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"Sing to Him, Praise Him, Speak of All His Wonders"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Sichot of the Rashei Yeshiva

"Sing to Him, Praise Him, Speak of All His Wonders"

based on a sicha delivered by

Harav Yehuda Amital

on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut 5756 (1996)

Summarized by Aviad Hacohen

Translated by Kaeren Fish

'Praise God for He is good, for His lovingkindness is forever,' so say the redeemed ones of God, whom He redeemed from the enemy's hand" (Tehillim 107:1-2).  Why does it say, "whom He redeemed from the enemy's hand?" It is written (Yishayahu 48), "For My sake, for My sake" twice, because God said: "When you were in Egypt I redeemed you for the sake of My name, so that My name would not be profaned among the nations."  This is what the Torah means when it says (Shemot 6), "And you shall know that I am God."  In the same way, I shall redeem you from Edom, too, only for the sake of My name, as it is written (Tehillim 106:8), "He saved them for the sake of His name."  Rabbi Huna HaKohen said: This was Moshe's rebuke to the people at the conclusion of the Torah (Devarim 9:6): "And you shall know that it is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your hearts that the Lord gives you this good land]..."  God said: I am not doing this in the merit of Avraham, Yitzhak or Yaakov but rather for the sake of My great name.  King David said: Since He did this for His name, let us praise God: "Praise God for He is good." "So say the redeemed of God" - these are Israel; similarly, Yishayahu (35:10) says, "and the redeemed of God shall return" - not the redeemed of Eliyahu, not the redeemed of the Mashiach, but rather "the redeemed of God."  (Yalkut Shim'oni, Tehillim, 866)
 There are events in the life of Am Yisrael which by their nature are accompanied by glimpses of Eliyahu, revelations of Mashiach.  And regarding the coming of the Mashiach, we know that there is a certain order of events: "I am God, at its time I shall hasten it" (Yishayahu 60:22) - if we are worthy, God will speed the process along.  If not, it will be "at its time."  This is the preordained way of the world.

 But when God acts for His name's sake, in order to avoid chillul Hashem (desecration of His name), He acts directly, along a special track that involves neither Eliyahu nor Mashiach.

 The sovereignty of Israel, or - as we refer to it - Israeli independence, is in fact a messianic phenomenon.  Rambam, in attempting to define in a single sentence the nature of the messianic age, writes as follows (Laws of Teshuva 9:2): "But the days of Mashiach are of this world, and the world will continue in its usual fashion, except that sovereignty will return to Israel.  And our early Sages taught: There is no difference between this world and the messianic age except for subjugation to the other nations."

 The very phenomenon of Israel's sovereignty is a characteristic of the messianic age.  And ordinarily it should have come about by means of the usual order of events, and we should have been "the redeemed of Mashiach."  But there is a special and unique procedure which is aimed at avoiding chillul Hashem, in which God leaves out certain stages in the usual sequence of events.

 Rabbi Akiva believed that Bar Kokhba was the Mashiach.  The Rambam (Laws of Kings 11:3) writes, "Do not imagine that King Mashiach has to perform wonders and miracles, create something new in the world, or resurrect the dead, etc.  This is not so: Rabbi Akiva was a great Sage among the Sages of the Mishna, and he was the armorbearer of Ben Koziba (Bar Kokhba) the King, and he used to say of him that he was the Mashiach.  He believed, along with all the Sages of his generation, that he (Bar Kokhba) was Mashiach, until the latter was killed due to his sins.  And only when he was killed were they made aware that he was not.  But the Sages never demanded of him any sign or wonder."

 Obviously, some of this cannot be meant literally.  As far as we understand, at that time Rabbi Akiva was over 100 years old.  The point, though, is that he and "all the Sages of his generation" held that Bar Kokhba was Mashiach.

 How is it possible that Rabbi Akiva - the greatest of the Tana'im and the only one of the "four who entered the Pardes" who came out unscathed - together with all the Sages of his generation believed that Bar Kokhba was Mashiach?  After all, Chazal's descriptions of Bar Kokhba are not particularly complimentary.  How, then, could Rabbi Akiva have mistaken him for Mashiach?

 Bar Kokhba reinstated Jewish sovereignty about fifty years after the destruction of the Temple.  Rabbi Akiva, with his profound understanding of the intricacies of Jewish history, knew that Jewish sovereignty and independence is one of the stages in the messianic process.  But we don't know exactly what the process entails, and "all these and similar matters will not be known to anyone until they come to pass" (Rambam, Laws of Kings 12:2).

