Sunday, June 19, 2011

History, Israel, Redemption: are they connected?

As I read the news and surf the net, I see an increasing number of stories that paint a dark picture: destructive storms in the US, locusts swarming in Russia, earthquakes in Japan, volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Chile, an anti-Israel  UN--and a non-Jewish Glenn Beck talking repeatedly on American TV to two million viewers daily about Israel at the center of a world-wide battle.
Are these signs that our Jewish Redemption story is getting so close to a tipping point that we can see global signs that something significant is occurring?

I don’t know.
But it makes me wonder:  how should we think about the Jewish Redemption story?

I see two basic Jewish Redemption narratives. The first posits that our ultimate Redemption will come only through Divine Mercy and Divine intervention. In this narrative, history and Redemption are not connected.  Modern Israel is irrelevant.  We have only one job:  to increase our individual commitment to our religion through Torah-study, mitzvah observance and repentance. There is little or no positive connection between human action, Israel and Redemption.
For some, it may even be forbidden to attempt to accelerate or bring about that Redemption (by helping Israel).  

The second narrative begins with a similar foundation: our Redemption arrives only through Divine Mercy and Divine intervention, and our job is to dedicate ourselves to Torah-study, repentance and mitzvah-observance. But with this second narrative, history counts. It is part of the Redemptive process.  History records and instructs, teaching us how and in what direction we grow within a Divine Time-frame. History seems the linear petri dish within which our religious destiny unfolds.
Time:  it seems to me that those who believe in the first narrative, where history is ignored, may miss something—they may fail to account for Time in the Redemption narrative.

This is an intriguing oversight because time is so important to our religion:  many of our laws are tied to a specific time, and our Talmud focuses on analysing time—the time to sanctify the new moon, the time to celebrate Festivals and Holy Days, the time for prayer, etc.
For any religious Jew, time is truly ‘of the essence’.

And yet, if ‘time’ is this important, how can one dismiss the importance of ‘Time’?
Our Tanach and Talmud suggest the reality of a Divine Time-line. We don’t typically see it that way, but one level of discussion in our religion is religious-destiny-in-Time, beginning with Creation.

From our religious texts, we learn two fundamentals: we learn about our relationship with our Creator; and we discover how our national religious progress moves from darkness to light, from slavery to Redemption and, most important, from one spiritual level to a another and back again.
The very first Rashi commentary  in our Torah announces that the purpose of our Torah is to teach, and the very first national commandment is about, you guessed it, time (identifying the new moon—a time issue).  Our Torah is clear: the lessons we are to learn concern time and, by definition, these all unfold within Time.

As an example, when we look at our history from Abraham to Solomon, we see our national religious history developing from Divine Promise to one level of Divine Fulfillment. We see the Creator acting within human history for a Divine purpose using a Time-line that is both human and Divine.
From our Tanach and Talmud, we see history moving forward like a wave, with national and spiritual ups and downs, from Beginning to an ultimate, promised Completion.

Religious Jews generally do not learn our Tanach and Talmud as history—as is proper—because neither is a history text, built on chronology.  Nevertheless, history is not absent or irrelevant. It is simply hidden so we can focus on the lesson, not the story.
But, since King Solomon, we have seen both prophecy and history—the promise and fulfilment of ups and downs-- and we can see that time may not just be something our Talmud studies in order to determine a religious action or obligation; time is also history, where we chart the course of our religious destiny.

 Perhaps our religious  history is a hidden footprint within our tradition-- the only recorded shadow of the complete Divine Time-line-- a footprint we must search diligently to find, identify and understand.
Perhaps the purpose of this history is to teach lessons and give encouragement, so we can find the strength to stick to the Time-line and push forward towards our ultimate religious destiny.

Our exile from Israel and our ingathering have been prophesied—and then validated by history. To many Jews, our historical record proves nothing; but to others, it proves everything: today, for the first time in 2,000 years, there are more Jews in Israel than in any other country; without the establishment of modern Israel, some 800,000 Middle East Jews might never have become refugees (between 1948-1957) and then absorbed into the new state; it is highly unlikely that perhaps 230,000 Anglo Jews would have made aliyah to a non-state; and, how many Russian Jews have come to Israel?
The ingathering continues.  History unfolds--and Israel seems to validate its role in the Divine Time-Line.

Is it possible that Jews who disconnect from Israel make the same mistake the spies made in this week’s Torah portion?
As you may know, that spy story was about two groups—those who chose to disconnect from Israel, and those who chose to connect.

Perhaps we should learn a lesson from our Torah’s spy story: don’t make the wrong choice.

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