Does the Torah Guarantee the Survival of Medinat Yisrael? – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Three weeks ago (in an article archived at, we presented the basis for Rav Yitzchak Herzog’s assertion that the Torah guarantees the survival of Medinat Yisrael.  We cited Ramban, who writes that the two Tochachot foreshadow the two destructions of the Beit HaMikdash, implying that there will not be a third destruction.  We also cited Rambam, who asserts that positive prophecies are unconditional and may not be revoked.  We noted that while a majority of Religious Zionists subscribe to Rav Herzog’s assertion, a sizable minority, including Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, do not.  This week we shall present the basis for the dissenting opinion.

All Nevu’ah is Conditional – Ramban and Tosafot

Ramban (Shemot 12:42) believes that all Nevu’ot (prophecies), even positive prophecies, are conditional.  At the Berit Bein HaBetarim (BeReishit 15:13), Hashem informs Avraham Avinu that He will redeem the Jewish People from bondage after four hundred years of suffering.  Rashi (ad. loc.) cites Chazal, who believe that the four hundred years are counted from the birth of Yitzchak and that we spent only two hundred ten of those years in Egypt. A major problem with this assertion, however, is the fact that Shemot 12:41 states that we spent four hundred thirty years in bondage, implying that we suffered an extra thirty years (see for a full discussion of this issue).  Ramban (ad. loc.) explains that we were supposed to be redeemed four hundred years after Yitzchak Avinu’s birth.  However, since we were not deserving of redemption at that time, Yetziat Mitzrayim was postponed thirty years.  Clearly, Ramban does not agree with Rambam’s assertion that Hashem’s positive promises will be fulfilled unconditionally. 

Tosafot (Yevamot 50a s.v. Teida) agree with Ramban.  Tosafot are bothered by the fact that had King Chizkiyahu not prayed for his life and repented for not having children (see Melachim Bet chapter 20 and Berachot 10a), he would have died childless, yet a Navi had prophesied earlier (Melachim Aleph chapter 13) that Chizkiyahu’s great-grandson, the righteous King Yoshiyahu, would destroy the altars that the evil Yaravam ben Nevat built.  Tosafot write, “Had Chizkiyahu not prayed, he would have died, and the prophecy would not have been fulfilled!  Rather, we must say that a prophet prophesies only that which should happen if sin does not obstruct its fulfillment.”

The Gemara (Berachot 4a) seems clearly to support the view of Ramban and Tosafot.  Chazal state, “The redemption in the time of Ezra was supposed to have been as grand as the deliverance in the time of Yehoshua bin Nun.  This did not happen (i.e., the return in the time of the Second Temple was far more modest) because sin caused us not to merit miraculous redemption.” 

Yirmiyahu 7:4 – A Lack of Responsibility

Furthermore, one citation of Rav Herzog’s credo sounded alarmingly like Yirmiyahu 7:4.  A prominent Israeli rabbi who supported the Oslo accords spoke in a Shul in Long Island in 1995 (within a few miles of where Rav Herzog and Rav Goren made their bold predictions in 1943 and 1967). His audience challenged him by arguing that the Oslo peace process constituted a threat to Israel’s survival.  The rabbi responded that such a concern is unnecessary, since Rav Herzog taught that Hashem has guaranteed the continued survival of Medinat Yisrael. 

This report illustrates a very serious downside to Rav Herzog’s assertion.  While it gave moral support to those who stayed in Israel and steadfastly fought for Israel’s survival against all odds in 1943, 1948, 1967, and 1973, it can also potentially convince some to act recklessly with the belief that the State of Israel is “too big to fail” and that Hashem will bail out Israel no matter how imprudently its residents act. 

This sounds eerily reminiscent of those who responded to Yirmiyahu’s warnings of Churban (destruction of the Temple) if they would not repent. They claimed, “Heichal Hashem, Heichal Hashem, Heichal Hashem Heimah” (Yirmiyahu 7:4).  Yirmiyahu’s critics argued that the Beit HaMikdash is “too big to fail” and that no matter how poorly they would behave, Hashem would not destroy the Beit HaMikdash, since He would never destroy His own house. 

Moreover, Yirmiyahu’s detractors very likely cited the miracle of the “great smite” of the Assyrian soldiers besieging Yerushalayim (Melachim Bet chapters 18 and 19) as proof that Yerushalayim was “too big to fail.”  The Assyrian Emperor Sancheiriv was a mighty, ruthless warrior who conquered many lands. He had not lost a battle before he besieged Yerushalayim after already having conquered most of Yehudah.  He assigned no less than 185,000 of his soldiers to conquer Yerushalayim. There seemed to be no hope for the Jews.  However, Hashem saved us by sending a Malach (angel) to smite all the Assyrian soldiers one night.  Many Jews during the time of Yirmiyahu likely felt that if Yerushalayim was saved during the time of Chizkiyahu against all odds, it must be that Hashem would never allow His home to be destroyed.  What escaped Yirmiyahu’s detractors was the fact that the righteous Chizkiyahu engaged in serious Tefillah, and it was that Tefillah that saved Yerushalayim. 

Similarly, perhaps it is mistaken to assume that the miracle of the first defeat of the Nazis (Yimach Shemam) at El Alamein proves the invincibility of Medinat Yisrael.  Perhaps we deserved the miracle for some reason, such as the Tefillot and presence of righteous Jews including Rav Herzog, Rav Uzziel, Rav Charlop, the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Frank (see Rashi to BeMidbar 13:20 s.v. HaYeish Bah Eitz). 

