This week we celebrate Israel Independence Day – but the atmosphere this year is strained. There is depression which stems from the Intifada and the feeling that there is no way to achieve peace. In order to overcome this feeling, we have to stand back and look at the achievements of Zionism during the past one hundred years. We need to look at this period as a process of slow redemption or “the beginning of the redemption”.
Our disappointment stems no doubt from our desire to find simple solutions to complex problems. We want instant redemption, in the twinkling of an eye. But our history teaches us that true redemption does not come in the twinkling of an eye, but as a slow process. False Messiahs from the Messiah of Crete (431 c.e.) to David Reuveni (1524) and Shabbetai Zvi (1666) tried to redeem the Jewish people instantly in a miraculous fashion – but their attempts failed miserably.
True and successful redemption is always a slow, drawn-out process. Our ancestors wandered in the desert for forty years until they entered Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, after the episode of the spies, a group of Israelites attempted to capture the hill country but were killed by the Amalekites and the Canaanites because the time was not yet ripe (Numbers 14:40-45).
Similarly, in the opinion of modern scholars such as Albright, Mazar, and Malamat the conquest of the land in the days of Joshua occurred in waves of migration by the various tribes and not at one time.
The Return to Zion in the early Second Temple Period was also not a one-time event. It lasted from the days of Sheshbatzar until Ezra and Nehemiah – a period of over one hundred years (538-432 BCE).
Indeed our Sages warned against a speedy one-time redemption: “It says ‘migdol’ (2 Samuel 22:51), while the parallel verse says ‘magdil’ (Psalms 18:51). R. Yudan says: This means that redemption will not come to this people all at once but little by little. What is ‘magdil’ (= He enlarges)? Because the redemption of Israel gradually grows larger. Now they live in the midst of great troubles, and if redemption were to come all at once, they would be unable to bear such great salvation.. Hence it will gradually grow larger. Therefore is redemption likened to the dawn, as it is written ‘Then shall your light break forth as the dawn’ (Isaiah 58:8)..” (Midrash Tehilim 18:36).
The redemption of the Jewish people in modern times has also come little by little. We made aliyah from the four corners of the earth, absorbed millions of refugees, revived our language, established an amazing army, defeated our foes, made the desert bloom, and became one of the world’s leading centers of hi-tech. True, the redemption has not yet been completed. Two major challenges remain: we need to make peace with our neighbors and we need to teach our tradition to all Israeli Jews. But we must not wallow in despair and depression, because redemption comes little by little: “Then shall your light burst through like the dawn, and your healing spring up quickly.. Then. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob – for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:8, 14).
Rabbi Professor David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
Photo Credit: David Rubinger, KKL’s Photos Archive.