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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Return and Redemption

I have been having an ongoing debate with Jak Black about whether geula can or can not begin without the teshuva of the Jewish people. You can see the previous threads here, here, and here. Jak basically tries to claim that the opinion that the geula is not contingent on teshuva is a daat yachid that can be attributed only to the Radak and the Gra. I contend that it is THE mainstream opinion in the rishonim and the achronim (and as we shall see, in chazal as well).

I wanted to post an entire essay dedicated just to this issue and this is that attempt. One of the primary sources that the debate revolves around is a recording of a tannaic disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. The Primary place that this disagreement is recorded is in the Talmud Bavli, masechet Sanhedrin 97b. Here is Jak’s translation:

“Rav says: All of the dates have passed, and the matter [of redemption] depends solely on repentance and good deeds. Shmuel says: It is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning [Rashi: the Jewish people have suffered enough in exile; they will be redeemed without teshuva.]. This argument is the same as an argument of Tanai'im: Rebbi Eliezer says: If the Jews repent, they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed. Rebbi Yehoshua said to him: If they do not repent, they won't be redeemed? Rather, G-d will establish a king for them whose decrees are as harsh as Haman, and the Jews will repent, and return to good”

This is not the only place in chazal where this dispute is brought down. In Talmud Yerushalmi, masechet taanit 3a the dispute is brought down in the following manner:
רבי ליעזר אומר אם אין ישראל עושין תשובה אין נגאלין לעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו ל) בשובה ונחת תושעון אמר לו רבי יהושע וכי אם יעמדו ישראל ולא יעשו תשובה אינן נגאלין לעולם אמר לו ר"א הקב"ה מעמיד עליהן מלך קשה כהמן ומיד הן עושין תשובה והן נגאלין.

Rabbi Eliezer says: If Israel does not do teshuva, they will never be redeemed as it says ‘In return and rest you will be redeemed’ Rabbi Yehoshua replied: Is it true that if Israel does not stand and do teshuva, they will never be redeemed? Rabbi Eliezer answered him: Hashem will establish a king for them who is as harsh as Haman and they will immediately do teshuva and be redeemed.

The gemara goes on with several proof texts and Rabbi Yehoshua emerges victorious as he does in the Bavli. A similar form of the debate is also brought down in midrash tanchuma (Bechukotai 3) where Rabbi Eliezer again takes the position that if the Jewish people do not repent, Hashem will establish for them a harsh king who will force their repentance but his position in the tanchuma is rejected by Rabbi Shimon who says: “Whether they do teshuva or not, when the appointed time arrives, they will be redeemed.”

Although we would normally read the gemara in Sanhedrin in the following way:
Rebbi Yehoshua said to him: If they do not repent, they won't be redeemed? Rather, G-d will establish a king for them whose decrees are as harsh as Haman, and the Jews will repent, and return to good”

In light of the other sources, perhaps the correct reading of the gemara is the following:
“Rebbi Yehoshua said to him: If they do not repent, they won't be redeemed? Rather [Rabbi Eliezer replied], G-d will establish a king for them whose decrees are as harsh as Haman, and the Jews will repent, and return to good”

This is actually supported by girsas in the gemara that don’t have the word אלא but instead have א"ל. That is, in some versions of the Bavli, the statement that ‘G-d will establish a king for them whose decrees are as harsh as Haman’ is explicitly said by Rabbi Eliezer whose whole approach is then rejected by the gemara. If this is the case, then the only source that a king will at some point force the Jewish people to do teshuva is in one girsa of the Bavli while the other girsa of the Bavli along with the Yerushalmi and the tanchuma must be the version that several rishonim had in front of them.

It seems like Rashi had such a girsa in the gemara since he continuously portrays Rabbi Yehoshua’s position as the geula beginning without teshuva of any sort. Rashi says nothing to hint that Rabbi Yehoshua is really saying that a king will force the Jewish people to do teshuva. Jak maintains that Rashi is simply giving a hava Amina – which is best translated into english as “you would have thought that …” This is simply not supported by the text. Rashi in four different places in the sugya explains that Rabbi Yehoshua’s position is that the geula can come without teshuva. Rabbi Yehoshua never changes that possition and wins the argument in the end. Rashi is saying that the gemara’s conclusion is that the geula can come without teshuva.

