Leave Behind Complexity

“You shall safeguard the matzot, for on this very day I will have taken your legions out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. In the first, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening shall you eat matzot, until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening.” (SHEMOT 12:17-18)

Matzot shall be eaten throughout the seven-day period; no ḥametz may be seen in your possession, nor may leaven be seen in your possession in all your borders.” (SHEMOT 13:7)

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Gevurot HaShem that “matzah is simple as it is not combined with additional ingredients such as leaven, which would compound and complicate it. Simplicity in essence denotes independence, for an independent being is free and not bound together or dependent upon others. A slave is bound to his master and completely dependent upon him while a free man stands independently, not bound to anyone else. Hence, matzah specifically is an appropriate symbol for the Exodus.”

The Maharal’s explanation of matzah as simplicity and ḥametz (unleavened bread) as complexity provides an essential insight into the mentality of Diaspora Jewry. The word ḥametz shares the root letters of l’haḥmitz (to miss), symbolizing the idea of missing an opportunity. Because it includes leaven, ḥametz is complex and therefore prone to miss out.

When a person defines himself according to his complexity – by what he has acquired in life – he is naturally blocked from fully expressing his inner essence. Each of us is a soul – a unique expression of G-d – playing a character with a distinct purpose in history. And our ability to fully realize our individual missions in life is largely dependent upon our self-identification as souls who, like actors, play roles in the story of man. The more we define ourselves as the actors rather than as the characters we play, the more our characters can actually succeed at fulfilling their roles in the story. But one who defines himself according to the external factors his character has acquired in life (wealth, status, academic credentials, etc.) becomes complex like ḥametz and trapped by these external factors, frightened to jeopardize them in pursuit of his true inner calling.

In the years leading up to the Holocaust, for example, many Jews in Europe had possessions and professions that they were not prepared to abandon. Their complexity kept them psychologically trapped until it became too late for a physical escape. Jewish community leaders in America, meanwhile, were frightened to sacrifice the success they had achieved and were therefore powerless to save their brothers overseas. They feared accusations of disloyalty if they were to focus on the “Jewish aspect” of America’s war effort against Germany. And some even feared that a great influx of Jewish refugees would bolster anti-Semitic attitudes within the United States. Partially due to the complexity of the Jewish Diaspora mentality, an opportunity was missed and six million were lost.

A complex person – one who defines himself as the character and not as the actor – is generally not ready for sacrifice because he is frightened to lose that which his character has acquired. While external factors alone do not automatically cause a person to be complex, how that person relates to these factors can easily reveal the extent of his complexity. A rich man fearful of becoming poor is not yet ready for redemption. In times of crisis, such a person would be unwilling to part with his material wealth and comfortable lifestyle.

A wealthy man in touch with his true inner self, however, is willing to risk losing everything he owns. Although he may know how to appreciate worldly goods, they do not define, trap or complicate him. Such a Jew is ready to sacrifice his money at any moment in order to express his inner essence and assume responsibility for the Nation of Israel’s historic mission. Instead of viewing himself as a wealthy individual, he is simply a unique piece of Knesset Yisrael – the giant collective Hebrew soul that reveals itself in space and time through millions of bodies called the Jewish people.

Matzah represents simplicity, which is the true essence of a soul. While the demands of a healthy society often necessitate that people become doctors, soldiers, builders and plumbers, these are only talents acquired in life and not a person’s actual essence. Practicing medicine, fighting wars, constructing homes and installing pipes are things that Jews must often do – especially when rebuilding Hebrew civilization in our homeland – but they can never define who or what a person is. Being simple is therefore the self-awareness of one’s deepest and truest inner essence as a unique spark of the timeless ultimate Reality without end.

While matzah is the bread of affliction, it is also the bread of freedom. One who views himself as simple can never become trapped by complex external factors. He recognizes himself as part of a larger Hebrew collective and, through a perspective psychologically grounded in Jewish history, is able to identify danger on the horizon before it reaches the maturity to strike. So long as one understands his true essence in its simplicity, he cannot be enslaved and is ready for redemption.

The courage of simplicity stems from the understanding that a person has absolutely nothing to lose. He is prepared to risk everything in order to take responsibility for the future of his people. This willingness to sacrifice oneself for the Hebrew Nation and its mission is born out of a love that elevates a soul from the level of the individual to that of the collective. The Maharal explains in Netzaḥ Yisrael that fear is the shell of love and that the stronger a person’s love grows the weaker his fears become.

Fear and selfishness are both symptoms of complexity while love and courage are actually products of simplicity. Fear results from a lack of compassion and paralyzes a person into irresponsible dormancy. But the less fear a person suffers, the more he is willing to sacrifice and the stronger his inner light can shine to the world. The freedom of simplicity that the matzah represents makes him capable of daring action in the face of adversity.

When the Hebrew Nation received a chance to be born out from Egypt, the majority of our people had viewed themselves to be “Egyptian Jews.” They defined themselves according to their complexity and therefore had to perish in the ninth plague of darkness, missing the opportunity to participate in Israel’s national birth. The minority, who defined themselves simply as Israel, snatched the opportunity to experience liberation and receive the Torah at Sinai. They realized that they had nothing to lose because all they really were was Israel and one cannot truly live up to being part of Israel while subsisting in the exile separate from the Hebrew mission. As the redemption process continues to unfold and we are confronted with newer and greater challenges to overcome, we must learn to properly define ourselves and strive to attain a genuine simplicity in order that we may succeed in ingathering our people back to our homeland, establishing the kingdom destined to manifest the Divine Ideal and fulfilling our national mission of shining G-d’s blessing to all of mankind.

