I believe that the story of the return of the Jews to Israel in our time is not only one of the greatest ongoing miracles of the modern era, but indeed of all of Jewish and human history.
Greater in Three Ways
In some ways, the miracle of the Ingathering of the Exiles – קיבוץ גלויות – is greater than the greatest of miracles – יציאת מצרים – the Exodus from Egypt. It is true that the 10 Plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, and the Revelation at Sinai are unprecedented miracles in terms of transcending the laws of nature. Nothing compares. Nevertheless, the Ingathering of the Exiles transcends the laws of history in unparalleled, extraordinary fashion. Nothing compares.
Here’s why. The Ingathering of the Exiles in our times is greater than that of יציאת מצרים in three ways: 1. the length of exile 2. geographic dispersion and 3. the vast cultural linguistic differences among the returnees.
Firstly, the Exodus came after 210 years whereas the return to modern Israel happened after almost 2,000 years of exile – almost 10 times longer.
Secondly, all of the Jewish people were in one country, Egypt, whereas in the modern era Jews came from well over 100 countries, having been scattered literally to all four corners of the Earth. And from the most distant places they have returned and continue to return. From Buenos Aires and Baghdad, Washington and Wellington, Manchester and Melbourne, Cape Town and Cochin, Moscow and Minneapolis, Toronto and Tehran, Aleppo and Addis Ababa and Fez and Far Rockaway.
Thirdly and profoundly, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayot, one of the great Galician rabbinic leaders in the early 19th century, points out a critical difference relating to the cultural linguistic milieu (Maharatz Chayot, Section 1, p. 74). In Egypt, the Children of Israel were confined to both to a ghetto in Goshen and to a life of segregation and slavery. They could neither assimilate nor integrate into Egyptian society. Our Sages point out that they maintained their names, their language and their dress code. They spoke Hebrew to each other and were culturally similar, distinct from the Egyptians.
On the other hand, in the Ingathering of the Exiles, the Jews spoke as many as 80 different languages! They were often unable to understand one another, and many had been assimilated or integrated into the cultural and ethnic environments of their host nations. As Rav Chayot suggests, it would require a separate remarkable miracle to unite so many culturally, linguistically disparate people into one functional society. Yet this is exactly what has happened in modern day Israel.
A Prophetic Promise
In truth, this drama is not just a modern saga but rather a chapter in a much bigger story, the plot of which was mapped out thousands of years ago.
Perhaps more than anything else, our Prophets identified the return from Exile to Eretz Yisrael – an almost inconceivable phenomenon – as the single most salient and significant sign of the era of Redemption in all of Biblical literature. The Ingathering of the Exiles appears in hundreds of prophecies and scores of prayers as a distinct indication of the future messianic era.
One such example is in the Book of Isaiah, in what would become the source of the heartfelt prayer about the Ingathering mentioned thrice daily in the Amidah, the silent prayer (Isaiah 11:11-12):
וְהָיָ֣ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יוֹסִ֨יף ה’ שֵׁנִית֙ יָד֔וֹ לִקְנ֖וֹת אֶת־שְׁאָ֣ר עַמּ֑וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִשָּׁאֵר֩ מֵֽאַשּׁ֨וּר וּמִמִּצְרַ֜יִם וּמִפַּתְר֣וֹס וּמִכּ֗וּשׁ וּמֵֽעֵילָ֚ם וּמִשִּׁנְעָר֙ וּמֵ֣חֲמָ֔ת וּמֵֽאִיֵּ֖י הַיָּֽם:וְנָשָֹ֤א נֵס֙ לַגּוֹיִ֔ם וְאָסַ֖ף נִדְחֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּנְפֻצ֚וֹת יְהוּדָה֙ יְקַבֵּ֔ץ מֵֽאַרְבַּ֖ע כַּנְפ֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ:
“And it shall come to pass that on that day, the L-rd shall continue to apply His hand a second time to acquire the rest of His people, that will remain from Assyria and from Egypt and from Pathros and from Cush and from Elam and from Sumeria and from Hamat and from the islands of the sea. And He shall raise a banner to the nations, and He shall gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah He shall gather from the four corners of the Earth.”
Isaiah foretold that dispersed, forgotten and forlorn Jews all over the world would eventually return home. Already in Megillat Esther we read of the Jews scattered among the 127 countries of Achashverosh’s sprawling empire. The Prophets knew these Jews would somehow defy seemingly immutable laws of history and somehow survive, return and thrive.
Indeed, the Prophet Jeremiah prophesied that the return of the exiles and the future Redemption will be greater than the Exodus from Egypt (Jeremiah 23:7-8):
לָכֵן הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם ה’ וְלֹא יֹאמְרוּ עוֹד חַי ה’ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָה אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. כִּי אִם חַי ה’ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָה וַאֲשֶׁר הֵבִיא אֶת זֶרַע בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ צָפוֹנָה וּמִכֹּל הָאֲרָצוֹת אֲשֶׁר הִדַּחְתִּים שָׁם וְיָשְׁבוּ עַל אַדְמָתָם.
“Therefore, behold days are coming, says the L-rd, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the L-rd lives, Who brought up the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As the L-rd lives, Who brought up and Who brought the seed of the House of Israel from the northland and from all the lands where I have driven them, and they shall dwell on their Land.”
The Watershed Moment
What was the tipping point in time which opened the gates of a mass return of Jews to the land as foretold by the prophets? Without a doubt, the greatest watershed moment was the 5th of Iyar, May 14th, 1948, the day of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.
The establishment of the State resulted in the following astonishing reality. For the first time since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. – and certainly since the fall of Beitar marking the end of the Bar Kochba rebellion – Jews could return to Eretz Yisrael with no restrictions imposed on them by a ruling power. Every regime that had ruled the Land, from the Romans through to the British Mandate, had limited Jewish immigration, barring Jews in one way or another from returning to the Land of their ancestors.
But all changed in May 1948. Since then, over the last 71 years, without even a day’s exception, the immigration gates have been open wide to Jews everywhere. And indeed they have returned. Not in their hundreds or even thousands, but in their millions… over 3 million from every corner of the globe!
In his book, “Israel,” Daniel Gordis relates the following regarding the extraordinary transformation in Israel’s population immediately after the declaration of the State:
“Jews began to migrate to the newly created State in unprecedented numbers. Between independence on May 14, 1948 and the end of 1951, no less than 686,739 Jews arrived in Israel. They hailed from 70 different countries and constituted, relative to the size of the population they were joining, the largest single migration of the 20th century. It was, by any measure, one of most extraordinary absorptions of immigrants in modern history” (p. 198).
Indeed, millions have returned and tens of thousands continue to return every year. Today, Israel amazingly has the largest Jewish community in the world, with almost half of all Jews living in the Holy Land. This is particularly striking when one compares the change in Israel’s population to that of Diaspora Jewry. Whereas Israel’s population has grown tenfold over the last 71 years, Diaspora Jewry has decreased from around 10.5 million to 7.7 million over the same period.
On this, the first anniversary of our HaMizrachi publication, we deeply appreciate the remarkable reality of Israel. With all of its many challenges, Israel is both a phenomenal fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and a dramatic leap forward in the epic story of Jewish and human history.
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A version of this article appears in Mizrachi’s HaMizrachi global publication for Yom HaAtzmaut.