The Ramban in Sefer HaGeula (הוצאת שעוועל, דף רעז) also maintains this pshat for the gemara: ‘[There is among our sages] who asserted that even though they do not do teshuva, they are still redeemed. This [is the opinion of] Rabbi Yehoshua, and he was victorious over Rabbi Eliezer.’ See Ramban in his commentary to deuteronomy 32:26 where he explains that the final geula will be, not because of the merit of the Jewish people but rather because of the disgrace to the name of Hashem that the exile causes. Thus, the trigger for the geula is the descecration of Hashem’s name and not the merit or teshuva of the Jewish people.

This is also what was written by the great student of the Ramban, Rabbeinu David Bonofil (brought in chidushei haRan on Sandehrin 110b): “Rabbi Yehoshua disagreed with [Rabbi Eliezer] to say that the future geula has no conditions and it is an edict [that Hashem] has sworn … and to this Rabbi Eliezer was silent.

This is also the shita of the Zohar (Acharei, pg. 132):
“At all times when Israel is in exile, if they merit, then Hashem will have mercy upon them and take them out of exile and if they do not merit, then Hashem will leave them in exile until the preappointed time and when that time arrives and they still have no merit, then Hashem becomes concerned for the Honor of His Name and does not leave them in exile”

The Radak (Yeshaya 59:16) as well states that chazal disagree as to whether kibbutz galuyot can precede teshuva or not. Although he does not say so explicitly, he must be refering to the machloket between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua and sees Rabbi Yehoshua’s opinion as allowing for the redemption without repentance. He then goes on to suggest a possible scenario that can reconcile the different prophesies but it is clear from his words that he allows for the possibility of the geula occuring without any teshuva:
“We can reconcile the verses [by saying] that the majority of Israel will repent [only] after they see the signs of redemption. This explains the verse ‘He [G-d] saw that there was no man [… so His arm brought salvation to him] – [that is, G-d saw] that they would not repent until they see the beginning of salvation.”

The Metzudat David on the same verse also interprets the prophesy in the same way:
“The arm of Hashem will save him [Israel] to bring the geula without merit …”

The Malbim adoptes the same interpertation as well:
“… and thus Hashem will find it nessecary to enact the salvation from His own strength. Not based on any deed done below [by men].”

Again, it is clear that the geula can begin without teshuva. Now, just to be clear, Jak confuses the reader with several midrashim that discuss the inevitable teshuva of klal Israel. It must be understood that the kind of geula that is not triggered by teshuva will not end until the Jewish people have returned to Hashem. Many midrashim discuss at what point the Jewish people will return. The Yalkut Shimoni (Malachi 595) brings a variant reading of the Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer (End of chapter 43). the midrash discusses whether or not Eliyahu will come before the teshuva of klal Israel. There are also various other midrashim that discuss whether or not Mashiach will come before the teshuva. These sources are irrelevant to the discution at hand. Everyone agrees that at some point during the geula, klal Israel will do teshuva or be forced to act in accordance with the ways of Hashem. There is discusion in the midrashim regarding whether or not a certain stage will be preceded by teshuva but none of these midrashim are discussing the beginning of the geula. The question at hand is simply: can the geula BEGIN without the teshuva of klal Israel. Everyone agrees that the geula will not end without such teshuva.

Now, there are a few sources for BOTH Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua saying that the Jewish people must do teshuva before the geula can occur. One of these is Rav Saadia gaon (though there are conflicting versions of the text of Emunot VeDeot, I have accepted the version the supports Jak’s stance since that is the one Rav Kapach zt”l prefered and I defer to his expertese). The other is the Maharsha which understands the stance that Hashem will establish a harsh king as being the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua. As we established before, this is most probably based on a mistaken reading of the gemara. But the opinion does exist.

There is one rishon that is a source of great confusion on this topic. The Rambam seems to contradict himself in two different places. In hilchot teshuva 7:5, the Rambam says: “The Jewish people are not redeemed except through teshuva.” Then, in hilchot melachim 11:4, the Rambam lists as one of the functions of mashiach that he “will force all of Israel to follow the path of the Torah and strengthen the observance of its particulars.” If the Jewish people have done teshuva, why does mashiach have to force them? Jak brings several achronim that try to explain that the Rambam holds like the Maharsha. This explanation seems far-fetched since the Maharsha still does not account for the passage in melachim. This is pointed out by none other than the Satmar Rav (!). The Satmar rav basically writes in VaYoel Moshe, pg. 41 that the solution to the problem is that the beginning of the redemption can take place before the nation repents but that teshuva must be achieved before the redemption is complete. Now of course, the Satmar rav has a totally different definition of what the beginning of the geula is, but that is a different topic beyond the scope of this post. The main point is that even the Satmar Rav agrees that the geula can begin before the teshuva of klal Israel based on the Rambam!

