Redemption: First Return to Eretz Yisrael, then Teshuva
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Son of man! The house of Israel, as long as they lived on their own Land, they defiled it by their way and by their misdeeds … And I scattered them among the nations … And they entered the nations where they came, and they profaned My Holy Name, inasmuch as it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and they have come out of His Land.’ But I had pity on My Holy Name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they had come. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘So says the Lord God: Not for your sake do I do this, O house of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come. And I will sanctify My great Name … For I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your Land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean; from all your impurities … And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you … And I will put My spirit within you and bring it about that you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My ordinances and do them. Then will you dwell in the Land that I gave your fathers, and you will be a people to Me, and I will be to you as a God.’”
Desecration of God’s Name in Exile
The prophet Ezekiel describes the process of exile and redemption, recounting Am Yisrael’s sins while they lived in their Land and the exile which God decreed because of those sins, noting that Am Yisrael’s exile generated desecration of God’s name and stating that Am Yisrael’s redemption will be for God’s sake.
We must understand what about Am Yisrael’s exile desecrates God’s name and how its redemption will sanctify His name.
The Nations’ Statement of God’s Inability to Save His Nation and His Land
Rashi provides the answer to our question in two of his comments on the chapter of Ezekiel. On posuk (verse) 20, Rashi writes: "הקב"ה בא עמהם בגולה והטה אוזן מה היו אומרים השבאין, הרי אלו עם ד' ולא היה לו יכולת להצילן" (“God went with them (Israel) into exile, listening to what their captors said, (namely) ‘They are God’s nation and He was unable to save them’”). In a further comment on the verse, Rashi states: "ויחללו את שם קדשי- השפילו את כבודי. ומהו החלול, באמור אויביהם עליהם עם ד' אלה ומארצו יצאו. ולא היה יכולת בידו להציל את עמו ואת ארצו" (“‘They profaned My holy name’ – they degraded My glory, and what is the profanation? (It was) the enemies’ statement that they are God’s nation, yet He could not save His nation or His Land”).
The desecration of God’s name when Am Yisrael is in exile lies in the belief of the nations that God is unable to protect His nation and His Land and to allow Am Yisrael to remain within its Land. Thus, the sanctification of God’s name lies in His returning Am Yisrael from exile to their Land, demonstrating to the nations that He indeed has the power to save his nation and Land.
Stages of Redemption: First Ingathering of the Exiles, then Purification
Ezekiel notes stages in the redemptive process, apparently indicating that Am Yisrael’s return to their Land is the first stage, and only thereafter will God purify His nation and bring them close to His service.
Indeed, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal hy”d, in his work Eim haBanim S’meiḥa writes that his approach “that God will pour the spirit of purity upon Am Yisrael specifically when we return to live in Eretz Yisrael and not while we still live in the lands of the nations” is stated explicitly in Ezekiel’s words “For I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your Land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean; from all your impurities …’ Ezekiel clearly states that only after we return to the Land of our fathers will God circumcise our hearts to love Him and to serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul.” [Based upon Devarim 30:6]
We must now understand why this is the order of redemption. Why does God’s purification of Am Yisrael not precede the nation’s return to its Land?
Ending the Desecration of God’s Name as Quickly as Possible
We may suggest that the desecration of God’s name engendered by Am Yisrael’s exile from its Land is so great that God wishes to end it quickly and thus will bring Am Yisrael back to the Land prior to purifying them.
Ezekiel states expressly that the redemption will be in order to sanctify God’s name, not for Am Yisrael’s sake. From this we can understand that the order of redemption, with the return of Am Yisrael to its Land coming first, is also a matter of sanctifying God’s name, since, as we noted above, based on Rashi’s comments, the ingathering of exiles constitutes sanctification of God’s name. Thus, return from the exile is the initial stage of redemption, since it hastens the sanctification of His name.
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l made a similar comment:
“Not for your sake do I do this, O house of Israel” [posuk 22]; “be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways” [posuk 32] – (God’s message is) If I had only you to consider, how long would I have to wait for you to do teshuva? These are bold expressions: “not for your sake,” “be ashamed and humiliated.” But they are necessary; the situation of disgrace cannot continue; there is no choice: first you must return home - “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your Land.” [posuk 24]
Eretz Yisrael has the Power to Purify the Nation of Israel
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda adds an additional explanation of the order of redemption, namely that the holy atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael has the power to purify Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), and therefore God will bring His people to their Land, and then within her He will purify them.
Thus writes Rabbi Kook:
First “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your Land,” (Israel) must come home to be purified from the stupor of the exile … first come home and then through the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael which enlightens there will be all-encompassing renewal.
