Rabbi Mendel Kessin: End of the American Exile

This edited transcription is composed in honor of the second yahrzeit of my mother, Devorah bat Shoshana, 22nd of Tammuz. The merit of this transcription which might elevate the spirituality of a reader should elevate my mother’s neshama in Gan Eden.

The rabbi begins his lecture with basic questions in order to erect a foundation of his analysis upon the firm ground of the Divine Agenda. The topic is the American exile which is galus—exile, the final exile. How will it end?

The questions are asked in the context of two catastrophic events: the Covid-19 pandemic that has “erased or halted achievements of Trump” and the eruption of chaos and insurrection which has given power and recognition to the liberal Democrats and their allies, ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter, etc.

Question #1: Why would G-d do this now and not after Trump’s re-election? Why create an atmosphere which could foster doubt as to Trump’s electibility?

Question #2: What is the significance of America as the last exile?

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin—the greatest student of the Vilna Gaon—said that America is the last galus, “the last stop.” From this we conclude that America is, in fact, an exile and that it is the last one. The Redemption will happen once this exile ends. In order to answer these questions, the rabbi first explains what “galus” means. Despite what many think, it is far more profound than the popular notion that it is about sociopolitical and/or economic domination. In order to understand the task of man and how galus impedes it, we have to review the primordial story.

The Primordial Story: The Tasks of Man

Primordial Adam was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam’s task was merely to avoid evil, to avoid going against the Will of G-d. In the form of the snake, “the mouthpiece of the Satan,” Adam is told he can rival the power of G-d if he eats from the tree. Had Adam resisted the snake and obeyed G-d, “hispashtus kedusha—proliferaton of holiness would have occurred….and ushered in the messianic era” with Adam as messiah, had he “held out” until Friday evening. Prior to Adam’s rebellion, the Satan had no power over the physicality of Adam, over his body, due to Adam’s physical nature existing in a dimension beyond the Satan’s power to affect it. At that stage, man’s interaction with the Satan was one in which he could realize his potential fully as the Satan had no influence because primordial Adam was not, essentially, physical. Of course, that changed.

Now we enter a second stage when “Adam fell from his lofty level in the Garden into a different dimension of reality” and, as a predominantly physical being, became subject to the defilement of physicality, the zeomah—disintegration, entropy over which the Satan had command. Man became mortal, and physicality itself became subject to defilement and dissolution. Existence entered a different dimension called olam asiyah, world of action. In this fallen state, the task is no longer was to avoid temptation but to “deal with the zoamah.” The substance of defilement and disintegration was no longer outside man but inside him.

“Dealing with the zoamah,” the task at this second stage,  is to take back the holy energy from the Satan which he gets from our sins. In so doing, the Satan is weakened and the holy energy he gleaned from our sins is wrested from him and returned to the side of holiness. In this stage, man’s task is to engage in kefias ha’ra—subduing evil to and restoring holiness to serve the good thereby activating his own potential and enjoying the realization of it. If mankind can avoid “being ensnared in the advice of the Satan,” avoiding Satanic urges, man’s potential can be actualized. This is the second interaction man has with the Satan.

But “now, we carry the snake around in our minds, in our psyches.” With this, we begin to see the concept of galus, a state when a person must now, more than ever, “contend with enormous obstacles and forces to try to achieve some aspect of holiness.” In this stage of exile, man struggles, and his struggles are impeded greatly and he cannot be all he can be. Exile is not merely that we are “not in our place, are not in Eretz Yisrael,” not able to sacrifice in the Holy Temple, not able to have the presence of the Shekhina—Divine Presence. This third interaction with the Satan is fraught with, and defined by, struggle often perceived as futile or unproductive. Mankind is frustrated by his disability to achieve his full potential.

Galus: What is it?

“The concept of galus is much worse; we are exiled from ourselves.” We struggle and achieve so little. Our task is stymied constantly. When we consider the students of Hillel who were so great that the Divine spirit could have rested upon them, as it did Joshua who suspended the progress of the sun because he had the consciousness of Moses, we sense the tragic limitations of gifts denied that generation.  The problem of this lack “will be solved in the messianic era when every Jew will be able to access holiness with incredible ease.” Zoamah will have been destroyed.

