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The Level of their Forefathers

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



The Level of their Forefathers

Summarized by Betzalel Posy


The Ramban believes that each of the five books of Chumash has its own theme. At the beginning of Sefer Shemot, he relates to both Bereishit and Shemot, since his introduction to Bereishit deals with Torah generally. Sefer Bereishit is about creation and history: both the creation of the world and the creation of Am Yisrael. These events serve as an example and a pattern for the history following them, and Sefer Shemot is the beginning of that history.

The entire history of the Jewish People follows a single pattern: "galut" and "ge'ula" (exile and redemption). This is what happened to the Avot and it is what happened to the Jews in Egypt and the desert. For Am Yisrael, their exile was expressed by their presence in Egypt, and their redemption was expressed by the presence of God in the mishkan.

However, the Ramban's words raise an interesting problem. Where is Eretz Yisrael in his discussion? Is not the redemption incomplete until the arrival forty years later in the Promised Land? How could the Ramban, for whom Eretz Yisrael was so central, say that the ge'ula occurred in the middle of a desert?

The entire Torah is a tale of how the Jews reached Israel. Rashi says as much in parashat Vayeshev. While, with regard to all other nations, the Torah simply tells us that they got their land ("Eileh toldot Eisav be-har Se'ir, etc."), the toldot of Yaakov and the story of how his children inherited the land is quite lengthy. Why do we need to hear every detail?

The normal situation is that every nation has its homeland: the French have France, the Belgians Belgium, etc. Thus, Am Yisrael receiving Eretz Yisrael is within the normal workings of the world. Ge'ula, in the religious sense of the word, occurs when Am Yisrael reaches the level of its forefathers. There might be only a very short period when this goal is realized, such as part of the time in the desert and some of the period of the first Temple. But this sad historical reality in no way detracts from the fact that this is the ideal situation.

Just as this ge'ula can occur at Har Sinai, so too the mere presence of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael does not assure redemption. Many people have said that with our return to Israel, we have reached redemption. But ge'ula is not about land, being like the French or the Belgians, although that is important. We still have a long way to go; we cannot sit back and rest.

As a child in chutz la-aretz, I heard from a Maggid a very interesting parable. In a small shtetl, there was a shamash (beadle) named Yankele. Yankele the shamash was a tzaddik. He stayed up late at night cleaning and fixing the beit midrash; he serviced all the public facilities; he made sure everything in the synagogue was ready for the holidays. Whenever needed, he gave the daily shiur, and served as chazzan when there was no one else. During the week before Rosh Hashana, he would stay up all night cleaning the synagogue and then would wake everyone in the town before daybreak for selichot.

On erev Rosh Hashana, selichot were especially early, and after a week of hard work, Yankele could barely keep his eyes open. He would recite "Hashem, Hashem..." and nod off. The mischievous youths started throwing things at him to wake him up. "What do you want from me?" Yankele exclaimed. "All year long I work hard for you; let me live in peace!" "Yankele," they answered him, "you wake us up for selichot at five in the morning, and you expect us to allow you to fall asleep!?"

For two thousand years, Am Yisrael disturbed the peaceful slumber of the world. We woke up the nations of the world to the values of tzedek and yosher (justice and righteousness), trying to remind them of their duties and conscience. Finally, Am Yisrael came home, to the "menucha ve-nachala;" but the nations of the world will not let us rest.

No, there is no ge'ula until Benei Yisrael "higi'u le-ramat avotam" - reach the level of their forefathers.

(Originally delivered on Leil Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5757.)


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