Indeed, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein told me that the primary reason he does not adopt Rav Herzog’s approach is that it is too dangerous to abolish the threat of Galut (exile), since this threat motivates proper behavior.  This is a fundamental point we note every day in the second portion of Keriat Shema.

Rav Soloveitchik’s Religious Zionist Model

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik presents an alternative model of Religious Zionism in his classic essay entitled “Kol Dodi Dofeik.”  He originally delivered the contents of this essay on Yom HaAtzmaut, 1956, at Yeshiva University.  Rav Soloveitchik cites the fifth chapter of Shir HaShirim as a model for the rise of the State of Israel after the Holocaust.  Shir HaShirim describes a courtship between a man and a woman. Chazal interpret this courtship as an allegory for our relationship with Hashem.  In earlier sections of Shir HaShirim, the woman pursues the man only to be gently rebuffed.  This symbolizes a time in which we reach out to Hashem, but He does not respond, for He is in a state of Hesteir Panim (when Hashem “hides His face,” i.e., chooses to minimize His level of intervention for our benefit). 

However, in the fifth chapter of Shir HaShirim, the man finally visits the woman and knocks on her door. This symbolizes Hashem’s return to His people and  His readiness to terminate the state of Hesteir Panim.  Sadly, the woman fails to respond to the opportunity because she is too comfortable to climb out of bed and respond to the knocking.  This symbolizes our need to respond when Hashem calls.  Unfortunately, the man leaves when the woman does not respond, and when the woman finally recognizes her loss and tries to locate her beloved, he is nowhere to be found.  If we do not respond to Hashem’s reaching out to us, we risk Hashem’s once again retreating into Hesteir Panim. 

Rav Soloveitchik interprets the Holocaust as a period of Hesteir Panim and the miraculous establishment of Medinat Yisrael as Hashem’s knocking on our doors and being ready to end the period of Hesteir Panim.  Rav Soloveitchik warns that if we do not properly respond to Hashem’s call, He may retreat once again into Hesteir Panim.  At the conclusion of “Kol Dodi Dofeik,” Rav Soloveitchik warns, “It is now (1956) eight years that Hashem continues to knock.  We must be careful not to squander the opportunity.”  

Rav Soloveitchik’s model is a far cry from that of Rav Herzog.  According to Rav Soloveitchik, Medinat Yisrael is not guaranteed to us; rather, it is an opportunity presented by Hashem which we can utilize to elevate ourselves spiritually and merit the full realization of the Messianic promise of Israel.  Indeed, according to this approach, the proper wording of the prayer for the State should be, “SheTehei Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu,” “That it (Medinat Yisrael) should become the beginning of the flowering of our redemption,” as we discussed three weeks ago (although we noted that many who subscribe to Rav Soloveitchik’s model nonetheless recite, “Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu,” out of respect for the text formulated by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate). 

Rav Eliezer Waldenberg’s Positive Attitude toward Zionism

Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 7:48:12) presents a third Biblical model for Medinat Yisrael which also differs from that of Rav Herzog.  He compares the United Nations’ establishing the Jewish State in 1947 to the Persian Emperor Koresh’s (Cyrus’s) permitting the Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael to rebuild the Second Temple (see Ezra chapter one; not coincidentally, President Harry Truman relished introducing himself to Jewish audiences as “Cyrus,” since he recognized the State of Israel minutes after its declaration of independence, despite the vigorous opposition of the United States State Department). 

Moreover, he cites the precedent of the spiritually deficient king (of the Northern Kingdom) Yaravam ben Yoash’s restoring the borders of Israel (Melachim Bet 14:23-27).  The Tanach explains that the success of this unworthy king was due to Hashem’s pity upon Israel’s situation and His unwillingness to see our destruction.  Rav Waldenberg argues that similarly, after the Holocaust, “since our immediate need was air to breathe with an independent state in our land, Hashem in His great mercy helped us,” even though the majority of the leaders of the Jewish People were not observant of Torah law.

The analogies to Yaravam ben Yoash and Koresh hardly imply a divine guarantee of never being destroyed.  In fact, both the Northern Kingdom and the second Beit HaMikdash came to an end due to sin (see Melachim Bet chapter 17 and Yoma 9b).  Thus, while Rav Waldenberg encourages Aliyah and explains why Hashem facilitated great miracles through less-than-ideal leadership, his analogies are quite sobering.  They imply the threat of destruction if we do not earn and merit the continued survival of Medinat Yisrael.


When I presented this Shiur at TABC, a Talmid posed a simple question: “LeMai Nafka Mina? What is the practical difference between whether one adopts Rav Herzog’s, Rav Soloveitchik’s or Rav Waldenberg’s model of Religious Zionism (defined as those who support the continued existence of the State of Israel)?”  He argued that no matter which Hashkafah (outlook) one adopts, the Torah requires us to act prudently and not to rely on miracles.  I discovered later that Rav Waldenberg makes the same point.  He tells us not to delve into the mysteries of how Hashem operates (a reference to Berachot 10a).  Instead, “it is incumbent upon us to do that which we are required to do, to fulfill the Mitzvot of Hashem.  Included in those obligations is the great and exalted Mitzvah to make Aliyah and live in Eretz Yisrael.”  There is no doubt that Rav Herzog and Rav Soloveitchik would wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

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