The End of the Begin-ing
by Doron Beckerman
The year 1977 witnessed a watershed event in the history of Modern Israel. Chaim Yavin, famed Israeli news anchor, announced the mahapach – the transformation of the political map; the right wing, led by Menachem Begin, had taken hold of government’s reins. A traditionalist, philo-Sephardic attitude permeated the halls of power. A firm commitment to dramatic expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria created facts on the ground. The Charedi parties basked in new-found sunshine and glory days. Money was showered on Yeshivos and limits on draft exemption numbers were abolished. Happy days were here for ideologues of non-Labor Zionist persuasion.
If colossal failures experienced during the Lebanon War (along with the passing of Aliza Begin) spelled the end of PM Begin’s political career, 1990 marked the point at which the bearers of Jabotinsky’s ideology essentially conceded the game. The Gulf War saw Israel subcontract its defense to a world alliance, and Yitzhak Shamir got dragged to the Madrid Conference, setting up the current reality where massive territorial concessions to the Palestinians are the only real show in town. Concomitantly, the traditional hawk-dove dividing began to blur, as every ostensibly conservative Prime Minister gave up progressively more ideological ground and physical territory.
Ramification of this reality naturally hit hardest at the very same non-Mapai ideologues. Gush Katif generated a deep existential crisis within Religious Zionism which has yet to be resolved. Recent violence emanating from Yitzhar is symptomatic of that tension and frustration. The right-wingers are viewed as a vocal minority, detached from reality. Charedim have been shunted aside, no longer needed to tip the scales in favor of one coalition or another. Correction of imbalances created by Charedi influence is underway, led by Yesh Atid.
Make no mistake. Yesh Atid is not about pragmatism, detached from a particular worldview. (That bill would better fit Kadima under Ehud Olmert.) It is a party with a clear-cut, old school, secular Zionist ideology. A visit to Yisrael Chofshit’s website and a perusal of their agenda makes it readily clear where Yesh Atid’s roots lie. Lecturing in Rabbi Piron’s Yeshiva prior to launch of his political career, Yair Lapid, with typical grandiosity, described himself as “the Admor of the Chilonim.”
Historical timelines benefit from broader perspective. For a believing Jew, that perspective is the nation’s march toward its redemption. One vantage point is the well-known parallel between each millennium of the 6,000 years from Creation to Mashiach, and one day of the week from Sunday to Friday. Developed further, each part of a millennium witnesses the rise and fall of nations and political movements (see Ramban to Bereishis 2:3). The year 1990, perhaps the beginning of the end of right-wing secular Zionism, parallels the Hebrew Year 5750, which, in turn, matches up with the onset of midday Friday. At that time, says Sefer Kol Hator (attributed to the Vilna Gaon), the decay and demise of Mashiach ben Yosef (political redemptive element) begin, making way for Mashiach ben David (spiritual redemptive element).
A further, perhaps more concrete outlook is based on a lecture (1977) by R’ Shlomo Wolbe zt”l, printed in the Maamarei Geulah volume of the posthumous Daas Shlomo series (pp. 123-126). In the aftermath of several scandals that rocked the higher political echelons, R’ Wolbe offers his view of matters. After setting the table with a fundamental of both individual and collective experience – success must be preceded by failure – he writes:
One must view the State with the aforementioned in mind. The State of Israel, about which many are perplexed as to whether it is the ‘beginning of the redemption,’ and, if so, what is the meaning of all the dissolution that is being discovered on an ever greater scale? According to our way, it is clear that the State is still not the end purpose, but akin to the “chaos” [the “tohu” that preceded creation] before the redemption. These are the ways of Providence; people are allowed to walk alone, and to understand on their own the ways of the redemption, and, perforce, they do not ascertain the truth and they stray from the [true] path…
Rambam writes that the abolishment of paganism and the spread of the great religions throughout the world is a preparation for the redemption. Although Christianity contains many untruths, nonetheless the nations of the world are accustomed to belief in God, and they will be acclimated to it once Mashiach comes and the Kingdom of Heaven shall be revealed.
In the same way, we understand that the State is a necessary preparation for the Days of Mashiach. Although it contains much darkness and falsehood, nonetheless it is the “chaos” before the redemption. It is similar to a photograph, where one first makes the negative, and from it one develops copies.
One who thinks that this State is already the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Prophets and the beginning of the actual redemption is as one who calls Yerushalayim, after the conquest of the Old City, “the full Yerushalayim.” Full? With the Kosel returned to us we see the destruction even more…!
If the State were the actual redemption, it would be a question as to why we see more and more signs of crumbling, but according to our way – there is no question. The “chaos” must be revealed. The faults in its foundations, the distortions that accompany it from its inception – must all be revealed…
I believe that R’ Wolbe’s simile to a photograph’s negative, where black is white and white is black, has begun to take on deeper color and shading with the rise of the current government. Under ideological premises, Yesh Atid insists on the government’s right to defund schools that do not teach core curriculum. [As an aside, he actually attempted to defund Charedi schools that do teach core curriculum (such as Chinuch Atzmai), but that is for another time.] Logic dictates that a core curriculum – take it or get defunded – might be allowed to include, under a different political constellation, Tanach, Talmud, Halachah, and Mussar…
Yair Lapid further unapologetically asserts that a citizen who has served in the IDF is better than one who has not, and therefore deserves a hefty break on VAT for purchase of an apartment under 1.6M NIS. [Cynically, he offers those who have not served a 0% VAT on apartments valued at less than 600,000 NIS, which exist nowhere other than in cities whose mayors would never accept building plans that could accommodate Charedi needs. Also, didn’t the State just legislate that it views Torah study as a key value, and it would therefore allow for 1,800 army exemptions for those who study Torah? Does that make Lapid’s idea illegal?] By extension, if a future leadership decides that a Jew who observes Shabbos contributes more to the country than one who does not, would it be acceptable to force those who do not keep Shabbos out of the housing market?
As history unfolds, and competing worldviews vie for supremacy, time will tell.