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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Don’t despair
For the major part of our existence, the Jewish people have been in exile. We are suffering from the descendants of Eisav and Ishmael for close to 2000 years and we do not seem to see an end to this long and bitter exile. Right up until today, there has been constant wars and acts of terrorism in the land of Israel. G’d showed Jacob in his dream the rise and fall of the four world powers that would exile and control the Jewish people. There is no natural limit to the expansion and growth of Edom. G’d controls the power of Edom and prevents it from destroying the world by causing constant strife between the nations. The fall of Edom will only happen when G’d directly lets him fall. The Temple in Jerusalem was a place of miracles, above the laws of nature. The Mashiach will only appear when the power of Rome comes to an end. Tools that were supposed to serve us have been used to destroy countless lives, and technologies that scientists developed for positive purposes are causing a fear of mass destruction worldwide. Even the most civilized people can behave like beasts of prey to achieve their personal interest and ambitions. G’d will bring about that the whole world will come to the realization that a life void of spirituality and fear of G’d is not worth living.
History of exiles
For the major part of our existence, the Jewish people have been in exile. Our beginning as a nation started during the exile in Egypt. Jacob and his family had come down to Egypt due to a famine in the land of Israel. There the family miraculously developed into a nation of twelve tribes with millions of descendants. After the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people sojourned for forty years in the desert. Finally, we came back and settled in the land of our forefathers and lived there for 410 years. At that time the first Temple was destroyed and we were exiled into Babylonia for seventy years. After the fall of the Babylonian empire, the rulers of Persia and Media became the world powers. They gave permission to the Jewish people to return to our homeland and rebuild the Temple. These rulers kept control over the land of Israel for fifty two years till their empire fell. At that point the Greek/Assyrian Empire rose to power and had control over the land of Israel for 180 years. Even when the Chashmonaim revolted and established their own royal dynasty they were still dependent, to some extent, on the mercy of the foreign rulers. Towards the end of the Second Temple, the Romans overpowered the Greeks and ruled the land of Israel as part of their empire. After the Second Temple had stood for 420 years, the Romans destroyed it and forced us to leave our beloved country and disperse into the Diaspora where we have been ever since.
Long Roman exile
This exile is much longer than anything we have experienced in the past. We are suffering from the descendants of Eisav and Ishmael for close to 2000 years and we do not seem to see an end to this long and bitter exile. In almost every country that we settled in the Diaspora, we have been harassed or prosecuted by the local population. The golden era in Spain ended with the horrific Inquisition and the subsequent expulsion. Later the Jews of Europe suffered for hundreds of years at the hands of the cruel crusaders. When the majority of the Jewish population settled in Eastern Europe, there were regular pogroms and expulsions in one country or another. And just seventy years ago, we experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust. There seems to be no end to our sufferings, G’d forbid. We cry out and ask G’d with the words of Tehillim (74:1): “Why G’d have you for ever abandoned us?”
Despair in Israel
And in the land of Israel, the situation is no different. All throughout this long and bitter exile a small number of Jews lived there and suffered their own hardships and difficulties. Over the past few hundred years, their numbers slowly grew as small groups came to settle in the land of our forefathers. After the Holocaust the nations of the world decided to allow a Jewish homeland for the survivors of the concentration camps. However, even now we have no peace there. Right up until today, there has been constant wars and acts of terrorism. We look at this situation in despair wondering how is this going to end, and when will we finally see a peaceful conclusion to our longest exile ever.
As a matter of fact, we are not the first ones to feel this despair. Already our Patriarch Jacob became nervous about how this exile would eventually come to an end. Towards the end of last week’s portion, the Torah relates how Jacob had to leave his parental home due to the hatred his brother Eisav harboured against him. As advised by his mother and with his father’s blessing, he went to Padan Aram to stay with his uncle Lavan. In the beginning of this week’s portion, the Torah tells how he laid down on the way to rest for the night. During his sleep he had a dream. This dream was a Divine prophecy. As it says (Bereishis 28:12) “And behold a ladder stood on the ground and its top reached the Heavens. And behold G’d’s angels went up and down on it. And behold G’d stood over him and said … and I will not forsake you till I have done what I have told you.” The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 29:2; see also Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 35) explains that G’d showed Jacob in his dream the rise and fall of the four world powers that would exile and control the Jewish people. G’d first showed him the angel of the Babylonian empire rising seventy rungs on the ladder and then going down. He then showed Jacob the angel of the Median Empire ascending fifty two rungs and how he descended. G’d further showed him the angel of the Greek empire rising one hundred and eighty steps and then going down. Finally, G’d showed him the angel of Edom, the Roman Empire, ascending, but Jacob could not see him going down. At that moment, says the Midrash, our Patriarch Jacob became frightened, and said “Is it then possible that Edom will not fall?” Said G’d, “And you, My servant Jacob, don’t fear. Even if he rises and sits next to Me I will make him fall from there” (see Isaiah 44:2). As it says (Ovadiah 1:1-4) “So says HASHEM, G’d, to Edom … Even if you rise like an eagle, and even if you put your nest between the stars, from there I will throw you down, says G’d.”
