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The Time for Monarchy in Israel

  • Harav Yehuda Amital



Parashat Vayetze

Sicha of Harav Rav Yehuda Amital shlit”a


The Time for Monarchy in Israel

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Our parasha tells us about Yaakov’s dream:


And he dreamed, and behold – a ladder stood upon the ground and the top of it reached to the heaven, and behold – angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Bereishit 28:12)


The Midrash Tanchuma explains:


Rabbi Berakhia said in the name of Rabbi Chelbo and Rabbi Shimon ben Yosina: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Yaakov the angel of Babylon ascending and descending, and of Medea ascending and descending, and of Greece ascending and descending, and of Edom ascending and descending.

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Yaakov: “Yaakov, why do you not ascend?”

At that moment Yaakov was afraid. He said, “Just as these (angels) experience descent, so I too shall experience descent!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, told him: “If you ascend, you will not descend.” But he did not believe and did not ascend.


Rabbi Shimon ben Yosina expounded [on the words], “Despite all this they sinned further and did not believe in His wonders” (Tehillim 78:32) – the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “Had you ascended and believed, you would never have descended. However, since you did not believe, your descendants will be subjugated to four kingdoms in this world, through taxes and dues and levies.”

Yaakov said to Him: “Will this go on forever?”

God said to him, “Do not fear, My servant Yaakov; do not be afraid, O Israel, for behold – I shall redeem you from afar and your descendants from the land of their captivity” (Yirmiyahu 46:27).


This midrash seems very strange. Is it possible that Yaakov doubted that he would be safe and all would be well with him if he obeyed God’s command and ascended the ladder? It was Yaakov himself who instituted the evening prayer, bequeathing the lesson that we must speak not only “Your praises in the morning,” when all is brightly illuminated, but also “Your faith at night”: we must have faith and pray to God even when the reality around us is dusky and full of shadows.


Actually, this is not the only time that we encounter the doubts and fears that dwell in Yaakov’s heart. Further on God promises him, “Behold, I am with you and I shall protect you wherever you go, and I shall bring you back to this land, for I shall not forsake you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you” (28:15). Nevertheless, immediately after this, Yaakov vows: “If God will be with me and protect me on this path that I take, and grant me bread to eat and a garment to wear, and I return safely to my father’s house, and [or ‘then’] the Lord will be my God” (28:20-21). Why does Yaakov make such a vow right after God makes His explicit promise? Does he not believe that things will turn out as God has spoken?


The midrash, in attempting to resolve the difficulty represented by Yaakov’s vow, cites an opinion maintaining that Yaakov utters these words prior to God’s promise (based on the assumption that the Torah does not necessarily follow chronological order):


Rabbi Abahu and Rabbi Yonatan [disagreed]. One maintained that the parasha is disjointed; the other insisted that it follows chronological order.

The one who believes that the parasha is disjointed maintains this position because God had already promised him, “Behold, I am with you,” and here Yaakov says, “If God will be with me” – how could this be?! (Bereishit Rabba, 70)


However, even if we accept that the order of the parasha is disjointed, we still have a problem with Yaakov’s promise. In parashat Vayishlach we read that “Yaakov feared greatly and he was distressed” (32:8) prior to his encounter with Esav, despite the fact that this encounter unquestionably took place after God’s promise to protect him, in his dream of the ladder.  Armed with a divine promise, why did he fear?


The Gemara (Berakhot 4a) wonders at Yaakov’s anxiety prior to his meeting with Esav, and explains that he feared “lest sin cause [the promise to be revoked].”  According to the Gemara, Yaakov had full and complete faith in God and His promises; what concerned him was his knowledge of his own failings. Familiar as he was with man’s failings and inclinations, he feared that his sins would cause God to retract His promises.


Perhaps the same explanation may be applied to the difficulties that we raised above.  After the encounter with Esav, Yaakov tells him:


Let my master proceed before his servant, and I shall continue slowly, at the pace of the cattle that are before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my master at Se’ir. (33:14)


Chazal teach that Yaakov here relinquished his own honor and allowed Esav to occupy the monarchy until the kings of Israel would ascend the stage of history. Indeed, we know that the kingdom of Esav did exist many years prior to the establishment of the Israelite kingdom in Israel: “These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before a king reigned over Benei Yisrael” (36:31).


However, although Esav is quick to establish his monarchy, its days are numbered. Yaakov recognizes the importance of kingship, but he understands that mortal kingship can meet with obstacles and difficulties, and can ultimately collapse: this is what could be “caused by sin”. Therefore, he resists establishing his monarchy too early, before the conditions are ripe. Yaakov accepts that Am Yisrael will go down to Egypt and be subservient to four kingdoms; at all costs he does not want to “ascend the ladder” and establish a monarchy before it is time.


It is for this reason that Yaakov refrains from ascending the ladder, despite Divine encouragement. He is fearful lest future sins cause the monarchy that will arise to be unworthy. In other words, he fears that if he ascends too early, he will fall – just like the other ascending powers which he saw in his dream.


The midrash nevertheless concludes on a positive note. As we have seen, God promises Yaakov that the Israelite monarchy will take time to arise, but when it does, it will not suffer any descent.


Rav Kook also spoke about the fear of an Israelite monarchy that was not worthy, and he stresses the need to avoid “hastening the redemption”:


We have taken our leave of world politics out of necessity that includes inner desire, until such happy time when it will be possible to maintain a kingdom without evil and barbarism. This is the time that we hope for… but the delay is a necessary one. Our souls are sickened by the frightful sins of a governments during evil times… “I pray you, let my master proceed before his servant” – it is not good for Yaakov to involve himself in governing so long as it has to be full of bloodshed, and demands an aptitude for evil. We received only the foundation [of the aptitude for government], as necessary for founding the nation, and when the sapling grew, we were ousted from ruling; we were scattered amongst the nations, sown in the depths of the earth, until the coming of the time of the nightingale, and the sound of the turtle-dove will be heard in our land. (Orot Ha-Milchama, 3)


A Jewish state can be a wonderful development, but we must not forget that human government can also be evil and corrupt if it is established before the proper time.  Let us ensure that our renewed State of Israel be worthy of its name.


(This sicha was delivered on Shabbat Parashat Vayetze 5752 [1991].)