In this letter, we will begin to discuss the radical, Torah-based vision of Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, Hakohen, a leading sage who was known as the Ponevizher Rav. He was affiliated with Agudath Israel, the international Chareidi organization which was founded by the Chofetz Chaim and other leading sages.
Before we can discuss the vision of Rav Yosef Shlomo, we need be aware of a comforting Divine message to Habakkuk, the Prophet. Habakkuk had cried out to Hashem because of the injustices done to Israel and because of the flourishing of their oppressors. Hashem responded by conveying to Habakkuk the following message regarding the vision of the final redemption:
“Write the vision and clarify it upon tablets, so that a reader may read it swiftly. For there is yet another vision about the appointed time; it will speak of the End, and it will not deceive. Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2,3)
“It will not delay” – When the appointed time for the final redemption arrives, it will not delay. (Commentaries of Metzudas David and the Malbim)
When Rav Yosef Shlomo came to the Land of Zion in 1940, the main topic was the rising power of Germany – a nation that had begun to murder Jewish men, women, and children. As we discussed, the Lithuanian government had sent the Rav on a diplomatic mission to the United States. When the Germans invaded Lithuania, he was unable to return, and the Germans, with the enthusiastic help of many Lithuanians, murdered the Jews of Ponevizh, including the Rav’s wife and family, with the exception of one son, Avraham, who survived. Despite his great grief, the Rav began to write and clarify the vision of the final redemption shortly after he arrived in the Land.
In the Hebrew publication, Lapid, he wrote that the People of Israel are approaching the future that our prophets spoke about, and he cited the following excerpts from the writings of Maimonides regarding the messianic age. These excerpts are from the Mishneh Torah, the great work of Maimonides on the halacha – the steps on the Torah path:
“The Sages did not yearn for the Messianic era in order to have dominion over the entire world, to rule over the Gentiles, to be exalted by the nations, or to eat drink, and celebrate; rather, they desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and her wisdom without any pressures and disturbances (The Laws of Kings 12:4).”
“In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance, and all delights will be (as common) as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know Hashem.” (Ibid: 12:5)
“The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know Hashem.” – When Rav Yosef Shlomo cited these words, the Holocaust had begun; moreover, most nations were indifferent to Germany’s attempt to destroy all the Jews, and with rare exceptions, these nations would not allow Jewish refugees to enter their lands. Due to their selfishness and cruel coldness, they were very far from knowing Hashem; nevertheless, Rav Yosef Shlomo reminded us of the vision of the messianic age which reveals that the entire world will know Hashem. As Hashem told Habakkuk regarding the messianic vision:
“Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay.”
In the article in Lapid, Rav Yosef Shlomo also refers to the steps that lead to our physical and spiritual redemption in the Land, and he teaches:
Each new student who comes to study Torah is a step towards our welcoming the arrival of our righteous Messiah; moreover, the following is the destiny and aspiration of the People of Israel: “All your children will be students of Hashem, and great will be the shalom of your children” (Isaiah 54:13).
The above insight is related to the following teaching of the Talmud which is cited in the name of Rabbi Levi:
One who studies Torah for its own sake brings the redemption closer. (Sandhedrin 99b)
In order to better understand this concept, we need to remember the following teachings regarding our spiritual destiny as the people of the Torah:
A Kohen is a minister who teaches Torah to the people. When we stood at Mount Sinai, Hashem stated that we are to become a “kingdom of Kohanim” (Exodus 19:6). What is the meaning of a “kingdom of Kohanim”? A classical commentator, Sforno, shares with us this explanation:
“To understand and teach the entire human species that all shall call in the Name of Hashem and serve Him with a united resolve. As this shall be the role of Israel in the future that is to come, as it states, ‘And you will be called ‘Kohanim of Hashem’ (Isaiah 61:6), and as it states, ‘For out of Zion will go forth Torah’ (Isaiah 2:3).”
Based on these prophetic messages regarding our spiritual role in the age when Torah will go forth from Zion, Maimonides writes in the Mishneh Torah (The Laws of Kings, 12:5):
“The People of Israel will be great sages and know hidden matters, attaining knowledge of their Creator to the full extent of human potential, as it states, ‘The earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed’ (Isaiah 11:9).”
Rav Yosef Shlomo reminded us of the vision regarding our future spiritual renewal through Torah study by referring to the Divine promise, “All your children will be students of Hashem”; however, these words were written in an era when the majority of Jews in the Land of Zion did not want their children to be students of Hashem, for the influential secular Zionist establishment in the Land stressed that nationalism had replaced the Torah as the guiding spirit of our people. Many people therefore felt that the Rav was simply dreaming. Rav Yosef Shlomo was not discouraged by their skepticism, for he knew that we will experience the fulfillment of the entire messianic vision, including the vision of our own spiritual renewal. As Hashem told Habakkuk regarding the messianic vision:
“Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay.”
With the help of Hashem, we will discuss in the next letter some signs of the approaching messianic age when the following vision will be realized: “All your children will be students of Hashem.”
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Prophecies:
On each Shabbos between Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah, we chant a comforting haftorah – portion from the Prophets. The haftorah that we chanted on the Shabbos we just experienced concludes with the following Divine promise:
“Hashem shall be unto you an eternal light, and the days of your mourning will be ended. Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the Land forever; a branch of My planting, My handiwork, in which I will glory. The smallest shall increase a thousandfold, and the youngest into a mighty nation; I am Hashem, in its time, I will hasten it.” (Isaiah 60:20-22)
“In its time, I will hasten it.” – Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch mention two explanations of these words. According to one explanation, Hashem is promising that when the appointed time for the final redemption arrives, the process will proceed in a speedy manner. Both of these commentators also cite the teaching of our sages which reveals the following second meaning to the words, “In its time, I will hasten it”:
If Israel is not worthy, then the redemption will come “in its time” – according to the appointed time that Hashem has established; however, if Israel is worthy, then Hashem “will hasten it” – Hashem will cause the final redemption to come before the appointed time! (Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a – Rabbi Alexandrai cites this teaching in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.)
Rabbi Hirsch states that this second meaning of the verse reveals the following insight:
The hour depends on us! Hashem’s paternal arms are always open to His returning children, as it is written: “Even today, if you will hearken to His voice” (Psalm 95:7).
This additional insight and quote is from a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s encounter with Elijah the Prophet (op. cit.).