No limit to Edom
The Maharal of Prague explains that by the first three empires who exiled and controlled the Jewish people there was a natural limit to their expansion and growth. When they reached the peak of their ascent as world powers, they fell from their greatness. However, there is no natural limit to the expansion and growth of Edom, Eisav’s descendents, represented at the time of the destruction of the Temple by the Roman Empire. Unlike the earlier world powers of Babylonia, Persia/Media, and Greece, the power of Edom is not limited to one specific nation, but moves from one nation of Eisav’s descendants to another.
Strong power of Edom
The Talmud (Megillah 6a) explains that G’d does not permit this power to stay within one nation, as this would destroy the whole world. The Talmud quotes Jacob’s prayer to G’d as he said (Tehillim 140:9) “G’d, don’t allow the desires of the wicked. Let him not carry out his intentions.” Says the Talmud, “This is Germany [see annotations of the Vilna Gaon on the Talmud) the descendants of Edom, for if they would fulfill their ambitions, they would destroy the whole world.” The power of the descendants of Edom is so strong and expansive that it has no natural decline. Only G’d Himself can control them and eventually make them fall from their greatness. The Talmud explains that G’d controls the power of Edom and prevents it from destroying the world by causing constant strife between the nations.
G’d’s direct intervention
With this amazing insight from the Talmud, many world events in the past century fall into place. Who knows what greater devastation the German war machine would have reaped upon the world in general, and the Jewish people in particular, if not for the prayer of our Patriarch Jacob? And who knows what further havoc would have happened in the aftermath of World War II if G’d had not brought about the Cold War between the super-powers. G’d showed Jacob that the fall of Edom will only happen when G’d directly lets him fall. This, says the Maharal, will take place when G’d decides to establish the kingdom of Mashiach. The strength of Mashiach is derived from the supernatural power of the Higher World, and as such whatever Mashiach does is a direct act of G’d.
Rabbi Dessler explains that when Jacob awoke after his prophetic dream, he understood that if he merited a revelation of future supernatural events he must himself be in a place that represents the supernatural. That is why he exclaimed (Bereishis 28:17) “How awesome is this place. This is nothing but the house of G’d and this is the gate of the Heavens.” For it is well known that the Temple in Jerusalem was a place of miracles, above the laws of nature (see Pirkei Avos 5:7).
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) describes that Mashiach sits at the gates of Rome. The Maharal explains that this means that Mashiach will only appear when the power of Rome comes to an end. The Roman Empire does not exist today, but as a world power it still exists among the descendants of Edom. Says Rabbi Dessler, our modern civilization has been developed over many centuries, but its cradle stood in the Roman Empire. It has accelerated in the last century with unprecedented speed with the development of new technology and modern-day inventions. The superpowers have journeyed into outer space and made major technological advances never dreamed of by earlier generations. And in the past decades, we have seen the technology explosion of the Information Age where every home with a computer and an internet connection has access to incredible amounts of information.
All these advancements were supposed to be for the benefit of mankind and to raise the quality of life. However, the truth is that they have also brought with them a fear that surpasses anything known in the past. Tools that were supposed to serve us have been used to destroy countless lives, and technologies that scientists developed for positive purposes are causing a fear of mass destruction worldwide. More and more people realize that these so-called blessings of technology are more dangerous and frightening than beneficial. The nations of the world are trying in despair to control nuclear power to ensure that this extraordinary power is only used for peaceful purposes. On a different level, we find international efforts being made to control that the internet should not be used for hateful and damaging purposes.
No fear of G’d
What has gone wrong? Why is it that all the advancement that has been developed over the centuries has not made the world a better place to live in? We find the answer in the words of our Patriarch Abraham to Avimelech, King of Gerar. Abraham said, (Bereishis 20:11) “There is no fear of G’d in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” Even the most civilized people can behave like beasts of prey to achieve their personal interest and ambitions. This is what happened to Nazi Germany and it happens all the time on different levels.
Imminent downfall of Edom
We already see many people searching for spirituality to replace the secularism that came in the wake of modern-day civilization. This is a true sign of the imminent downfall of Edom when G’d will bring about that the whole world will come to the realization that a life void of spirituality and fear of G’d is not worth living. Then the world will be ready for the final downfall of Edom, and in its wake will come the Divine power represented by the Kingdom of Mashiach. At that point we will see the final fulfillment on G’d’s promise to Jacob: “And I will not forsake you till I have had done what I have told you.”
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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