What will be the political situation of the Jewish people before the Redemption?
Jeremiah prophesied (31:5-8):
“For there is a day, the watchers shall call on the mountains of Ephraim; Rise! Let us go up to Zion… For so says the L-rd to Jacob, ‘Sing with joy and shout at the head of the nations, make it heard, praise, and say, “O L-rd, help Your people, the remnant of Israel!”’ Behold I bring them from the north country and gather them from the uttermost ends of the earth, the blind and the lame amongst them, the woman with child and and the one giving birth all together; a great company shall they return there. With weeping will they come, and with supplications will I lead them, I will make them go along brooks of water, on a straight road upon which they will not stumble…”
We will first mention the words of the Malbim, who lived 150 years ago (his commentary to the Book of Daniel was written in 1868, as he mentions on verse 12:11). The Malbim brilliantly analyzes verse 31:6, and concludes that the prophecy is saying the following:
1. Before the final Redemption, the bondage of the Jews in exile will begin to lessen. 2. The Jewish people will lead the world in various fields. 3. Some Jews will be happy with the new situation, and will exult about their leading international status, without feeling the need for the Final Redemption. This part of the people is called in the verse “Jacob”, from the word ekev, which means heel, a low part. But there will be a part of the people who will claim that this status with all of its advantages is not sufficient, and will continue to call to G-d, “Help Your people, the remnant of Israel!” This part of the people is called in the verse by the name “Israel”, denoting rulership and importance.
These are the Malbim’s own words:
“Sing [with] joy and shout at the head of the nations” — in the last days of our exile, the bondage will be removed from them, and they will exult that they will be at the head of the gentiles, and that the gentiles will give them honor and they will lead them instead of being despised and humiliated as they were in the beginning. ‘Jacob’ refers to the masses and the lesser ones among them, and ‘Israel’ to the greater ones. This happiness of exulting for being at the head of the gentiles will only be felt by ‘Jacob’ but not by ‘Israel’, who will want G-d’s Presence to return to Zion. But then, at that time,
“they will make it heard” and will announce publicly
“and they will praise” G-d. The righteous ones will say
“G-d, save Your people, the remnant of Israel!” They want the true Redemption including the Ingathering of the exiles and their return to Zion.
[By the way, the prophet announces that those who want to immigrate will say “Let us get up and go to ‘Zion’.” The Land of Israel is not always referred to as ‘Zion’. Interestingly, we find that the last group of Jews who called for immigration to the Land of Israel were called “Zionists.”
The Talmud relates concerning the character and quality of the Jewish rule during the period when the bondage of exile will lessen, close to the Final Redemption:
“The son of David will not come until the cheap (sleazy) Jewish government comes to an end.” (Sanhedrin 98a)
This means that there will be an independent Jewish government, but it will be a sleazy government. A government whose laws contravene Torah and its commandments.
The Talmud’s words teach that this government will not continue forever. It will change even before the son of David (the Mashiach) comes. (However, it is unclear whether the word “comes to an end” refers to the state, the government, or to the sleazy form of government. Whatever the case will be, a Jewish government will continue, but it will have a positive Torah character. See the commentaries of Rashi and the Maharsha ibid.)
It is worthwhile mentioning in the context of what kind of Jewish government it will be, the angel’s answer to the question, “When will the hidden End be?” in the Book of Daniel:
“And he raised his right hand and his left hand to the heavens, and he swore by the Life of the world, that in the time of [two] times and a half, and when they have finished shattering the strength of the holy people, all these will end.” (Daniel 12:7)
Rashi explains (Sanhedrin 98a):
“When they have finished shattering the strength of the holy people”: when their revival will come to an end (this means that at first, they will have a revival, i.e. they will be free of the yoke of bondage and will have political independence), their power will disperse further, and their courage and beneficence will spread out more (i.e. during the period of their political independence, they will be strong and have the power to conquer and widen their country’s borders — which indeed occurred during the first stage of the State of Israel) and then their heroism will end and they will become decadent (this will be the next stage), and when all this finishes, Mashiach will come.”
The words speak for themselves.
The Ingathering of the Exiles
In the above prophecy (Jer. 31) which deals with the period when Israel’s bondage of exile will end, and it will attain political independence before the Final Redemption, the prophet also prophesied the Ingathering of the Exiles. He mentions that among those who will come will be “the blind and the lame amongst them, the woman with child and the one giving birth all together.”
How did these words sound when they were written, before airplanes, when it was almost impossible for a lame person or a woman who had just given birth, a blind person, or a pregnant woman, to set off on a journey? But the prophet promises in G-d’s Name: “I make them go on a straight road upon which they will not stumble!”
Indeed, in our generation, immigrants to Israel arrive on airplanes, and it makes no difference if they are blind and lame, a woman with a child or one about to give birth. They are all traveling together, and they all arrive on a straight road upon which they will not stumble! They don’t have to climb through holes or scramble over stones — which was the usual situation for wayfarers in those days.
