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‘WAS THERE ever a better Israel than this one?’: Israel Air Force F-161s fly over the beaches of Tel Aviv on a recent Independence Day..(Photo by: Wikimedia Commons)
Galut or geula: Where are we?
We like to fantasize about the “glory days” of King David and King Solomon,an era when the Beit Hamikdash existed and the Levites sung and the sacrifices were offered. But was it all really so grand?
Galut or geula: Where are we?
You probably know the story of the man who hears that his elderly aunt is in the hospital. So he decides to call her and see how she is doing. “Oy, it’s terrible!” she immediately protests.
“But why, auntie? Are the doctors not treating you well?”
“No,” she says, “I can’t complain about the doctors, they do a good job.”
“Well, then, is it the nurses? Are they mistreating you?”
“No, I also have no complaints about them.”
“Then is it the room? The food? Your roommate?”
“No, from them I can’t complain either.”
“Then what is so terrible?” asks the perplexed nephew.
Exasperated, the aunt screams into the phone: “I just told you what’s so terrible – I can’t complain!”
We Jews may not always excel at sports, but we are world-class, Olympic-level complainers. We can always find something to grouse or argue about with one another, it seems. From the time we learn how to speak, we are already honing our debating skills.
I recently tuned into an online discussion over a hotly-contested issue: Are the Jewish people still in galut, exile, or does the State of Israel represent, at long last, a new status of geula – redemption?
The back-and-forth was compelling:
“We have reestablished sovereignty and built a great country. Is that not Redemption?”
“Well, if we have been redeemed, then tell me – why are we still praying for Moshiach?”
“With all the undeniable miracles we have seen over the last 70 years – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the ingathering of the exiles – how can you deny that God is finally fulfilling His promise to bring us home?”
“But how can you say we are redeemed when many of Israel’s leaders do not follow the Torah, and sometimes are even anti-Torah?”
“But look at how we have reunified and rebuilt Jerusalem, and restored it to its former glory.”
“True, but how can you call this ‘redemption’ when we are not even allowed to freely pray at Jerusalem’s holiest spot, the Temple Mount?
“Does not the fact that more people are studying Torah today than at any other time in history – the ultimate fulfillment of ‘From Zion the Torah shall emanate?’ – prove that we are in redemption-mode?”
“Then why do half the Jewish people – including some of the world’s greatest rabbis – not live in Israel?”
And so the debate goes on and on, and neither side seems able to convince the other. Is this “Galut with a Kotel,” or have we entered the messianic age?
On the one hand, I am overjoyed that we can actually have this debate at all! For hundreds of years this was all theoretical, conjecture, rhetorical. We were, it would seem, light years away from actually returning en masse to Israel, hopelessly stuck in the Venus flytrap of exile with no realistic chance of ever breaking free. Did we ever envision that the cataclysmic events of the world wars would result in universal upheavals that would finally break the 2,000-year old logjam and pave the way for our return to the Holy Land?
I marvel at the way we find answers to any question and rationalizations for every position. It is, at one and the same time, a Jewish art and a Jewish tragedy. Although I have little hope that I can dislodge any long-held opinions out there, I want to weigh in on certain of these arguments. As Sunday begins the three-week mourning period for the loss of the First and Second Temples, I think it is an opportune time to devote some serious thought to it.

• Was there ever a better Israel than this one?!
We like to fantasize about the “glory days” of King David and King Solomon, an era when the Beit Hamikdash existed and the Levites sung and the sacrifices were offered. But was it all really so grand? Wars were rampant, idolatry flourished and intra-Jewish conflict ripped apart the nation. Remember what God told Solomon (Kings I, 11:10-12): “Since you have gone after other gods, and have not done what I commanded you; since you have kept neither My covenant nor My decrees, I shall surely tear away the kingship from you.” Doesn’t sound overly idyllic, does it?
And did we forget that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam, baseless hatred? How do you romanticize that?!
• Rabbis, alas, can be wrong.
Despite what some clergy outrageously claim, there is no one today who possesses ruach hakodesh, divine knowledge, such that they know the future and can read God’s mind. Rabbis are human, and they can and often do make mistakes. More than one rabbinic leader urged his followers to stay put in Europe during World War II, promising them that all would be well and they would remain unharmed. And when Ezra and Nehemiah – certainly greater religious personalities than any rabbis alive today – proclaimed the return to Israel after the Babylonian Exile, precious few local leaders heeded their call.
• Redemption is a process, not a perfection.
The Talmud, citing a prophecy of Ezekiel, states, “The surest sign that the exile is ending is when the trees of Eretz Yisrael bring forth their fruits in abundance.” Our former wasteland has become a leading world exporter of fruit, Jaffa oranges are famous all over the globe, and even Holland buys our flowers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Israel’s average agricultural bounty per dunam is three times higher than the international standard. Fruit grows gradually, and so does redemption; yet while we are still in our infancy, the results so far are mind-boggling: In 1880, there were 24,000 Jews in Israel; a century later, that number sky-rocketed to 6.5 million.
I have a modest proposal: Let the entire Jewish people continue thrashing it out over whether redemption has come or not. But let’s conduct that debate here, within our own borders. Then whatever answer we finally arrive at, I suggest, will be the correct one.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;
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