Therefore God’s Shechina will be revealed “קִמְעָא קִמְעָא“ slowly, in stages. The commentator “Nachlat Binyamin” quoted from the Jerusalem Talmud that the revelation will be like the very first rays of light at dawn.
The first signs of God’s presence contain a built-in test of faith
Some might feel that what the Midrash lists as a sign of the Shechina’s returning is suspiciously close to David Ben-Gurion’s famous statement that Israel was going to “make the desert bloom.”
בִּתְחִלָּה מֵשִׁישׁ אֶת הַמִּדְבָּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: יְשֻׂשׂוּם מִדְבָּר וְצִיָּה.
“At the beginning, He makes the desert glad, “The wilderness and the arid land shall be glad.” (Isaiah: 35:1)
There is, however, one major difference. According to the Commentator, Be’er Ha’amarim, every manifestation of God’s Shechina comes with a test: This, in fact, is another reason for the slow reveal. We are being tested whether we can perceive, process, and recognize that we are truly beholding the presence of God. For example, will the desert blooming be seen as a miracle of God or attributed solely to the industriousness of the early pioneers?
The land waited for us
Perhaps the “greening of the desert” was chosen not just because it is truly miraculous. Rather because it highlights the fact that the land of Israel waited for our return. It did not bloom for anyone else. In Parshat Bechukotai, the Torah provides dire warnings about our tumultuous exile but also a promise that the land will wait for us:
כׇּל־יְמֵ֥י הׇשַּׁמָּ֖ה תִּשְׁבֹּ֑ת אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹֽא־שָׁבְתָ֛ה בְּשַׁבְּתֹתֵיכֶ֖ם בְּשִׁבְתְּכֶ֥ם עָלֶֽיהָ׃
“Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your (Shemita) Sabbatical years while you were dwelling upon it.” (Vayikra 26:35)
Indeed, the Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Ottomans failed miserably in their efforts to settle the land of Israel. Even as recently as around 150 years ago, Mark Twain described his visit to Palestine this way: “It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land…Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes…desolate and unlovely.”
Jewish unity as a critical criteria
The commentator, Nachalat Binyamin, quotes the Midrash (Tanchuma in Netsavim) that the final redemption cannot come unless all the Jews are united. Furthermore, he sees the verses in Isaiah describing the natural phenomena at the end of days to be metaphors representing a time when, among other things, Torah scholars are respected.
Parshat Devorim is always read before Tisha Ba’av which commemorates the tragic lack of unity, derision of Torah scholars and it certainly highlights our inability to see God’s presence. After all, we had the Beit Hamikdash yet we succumbed to such horrific internal strife that it was torn away from us.
Are we staring at the Shechina and we don’t even know it?
There is an often quoted statistic that more Torah is being learned in Israel today than in any time in history. Have we truly processed that? Do we fully perceive the fact that we have sovereignty in a Jewish country for the first time in 2000 years? If not, then perhaps we have flunked the test inherent in the slow unfolding of God’s manifestation on Earth. Perhaps It has started but we don’t see it.
Perhaps the manifestation of the Shechina could be taking nontraditional and unimagined forms. Like Israel’s highly disproportionate contributions to technology and biotechnology. This would be a perfect disguise for God’s manifestation of His presence among the Jewish People. Some Jews might miss it because they attribute Israel’s success to their own genius and ingenuity. Other Jews might miss it because they could never imagine that the Shechina could manifest itself as a device to help paraplegics walk or the ability to produce water from thin air.
But what if it did?