Breaking Out of Idolatry

The culture of Egypt had dominated the world, casting its dark and oppressive shadow over all of civilization while abandoning the hope for any ethical or moral progress. Ancient Egyptian philosophy pictured life as fixed and recurrent cycles of materialism determined by the immutable laws of nature that all human endeavors must serve. Their gods were the sun, the Nile and the animals. The sun created the cycle of the year. The Nile provided water and was the source of life. The animals represented the basic fundamental life forces. This comprehensive perspective was the very basis of ancient Egyptian civilization.

The danger of this idolatrous worldview was that it related to human beings as nothing more than products of nature. Trapped in the matrix of natural law, man was seen as having no choice but to go with the inexorable flow of reality. Although acknowledging that man possessed the ability to make decisions, Egyptian philosophy claimed that those choices were in essence no different than those of a beast. Human psychology – our desires, motivations and weaknesses – was viewed as a product of nature. Negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, lust and the will to dominate others were understood to be natural and ordinary features of existence, prompting man to live no different from the animal predators that devour and plants that overrun their weaker competitors. The world was seen to reach a natural ecology of forces in conflict, balanced between the strong and the weak – the masters and the slaves.

This idolatrous conception imprisoned the spirit of man in an absolute bondage to the fetters of nature, with no possibility of breaking free and transcending its restrictive and suffocating boundaries. All of humanity’s higher yearnings were denigrated and debased under the pernicious influence of this toxic worldview, until mankind was entombed in pyramids of darkness and spiritual decay. Egypt is referred to as the “house of bondage” not merely on account of its large slave population. Egypt was a “house of bondage” through and through. All were mentally enslaved to the fixed laws of nature that determined the fate of individuals and groups alike. No slave even imagined that escape from bondage was possible because slavery was simply a condition of life.

We learn that “had the Kadosh Barukh Hu not taken Israel out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh” (Haggadah). While one can assume that over the course of thousands of years, other geopolitical factors might have led to Israel’s freedom, this is actually not the point our Sages are making. Had HaShem not taken us out then, we would have remained slaves in our essence. Human civilization would have remained stagnant, sunk in the mire of Egypt’s slave mentality. Even had Egypt’s dominance on the world stage declined later in history due to natural circumstances, the Pharaonic worldview would have continued to rule the thinking of man.

“Pharaoh replied, ‘Who is HaShem that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know HaShem, nor will I send out Israel!’” (SHEMOT 5:2)

When the Kadosh Barukh Hu dispatched Moshe and Aharon to demand that the Hebrews be permitted to serve Him in the wilderness, the Egyptian monarch responded with contempt. Pharaoh not only rejected the demand to send out his slaves but also denied HaShem’s very existence. The Egyptian view of life limited his ability to fathom a Divine Author and purpose to history. G-D then informed Moshe what would transpire next.

“‘Pharaoh will not heed you, and I shall put My hand upon Egypt; and I shall take out My legions – My nation the Children of Israel – from the land of Egypt, with great judgments. And Egypt shall know that I am HaShem, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt; and I shall take the Children of Israel out from among them.’” (SHEMOT 7:4-5)

Due to his ability to enslave and persecute the Hebrew tribes, Pharaoh was certain that there was no G-D of Israel. To him – as to most of Israel’s persecutors throughout history – the very degradation of the Jewish people appeared as proof of the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s weakness or non-existence. The ability of gentiles to persecute Israel is the ultimate profanation of HaShem’s Divine Ideal, which is inseparably connected to Israel’s stature on the world stage. Even in a situation where the Jewish people are guilty of serious transgressions, our honor is still intrinsically united with the honor of G-D. The main purpose of the plagues was to reveal the Divine unity of HaShem’s Oneness over all and to show that there is value and meaning to human history. In order that the worldview of the Egyptians be shattered, it was necessary that they directly experience HaShem’s power.

“‘For this time I shall send all my plagues against your heart and upon your servants, and your people, so that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world. For now I could have sent My hand and stricken you and your people with the pestilence and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, for this have I let you endure, in order to show you My strength and so that My Name may be declared throughout the world.’” (SHEMOT 9:14-15)

The plague of hail is described here as “all My plagues” because it begins the collapse of Egyptian faith in false gods. This was the purpose for all of the plagues – the destruction of idolatry and the revelation that everything in Creation is subordinate to HaShem. Pharaoh was permitted to survive the fifth plague – disease – only in order that he would be forced to recognize HaShem’s sovereignty over all and proclaim it to the world.

“‘You still tread upon My people, not to send them out. Behold, at this time tomorrow I shall rain a very heavy hail, such as there has never been in Egypt, from the day it was founded until now. And now send, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field; all the people and animals that are found in the field and are not gathered into the house – the hail shall descend upon them and they shall die.’ Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of HaShem chased his servants and his livestock into the houses. And whoever did not take the word of G-D to heart – he left his servants and livestock in the field.” (SHEMOT 9:17-21)

The sanctification of G-D’s Name – His Ideal for this world – comes about through the revelation of His might and the degradation of false deities. The plague of hail was the first time HaShem granted the Egyptians an opportunity to spare themselves. Through the very experience of making such a choice, they would have essentially been rejecting the Pharaonic worldview. Were they to heed Moshe’s warning, it would have constituted acknowledgment that the Kadosh Barukh Hu encompasses and directs everything in existence and that their idols would be powerless in protecting them from His plagues. The Egyptians would only be saved through abandoning their faith in false gods, transcending their society’s worldview and acknowledging HaShem’s all-encompassing sovereignty over all.