Isaiah prophesied about the Ingathering of Exiles in these words: “Lift up your eyes all around and see, they have all gathered, they have come to you; your sons shall come from afar…” (Isa. 60:4) He goes on to prophesy about the amazement and wonderment which will grip the nations who see the Jewish exiles returning to their land from all over the world. He describes their wonder and amazement in these words:
“Who are these that fly like a cloud and like doves to their cotes?” (Isa. 60:8)
These words are wondrous and astonishing. This was stated much, much before there were planes. Those who lived in previous generations couldn’t understand why those who will be amazed at the Jews’ return to their land, will say that they “fly like a cloud”…
* * *
Since we are mentioning the return of the exiles through air travel, here are our Sages’ words which they wrote two thousand years ago based on another prophecy by Isaiah. It explicitly tells us about future innovative air travel that will not depend on combustion — revealing to us that our generation is still in a primitive phase of air travel. This prophecy relates to the period when Israel will rule the world during the period of the Third Temple. The prophet says in G-d’s Name:
“‘And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from Shabbat to Shabbat, that all flesh shall come to prostrate themselves before Me,’ says the L-rd.” (Isa. 66:23)
The Sages ask (in Pesikta Rabati 1:3) the obvious question:
“Jerusalem will spread over the entire Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel over the entire world but how will they come every new moon and Shabbat from the ends of the world!!”
(I.e., because it says “all flesh”, this means that all mankind will come from all over the world. And since a trip on camels and donkeys takes many months, how can they come every Shabbat and New Moon, return to their homes, and then come to Jerusalem the following Shabbat and New Moon??)
They bring the tradition which they received from their teachers to explain this verse:
“Clouds will come, take them on as passengers in the dawn, and bring them to Jerusalem. They will pray there in the morning, and then will return to their homes.”
The sages are openly discussing a new form of air travel that apparently exceeds the speed of sound, bringing people from the ends of the world to Jerusalem within a few hours. (They will leave early at dawn from the furthest place in the world, and will arrive for the morning prayer in Jerusalem!)
If we follow Maimonides’ method and interpret the verse in a non-miraculous way, then this is a future prophecy about an innovative aeronautical development which will be closer in its operation and performance to a cloud than a plane. The most advanced aeronautical devices today sound obsolete and primitive in comparison! In contrast, plane travel today involves using a combustion engine which is forbidden on Shabbat.
(See the Zera Ephraim’s explanation on the above Psikta. He asks how the travelers will avoid the prohibition of going beyond Shabbat limits, and explains that since people will be flying more than ten handbreadths over the ground, the prohibition doesn’t apply. As the Talmud explains (Eruvin 45b) on the question “Why shouldn’t the water acquire its place to be on Shabbat in the clouds?”: It may be derived from this that the law of Shabbat limits does not apply to air above a height of ten handbreadths.” The Zayit Raanan writes similarly on Yalkut Yeshaya.)
It should be noted that these words were written by our sages more than two thousand years ago, when camel and donkey caravans traveled many months not from the corners of the world, but even for short trips between neighboring countries. Talk about flying a few hours from the ends of the earth to Jerusalem would have been viewed by men of weak faith as a wild fantasy. Our sages were also familiar with the reality of their time. But they knew with certainty that the Torah was divine and everything written in it would unquestionably be fulfilled, even if some things look surprising from a superficial point of view. They didn’t hesitate to speak proudly and boldly about air travel because the verse unequivocally stated that all flesh will come to Jerusalem every Shabbat and then return home.
Notes and Sources
. In contrast, when the Israelites left Egypt and traveled in the desert on their way to the Land of Israel, the Clouds of Glory surrounded them on all sides until the Jewish camp looked from a distance like a block of cloud and smoke (whose measurement was 16 kilometers times 16 kilometers!). The amazement of the gentile world was expressed in these words: “Who is this coming up from the desert, like columns of smoke…?” (Song of Songs 3:6)
. The term “clouds” used in the verse is merely an example and parable suitable to the times when these words were said, to help people of those times understand the concepts. Similarly, Isaiah 2:4 states “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” What he means is that military weapons, including military nuclear reactors, will now be used for peaceful means. The verse merely stated the reality in a way that would make sense to people of earlier generations.
. Maimonides’ methodology in his Guide to the Perplexed (Vol. 3, Chapter 36) and in his “Essay on the Revival of the Dead” is that only when we cannot understand a Biblical verse about what happened or will happen without attributing it to a miracle, do we attribute it to a miracle. In other words, G-d changed the usual way that He runs the world (Nature) for a specific purpose. But wherever one can understand an event with a natural explanation, we shouldn’t attribute it to a miraculous change in the natural order of creation, but G-d’s Will which He is fulfilling through Nature.
Maimonides writes (Essay on the Revival of the Dead, Kapach edition, page 87): “… our desires and the desires of all sages including the greatest of them, is the opposite of the desires of the masses. [The masses] in their foolishness enjoy and find it sweet to believe that Torah and rational thought contradict each other. They explain everything [in the Torah] as if it is illogical, and claim it is a miracle, and repudiate that which could be natural, whether it is something that occurred or is occurring or might occur in the future. We desire to unite Torah with rational thinking. Let us describe everything as having happened naturally, besides what it expressly says is a miracle. Where there is no other way to describe it, only then will we be constrained to say it is miraculous.” (See Brachot 34b: “There is no difference between This World and Moshiach’s Era besides bondage under gentile governments.”)
. We have no intention G-d forbid of establishing the permissibility of using any means of transport on Shabbat which may be invented in the future. In fact, any means of travel should be considered forbidden because it is a weekday activity (uvda d’chol). Any such question should be submitted like any other subject to the great Jewish authorities which G-d planted in every generation, and whatever they instruct us, we shall do without deviating from their words right or left.
Adapted from “Journey to the Truth” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen