The Secret of Israel’s Eternity

This is the second part of a 2-part article. The first part, “King Solomon and the Eternity of Israel” should be read first. It is located at


You have deprived the Jews of air,
they have thus been preserved from rottenness ;
you have strewn the salt of hatred into their hearts,
their hearts have thus been kept fresh.
You have imprisoned them for the whole long winter in a cellar,
and stopped up the cellar door with dung ;
but you, exposed to the frost, were half frozen to death.”
                                                      Ludwig Borne (1786-1837)

– as quoted from the historian Heinrich Graetz in his monumental  History of the Jews (Volume 5) Chapter  XIV, pages 539-540.

(View at: )

Graetz says of Borne: ” …Borne despised the Jews of his time, and spoke of them as if he were their arch-enemy” – but despite this, Borne (who was Jewish) seems to have captured the secret of the Eternity of Israel.

However, to delve more deeply into such a cosmic subject, we need to view authentic  Toranic sources. And to define our targets of interest.

What exactly are we looking for?

[Note: where we give years in BCE or CE terms, the absolute Jewish year follows in brackets.]

The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia says that Bnei Yisrael – “the Children of Israel” crossed the Jordan into the Land of Israel in the year  1273 BCE (2488). Assuming the destruction of the Second Temple and start of the long exile in 69 CE (3829), and subtracting 70 years of exile after the destruction of the First Temple,  we find that the People of Israel lived in the Land of Israel – Eretz Yisrael – for 1271 years. If we now add 100 years or so of the current Zionist Renaissance, then Am Yisrael has lived in its land for 1371 years, while it has been in exile for roughly 2,000 years. [I haven’t delved too deeply into the accuracy of the above numbers, but in principle they correctly portray the situation.]

We therefore examine the behaviour and survival of Am Yisrael in exile for two reasons:

(1) This was the longest period of its existance, and
(2) Survival in exile requires much more effort than survival in one’s own land, owing to all the external forces acting against it –  both hostile and friendly – anti-Semitism and assimilation.

What was the reason for, and the purpose of the exile?

A number of reasons and purposes have been given.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, in his book “Orot” (“Lights”) that has become the “flagship” of his modern Zionistic philosophy, contradicts the generally assumed understanding that the two Temples were destroyed because Am Yisrael sinned twice.

Rav Kook explains that when Am Yisrael sinned for the first time, and the First Temple was destroyed, it was then decreed that Am Yisrael would go into exile for two millenia. The reason being, says HaRav Kook, that Am Yisrael had become at least partially corrupt at the private, personal level, and had it maintained itself as a State, the corruption would have spread to the national levels. So the State was to be disbanded, Judaism would descend or revert to the individual level where it would correct itself at these levels. The individual level means no State, no army, courts of law, or any other of the components of a state.

However, it would have been impossible to send Am Yisrael into a 2 thousand year exile  starting from the year 423 BCE (3338) – at that time the nation did not possess the tools, properties and capabilities that would ensure its long-term survival as a nation-in-exile. The Second Temple was thus built and served as a preparation for the long exile. It was at the time of the Second Temple that the Oral Law was written; this was the Mishna, which would be followed by the Gemara (Talmud), and would later – in exile – evolve thru the Gaonim, Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim. Thus intense Judaic legal activity and creativity would accompany Am Yisrael thru its long exile, its foundations having been laid during the period of the preparatory Second Temple.

We will return further on for additional commentary by HaRav Kook.

From “Orot” (“Lights”) we now move to “Or” (“Light”). The Or HaChayim (“the Light of Life”).

From Wikipedia – Chaim ibn Attar:
Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar also known as the Ohr ha-Chaim after his popular commentary on the Pentateuch, was a Talmudist and kabbalist; born at Mequenez, Morocco, in 1696. He was one of the most prominent rabbis in Morocco. In 1733 he decided to leave his native country and settle in the Land of Israel; died in Jerusalem July 7, 1743.