According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook, Israel’s Exodus from Egypt marked “the springtime of the entire world” because out of the darkness of Egypt burst forth the Light of HaShem. With the Exodus of the Hebrew tribes from the bondage of Pharaoh and the revolt against further servitude to mortars and bricks, the world saw that there was Divine value to history, a Guiding Hand which ruled over the forces of the universe, and that it was in the power of mankind to rise up and transcend its baser instincts and passions.

Because HaShem is the timeless and boundless ultimate Reality without end that both encompasses all existence and is beyond all existence, ascribing any genuine power to false deities or human rulers prevents one from truly recognizing His Divine unity over all. Viewing idols or human rulers as having any power independent from HaShem therefore diminishes our awareness of G-D’s Oneness and profanes His Name. It is through the story of Israel, as it unfolds throughout time, that humanity sees history as possessing Divine meaning and purpose. Because the Children of Israel are the earthly human expression of HaShem’s Ideal in this world and the weakness of the Jewish people appears to the nations as the weakness of our G-D, Israel must strengthen our resolve and advance our national mission without fear of human rulers or the power they ostensibly wield. The Jewish people must stand strong against those seeking to obstruct the attainment of our aspirations so that we may bring this world to its destiny of ultimate good through establishing the Hebrew Kingdom that will manifest HaShem’s Ideal while shining blessing and light to all of Creation from Jerusalem.

Liberation is Now

“The King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the first was Shifrah and the name of the second was Puah – and he said, ‘When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birth stool; if it is a son, you are to kill him, and if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared G-D and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live.” (SHEMOT 1:15-17)

It is taught that Shifrah and Puah are alternate names for Yoḥeved and Miriam – mother and sister to Moshe and Aharon. We further learn that the midwives “feared G-D” and therefore HaShem built them “Houses in Israel” (the priesthood emerged from Yoḥeved and the Davidic dynasty descended from Miriam) – a teaching that highlights the necessity of understanding what it truly means for someone to “fear G-D.”

To fear G-D is actually the highest level of courage because when a person possesses genuine awe of HaShem as the Creator and Source of all that exists, he cannot possibly fear Pharaoh, poverty, prison, torture or even death. “Fearing G-D” is essentially a deep awareness and conviction that nothing exists outside HaShem, which in turn eliminates the ability to fear anything subordinate. It is precisely this elevated consciousness that enabled the midwives to give birth to the greatest leadership our people has known.

Because a slave naturally fears his master and the Hebrews in Egypt were brought up to fear their oppressors, the behavior displayed by Yoḥeved and Miriam was a revolution against the social order of their day. HaShem had not promised these women any reward for endangering themselves and they had no guarantee that they would survive Pharaoh’s wrath. What the midwives did, however, was adhere to the most ancient of Hebrew traditions.

When thrown into Nimrod’s furnace for his crusade against idolatry, Avraham had no expectation of being saved. He understood himself to be a soul – a unique expression of HaShem – temporarily playing the role of a character name Avraham on earth. Rather than contaminate his true inner essence, he was ready to give up the role of Avraham.

During the terrible Holocaust in Europe, there were Jews who felt themselves as having no choice but to actively collaborate with the Germans. Faced with unspeakable conditions and desperate to make it through the horrors of the Shoah alive, they pragmatically understood that the answer to their predicament was to try and survive by assisting the Nazis. But there are prohibitions in the Torah for which one must be willing to give his life rather than transgress. One clear example is that a Jew must die rather than participate in the murder of his own people. “Fearing G-D” in such a situation would prevent the soul from being able to contaminate itself through the act of handing over a fellow Jew to be killed. Therefore, one with a deep and genuine awe of HaShem could not have allowed himself to deliver his people to the slaughter. Life itself would simply no longer feel worth living after having betrayed the very essence of his soul.

A person who genuinely fears HaShem has no personal fear for his own private safety and is automatically infused with a spirit of valor. While this is certainly not an easy level to attain, one can begin to approach it through asking honest questions and being prepared to accept the challenges of difficult answers. The true courage of fearing G-D involves emotional maturity, intellectual honesty and the willingness to burden a national responsibility. Yoḥeved and Miriam risked their lives for what was right, knowing that they could have very easily been killed and forgotten. Like Avraham, they feared G-D because that was the truth of their souls and not because they had any guarantees of survival.

“Fear of G-D” is actually a loyalty to one’s deepest inner truth without any preconditions or expectations for reward. Such self-awareness ultimately makes a person unbreakable – even in the face of overwhelming adversity – as anything one can possibly be threatened with simply becomes inconsequential when viewed within the context of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, includes all and is beyond all.

In addition to being the wellspring of great heroism, fearing HaShem is the basis for attaining true love – the ability to give freely without expectations. Rabbi Akiva teaches that the commandment, “you shall love your fellow as yourself” (VAYIKRA 19:18) is the mitzvah that encompasses the Torah in its entirety. It is the base that the Torah rests on in order to be fully revealed in our world. Whether it has a personal, national or universal expression, true love empowers one to not fret about whether or not his love is reciprocal because genuine compassion exists only to give. This love, built on courage, is actually the context and most essential foundation for properly understanding Israel’s Torah.

