Stages in the Process of Redemption
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
Rav Meir Orlian based on a sicha
(Written by Rav Meir Orlian based on a sicha given 7 Shevat 5761)
In order to better understand the events of recent days, we can turn to an event in Jewish history to serve as a model. In the times of King Chizkiya and the prophet Yeshaya, King Sancheriv of Ashur had conquered almost the entire world. He finally came to Yerushalayim, and sent his general, Rav-Shakei, with a message to the Jews that they should submit to him. [This story is found in Melachim II ch. 18-19 and Yeshaya ch. 36-37, and is alluded to in Tehillim ch. 11.] The Gemara relates that when Rav-Shakei saw Yerushalayim, he ridiculed it and made light of it. The people of Yerushalayim were split in their attitude. One group, led by Shevna, the scribe, rationally felt that to fight the Assyrian empire was futile and was in favor of surrendering. Another group, led by King Chizkiya and supported by Yeshaya, did not agree to surrender.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 26a) relates that Shevna's party was larger than Chizkiya's, 130,000 vs. 110,000. In Tehillim (11:2) it says, "For, behold, the wicked bend the bow ... to shoot in the dark at the upright of heart." The Gemara interprets this to mean that Shevna wrote a letter and shot it by arrow to Sancheriv saying, "Shevna and his party consent; Hezekiah and his party do not consent." His primary intention in submitting was, "to shoot in the dark at the upright of heart," to undermine Yeshaya and Chizkiya. Most of the people felt defeated, and Yeshaya tried to encourage them, "Do not speak of a faction to everything that this people speaks of as a faction; do not fear what they fear and do not be overwhelmed by it." (8:12) Even though they are the majority -- do not think that we should follow them, because they are wicked, and when there is consensus of wicked against spirit of Torah we don't follow them. Rather, "Hashem, Master of Legions, Him shall you sanctify; He is Your Reverence and He is your strength." (8:13) We should not pay any attention to the agreements of the wicked, but rather fear only Hashem. It was that minority that believed in the spirit of the nation that ultimately prevailed.
"I and the children whom Hashem has given me and signs are symbols for Israel." (Yeshaya 8:18) Rashi on this pasuk brings a Midrash that this is a reference to the actions of King Achaz, Chizkiya's father, who closed the Batei Midrash. His goal was, "If there are no kids, there are no goats; if there are no sheep there is no shepherd; I will cause Him to remove His presence." If there is no Torah, there will be no leaders, and no G-d, as if. Yeshaya told him that all his attempts to tie the Torah and seal it so that it will not be found in Israel would not succeed. Rashi writes that the prophecy of, "I will surely conceal My face on that day" (Devarim 31:18) is the harshest prophecy. The Ba'al Shem Tov explains that it is clear that sometimes Hashem hides, but at least we know to look for Him; sometimes He is so hidden that don't even know to look for Him. Yet, immediately right afterwards it says, "So now write this song [the Torah] ... for it shall not be forgotten from the mouth of its offspring." Even in the darkest times, Torah will not be forgotten and the spirit of the nation will prevail.
The Gemara continues that, in the end, Shevna and his party wanted to go out to Sancheriv, but after Shevna stepped out, an angel closed the door after him and his people stayed inside. This shows that even though the majority of people supported Shevna, at the moment of truth the nation recognized that this path ran contrary to the true spirit of the nation. The next morning the people awoke to find the entire Assyrian camp, 185,000 soldiers, dead of plague, and Sancheriv had to return home empty. No one expected or knew how the salvation would occur, but when the people stood up for their truth -- the solution presented itself.
Rationally, though, how can we say, "With G-d's help it will be good!", other than on the basis of faith alone? How are we to understand the events that are transpiring? I heard an approach from Rav Zvi Tau, based on the words of Yeshaya.
The prophecy begins, "Why do you say, O Yaakov ... 'My way is hidden from Hashem?'" (40:27) Bnei Yisrael feel as if G-d no longer watching over them; otherwise how could this, that, or the other thing happen? Yeshaya continues that G-d is eternal and does not grow weary, and will invigorate those who hope to Him. He then assures Yisrael not to fear, and concludes, "Fear not, O worm of Yaakov, O men [or, "dead"] of Yisrael, [for] I help you -- the word of Hashem and your Redeemer." (41:14) Bnei Yisrael are compared here to a worm, the lowliest and least developed creature, which has just one long body without limbs. For this reason the worm is often associated with the dead, since it is the lowest of creatures.
The Midrash writes, why are Bnei Yisrael compared to a worm? Just like a worm's strength is only with its mouth, so too Yisrael's strength is with its mouth (prayer and Torah). Another interpretation is that the pasuk refers to the silkworm and similar caterpillars. The silkworm is one of the most magnificent creatures in terms of its life cycle. It goes through four stages in its process of metamorphosis. The silkworm moth lays eggs, which develop into caterpillar larvae, then they become pupae and spin cocoons, ultimately emerging again as silkworm moths, and the cycle repeats. Other butterflies and caterpillars undergo the same process.