 Forty-nine years ago we merited the reinstatement of Israeli sovereignty.  In order to avoid chillul Hashem, in order to sanctify His name, God chose to depart from the prescribed order of redemption and made us "the redeemed of Hashem" - not "redeemed of Mashiach" or "redeemed of Eliyahu."  Our world continues along its usual path.  No one alive today has the special characteristics of Mashiach.  There is no one among us with the gift of "And he shall smell with fear of God" - that he is able to smell a person and judge his guilt (Sanhedrin 93b).  Israeli sovereignty remains the clearest sign of the messianic age.

 In order to understand the concept of God redeeming Israel "for His name's sake," we must appreciate the chillul Hashem inherent in Israel's suffering.  The prophet Yehezkel (36:16-23) says,

And God's word came to me saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt upon its land, they defiled it by their ways and their actions; their way has become like the defilement of the menstruous woman to Me.  So I poured My anger upon them for the blood which they spilled upon the land, and they defiled it with their idols.  And I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them throughout the lands; I judged them in accordance with their way and their actions.  And when they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, 'These are the nation of God, and they have come out of His land.' But I was concerned for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they had gone.  Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'So says the Lord God: It is not for your sakes that I perform this, house of Israel, but rather for My holy name which you profaned among the nations where you have gone.  And I shall sanctify My great name which was profaned among the nations, which you profaned among them, and the nations will know that I am the Lord,' says the Lord God, 'when I am sanctified through you in their sight.'
 What is the chillul Hashem here?  It is the exclamation of the nations, amazed at what they see: "Can this be God's nation?  Could He then not have saved them?"

 The greatest chillul Hashem in the whole of Jewish history was the Holocaust.  And when Hashem decided to act for His name's sake, neither Mashiach nor Eliyahu was necessary.  It was sufficient that we would be "the redeemed of God."  We merited some unique form of ge'ula which did not follow the usual pattern of redemption.

 Indeed, redemption is sometimes achieved in unexpected ways, as described in Sefer Melakhim (Melakhim II 14:23-27):

In the fifteenth year of Amatzia ben Yoash, King of Yehuda, King Yeravam ben Yoash began his forty-one year reign over Israel in the Shomron.  And he did evil in the sight of God; he did not depart from all the sins of Yeravam ben Nevat, who led Israel astray.  He returned the border of Israel from Levo Chamat to the sea of the Arava according to the word of the Lord, God of Israel, which He spoke through his servant Yona ben Amitai the prophet, who was from Gat Ha-chefer.  Because God perceived the suffering of His people, that it was very bitter, for there was nothing - [all] shut up and abandoned - and no one to help Israel.  But God had not said that He would erase the name of Israel from under the heavens, and so He saved them through Yeravam ben Yoash.
 Yeravam ben Yoash was a sinner who followed in the footsteps of Yeravam ben Nevat; nevertheless he merited serving as the conduit of God's redemption, which other kings did not.  This was not a reward for his righteousness, but rather the result of God's looking at Israel and perceiving their suffering: "And there was nothing - [all] shut up and abandoned, and no one to help Israel.  But God had not said that He would erase the name of Israel... and so He saved them through Yeravam..."

 Let us not, heaven forfend, draw a parallel and say that the generation of 1948 was comparable to Yeravam ben Nevat.  But the precedent shows that sometimes the situation is an emergency - "there is nothing, all shut up and abandoned".  And at such times God acts without Mashiach and without Eliyahu.  Can we possibly imagine our situation immediately following the Holocaust?  Throughout Europe survivors of the destruction were wandering aimlessly, sparks saved from the fire, and they carried the responsibility for rebuilding and rehabilitating Knesset Yisrael.  Were it not for the miraculous establishment of Israeli sovereignty, what would have become of all of them?  It is not inconceivable that, God forbid, the name of Israel would have been erased from the world.

 "But God had not said that He would erase the name of Israel from under the heavens."  God saw the suffering of His nation; He left Mashiach and Eliyahu aside and saved them Himself.

 Why is Israeli independence a messianic phenomenon?  For two reasons.  Firstly, it is a unique, one-time event.  In general, independence is gained by nations who have lived in their land for countless generations.  There is no other example anywhere in the world of a state being established for a nation most of which is not within its borders.  The establishment of the State was aimed not only for the benefit of the half-million who were already living here, but also for the millions who were destined to immigrate.  This represents a kind of Divine irony: Zionism held high the banner of "normalization" - the aim of gaining independence for Am Yisrael so that we could have a state like all other nations.  But what arose was a state that was not normal.  The Arabs were incapable of understanding how a state could be created for citizens who were absent.  Indeed, this was a unique phenomenon.  No matter how we look at it, Am Yisrael is not a "normal" nation and will forever be different from all other nations.