Moshe was destined to liberate Israel from bondage and lead the Hebrew tribes to receive the Torah at Sinai. But he first grew up in the house of Pharaoh, a place embodying the dark forces standing in starkest opposition to his role. In order to develop the personal qualities necessary to lead Israel from slavery to freedom, Moshe grew up surrounded by the very power that stood against the fundamental essence of his mission. It was precisely this environment that forced Moshe to ask true questions, grow to emotional maturity and realize his destiny as Israel’s savior.

“It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.” (SHEMOT 2:11-12)

Moshe witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and decided to intervene. His compassion for his people was clearly displayed by his preparedness to forfeit his princedom in order to save his brother from harm. At this point Moshe left the world of Egyptian royalty and began to actively express his inner self.

“He went out the next day and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, ‘Why do you strike your fellow?’ He replied, ‘Who appointed you as a dignitary, a ruler and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me as you murdered the Egyptian?’ Moshe was frightened and he thought, ‘Indeed the matter is known!’” (SHEMOT 2:13-14)

The Torah clearly states that Moshe “saw that there was no man” yet here – only a couple verses later – we see another Hebrew with knowledge of his deed. If the matter was known, then obviously there had to have been witnesses around to see Moshe’s act. When the verse writes that he “saw that there was no man” it is coming to teach that he saw no one willing to intervene. No Hebrew slave would stand up for his brother. Pirke Avot teaches that “where there is no man, be a man” (2:6) – no one was intervening so Moshe neutralized the Egyptian himself, knowing that he could lose his royal status and possibly even his life. He readily took this risk because his soul could not bear the suffering of his brother.

Regarding his deed of killing the Egyptian, the Maharal of Prague teaches inGvurot HaShem that “Moshe’s soul was clothed in greatness” – his soul consciously unified with Knesset Yisrael – the larger collective soul of the Hebrew Nation. Moshe had not yet received any prophecy and he certainly had not been commanded to slay the Egyptian. In fact, the prophesied years of Hebrew bondage in Egypt were not even close to complete. Without receiving any Divine sign or command, Moshe could not bear the sight of Hebrew suffering. And his compassionate reaction to the pain of his brother triggered a process of redemption that transformed him from a prince of Egypt to the savior of his people and history’s greatest prophet.

Not able to stomach strife among his brothers, Moshe attempted to make peace. When one responded by asking “do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?” Rashi explains that Moshe suddenly understood that his people were actually not ready for redemption. And the Maharal explains in his Gur Aryeh super-commentary on Rashi that so long as there were informers within Israel, slavery was an appropriate condition for them. This Hebrew threatened Moshe by implying that he could easily turn him over to the authorities. But by exposing Moshe, the informant would have not merely been turning in one man but actually betraying the entire essence of Israel’s redemption. When slavery runs deep into the psychology of a person, it becomes difficult to express the crucial courage and self-sacrifice necessary to break the chains of mental bondage. But when one cares for another to the extent that nothing can deter him, this compassion becomes the power of Israel’s salvation. Whether in Egypt, Europe, America or even Israel, one who internalizes and experiences this love can never cooperate with those seeking to obstruct our national mission. The courage to resist tyranny and stand strong against injustice is actually the first step in attaining a powerful love that will bestow great blessing not only upon Israel but also on the whole of humanity at large as the Hebrew Nation begins to effectively actualize our role of bringing world history to its ultimate goal.

These are the Tribes of Israel

“All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve – and this is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them; he blessed each according to his appropriate blessing.” (BEREISHIT 49:28)

Just prior to his passing, Yaakov blessed his sons for the final time. The Abarbanel teaches that the patriarch bestowed a blessing upon the tribal heads according to each one’s particular task in the larger mission of building the Hebrew Nation. He blessed them individually – each in line with his own specific aptitudes and capabilities – so that all would direct their talents and energies towards the path for which HaShem had uniquely suited them. This understanding illustrates the point that each Hebrew tribe has its own distinct role as part of Israel’s larger national mission. Far from breeding disunity, however, the separate tribal callings bind Israel more firmly together. The tribes are likened to spokes of a wheel – though the spokes point in different directions, they are all part of the same wheel and are each essential to its proper function.

The sons of Yaakov and their tribes each have a distinct role to play within the larger Hebrew Nation. While Yehuda is destined for royalty, Levi priesthood, Yissakhar scholarship, Zevulun commerce, et cetera, all twelve contribute their talents and unique abilities to serving HaShem and manifesting His Ideal. The Midrash teaches that there are seventy faces (facets) to the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). There are numerous ways to facilitate the revelation of HaShem’s Divine Oneness to mankind. While this understanding is crucial for achieving a broader and more inclusive perspective, it is unfortunately all too often misunderstood and taken to a counterproductive extreme. The various faces of the Torah are only legitimate so long as they fit into the framework of Israel’s historic mission and earthly function. An interpretation that runs contrary to the Torah itself cannot be considered a valid understanding of G-D’s Truth.

While there is one truth and not seventy, this one absolute and all encompassing truth can possess within it a multiplicity of smaller truths, which can each be viewed from various angles and perspectives. The Torah can be approached and understood in an assortment of ways so long as these are all in line with its fundamental essence. And although this might seem to disqualify movements within the Jewish world that negate the importance of Torah Law, the binding authority of our Sages, the commandment to reside in Eretz Yisrael or the prohibition against surrendering any portion of it to other peoples, even those who champion these positions are often expressing something deep within the collective Hebrew soul that in its own way contributes to the advancement of the Israeli mission.