Now that we understand the true nature of exile, the rabbi enumerates the eight nations that comprised exile. The exiles of the ancient world were:

1 Egypt
2 Babylon
3 Persia
4 Greece
5 Edom/Rome/Christianity/Western Civilization

The more recent are:

6 Ishmael/Islam
7 Amalek
8 Eirev Rav (Jews in positions of authority or influence who seek to supplant the authentic covenant with mere culture)

The primary four which occurred after the giving of the Torah and the emergence of nationhood (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) are referred to in the Torah in Genesis as four aspects of the states of Creation. In the description of its formation, the verse relates that the earth was “tohu”—chaotic, “vohu” –astonishingly empty, “v’choshech al pnei tehom”with darkness upon the surface of the deep. Exegesis explains that this alludes to the four exiles; “tohu” refers to the exile in Babylon, “vohu” refers to the exile in Persia, “choshech” refers to the exile in Greece, and “tehom” refers to the exile of Rome/Edom.

How each exile is associated with each term of formation is described in greater depth in another lecture but, for example, Babylon was a mixture of good and evil in one environment and so embodied chaos. It had spirituality but in the form of idol worship. Persia was devoid of spirituality so it was “empty.” Greece, which illuminated the world with new sciences and philosophies, is characterized, ironically, as “darkness” because, for all of their advancements, they were bereft of spirituality and their rational philosophy was an attempt to replace spirituality with secular, rational systems and eradicate the last vestiges of spirituality from the Jews. Rome was the manifestation of Greece’s systems spread far and wide becoming the dominant global culture.

The exile of Rome, of Western Civilization, is rooted in Edom, Esav. It has been the most enduring and treacherous. The rabbi has described many, many times in previous lectures, how Western Civilization has reflected the three dominant characteristics of Esav: his arrogance, his fraudulence, his hedonism. His arrogance was reflected in Russia, particularly the Soviet Union. His fraudulence is Europe with its pretensions of enlightenment while instigating treachery. The most benevolent of Esav’s faults, his hedonism, is America steeped as it is in pleasure-seeking and materiality.

But Esav has a redeemable side as prophesied to his mother Rivkah when she is told that he will serve his younger brother, Jacob, eventually. The unresolved feud between Esav and Jacob, the repentance that Esav couldn’t quite complete, his failed patriarchy, all these were temporarily reconciled. How and when? Rome’s governor in Tiberias, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who later became emperor, governed during the time of Yehuda Ha’Nasi, better known as “Rebbe.” The treachery of Rome notwithstanding, Marcus Aurelius assisted and supported the Jews, demonstrating acts of repentance on behalf of Esav via his relationship with Rebbe who was a spiritual surrogate for Jacob. This topic is covered in greater depth here:

Marcus Aurelius recognized and acknowledged the value of the Jews and the Torah by, among other things, assisting Rebbe in his endeavor to compile the Mishna. Fearing that the oral tradition might be forgotten when exile seemed inevitable and imminent, Rebbe undertook the mission of convening a conference of the tannaim–rabbinic sages for the purpose of consolidating the various opinions of the oral tradition into one body of law that could be taken into exile, a standardized text — the “Mishnah.”

Antoninus also fostered Torah scholarship through cultivating peace and serenity in occupied Judea. This propitious environment was enhanced by the affectionate and brotherly relationship that developed between Antoninus and Rebbe.

Tov she’b’Esav: The Final Exile

This relationship establishes what the rabbi deems the “tov she’b’Esav”–the good aspect of Esav, We know that Esav attempts to repent upon meeting Jacob enroute to Cana’an from the house of Laban, his father-in-law. For whatever reason, Jacob failed to recognize Esav’s overture when Esav said to him, “Let that which is yours be yours” essentially renouncing all claims to the blessings. Because he tried, G-d would enable him to complete his repentance near the End of Time in the form of the tov she’b’Esav before the messiah comes. It will come by assisting the Jews, his “brother” to complete the tikkun–rectification of Creation. As a result, his reward will be immeasurable.

The rabbi points out that this lecture, being given on the eve of the 17th day of Tammuz, is particularly propitious. Aside from its association with many Jewish catastrophic events, the 17th of Tammuz coincides with the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Why would America “rise” on that date? This is the beginning of the tov she’b’Esav. How is America the embodiment of the benevolent aspect of Edom, of Esav?

First one can contrast it with other Edomic manifestations, with Russia and Europe. Both “slaughtered” the Jews. In contrast, America has been benevolent both to Jews and others in terms of religious freedom. For the Jews, this has meant freedom to study and practice Torah and continue their mission to rectify Creation.