What is striking about this process is that when the butterfly -- a beautiful, flying creature -- lays eggs, we expect something similar. When the eggs hatch we are disappointed, since all that comes out is an ugly caterpillar larva that does nothing but eat, chewing and destroying leaves and growing much larger. (The silkworm eats for about 23 hours a day and multiplies its birth weight 86,000 times during the first 21 days of its life). Then comes the third stage, when it becomes a pupa and sheds its skin and begins to surround itself with threads to make a cocoon. In the cocoon, it literally eats itself until nothing is left of his former body tissue, and suddenly out comes a butterfly! Where did the butterfly come from? It must come from the caterpillar, which has cells and the potential from beginning to be butterfly, which comes out at the proper time. In experiments to hasten the process, the silkworm moth did not come out right; either it was too big or too small.
"Fear not, O worm of Yaakov." We must understand that Israel is like that worm, and know where we are heading. The process of redemption parallels the stages of development of the silkworm. We are expecting a great geulah, and don't have patience for it to unfold -- "Mashiach now!," "Peace now!" We want to see a butterfly NOW, but it is only "eggs" at this stage. Two hundred years ago, Jews began to come back to Eretz Yisrael and set up settlements. To understand the small beginning of the settlement, we find R. Yehoshua Molcho wrote that we are beginning to see signs of geulah -- there are already 130 families in Israel! At that time the land was still filled with swamps and illness. People on the outside looked and said, "This is geulah?!" They stepped aside, and waited in chutz la'aretz. The Zohar writes, however, that Mashiach waits in a bird's nest. I.e., the redemption is like eggs; it takes time until they hatch and something comes out.
Finally, the eggs hatched, and what came out? The caterpillar larvae -- involved only in material concerns, to build the country, establish an army to fight the enemies. Most creatures have a neck that connects the head, representing the spiritual, with the body, representing the material. The caterpillar, however, is uniform; his whole head is submerged in the body. His whole goal is to grow and make his body big! Many Jews were disappointed and said, "Is this what we waited for?" That is why Yeshaya says, "Fear not!" -- even though we don't see the butterfly yet, it is still there in potential when the proper time comes.
This involvement in self-growth leads to egoism and materialism, and leads to the third stage. The nation is no longer interested in growth but is completely wrapped up in itself. It is no longer interested in anything -- ideals, settlements, and victory over its enemy --- and effectively destroys itself. But we must know that out of this process comes the butterfly, the ultimate goal. It is very important to explain this idea nowadays. There is a goal for Am Yisrael, and it has potential forces that will ultimately come forth. Mashiach is waiting in the bird's nest until the proper time. A baby is born without knowledge since otherwise he would start to learn immediately instead of developing himself. Rather, at first he is only interested in himself and physical growth, and then he can develop mentally and spiritually. So too, a nation first builds its body -- defense, economy, etc. -- and will then be able to turn its attention to pursue its spiritual destiny. We don't know the timetable of this process, but we do know its stages.
Furthermore, we note that there are two conflicting instincts in the caterpillar, to grow and to self-destroy. Paradoxically, the very instinct that pushes it to grow as a caterpillar is restraining its ultimate development into its goal, the butterfly. Conversely, the instinct to wrap itself in a cocoon and self-destruct is actually bringing it towards its goal. Each stage occurs in its proper time, and the instinct changes when it needs to. So too with the nation. Those who are only interested in building its physical form are, in truth, delaying its ultimate development. Others have the instinct to seek the ultimate goal, but meanwhile seem to destroy. However, we must understand that this apparent destruction is actually preparation for the ultimate development. G-d directs the nation in its proper time. Rav Kook zt"l writes that there will be spiritual rebellion before the geulah, because the material success will make people think that they reached the goal. Idealism will lose its impact until the period of metamorphosis, and then Shevna will go out and others remain inside. Why must Bnei Yisrael go through this stage of material growth? Because for two thousand years the nation focused only on its spiritual development and now needs the opposite trait, to focus on the material. Ultimately, though, it will find the proper balance.
In an article, "Yosif Ometz," he writes that when establishing a settlement, the first step is to locate water. While they seek, half the people leave discouraged. When they finally get water, it comes out filthy and muddy, not drinkable. Some more leave to seek another place. In a certain sense, this second group is worse than the first ones! The first group thought that was no water at all, while the second should realize that if they dig more they will reach clean water. The first layer is muddy, but by digging deeper you reach the source of the well. The same thing is true with the caterpillar and the State of Israel. Some looked at the first stage and said, "It's not for us." Others waited until the second stage and then became discouraged. However, Rav Kahaneman of Ponovezh said that in all of Europe there was not as much Torah as there is now in Eretz Yisrael, and this was said years ago! We don't know when, but we are certain that a beautiful butterfly will come forth from this caterpillar.
Shiur ID: 4056