The various faces of Torah are not conflicting philosophies but rather different ways of contributing to the objective mission of Am Yisrael. The Hebrew Nation is one body with one common purpose – to bring this world to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

In order for Israel to achieve this lofty goal, we must first constitute a healthy nation in our homeland. Our society must encompass scholars, doctors, engineers, farmers, pilots, accountants, lawmakers, firefighters and sanitation workers, all serving the Kadosh Barukh Hu and working in unison to build His kingdom in our physical world – a kingdom that will provide material expression to all of our Torah’s highest spiritual values. Not as a “religion” or philosophy but rather as a living reality – a kingdom who’s very life force and national culture is the Divine Ideal being fully expressed in every field of human endeavor. A “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (SHEMOT 19:6) – where even the bus drivers drive their buses and the merchants sell their wares in such a way that manifests HaShem’s Ideal in their specific spheres of life – is the true concrete meaning of the Torah’s seventy faces.

Am Yisrael – the uniquely created receptacle and conduit through which Divine energy and blessing radiates into our world – is once again experiencing a national rebirth on our soil. Israel has returned to the world stage in what has so far been merely the introduction to a revolutionary process destined to lead mankind towards history’s ultimate goal. While Torah scholars must serve as the heart of the Israeli national body and work to properly direct it according to HaShem’s Will, each organ and limb is essential to the healthy function of that body. Each of us was created unique with our own special attributes and prospective contributions to the collective whole. And whatever our individual talents might be, they must be constantly directed towards the realization of Israel’s national mission of elevating human existence to its highest potential and bringing this world to its goal of absolute good that preceded Creation and continues – like gravity – to pull history towards it. Only as a kingdom of priests and holy nation that reveals HaShem’s Oneness over all spheres of life can Israel fully express the grandeur of His Ideal and lead mankind to experience a world of total blessing.

Redeeming Yosef

“Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” (BEREISHIT 42:8)

On this verse, the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna explains:

“This is one of Yosef’s attributes. Not just in his generation but in every generation, Mashiaḥ ben Yosef recognizes his brothers and they do not recognize him. It is an act of Satan, which conceals Mashiaḥ ben Yosef’s attributes such that the Jews unfortunately do not recognize his footsteps and in fact even scoff at them… If not for this, our troubles would already be over. If Israel recognized Yosef, Mashiaḥ ben Yosef’s footsteps comprising the ingathering of the exiles, etc., we would already be completely redeemed.” (Kol HaTor 2:39)

Kol HaTor, the Vilna Gaon’s teachings on Israel’s redemption process, was compiled by his student Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov. In it are found deep insights pertaining to some of the most critical questions of recent generations. Foremost among these is the rarely discussed yet essential concept of Mashiaḥ ben Yosef – a teaching the Gaon reveals to be deliberately withheld from us as it possesses within it the secret of our salvation.

“According to the Gaon, all the work involved in gathering the exiles, building Jerusalem and broadening the settlement of the Land of Israel so that the Shkhina will return to it, all the principles of the work and all the major and minor details are connected to the mission and role of the first Messiah, Mashiaḥ ben Yosef. Mashiaḥ ben Yosef is the miraculous power that will assist every act done when the awakening begins from below, in a natural manner, because he comes from the earth. Mashiaḥ ben David, however, will come from heaven as revealed by the different aspects of Raḥel and Leah, and as known regarding the footsteps of the Mashiaḥ and the revealed end. Mashiaḥ ben Yosef himself is a composite of two aspects: on the one hand, he is Yosef the son of Raḥel of the land; on the other hand, he is Yosef son of Yaakov from heaven. It is therefore incumbent upon us to learn and to understand all the one hundred and fifty six characteristics, appellations and all aspects and special attributes of Mashiaḥ ben Yosef. These will be a light for our feet and direct us what to do and how, in connection with what lies ahead, with the help of the Redeemer of Israel, may it be speedily in our day.” (Kol HaTor 1:2)

The Vilna Gaon describes the process of Mashiaḥ ben Yosef both as the physical rebuilding of the Hebrew Nation in our homeland and as the Divine assistance accompanying that process, beginning with an awakened national consciousness within the Jewish people. The first Messiah, Mashiaḥ ben Yosef, is the physical rebuilding of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisraelthrough practical natural human endeavors. Mashiaḥ ben David will then be the spiritual force that comes to rest on that already constructed physical vessel. Like Yosef, who spoke seventy languages and served as the viceroy of Egypt, the force of Mashiaḥ ben Yosefrepresents that which Israel has in common with other nations (political structure, economic system, military, etc.). It is the building of a giant body meant to eventually house the colossal spirit of Mashiaḥ ben David, which will ultimately come to direct and properly guide this ostensibly secular Israeli nation. While the Torah remains the source from which we understand our collective mission, both the physical and the spiritual strengthening of Israel are crucial to the Divine plan for the redemption of mankind.

As with an individual human body that houses and expresses its soul, the colossal spiritual organism that is Knesset Yisrael requires a giant national body in order to fully reveal itself in the physical world. The stronger a body, the greater the soul it contains can be expressed. The Torah ideal is for a body to be strong and developed to its maximum potential with a healthy spirit to refine, guide and direct it in serving HaShem. Neither man’s physical or spiritual forces can ultimately negate the other because the stronger the body, the more it enables the spirit driving it to be fully expressed. Israel aims to give material expression to the Torah’s deepest mystical concepts by infusing this world with spiritual content that will elevate humanity to greater awareness of our innate connection to our Divine Source.Knesset Yisrael, the collective soul of the Jewish people, can only fully manifest itself through the vehicle of an earthly people living a national life of twenty-four-hour-a-day kedusha that reveals the Divine Ideal in all spheres of human existence. The force within Israel that wishes to enhance the nation’s material status is therefore the basis for HaShem’s Ideal in this world as humanity subconsciously measures the G-D of Israel based on the international standing of His chosen people. Mashiaḥ ben Yosef is actually the initial foundation for what will ultimately manifest all of the Torah’s loftiest values according to their full expression and Divine grandeur.

All facets of nationhood and life must be revealed to mankind as sanctified and pure. This can only be achieved by Am Yisrael living and uplifting every sphere of existence, as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (SHEMOT 19:6) in the physical world. This is the significance ofMashiaḥ ben Yosef. The physical rebuilding of the Hebrew Nation in our land – even if ostensibly disconnected from the Torah and devoid of mitzvot – is the first stage of redemption and the revelation of HaShem’s Oneness.

The Vilna Gaon warns that the source of Israel’s troubles at the end of days stems from our not recognizing Mashiaḥ ben Yosef. The Torah world must struggle to overcome the confusion caused by the modern State of Israel’s outwardly secular character. Rather than detach themselves from the Jewish people’s national rebirth, scholars should work to facilitate and guide our state’s institutions on the proper path leading to universal redemption. We must realize and be confident that once the body is securely built, the soul will certainly come to infuse it with purpose. Mashiaḥ ben David will come to properly direct the vehicle of Medinat Yisrael to its true historic function as HaShem’s earthly throne that will lead all Creation to see and experience His Divine Oneness.

Hanukah – A War for Liberation

For an entire generation, the ancient Judeans waged a struggle for freedom, which, in terms of intensity, has almost no parallel in human history. It was among the first recorded wars of liberation and it laid a model for nearly every revolution that followed. With an unbreakable faith and willingness to sacrifice, a handful of valiant Hebrew fighters forged the eternal covenant that resistance to tyranny is the highest and truest service to HaShem.

In those years, the cultural colonization to which the Seleucid Empire aspired was at its peak. Hellenist values and practices were imposed on the native Hebrews by means of harsh edicts and the swords of foreign soldiers. The victimization of the weak, rampant debauchery and thedesecration of the Temple were pinnacles of the Greek culture bestowed upon Judea. In Jerusalem, the urban upper class yearned to be citizens of Antioch and to transform their ancient city into an “enlightened” Greek Polis. When the uprising began, it arose from the mountain folkwho remained loyal to the Torah and to the heritage of their fathers. They were led by the Hasmoneans – Matityahu and his five courageous sons. The flame of revolt was kindled in Modiin and quickly spread like wildfire through the hills of Judea. After Matityahu’s death, his third son Yehuda took command. He became the Maccabee and his guerrilla army moved in two decisivechannels – resistance to the foreign culture and armed struggle against foreign soldiers. Two wars with one goal of Hebrew independence in Judea.

The Maccabean revolt was not merely a struggle to revoke harsh decrees or secure freedom of worship. Hebrew sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for proper Torah observance (see Mishnah Torah Hilkhot anukah 3:1, the Ramban’s supplement to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot 4, Shulan Arukh Even HaEzer 75:6, Pesikta Rabati 34, Magid Mesharim Parshat Vayikraand esed L’Avraham 3:7) and HaShem’s Divine blueprint for mankind demands Jewish independence in the historic Jewish homeland.

The Hasmoneans were determined. After several Judean victories and the liberation of Jerusalem, the Seleucid Syrian-Greeks offered a truce. Freedom of worship would be restored to the natives in exchange for ending their armed struggle for independence. There were some Jewish leaders naïve enough to accept the terms. A misunderstanding of our Torah caused those weak in spirit and tired of war to believe that they had already achieved their objectives. The Hasmonean faction, however, understood their obligation to liberate the Land of Israel from foreign rule. They also knew that without full political independence, there could be no lasting peace or real freedom of worship, as the spirit of Greece could again seek to dominate. Yehuda declared that the revolution must continue until Judea would be free from foreign influence and foreign soldiers. After nearly three decades of ferocious conflict, the Hasmoneans triumphed and theKingdom of Israel was restored (Hilkhot anukah 3:1).

When the Seleucid-Greek Empire began to persecute Israel, the devout heroism of Matityahu and his sons awakened within their people aspirations for self-rule. This desire for freedom – which had not strongly surfaced prior to the oppression – was catalyzed by the persecution and the fierce backlash it provoked. National independence was eventually declared and this declaration itself served as a sacred barrier against the forces of Hellenization as the very desire for self-determination psychologically impedes assimilation into the culture of an occupying power. Yet without Matityahu and his sons – the warrior-priests who imbued the political ideal with spiritual content – the revolution would have lacked sufficient force to keep fighting and withstand the prolonged hardships of war. This is demonstrated through the miracle of the oil. The pure cruse with the seal of the High Priest shone brightly, its light permeating the collective soul of the Hebrew Nation and bestowing upon Israel the strength to fight on.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Ḥanukah is that light is not merely another creation but rather Creation’s ultimate goal. The Maharal of Prague teaches in Ner Mitzvah that the world was created deficient so that mankind could actively participate as partners in its perfection. Human beings are given free will in order that we choose to involve ourselves in bringing the world to its ultimate goal. As the main protagonist in the drama of human history, Israel is tasked with revealing this truth, thereby leading mankind to its predestined ideal state.