Given that Eretz Yisrael purifies Am Yisrael, and therefore God will bring His people back to her in order to purify them within her, we may ask how it is that Israel sinned within Eretz Yisrael before their exile from her. The Land’s ability to purify the nation should have prevented their sinning.
We may explain that even when it is within Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael still has free choice and “one is allowed to follow the road he wishes to pursue” [Gemara Makkot 10b]. When Am Yisrael lived in its Land prior to its exile, as a community it dealt with sovereignty, military matters and other mundane issues. Individuals as well were no doubt involved in mundane activities such as agriculture. By its nature, dealing with mundane matters is likely to influence people to focus on them rather than on spiritual issues and therefore to come to sin. Indeed, this was the case with Am Yisrael, who sinned and whose exile was intended as rectification. In Am Yisrael’s exile, they had neither sovereignty nor an army, and the nations did not allow them to engage in agriculture, leading the nation to focus on spirituality: study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, without straying toward the mundane. In this way, Am Yisrael was gradually freed from its sins.
However, exile was not sufficient to free us completely from our sins; the point was reached at which God’s name was desecrated in the eyes of the nations who saw Am Yisrael’s prolonged suffering in exile and reached the conclusion that it was due to God’s inability to return Am Yisrael to its Land. In order to terminate this desecration of God’s name, it became necessary to remove Am Yisrael from exile and return them to their Land as quickly as possible, even before they completed their teshuva, but in the knowledge that the nation’s return to Eretz Yisrael will complete their teshuva, through the influence of the holy atmosphere of the Land.
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda reflects further on the process of teshuva of Am Yisrael which it will achieve upon return to the Land, stating that:
'האויר של ארץ ישראל יחכים אתכם, באמצעות תהליך של כמה דורות, עד אשר 'ואת רוחי אתכן בקרבכם'
‘The atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael will enlighten us, in a process which will require several generations, until “I will put My spirit within you.”’ [Posuk 27]
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda’s comment indicates that Israel’s teshuva will be a gradual process spanning a number of generations, and we must understand why this is so, as opposed to an immediate change upon Israel’s return to the Land.
We may suggest that God’s desire is to manage the world on the natural level, allowing people free choice, rather than changing human nature to have everyone choose to do good. This concept is elucidated by Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim [3:32]:
Were it the Divine will to change the nature of every human to do what He expects of that person, the mission of the prophets and giving of Torah would be completely nullified.
For this reason, Am Yisrael’s process of teshuva following its return to the Land requires time, to allow it to be accomplished through free-willed human efforts. Certainly, Eretz Yisrael will assist in the teshuva process, but the process will last several generations so that it will result from Israel’s full participation in the process.
Fulfillment of the Prophecy in Our Days
We see the fulfillment of the prophecy in our generations. God has returned Am Yisrael to its Land, with ingathering of the exiles starting before the establishment of the state and continuing thereafter. Decades after the state’s establishment, and in particular since the Yom Kippur War, we are witness to a great process of cḥazara b’teshuva and an increase in Torah study. With God’s help, this process will continue and gather more strength. May it be His will that we be partners in this process.
The process of cḥazara b’teshuva finds expression in thousands of ba’alei teshuva, many of whom study Torah in institutions established to help them. It is evident also in educational institutions for children, with the percentage of children registered in religious schools increasing, and even parents who do not define themselves as religious choosing to register their children in religious schools.
The increase in Torah study is both quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative aspect is evident in the abundance of yeshivot, kollelim, talmudei Torah and similar Torah institutions. The qualitative dimension is expressed through the increased study of daf yomi, of faith and of the inner dimensions of Torah, in numerous books and articles on Torah and study of topics which were less common in times past, such as the Yerushalmi, mitzvot dependent upon the Land, the laws of the Mikdash and korbanot, as well as others.
The desecration of God’s name caused by Am Yisrael’s exile was in the nations’ belief that God was unable to save His nation and His Land or to return the nation to the Land. The sanctification of God’s name with the redemption lies in taking Am Yisrael from the lands of its exile and returning them to the Land, which demonstrates to the world God’s ability. The first stage in the process of redemption is Am Yisrael’s return to the Land, after which God will purify Am Yisrael and bring them close to His service. We discussed two reasons for this order:
1) To end the desecration of God’s name as quickly as possible;
2) To allow Eretz Yisrael to purify Israel and bring them close to God.
We noted the contemporary fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy; decades after the ingathering of exiles we are witness to a great process of proliferation of cḥazara b’teshuva and increased Torah study.
May it be God’s will that we be partners in strengthening this process and in so doing, merit the full redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.
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