Exile. Galut. These words leave a vile taste in our mouths when spoken and a never ending ache in our hearts. A violent expulsion from our land and the destruction of our Holy Temple two thousand years ago has left emotional scars that can be felt today. Two thousand years of wandering from place to place trying to find a home, but never really fitting in. We are different. We know it. The Gentiles know it. We try to fit in. We don’t want to be driven out any more. Just let us rest. Please don’t pay any attention to us. But, they do. They stare. They mock. They make up horrible stories about us. Then, they give us ultimatums: Leave or be killed. Where can we go? We live here now. We speak the language, dress like our Gentile neighbors and even serve in their army. It doesn’t matter. The pogroms begin. They burn down our homes, attack our women and slaughter us in our villages. When will the exile end?!
There was a man who was an assimilated Jew; non-religious, refined, educated and culturally European. I recently went on a field trip with my son and his class to learn more about this man. His name was Theodore Herzl. His name sparks controversy and intense arguments from both sides. He traveled incessantly and spent all of his money trying to meet with world leaders to try to secure a place in Israel, then called Palestine, the ancestral homeland of his Jewish people. The Dreyfus Affair in December 1894 in France (where Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason) pushed Herzl over the edge. Eventually, after trials and imprisonment, Alfred Dreyfus was cleared of all charges and reinstated as a major into the French army, but this whole issue tripped a switch inside the soul of Herzl. He couldn’t bear to see his own people suffer simply because they were Jewish. In August 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, the First World Zionist Congress was conducted. The rest is history.
A fire had been lit in his soul that he couldn’t extinguish. When all the doors seemed to be closing, and his people were dying in pogroms in Eastern Europe, he was offered by the British government to let the Jews settle in Uganda instead of Palestine. Out of desperation to secure a safe place for his people, Herzl accepted the offer, and presented this option at the Sixth World Zionist Congress in 1903 as a temporary refuge for Russian Jews who were suffering intense persecution. It was never Herzl’s intention to have the Jews settle permanently in Uganda, but only as an emergency safe haven until Palestine could be secured and settled. He just wanted to get his people to safety, and assured the World Zionist Congress of this by quoting Psalm 137:5: “If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.” Herzl died in 1904 after an illness. The Uganda Project was rejected by the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905.
Why bother you with all of these details? I want to prove a point that we can’t judge whom Gd decides to use for His purposes. Theodor Herzl wasn’t alone. There were others who were driven, even obsessed by the desire to have a safe place in the ancestral homeland of Israel. They have their lives, so that we, as a people, would have a place to come home. Our homeland. I read that it is the intrinsic nature of every Jewish soul (regardless of religious status) to love Gd, Israel, and the Jewish people. THIS IS HOLINESS.
Another example is Ben Yehuda. Gd lit a fire in his soul and gave him the unique and holy mission to resurrect the Hebrew language. Hebrew was only being used in religious contexts, but not as a living, modern language. He worked tirelessly, and gave his life to bring Hebrew back to the land of the living.
We read a lot about revealed good and concealed good. In fact, it’s very cool and popular to bless someone that they should see and receive only revealed good. What does that mean? Everything that happens in this world is for the good, but many times it appears to be bad. This is because the good is hidden and has yet to be revealed. Take the book of Esther. The name of Gd is not mentioned one time. We are told it is because He was hidden; the good was concealed. I believe this is how the beginning of the State of Israel was. The national anthem of Israel, Hatikva (The Hope) doesn’t mention the name of Gd one time. This is because it is hidden. If you read the words carefully, you can see Gd and His will. Many people are waiting for a huge, open miracle to rescue our people from the clutches of the exile, but really, He already has. Maybe it’s not the way that many people imagined it would be, but it is still very much a miracle. Look closely and you’ll see the miraculous good in every corner of our Land. Take time every day to look for the concealed good and work to reveal it to the world around you.
Two thousand years of the physical exile have come to a close. Jews from all over the world are flooding the gates of Israel to come home. This year marks sixty-eight years of statehood for Israel. Does this mean their work is done? No. They laid the foundation for us to finish the job. We have much more work ahead of us. We have the final stage of the Redemption to usher in that will complete the mission, but we must stop and realize and show gratitude to those founding fathers who listened to the still small voice of Gd as He whispered to their souls: “Help your people. Help My people. It’s time to bring My people home.”
Since that time, there have been countless number of people who have given and continue to give every part of themselves, including their lives to build this land, defend our people and reclaim our Gd given homeland. Theirs was and is a very holy work.
So next time you walk along the streets or travel around our homeland of Israel, remember those who gave every fiber of their being for you and your children. Every Jew in the world can finally come home if they desire. No one is trapped in physical exile. The Land of Israel is waiting with open arms to embrace her lost children and welcome them home. Israel’s Independence Day/Yom Ha’atzmaut is an open miracle.
Our nation is still in a process of becoming what Gd has intended for us to be. The Geula is a process. We must continue working and moving forward until our job is completed. It is our responsibility to finish the job, and fulfill our mission of being “A light unto the nations.”
Now, let’s continue this miracle and move on to the next stage.