Israel’s mission of bringing the world to the awareness of HaShem can only be accomplished through the Jewish people sovereign over Eretz Yisrael with the Torah serving as our national constitution. Only through this specific formula can Israel thin the veils of human perception and reveal the Divine light constantly present in our world, leading mankind to recognize and experience HaShem as the infinite Whole that creates, sustains and permeates all.

While the light of G-D’s Truth is always present, it is often hidden from man’s consciousness by curtains of perception. It is therefore currently possible for a person to acknowledge his own life while simultaneously denying the existence of the Divine Source that not only provides his every moment of being but is also in fact his higher inner Self. It is Israel’s task to remove the curtains of perception and reveal the Divine light – to bring the world to a state of perfection where all humankind achieves ultimate fulfillment and expression through a higher awareness of our relationship to HaShem.

Although G-D’s presence is hidden in day-to-day events, He continues to work through the system that He created in order to return that very system back to the full expression of His Ideal. Through a Divinely guided historical process, all of existence is sanctified and brought to the collective awareness of its inner relationship to its fundamental Source. Not only supernatural miracles but also the entire world with all of its natural laws is being pulled toward Creation’s ultimate goal through the story of Israel’s national rebirth on our native soil. The full restoration of the Hebrew Kingdom in our homeland will dissolve the remaining veils and bring everyone to finally recognize themselves as unique aspects and expressions of a much greater Reality.

Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto teaches in Derekh HaShem that G-D placed forces of evil into our story as an essential ingredient enabling free will and human growth. These dark forces have beentasked with working to prevent Israel from bringing Creation to its goal. Throughout history, this evil has manifested itself as four main human empires, each attempting in its own unique way to impede Israel from reaching our full potential as the nation that will express the Divine Ideal in all spheres of human existence. This is the inner battle between light and darkness raging through the annals of human civilization.

The four empires – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Edom – that have dominated the globe throughout most of world history emerged from the inherently deficient nature of existence and aim to maintain the curtains of perception through preventing Israel from reaching our full national potential. Each of these empires, however, has had it’s own unique method for obstructing the Jewish mission.

Knowing that the Hebrews must be in Eretz Yisrael in order to fulfill our national function in Creation, the Babylonians worked to physically separate us from our land. They forcibly uprooted us from our borders and then graciously provided us with material prosperity on foreign soil. This simple separation from our homeland, although Jews remained Torah observant in the Diaspora, was enough to prevent HaShem’s light from being revealed. The soil of Babylon was simply not conducive to Israel accomplishing our Divine historic mission.

The Persians had a different approach. Haman convinced his king to completely annihilate the Jews. By removing the bearers of HaShem’s light from the world, he believed he could succeed in snuffing out the Divine flame.

The Greeks did not try to remove the Jews from our homeland, nor did they initially attempt a physical destruction. Instead, the spirit of Greece sought to pollute Israel’s culture by reducing G-D’s Torah to the level of a human wisdom on par with other notable wisdoms of the time. The Torah’s Divinity was viewed as a threat to Greek philosophy, which valued human intellect above all else and could not tolerate wisdom beyond mortal comprehension. Unsatisfied with the success of this spiritual assault, the Seleucid Syrian-Greeks then sought to forcibly sever theHebrew Nation from our authentic culture through the brutal enforcement of cruel decrees against adherence to Torah Law.

These three empires each attacked an essential component to Israel fulfilling our national purpose. The fourth antagonist, however, which first emerged as the Roman Empire and has since taken on numerous manifestations, is a combination of all three attempts in a much more destructive and concentrated form.

Throughout the last two thousand years, the Western world (Edom) has tried its hand at all three methods on countless occasions. Three recent examples are the terrible Holocaust in Europe less than a century ago, the British Empire restricting Jewish entry to our homeland and the Soviet Union forcibly separating its Jews from their Torah. The international community’s insistence on not permitting Israel to assert sovereignty over the whole of our country and the resources spent by Western governments on diluting the State of Israel’s authentic Jewish character are just two modern expressions of this evil force, subconsciously aware that its end is at hand. A candle flickers brightest immediately before it is extinguished and today the world is ready to amass itself against Jerusalem. As Israel experiences a national rebirth on our native soil, the forces of darkness are gathering their strength to wage a final war against our light. In the wake of Israel’s triumph, Edom’s depravity will be exposed and mankind’s thinking will be liberated from the cultural tyranny of two thousand years. Concepts of righteousness, morality and truth will be elevated to meanings of newer and higher significance as Israel draws back the curtains of perception and reveals HaShem’s light to all of mankind.

Parshat Vayeishev – From Darkness to Light

Our Sages explain human history to be characterized by the incessant struggle between good and evil. The Kadosh Barukh Hu places forces of darkness into our world as an essential ingredient to enable free will and human growth. This evil has been Divinely tasked with attempting to prevent the Children of Israel from fulfilling our national mission of bringing mankind to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

As any good story requires a formidable antagonist, these forces of darkness are placed into the system of Creation in order to ultimately be defeated by the Jewish people, who must struggle to overcome the earthly manifestations of this evil – whether in the form of enemy nations or in the form of our own destructive inclinations – in order to reveal HaShem’s Oneness to humankind.

At historic points with great potential for the emergence of light and the advancement of Israel’s national development and mission, the forces of evil fight tenaciously to prevent the light of our redemption from breaking through to this world.