There is another connection between the “rise” of the tov she’b’Esav with that date. Our sages tell us that the messiah will born on the 9th day of the month of Av. “This would seem to mean,” says the rabbi, “that such a day of churban—destruction is to become a day of unbelievable glory” because the Redemption will begin on 9th of Av, the very date of the culmination of the strife begun on the 17th of Tammuz. So, both dates are intimately affiliated with the messianic process, a birth from struggle and destruction to redemption and actualization. That Jews were able to abide in a country like America where they could strive and flourish “is redemptive.” As exiles go, America’s was “gentle.”

Another connection between America’s founding at that time in the mid-18th century can be ascertained by looking at that date on the Creation Calendar and its reckoning with the Creation Clock. King David stated that one day in G-d’s Eyes is as a thousand years in man’s. Based on that proportionality, the 6,000 years of existence of olam ha’ze–this world coincides with the six days of the week. By that calculation, the year 1740 is equivalent to 5500 which, on the Creation Clock, is equivalent to 06:00 Friday morning, “the dawn of the last day of this world.” Only a few decades later, America is founded and the tov she’b’Esav advances from being embodied in one man, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, to being a country, America. Also at that time, other events explicate the diminution of the suffering of Jewish exile: the French Revolution and the growth of democracy in Europe.

Additional evidence for America being the good aspect of Esav, is the Divine Providence with which it has been treated. The rabbi has discussed this and other examples before so he offers but one example here which is, ironically, the Civil War. The destruction America deserved by Divine decree as retribution for engaging in the commerce of slavery was supplanted with a Civil War which, though devastating, enabled America to survive. The war removed America’s culpability for that sin. The rabbi touches too on the prosperity of America which is also evidence for its preferment, of it being the tov—good.

The end of this last, most benign, exile, has been brought about by Jewish observance and service enabled by, and in conjunction with, the good part of Esav. The end of this exile is an expression of the completion of the rectification mission and the ushering in of the messianic era when the interaction between man and the Satan reverts back to what it should have been had Adam not rebelled.

The exile must end, and so must the Jewish presence in America. G-d says that no matter that Jews are at the farthest ends of the heavens, He will gather them and take them to Himself. There is a Divine decree that, at the end of time, the Jews will leave the exile, return to G-d and Israel and be rehabilitated. So how does the American exile end?

Scenarios 1 and 2:

The rabbi offers two possible scenarios: Normally, an exile ended when the environment was rife with anti-Semitism and its attendant threats of violence. The Jews are expelled forcibly or they are compelled to flee. The “classic” is Spain. Could this happen in America, the rabbi asks. Yes.

In reviewing the options between a Biden presidency vs. a Trump re-election, a Biden victory would mean that the unrest we’ve been seeing, the incitement of  racial divide, the continuing incentivization of forces bent on destroying Trump’s America, the anti-Semitism, all could be further stimulated, and Jews would have to flee. Biden’s “cognitive challenge” suggests that those currently orchestrating and fomenting unrest would be the actual power brokers and Biden would be a mere “puppet.” Also, the pandemic’s having compromised so much of Trump’s success would seem to threaten a Trump victory. Could G-d have unleashed the pandemic for the purpose of putting an end to Trump’s job which has been, from a spiritual point of view, to assist the Jewish people? Is Trump’s mission done? Is the final exile terminated in a climate of fear and dread? Does America become the ra she’b’Esav”—the evil of Esav?

The rabbi believes, on the contrary, that a second possibility is more likely, that the pandemic and the resultant unrest has revealed to the “silent majority” of prospective voters, just what the result of Democratic Party leadership would mean: insecurity, crime, lawlessness, economic dysfunction. This exposure would seem to assure the election of Trump.

How will this last exile end? With Egypt as a model, (although that redemption was achishena—hastened in its appointed time, merited through suffering despite not all Jews being saved, as opposed to this redemption which is b’ita—in its appointed time and, therefore, irrevocable with all Jews being saved) Moses, as Mashiach ben Yosef, simply takes them out. Indications are that Mashiach ben Yosef is being “released from whatever impediments tie him down and he will grow to be an awesome spiritual individual…and he is in America.” As the Gemara says, “Messiah stands at the gates of Rome,” meaning he resides in that land which he overthrows. He will, like Moses who grew up in the palace of Pharoah, overthrow the hold that America has had on the Jewish imagination and reveal that light which was invested in him via the yechida—the highest aspect of the soul that is in direct contact with G-d an aspect shared with him from primordial Adam, thereby allowing the entry of the messianic light, the comprehension of G-d’s rulership over all Creation. This light will imbue the Jewish people with a higher consciousness that inspires Jews to return home.

About the Author
Robin is a retired Language Arts high school teacher who taught in the Los Angeles Unified District for 25 years. After retiring in 2010, she hurriedly made aliyah in 2011.