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Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Exile - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 442-4
According to the world view of Judaism, Divine Providence covers all of man’s activities. It is all the more clear that the history of the Jewish People is not subject to the random selection of chance. When Israel has success on the battlefield, we are not supposed to suffice with seeking the closest contributing factor, e.g., the relative strengths of the armies who are pitted against each other in battle. Rather, we are to investigate the reason behind the reason, in other words, the spiritual standing of the Nation of Israel. The same is true when there is a failure.
If the Nation of Israel follows the Torah, we are assured success and all of our enemies’ attempts to harm us will not succeed. When we abrogate the Torah, the most sophisticated defense strategies will not help. “Israel has forsaken good; the enemy will pursue it” (Hoshea 8:3). Chazal tell us that “good” refers to Torah (Avot 6:3). In other words, the physical status depends on the spiritual status. The Torah warned about pending exile from the Land if the people break the covenant with Hashem. The prophets that saw the nation in its negative downturn foresaw the destruction and the exile and tried, through their rebuke, to open the people’s eyes so that they would “see” the approaching danger.
Chazal identified the principle sins that caused the destruction of the First and Second Temples. On one hand, this served as an explanation for that which already happened [which is of theological importance]. Additionally, these explanations give encouragement and strength to the nation not to fall into despair in the face of tragedy. It strengthens the belief that after the Jewish People receive the due punishment and fix the sinfulness with proper behavior, Hashem will return to His nation and return His people to the inheritance of their forefathers.
The nations that have defeated Bnei Yisrael over the course of history and even the religions, Christianity and Islam, who adopted principles from Judaism, have seen the exile and degradation of our nation as proof that we are no longer the Chosen Nation. The way they viewed matters, our fate was sealed to be removed from the world. However, we have remained firm in our belief and have clung with greater strength to the commandments of the Torah. The spiritual leaders of our nation, through their behavior, leadership, legislation, and most importantly, by teaching the Torah throughout the different social segments of the nation, have developed closed social structures. These have preserved the spiritual independence of “holy communities” in the dispersed lands of the exile, even as political independence was lost.
The Rambam and R. Yehuda Halevi, who lived in the darkest periods of anti-Jewish religious coercion, proved the existence of hidden Divine Providence even in exile. Even in exile, the Jewish nation remained central to humanity, and it is specifically our centrality which makes us so vulnerable. Only when we are perfected can mankind be perfected. The Rambam warns not to try to run away from the lot of the Jews by denying the Torah. Just as the nations of the world will never succeed in destroying us, so will those of weak belief not succeed in becoming totally swallowed up by the nations. The only solution, for the individual and for the nation as a whole, is to survive with the hope that finally our enemies will cease, and we will merit the awaited, full redemption.
The actions and words of our leaders have, for the most part, enabled us to preserve our uniqueness and follow a path of religious and cultural independence as we try to purify ourselves from past sin. Rav Kook explained how the respite from national, spiritual failures, which came about when we ceased having the challenges of national independence in the physical world, allowed our spiritual side to recuperate. This sets the stage for our return to a full national life.
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Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!