 The other facet of the messianic nature of Israeli independence lies precisely in those aspects of our existence in the land which ARE normal.  The prophet Zekharia describes his vision of redemption in the following words (8:4): "Old men and old women will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with his staff in hand for great age.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets."  There is nothing remarkable about this scene, and that is precisely the wonder and the extent of the redemption - that the streets of Jerusalem and the cities of Israel will once again come alive with regular, healthy, day-to-day activity.  (For a deeper examination of this aspect of redemption, see last year's Yom HaAtzma'ut email sicha.  It can be found in our online archives, education/yhe/archive/RYA-yha .)

 In a famous passage found at the end of Massekhet Makkot (24a) the Gemara recounts the story of Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva, who were walking together after the destruction of the Temple:

Once they went to Jerusalem.  When they reached Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) they tore their clothes.  When the reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies.  They began to weep, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.  They said to him, 'Why are you laughing?'  He replied, 'Why are you all crying?'  They told him, 'The place about which it is written, "And any stranger who draws nigh will die" now has foxes roaming about it; shall we not cry?'  He replied, 'For that reason I laugh.  For it is written, "I appoint Myself loyal witnesses - Uriah HaKohen and Zekharia ben Yeverakhiahu."  What is the connection between Uriah and Zekharia?  After all, Uriah lived during the period of the first Temple while Zekharia lived during the second.  But the Torah made the prophecy of Zekharia dependent on that of Uriah.  Concerning the period of Uriah it is written, "Therefore because of you Zion will be ploughed like a field..." etc.  In Zekharia it is written, "Old men and old women will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem."  Until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zekharia would likewise not be fulfilled.  Now that Uriah's prophecy has been realized, that of Zekharia will certainly come to pass.'  With these words they said to him, 'Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!'
 Tosafot find this passage problematic: they assume that the verse, "Old men and old women will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem..." refers to the resurrection of the dead.  We in turn find the Tosafot's question problematic.  Why should the verse in Zekharia necessarily refer only to the World to Come, to the extent that the question is posed?  Where does this verse mention the World to Come?

 Tosafot had trouble understanding the approach of Rabbi Akiva.  Could this be the pinnacle of his dreams - that old men and women would sit in the streets of Jerusalem?  Could this possibly be the sum total of Zekharia's prophecy?  Did Zekharia not prophecy great visions: "Behold, your king will come to you, a righteous one and redeemed, poor and riding upon a donkey?"  Could Rabbi Akiva really have been so excited about so simple and natural a phenomenon?  This was the basis for Tosafot's assumption that Zekharia must be referring to the "old men and women" who would live at the time of the resurrection of the dead.

 In the commentary of Rabbeinu Gershom (Makkot 24a), the passage is explained according to its literal interpretation.  And I believe that the most obvious intention of the text is in fact in accordance with his words.  In a parallel passage found in Midrash Eikha Rabba, the continuation of the verse in Zekharia is also found: "And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets."

 Rabbi Akiva was aware that the meaning of independence is Jews living a normal, simple life in Eretz Yisrael.  And for this reason, he believed that Bar Kokhba was Mashiach.

 In the Book of Shemuel we read of how, when Yishai had introduced all his sons who were eligible for kingship before Shemuel, "And Shemuel said to Yishai, Are these all the boys?  And he said, There remains the youngest, and behold, he is tending the flock" (Shemuel I 16:11).  The Midrash comments on this as follows: "Rabbi Levi said: This entire verse was recited with ru'ach ha-kodesh (Divine inspiration)."  Not only the kingship of David is hinted at here, but also that of the Mashiach, descendant of David.  Each word of this verse echoes a verse from one of the descriptions of the messianic age and hence hints at the latter coronation.

 Mixed in with lofty descriptions of redemption and justice, the above midrash cites as one of the components of the messianic age that "old men and women will yet sit..."  In the earthly redemption of Israel by means of the establishment of sovereignty, there is also some measure of Divine kingship.  The following is the commentary of Chazal in Midrash Tehillim (Yalkut Shimoni, 852) on the verse, "God reigns, let the nations tremble (literally, 'the nations are angry)" (Tehillim 99):

Similarly it says (Shemot 16), 'The nations heard and they trembled.'  When the nations of the world heard that God had uplifted Israel, they became angry.  God reproved them: 'Foolish people!  You have had countless kings and Israel did not become angry, as it is written (Bereishit 36), "And these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom;" how many of your regimes have ruled, and My children were not angry, as it is written (ibid.), "chief Lotan. etc.," and now you are angry?!  So I, too, will give you reason to be angry for something that is against your will, as it is written, "God reigns, the nations are angry."
 Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is not simply a national holiday just like that celebrated by every other nation, except with an added religious dimension.  It is, in its entirety, a day of commemoration of God's wonders.  It is a day of faith, a day of uplifted spirits, a day of trust, a day of hope.

