How to Act During Zion’s Birth Pangs: Part Two

Dear Friends,


In the previous letter, we cited the following advice of the Prophet Isaiah regarding the difficult and dangerous final “birth pangs” just before the “birth” of Zion’s children and the beginning of the messianic age:


“Go, my people, enter your rooms and close your door behind you; hide for a brief moment until the fury has passed.” (Isaiah 26:20)

”Enter your rooms” – As we mentioned, the commentator, Rashi, explains that this is a call to enter “the synagogues and the Torah study-houses.” Rashi also offers the following second explanation of the words, “Enter your rooms”:


“Think about your deeds in the chambers of your heart. In this manner, Rabbi Tanchuma expounded it.”


I would like to suggest that this second explanation can be viewed as a supplement to the first explanation. It is teaching us that we must reflect on our deeds in the chambers of our hearts to make sure that they are in the sacred spirit of our prayers and Torah study.


The commentator, Radak, offers another explanation of “Enter your rooms”:


“This is a parable for taking shelter in good deeds and complete teshuvah (return).”


The root meaning of teshuvah is shuv – return. Through teshuvah, we return to Hashem; moreover, we also return to the sacred essence of our souls, for we are created in the Divine image. In order to engage in a complete teshuvah, we need to return to the Divine path of the Torah, as the mitzvos of this path enable us to express our inner Divine image in “all” areas of our existence. It was for this higher and holistic purpose that we were given the Land of Zion, as Moshe proclaimed to our people before we entered the Land:


“See, I have taught you statutes and social laws which Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 4:5).


Through fulfilling the Divine mandates in the Land, we develop a model society which can inspire other peoples; thus, Moshe added:


“You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Ibid 4:6)


A complete teshuvah therefore enables to fulfill our universal and spiritual mission in the Land and thereby become a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).


Whenever we were faced with any danger or threat, our prophets called upon us to evaluate our behavior and engage in a process of teshuvah. For example, when our people were facing the danger of an invasion by Babylonia, the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the following Divine message:


“Thus said Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation, God of Israel: Improve your ways and your deeds and I will cause you to dwell in this place.” (Jeremiah 7:3)


In the spirit of the above Divine message, the Prophet Hosea proclaimed:


“Return, O Israel, unto Hashem, Your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words with you and return to Hashem; say to Him, ‘May you forgive all iniquity and accept this as good, and we will fulfill the words of our lips with the strength of bullocks. Assyria will not save us; we will not ride upon horses, and we will no longer say to the works of our hands, “our god”; for it is with You that an orphan finds compassion.’ ” (Hosea 14:2-4)


“Assyria will not save us.” – We are cured from that mistake which previously made us look for an alliance with the other nations as a substitute for the protection of Hashem. (Commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch)


“We will not ride upon horses” – We are also cured from worshiping our strength and military might. (Ibid)


I will now discuss with you a mitzvah which is to serve as a wake-up call to engage in teshuvah during all periods of danger and troubles. This is the mitzvah for the Kohanim, during the Temple period, to blow trumpets during a period of war or any other calamity, and a source for this mitzvah is found in the following verse:


“When you go to wage war in your land against the oppressor that oppresses you, you should sound short blasts of the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Hashem, your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9)


Maimonides explains that the war mentioned in the above verse is an example of any calamity; thus, the verse is conveying the following message:


“Whenever you are beset by any calamity such as drought, pestilence, locust, etc., you are to offer up supplications concerning it and sound the trumpets. And this conduct is one of the ways of teshuvah, for when calamity befalls the people, and they offer up supplications concerning it – sounding also the trumpets – all are bound to realize that it is owing to their bad ways that misfortune has befallen them, as it is written, ‘Your iniquities have withheld these (blessings) from you; your errors have lost you the good’ (Jeremiah 5:25). And it is this conduct which will cause them to remove the calamity from them. However, if they neither offer up such supplications nor sound the trumpets, declaring that what has befallen them is but a natural event or that this misfortune is the result of chance and accident, then their course is one of cruelty, and it causes them to persist in their bad ways. Thus their misfortune is bound to be followed by many others.” (Mishneh Torah – The Laws of the Fast Days 1:1-3)


The above teachings remind us that there is a need for teshuvah during a dangerous period, and especially during the final birth pangs before the arrival of the messianic age of spiritual enlightenment and shalom. There are some individuals, however, who feel that it is only the “other” person that needs to do teshuvah, as they feel that they do not have faults which need to be corrected. Sensitive and wise souls recognize that this is a foolish and arrogant assumption; thus, they begin the process of teshuvah with themselves in order to bring us closer to the new age of spiritual enlightenment and shalom. Through the process of teshuvah, these sensitive and wise souls seek to become a source of strength for our endangered people, and they also seek ways to strengthen our unity. They therefore ask themselves challenging questions such as these:


Do I nurture myself spiritually each day through Torah study and prayer? 


Do I try to apply the teachings of the Torah to my life and thereby become a source of inspiration for others?


Are there relationships with family members, neighbors, friends, and/or colleagues which need healing or strengthening?  


Am I holding on to old grudges which prevent me from becoming a more loving person?


Do I tend to be overly critical and judgmental of individuals, my community, and my people?


Let us therefore hear the message of the trumpets of teshuvah. We will then be able to hear the trumpets which will proclaim the arrival of the messianic age, when all human beings will acknowledge the sovereignty of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:


“With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before the Sovereign, Hashem. The sea and its fullness will roar, the inhabited land and those who dwell therein; rivers will clap hands, mountains will exult together before Hashem, for He will have arrived to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and peoples with fairness.” (Psalm 98:6-9)


May we soon experience a world filled with righteousness, fairness, and true shalom.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

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