“Many days had passed and Shua’s daughter, the wife of Yehuda, died; when Yehuda was consoled, he went up to oversee his sheepshearers – he and his Adullamite friend, Ḥirah – to Timnah. And Tamar was told, as follows, ‘Behold your father-in-law is coming up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ So she removed her widow’s garb from upon her, covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself up; she then sat by the crossroads which is on the road toward Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown, and she had not been given to him as a wife.” (BEREISHIT 38:12-14)

The righteous Tamar had been Divinely ordained to be the ancestress of the Davidic dynasty. Sensing her importance to the story of mankind, she fervently yearned to carry out her role. But at the moment when the seed of David would come into being through the union of Tamar with a son of Yehuda, there was ferocious resistance from the Sitra Aḥra (evil forces). Both Er and Onan – Yehuda’s two eldest sons – were mysteriously enticed to commit offenses stretching beyond the normal standards of human lust.

Following the transgressions and subsequent deaths of his sons as a result of what he believed to be their marriages with Tamar, Yehuda kept his third son Shelah away from his twice widowed daughter-in-law. Feeling deprived of the opportunity to participate in the story of Am Yisrael, Tamar resorted to the distasteful measure of posing as a prostitute in order to bring about a union between herself and Yehuda.

“When Yehuda saw her, he thought her to be a harlot since she had covered her face. So he detoured to her by the road and said, ‘Come, if you please, let me consort with you,’ for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

And she said, ‘What will you give me if you consort with me?’

He replied, ‘I will send you a kid of the goats from the flock.’

And she said, ‘Provide you leave a pledge until you send it.’

And he said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’

She replied, ‘Your signet, your wrap and your staff that is in your hand.’ And he gave them to her, and consorted with her and she conceived by him.” (BEREISHIT 38:15-18)

While such a ruse would normally not have worked on a man as virtuous as Yehuda, our Sages teach that he was Divinely compelled to consort with the mysterious harlot.

“R’ Yoḥanan said, Yehuda sought to pass by Tamar. The Kadosh Barukh Hu dispatched the angel of lust to trap him. The angel said to Yehuda, ‘Where are you going? From where will kings arise? From where will great men arise?’ Yehuda then detoured to her by the road. He was coerced, against his good sense.” (Bereishit Rabbah 85:8)

Tamar’s disguising herself as a prostitute and Yehuda’s consorting with her were acts that provoked no resistance from the Sitra Aḥra. But the union resulted in the birth of twin boys, of which one would become the ancestor of King David and the future Mashiaḥ that will lead the Jewish people in ushering in a perfect world.

The episode of Yehuda and Tamar is not unique in the messianic lineage. David’s great grandmother Ruth had initially been born a princess of Moav, a nation from which the Torah instructs Israel not to accept gerim (outsiders who naturalize into the Hebrew Nation).

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of HaShem, even their tenth generation shall not enter the congregation of HaShem, to eternity, because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt, and because HaShem, your G-D, refused to listen to Bilaam son of Beor, of Pethor, Aram Naharaim, to curse you.” (DEVARIM 23:4-5)

The nations of Ammon and Moav came into being under shameful circumstances, resulting from incestuous unions between Lot and his two daughter (BEREISHIT 19:31-38). One of the daughters went so far as to brazenly publicize the deed by choosing to name her son Moav (from father).

Moav had been so determined to prevent Israel from entering our homeland and establishing the kingdom that would manifest the Divine Ideal that they even sent their daughters to seduce Hebrew men into sin. The Torah therefore bans Moabites from marrying into Israel. While our Sages explain this prohibition to apply only to Moabite males and not females, this legal opinion took time to gain acceptance and, as a result, both Ruth and her great grandson David experienced difficulty getting married until the issue was finally settled following generations of legal debate (Brakhot 28a, Yevamot 76b, Ruth Rabbah 7). Our Sages teach inYalkut HaMekhiri that even David himself was considered for some time to have been the child of an illicit relationship.

The recognition that David – the biological and conceptual forbearer of the eventual messianic king destined to lead Israel in fulfilling our national mission – came into this world through a series of challenging and legally questionable circumstances, guided the attitudes of many great Torah giants towards the Zionist movement in its earliest stages.

While many scholars condemned Zionism due to the ignorance of Torah values prevalent among the movement’s leadership, others recognized a Divine process of redemption to be at hand. They understood that had practical political efforts to return the Jewish people to sovereignty in the Jewish homeland been led by Torah giants and traditionally pious Jews, the Sitra Aḥra would have fought to frustrate these efforts and obstruct the redemption process. But from the labors of Zionist leaders largely disconnected from our Torah eventually rose the State of Israel – a great leap forward in advancing the Jewish mission of establishing a kingdom that would manifest HaShem’s Ideal in all spheres of human existence and lead mankind towards a future in which all peoples and movements find full expression and fulfillment under the unifying canopy of G-D’s Divine Truth.

Even with all the confusion surrounding modern events within Israel, the redemption process continues to unfold in ways often difficult for many to understand. As active participants in history, we often find ourselves astounded by how the story actually unfolds. Events we might expect to play out a certain way have a habit of coming about through means that often surprise us. These plot twists are partially due to the fact that the light of redemption is so incredibly bright that it must be hidden from those forces seeking to obstruct the process. The light therefore appears in a distorted fashion that lulls the Sitra Aḥra into passivity.

In these generations of national rebirth, it is crucial to strengthen and deepen our understanding that it is the Author of history who has returned Israel to the world stage. As characters in the story, we must adjust our own perspectives rather than stubbornly refuse to accept the nature of His plan. This higher awareness and acceptance is central to effectively participating in the redemption process, a process destined not only to restore Jewish independence in our homeland but also to lead all humanity towards an era of internationalist brotherhood, universal fulfillment and total Divine blessing.