 From a halakhic point of view there is a difference between Channuka or Purim and Yom Ha-Atzma'ut.  Channuka and Purim were instituted by the Anshei Knesset Ha-Gedolah, who imbued these days with their status.  By observing these days as specified, a person fulfills a mitzva de-rabbanan (rabbinically ordained commandment).  Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, on the other hand, does not have the same sanctified status, even after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared it a festival.  Its halakhic status derives from its representing the commemoration of a miracle.  Any individual who celebrates Yom Ha-Atzma'ut as the commemoration of a miracle is permitted to have his hair cut on this day; by making one's meal on this day a commemoration of the miracle, he turns his meal into a se'udat mitzva.  This obligation is incumbent upon each individual.

 The principle theme of the day is, "Sing to Him, praise Him, speak of all His wonders" (Tehilim 105:2).  First and foremost, the very miracle of Israeli independence.  It is difficult for someone who has never known servitude to appreciate the wonder of freedom.  However, as we recited recently on Pesach, "Each person is obligated to see himself as though he came out of Egypt."  We have to make the effort to appreciate this wonder.

 Together with this central obligation, it is also important to speak of God's wonders which accompanied the establishment of the State.  Jews were begging for immigration certificates.  President Truman suggested to the British that a hundred thousand certificates be granted, with the hope that this would be enough to satisfy Jewish demands.  But God hardened the heart of Bevin, the British foreign secretary, and he refused.  He insisted on bringing the issue to the United Nations, on the assumption that this would lead to the issue being postponed.  To everyone's surprise, the U.N. General Assembly decided on the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael.  No one believed that there would be a two-thirds majority, a vital precondition for the vote to pass.  And in an unprecedented move, the East and West both voted in support of the establishment of the Jewish State.  I will never forget that night.

 Following the declaration of the State, after so many precious lives were lost, after we received the bitter news of the fall of Gush Etzion, seven car bombs exploded.  Some fifty lives were lost in a terrorist attack on Ben Yehuda Street.  And after that - the terrible war with all the Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  It was a war that was conducted contrary to human nature.  The fighters were war survivors themselves.  The "Seventh Brigade," in which I served, was composed of 80% death-camp survivors.  In the Moreh Nevukhim (Guide to the Perplexed), Rambam explains the reason that God "did not lead them (Bnei Yisrael) via the land of the Philistines" after they left Egypt as follows: "Because human nature is such that someone who has toiled with bricks and cement does not simply wash his hands and suddenly become a brave soldier."

 Let us return to the account in Sefer Melakhim.  "In the fifteenth year of Amatziahu ben Yo'ash, King of Yehuda, Yeravam ben Yo'ash, King of Israel, began his forty-one year reign in the Shomron.  And he performed evil in the eyes of God and did not depart from all the sins of Yeravam ben Nevat, who led Israel astray.  He restored the border of Israel from Levo Chamat to the sea of the Arava, according to the word of the Lord God which He spoke through his servant, Yona ben Amitai, the prophet who was from Gat Ha-hefer.  For God saw the suffering of Israel, that it was very bitter, and there was nothing - all shut up and abandoned, and no one to help Israel.  But God had not said that He would erase the name of Israel from under the heavens, and so He saved them through Yeravam ben Yo'ash."

 If God wished to prevent the disappearance of Israel, he could have kept them alive in exile.  For what reason did He choose specifically to "return the border of Israel from Levo Chamat to the sea of the Arava"?

 Sometimes a situation arises whereby the borders of the country are untenable and in fact life-threatening.  On November 29, 1947, it was decided that Jerusalem would be an international city.  In addition, it was decided that the western Galilee, Lod and Ramle, Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva would not be included in the borders of the Jewish State that was to be established.  How could we possibly have survived within these impossible borders?  And still, we danced in the streets.  But God knew that in order that "the name of Israel not be erased," the borders of Israel needed to expand.  They needed to be borders in which we could survive.  And from here unfolded the War of Independence, at the end of which Naharia, Yaffo, Ramle and Lod were within the Jewish State rather than outside of it.  "This has come from God, it is wondrous in our eyes."