(I have translated his words freely, and not literally, so that they will be more understandable. The same will be true for other translations in this post.)

Numbers Chapter 24, verse 23:
He took up his parable and said, Alas! Who can survive these things from God?”

On this verse comments the Or HaChayim as follows:
The reason for Israel’s exiles is to identify and gather the sparks of holiness that are to be found amongst the dwellers of the lands of exiles. And this is hinted at in Ecclesiastes 8,9 where it is written:
“All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another  to his own hurt.”

“To his own hurt”, says the Or HaChayim, “refers to the idol-worshipping oppressor who is ruling over another man, for the good part of the oppressor is taken by the oppressed, and the bad part of the opressed is transfered to the oppressor; and we have already said many times that absence of the good part of a person is his death, for it is the good part that maintains him in life, and the bad part is called “death”.

For wherever G-d places Israel, there they will remove from the residents all the sparks of holiness which are keeping them alive.”

[End of Or HaChayim’s commentary]

We emphasize here that the above refers specifically to oppressors of Israel.

The same idea is expressed in the book “Zidkat HaZadik ” by Rabbi Zadok of Lublin.

From Wikipedia: Zadok HaKohen

“He was born into a Lithuanian Rabbinic family and then became a follower of the Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica … He is a classic example of a Litvish Jew turned Chasidic … In 1888, Zadok Hakohen agreed to take over the leadership of the Hasidim … Rabbi Zadok was a prolific writer in all areas of Judaism, halakhah, Hasidut, Kabbalah, angelology, ethics; he also wrote scholarly essays on astronomy, geometry, and algebra.

In article 256 of his book, pages 220-221, he says:
“Just as every nation has its own specific evil, so also does it possess a spark of holiness which is its force of life. And the exile (of Am Yisrael) is about this – to absorb the goodness (the sparks of holiness)  for Israel, as it is written [in the wisdom of mysticism] that when (Am Yisrael is) in exile abundance goes to the nations of the world, and (from them) Israel absorbs the essence.”

[End of Rabbi Zadokof Lublin’s commentary]

I  add here a commentary I read many years ago and unfortunately cannot now find the source.
Exodus 12, 41:

 “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.”

The commentary said that “all the hosts of the Lord” (which would have been better translated as “all the armies of the Lord”) refers to all the camps of holiness that existed in Egypt. And with the exit of all the “sparks of holiness”, what we have above termed “the good part”, Egypt collapsed.

Returning to HaRav Kook, we now hear an explanation of our survival in exile that is based on a physical example.

In his commentary on the siddur (prayer book) “Olat Rei’yah” vol 1 pages 230-231, HaRav Kook speaks of the physical problem of Perpetua Mobile – Perpetual Motion.

There,  Rabbi Kook says (in my free translation):

“Perpetual Motion could only become possible if all matters opposing the motion (such as friction with the air) that tend naturally to slow down the motion, could be ‘harnessed’ in such a manner as to add strength to the motion.

The qualities and character traits found amongst the nations, which have subdued and oppressed Israel, have been impressed upon Israel by them; these qualities and traits must serve holiness and perfection, such as bravery and revenge in the right places, and are extracted by Israel from the nations around it, thus honing Israel to general perfection.

Thus Israel achieves eternity by drawing strength from that which will oppose it, (enabling it to survive Babylon and other oppressing nations).”

I would clarify Rabbi Kook’s words by saying that each nation has a particular quality. For example, the British are polite, Americans generous, the Swiss precise, the Scots thrifty, the Germans – let’s not talk about them …

Israel amongst the nations thus absorbs these qualities whilst exiled amongst them, and will eventually become a nation possessing all the qualities that are spread around the world. (Elsewhere, Rabbi Kook says that G-d did a kindness with the world, by not concentrating all the national qualities and characteristics, as well as geological and geographic richness, all in one nation and in one land).

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