Are we doing the same thing today, as we have throughout history?
The Zohar (Balak 212b) writes about the End of Days:
...Then this star will emanate to be seen in the world. This will cause a great war to occur at that time in all four directions, and there will be no faith amongst them. In the middle of the world, once this star begins to shine in the middle of the sky, a great king will arise and take control of the world, and act arrogantly over all the kings. A war will begin on two sides and he will overcome them.
On the day that the star is gathered, the Holy Land will shake for 45 miles from all around until the place of the Temple. An underground cave will become revealed, and from that cave will go out a fire that will burn the world. From that cave a great and elevated branch will sprout and it will control the world. To him the kingship will be given. The holy and elevated ones will gather around him, and then Moshiach will be revealed in the world, and to him will go the kingship.
The world, at the time that Moshiach will be revealed, will have been experiencing trouble after trouble, and the enemies of Israel will have been prevailing. Then, the spirit of Moshiach will be aroused against them, and the evil Edom will be destroyed. The entire land of Seir will be destroyed by fire.
Regarding that time, it says, "And Israel will attain success" (Numbers 24:18), and, "Edom shall be a conquest and Seir shall be the conquest of his enemies." The enemies of Israel, and then Israel, will attain success.
Is this what we are experiencing now? Is that what the events of today are leading toward? Is biblical prophecy finding fulfillment in modern-day newscasts?
It is hard to believe that the answer is "yes" -- not because we know otherwise, but because we are scared to commit in case we are wrong, and scared to be wrong in case we don't commit.
We are scared to commit in case we are wrong, and scared to be wrong in case we don't commit.
We live in an atmosphere of thick doubt.
However, if you think about it, if the test is one of faith and trust in God, and His master plan for creation, then it doesn't really matter how the scenario ends. In truth, faith and trust need only know that the situation is difficult and nothing more.
If the situation is difficult, then we simply "turn on" our faith-and-trust switches and peacefully go with God. Of course, we do not remain oblivious to world events, and we may even be forced to dramatically alter our daily routines. However, we must not panic, but rather, always function within a Torah framework.
THE DOVE AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE
A crucial lesson for us today comes from the dove that Noah sent out at the end of the Flood to determine if dry land had reappeared.
[Noah] waited another seven days and again sent the dove from the ark. The dove came to him in the evening and behold, there was an olive leaf torn off in her mouth. (Genesis 8:11)
Rabbi Avahu asked, "If the dove brought the olive leaf from the Garden of Eden, could she not have brought something exceptional as cinnamon or balsam? Rather, it was a hint which she gave to Noah: Rather that my food be bitter as an olive but from the hand of God than as sweet as honey from the hand of mortal men." (Midrash - Genesis Raba 33:9)
The dove's message to Noah was: Don't forget what led to the downfall of mankind and brought on the Flood! It was man's insatiable need for physical pleasure, as if such pleasure was a goal unto itself. The goal of creation is to be close to God, to be like Him, even if it means sacrificing physical comfort and pleasure. Physical pleasure is a wonderful by-product of living in this world, but not the goal.
It is the relationship to God that counts in the end, and a person has to be willing, in this world, to suffer discomfort sometimes to enhance it. We do it all the time as humans relating to humans; we have to do it as well as Jews relating to God. It is for this that we are rewarded in the World to Come and even in this world.
We achieve this by graciously accepting and loving the Almighty's three gifts to the Jewish people: Torah, The Land of Israel, and the World to Come. And above all, making our relationship with Him the top priority of our personal and national agendas.
It is only this that will save us from any further travail, as we experience the birth pangs of Moshiach. Our attitude can determine whether we bring him earlier and in peace, rather than at the last possible moment, through war and suffering.