 "God does not perform miracles for nothing."  The kingdom of Bar Kokhba survived for only a couple of years, because God's assistance was not sought - lest God not respond favorably, and they would lose everything.  But we who have seen His wonders declare, like Manoach's wife, "If God wanted us to die, He wouldn't have accepted our sacrifice and would not have shown us all these wonders" (Shofetim 13:23).  If God has shown us His miracles, we can be certain that they were not performed in vain.

 And what has God done for us throughout these forty-nine years?  From a half million we have grown to nearly five million, a ten-fold increase.  There has also been tremendous economic growth.  We receive billions of dollars in support from the U.S. - a huge sum - but this represents only five percent of Israel's GNP.  In addition, Israel has become a respected military power.  For all this we must say, "This has come from God; it is wondrous in our eyes."

 As explained above, we merited sovereignty in order that chillul Hashem be avoided.  The last few years have been difficult for us.  The name of God was profaned in a most terrible way in the traumatic incident of the assassination of the Prime Minister by a Jewish citizen.  And we witnessed another chillul Hashem in the tragedy of Kfar Kana (in which over 100 Lebanese citizens were killed due to an Israeli military error), which was completely unintentional on our part and occured because of the Hizbollah.  Nevertheless, the incident represented a chillul Hashem, and was a tragedy.  As bnei Torah, we have to know: "Blame finds its way to he who is blameworthy."  For what reason did this tragedy take place, such that we were blamed?  We need to engage in profound soul-searching.  Perhaps we were not careful enough amongst ourselves when it came to avoiding chillul Hashem.

 Owing to the festive nature of the day I shall refrain from criticism, but let us take to heart the interpretation of the Netziv on a verse which we read recently, in which an individual comes to the kohen and announces, "There is the appearance of a plague on my house" (Vayikra 14:35).  At the fringes of our camp there exist phenomena which we must ensure remain outside and do not, God forbid, approach us.  I shall mention only some of them: suspicion tinged with hatred, verbal and physical violence, and aggression as a worldview.

 In his introduction to the Torah, the Netziv explains that at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, the generation was composed of "righteous, pious people who toiled in Torah, but were not straight in their worldly dealings.  And for this reason, owing to the causeless hatred that they bore in their hearts towards each other, they harbored suspicion against anyone whom they observed serving God differently from themselves, thinking him a Sadducee and heretic.  And through this they came to the point of large-scale murder and every other imaginable evil, until the Temple was destroyed.  And in this respect God performed real justice, for He is straight and does not tolerate such 'righteous' ones, but rather seeks those who deal properly in their wordly actions too, and not crookedly - even though it be for the sake of heaven, for that causes creation to be destroyed and lays waste the settlement of the land."

 In a different context, the Netziv speaks of the ramifications of division among Bnei Yisrael, which leads from causeless hatred to murder:

In order to separate completely from one another, the way that Avraham separated from Lot... this is as terrible a prospect as that of the sword for the health and continued existence of the nation.  For at the time when we dwelt in the holy land, it was because of us that the land was darkened and the Temple was destroyed and Israel was exiled, because of the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  In addition, because of causeless hatred, much blood was spilled with no justification.  When one Pharisee would see another acting improperly in some matter, even though the latter wasn't a Sadducee at all but rather a Pharisee who was simply committing some transgression, nevertheless as a result of causeless hatred the former would assume that he was a Sadducee and deserving of death, and as a result much blood was spilled supposedly with Divine approval and for the sake of the mitzva, but they were mistaken...  And it is not inconceivable that something similar could occur, God forbid, in our days, when according to a certain way in which a pious person may look at things, it would appear that a certain other person is not acting according to his accepted view of Divine service, and he could judge him as being a heretic and distance himself from him, and they would begin persecuting one another supposedly with Divine approval, with their false understanding, God forbid, and the entire nation of God could, heaven forfend, be destroyed.

 Unfortunately, our society contains a trend which leans towards aggressiveness as a worldview.  Midrash Tehillim (Mizmor 95) teaches:

"For He is our God and we are the nation of His pasture, the flock of His hand" - When are we "His nation?"  At the time when we are "the flock of His pasture," as it is written (Yehezkel 34:31), "And I shall give My flock, the flock of My pasture."  But when we are lions, then He hates us, as it is written (Yirmiyahu 12:8), "My inheritance has become like a lion in the forest, therefore I have come to hate it."

The ideal is to be "sheep" and not, God forbid, lions towards one another.

 The theme of the day is "Sing to Him, praise Him, speak of all His wonders."  That is our obligation on this day.  It is a day of hope, a day of security.  Let us continue to serve Him out of brotherly love; let us be like sheep and not like lions.  May God protect us and all of Am Yisrael, and may we merit complete redemption speedily in our days.


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