The Turei Even (Rabbi Elazar Rokeach) also attempts to reconsile the two passages in the Rambam. He points out the the kesef mishna quotes as the source for the Rambam’s passage in hilchot teshuva the gemara from Yoma 87b: “repentance is great, for it brings the redemption closer.” Now, there are two modes of redemption, “achishena” which depends on teshuva and “beItta” which does not. The turei even contends that the Rambam in hilchot teshuva is only talking about geula “achishena” while in hilchot melachim, he is discussing “beItta”. Furthermore, the Turei Even gives a second pshat and says that the Rambam intentionaly contradicted himself since he did not want to decide between the authorities in the Gemara and thus included both opposing views in his code of law assuming that when mashiach comes, we will see which one was correct.

In the achronim, we also find the idea that the final geula will not be dependant on teshuva and can come to a generation that has no merit. The most explicit of these sources is the Gra in his commentary on Song of Songs:
“But the final time for redemption does not depend on repentance, only on [devine] kindness …”

The Ohr HaChaim says a similar idea (VaYikra 25:25. see a similar sentiment in Shmot 21:11):
“The end of exile will come about even if the Jewish people are completely wicked, G-d forbid”

Now Jak claims that this ohr hachaim does not claim that geula can start without teshuva. I ask the reader, how can the exile end with the Jewish people completely wicked and still allow for the shita that the exile can not end without teshuva? If they even did a little teshuva, they would NOT BE COMPLETELY WICKED!

These idea also appear in other writings of the achronim. The Ramchal in Daat Tevonot (p. 21) says something similar as does the Chafetz Chaim in Shem Olam (Sha’ar HaHitchazkut, chapter 13):
“In any event, there is a set time for our redemption. That is the period of ‘in its time,’ which will come about even if [the Jews] are completely unworthy

Now I am sure that Jak will contend that this does not contradict his position since they could have done teshuva and still been completely unworthy. This is true, but if you define teshuva down to such an extent that even the smallest bit of return is enough to trigger the geula, then the whole debate becomes somewhat meaningless. If teshuva does not mean the complete fixing of those very sins which led to the exile in the first place, then the whole structure that was built upon the maharsha falls apart and there becomes no theological need to interpret Rabbi Yehoshua as being of the opinion that teshuva must precede the geula.

I would like at this juncture to point out the tremendous difficulty with the approach of the maharsha. If any kind of geula is dependant on teshuva, then it is impossible to have any set time when the geula MUST occur. Even if Hashem establishes a wicked king, there is no garauntee that the response of the Jewish people to this king will be one of teshuva – rather, as long as their free will is kept intact, it is fully possible that they will remain in their sin. This removes the whole possibility of an established time for the final redemption without Hashem tampering with the free will of the Jewish people. And if Hashem does tamper with our free will and we do return to the correct path – could that really be called teshuva?

I just wanted to give everyone a taste of the sources at hand. There are many more great sages that believed that the geula can begin without teshuva – chief among them Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher and Rav Zvi Hirsh Kalisher, the great talmidim of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Rav Kalisher testifies in Drishat Zion that he discussed his plan to bring the geula closer by the settlement of the land of Israel and both Rabbi A. Eiger and the Chattam Sofer agreed to his plan. MaRan HaRav Kook, of course agreed to this approach as well and no less than Rav Eliyahu Dessler admited the possibility that the light of mashiach will shine before the repentance of the Jewish people. I might follow up with another post which analyzes the unique approach of the Maharal but since it requires a log of introduction to the thought of the Maharal, I decided not to include it in this post.

I believe that the honest reader will see that the belief that the geula can begin before the teshuva of klal Israel is very mainstream and is supported by some of the greatest sages the Jewish people have ever had. It is by no means a daat yachid and has been advanced by some of the greatest gedolim of the past 200 years. I will not deny that it is not the only approach. There is definitly another approach that is also pretty mainstream. My main desire is that people who hold like the RZ do not feel like they are marginalized or that their opinion is only loosely based in Torah – it is actually far better established than the other side.