This week we continue our discussions supporting belief in Hashem and other traditional Torah beliefs. This essay will focus on some examples of fulfilled promises of the Torah. We seek to show that the fulfillment of these promises demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the Torah is the product of a divine author. A human author could not have made such predictions which have been fulfilled against all reasonable expectations thousands of years after it was first recorded.
The Tanach (Shmuel I 15:29) refers to the Jewish People as “Eternal Israel.” We stressed the miraculous nature of Jewish survival throughout the ages in last week’s essay (archived at www.koltorah.org). Thus we already have one Biblical prediction that continues to be fulfilled against all odds. Leo Tolstoy (What is the Jew? quoted in The Final Resolution, pg. 189, printed in Jewish World periodical, 1908) expressed this point as follows:
“What is the Jew? . . . What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?! The Jew is the symbol of eternity . . . He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”
Ki Lo Tishachach Mipi Zaram
Moreover, the Torah (Devarim 31:21) states that Torah will never be forgotten amongst the Jews. As Rashi (ad. loc. quoting Shabbat 138b) explains, “This is a promise that the Torah will never be completely forgotten from amongst the Jews.” Indeed there always has remained a “righteous remnant” (see Yeshayahu 4:3 and 10:20-22) amongst the Jews despite the overwhelming difficulties and challenges during many situations in Jewish History. Indeed, Megillat Esther (9:28) makes the same bold prediction that the Purim story will always be remembered and observed by the Jews, leading the Gemara (Megillah 7a) to conclude from this Pasuk that the Megilah was written with divine inspiration.
This prediction is even more startling when one considers that many sociologists predicted the demise of Orthodox Judaism during the mid twentieth century. Contrary to all expectations, it is the only form of Judaism that today is growing, vital and vigorous. We must emphasize that this is entirely counterintuitive. One would think the less demanding versions of Judaism that are more in harmony with contemporary values would thrive. Nonetheless, specifically the most demanding and most traditional version of Judaism is the most successful “version” of Judaism in the twenty-first century. The ancient world was governed by several different empires. At their respective heights, several of them ruled the entire known civilized world.
However, once conquered and deprived of political independence, those empires and their cultures all disappeared. Are today’s Egyptians the descendants of the Pharaohs and their nation? Are today’s Italians the offspring of the Romans who ruled the world for hundreds of years? The ancient cultures are certainly not maintained. The Jews are an ancient people, as well. And it wasn’t just once that they were conquered and dispersed (and often slaughtered as well). Almost every European and near-eastern country that grew powerful eventually turned on its outnumbered and defenseless Jews and oppressed them – to greater or lesser degrees. Yet, the Jews endure to this day as an identifiable entity. And they are as vibrant and critical a force in the world as ever. This is an incredible miracle!
Rav Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) writes (in his introduction to his commentary to the Siddur): The Jews of our time are studying the very same words of the Torah that their immediate ancestors did. Those ancestors studied the same words that their forefathers did, and so it continues. Each generation studied the exact same texts the previous generation did, extending back in an unbroken chain for thousands of years.
Amazingly, this took place over centuries during which the Jews were exiled from country-to-country-to-country. And the persecutions they suffered often included the confiscation and burning of their Torah Scrolls and Books of the Talmud. Furthermore, they were dispersed throughout the world with very slow and minimal communication between their far-flung communities. Yet, every word of the Torah has survived intact. Rav Emden concluded that (even back in his time) this phenomenon was a greater miracle than the splitting of the Yam Suf. That this phenomenon has endured into the 21st century is even more astonishing. What the Jews suffered—just between Rav Emden’s time and the present—far exceeds what the citizens of any ancient empire endured. Most Sephardic Jews were driven from their different homelands, while the Germans displaced and then slaughtered most of Mainland Europe’s Jews. Yet, not one word of the Torah and Talmud texts that Jews delve into has been lost. In our times, more than a hundred thousand young Jews attend traditional yeshivot. There they study Tanach and Gemara – the identical words and explanations that their forefathers have been studying continuously for millennia. That every syllable of the Torah has survived intact and continues to be treasured and studied is perhaps the greatest Jewish-survival-miracle of all.
Veshamemu Aleha Oyveichem – Eretz Yisrael is Desolate while we are in Exile
Ramban notes the fulfillment of the land of Israel being desolate after our Exile from the land (Vayikra 26:32-35, Devarim 29:13 and 24) as “publicizing to all nations the punishment from Hashem” we received as forewarned by the Torah if we do not honor our Torah obligations. Elsewhere (commentary to Vayikra 26:15) Ramban, writing in the thirteenth century, explains the Torah’s (ad. loc. Pasuk 32) informing us that if and when we are exiled, our enemies will fail in the land; this is a great proof and promise to us, as there is nowhere else in the entire world a land that was beautiful and productive and was inhabited for so long and yet currently desolate. From the time we were forced out of the land it has accepted no nation and they all try to settle it but meet with no success.
This contrasts sharply with Josephus Flavius’ (“The Jewish Wars”) testimony regarding the abundance of Eretz Yisrael prior to the Roman exile:
. . . For it is an extremely fertile land, a land of pastures and many varieties of trees . . . The entire land is planted by her inhabitants and not one stretch of earth is left uncared for. Because the land is blessed with such goodness, the cities of the Galil and numerous villages are densely populated. Even the smallest of villages boasts of at least 15,000 inhabitants.
Indeed, in the 1260s, Ramban, writing to his son from Eretz Yisrael, gave a very different picture: “What shall I tell you concerning the condition of the Land . . . She is greatly forsaken and her desolation is great . . . That which is of greater holiness is more desolate than that which is of lesser holiness. Yerushalyim is most desolate and destroyed.”
In 1867, the famous non-Jewish author Mark Twain made a similar observation when he visited the land of Israel, in a stunning passage of his work “Innocents Abroad” (chapter 56):
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are un-picturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts tinged with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective – distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.
Compare this quasi-post-nuclear scene with the Torah’s dire warning:
. . . And the foreigner who will come from a distant land — when they will see the plagues of the Land and and the illnesses with which God has inflicted it; sulfur and salt, a conflagration of the entire Land, it cannot be sown and it cannot sprout, and no grass shall rise up on it . . . And all the nations will say “For what reason did God do so to this Land?” (Devarim 29:21).
Since the 1880s, with Hashem’s blessing and help, we have seen Eretz Yisrael wake up. The Eretz Yisrael we see today is totally different than the one Mark Twain saw. On display for the entire world to see is how the land of Israel remains faithful to the Jewish People (using a phrase I heard used by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) as it is productive for us and desolate for others. For example, the Jewish inhabited sections of the Gaza Strip were so productive that its produce was sought after throughout the world (even in mainstream supermarkets in the eastern United States) on the one hand, and yet the Arab controlled Gaza Strip has emerged as one of the poorest places on earth.
Hashem does not perform open miracles in every generation. However, Hashem makes certain “quasi-open miracles” as ample evidence of the divine source of our holy Torah. Moreover, in the past one hundred and thirty years He has magnified the quasi-open miracle of Eretz Yisrael’s loyalty to the Jews and made the quasi-open miracle of the establishment and maintenance of Jewish sovereignty over portions of Eretz Yisrael.
Next week we continue our discussion with even more startling biblical prophecies.