This article is the next installment of The Jerusalem Herald's ongoing series excerpted from the author’s book, Go Up Like a Wall, which discusses the Ingathering of the Exiles and the Redemption. To read other selections from the series, click here.
President Vladimir Putin by The Office of The President of Russia [CC BY 4.0 Int'l] via The Kremlin
We live in exciting and traumatic times. Perhaps that could be said of any generation, but some times are more exciting and traumatic than others. The optimists among us can easily support the claim that this is the most blessed period of Jewish history in thousands of years, and that it will only get better. The pessimists among us can point to unfathomable assimilation and mind-boggling capitulation of the Israeli government to our enemies (especially those who come dressed as “friends”) to claim that we are in serious trouble.
Both of them are absolutely right. This is why the realists among us are torn with mixed feelings about the State of Israel and the state of our people.
To further complicate matters, we are suffering from a bankruptcy of reliable spiritual leadership like perhaps never before in our history. A bankruptcy of reliable political leadership is tragic, yet a secondary concern and something we have grown accustomed to. But spiritual leadership is an IV line to the heart of our people, something that has kept our pulse beating faithfully in the darkest of times. A vacuum in that area can only bode frightening things.
It is easy for the common person to excuse himself for not “doing more,” to concern himself with the spiritual needs of himself and those close to him and let G-d figure out the larger problems. After all, what can he realistically do to influence the policies of the Israeli government? To subdue our enemies? To educate and inspire the masses? Outside of writing a letter to the editor or some politician’s secretary — neither of which will change the course of history, sorry to divulge — very little.
Yet the prospect of sitting back and being washed along the tide of history as a spectator is anathema to those whose hearts beat with Jewish pride and whose dreams of Jewish destiny feel tantalizingly within reach. If only we knew what to do. If only we had some divine inspiration, some spiritual guidance we could rely upon. If only we had a prophet relaying the word of G-d and His expectations for us.
Thankfully, we do. The prophets no longer live among us, but their words remain. Their words beat with Jewish pride and proclaim that the dream of Jewish destiny is in fact tantalizingly within reach, right now. If we listen.
Tragically, the words of the prophets largely fell on deaf ears when they were first spoken, and the prophets were persecuted and even murdered for proclaiming the word of G-d. Our people have suffered for thousands of years because of this crime that seems unfathomable to us “religious” people. Yet now we have another opportunity, eerily similar to the opportunity given our ancestors who failed.
Imagine that the world’s most powerful gentiles declared in front of the world that G-d had instructed them to take the Jews out of exile and return them to the Land of Israel. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, the leaders of the European Union and Asia all join together with one voice. Any Jew who wishes to return to the Land of Israel is encouraged to do so, for the purpose of resettling the land and building the Beit Hamikdash. All expenses paid.
Gentiles worldwide send generous donations to insure that no Jew would be left behind, and that the rebuilding could commence without delay. Furthermore, the Vatican opens its secret vaults and voluntarily returns all ancient Jewish artifacts in its possession, to be used in the new Beit Hamikdash.
If such a seemingly ludicrous event occurred, we would expect world Jewry to embrace it as a clear sign of the ultimate redemption. Even the most skeptical among us would be forced to recognize G-d’s intervention in swaying the hearts of the nations. Even the most materialistic among us would be gripped by spiritual inspiration and pack his bags immediately.
What would you say if I told you this actually happened? What would you say if I told you this actually happened, except for the part about world Jewry embracing the opportunity? The hard part, getting the nations of the world to roll out the red carpet for a return to Zion, was accomplished, but the easy part, getting the Jews to accept the offer, proved insurmountable?
Crazy, right? Crazy, but true:
G-d awakened the spirit of Koresh, King of Persia, and he announced in all his kingdom, as well as in writing, as follows:
So says Koresh, King of Persia: All the kingdoms of the land have been given to me by Hashem, G-d of the heavens, and He appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, that is in Judea.
Whoever is among you from all His nation: his G-d be with him, and he shall go up to Jerusalem, that is in Judea, and build the house of Hashem, G-d of Israel.
He is the G-d that is in Jerusalem.
And as for any [Jew] who remains from all the places in which he dwells [due to poverty], the men of his place shall lift him up with silver, gold, property, and animals, along with the donation to the house of G-d that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-4)
We would expect this unlikely narrative to continue with millions of Jews immediately packing their bags and joyously returning to Israel. Nary a soul would remain behind in the Diaspora.
Unfortunately, the very next verse reveals the first fissure in this potentially utopian story.
Then arose all the heads of households of Judah and Benjamin, and the Kohanim and Leviim, along with all whom G-d awakened his spirit to go up to build the house of G-d in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5).
This is a far cry from everyone. In fact, as we shall see, it was a rather paltry slice of the Jewish community that had just been offered an all-expense paid trip back to Jerusalem under the royal order of the most powerful man in the world. Even those who answered the call were not entirely self-motivated, but aroused by the same divine spirit that moved Koresh to make his proclamation. The same divine intervention that propelled the Persian king to sponsor the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash was required to get the Jews themselves to participate!
The narrative continues by relating that the gentiles strengthened the olim (immigrants to Israel) with wealth and donations for the Beit Hamikdash. Koresh also returned to the Jews the thousands of gold and silver instruments that were seized from the first Beit Hamikdash by his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. This was no empty gesture. This was the ultimate redemption.
At least, it could have been. (To be continued....)
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Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall” and "How to Not Get Married: Break These Rules and You Have a Chance," an illustrated book that is humorous yet serious in its examination of the issues facing singles.
Many of his writings are available here. He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, “Single Jewish Male,” and “The Shidduch Chronicles” available on YouTube by clicking here. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org