Tazria - GALUT AND GEULAH
AN INTERESTING description in the Talmud deserves consideration and comment. Rabbi Simlai declares, "To what may a fetus in the womb of a mother be compared? To a scroll that is wound up . . . His head is between his knees; his mouth is closed . . .; he eats what his mother eats and drinks what his mother drinks. As soon as he goes forth to the world, that which is shut is opened . . and a light shines on his head . . ." (Nidah 30 b).
I see in this statement a homily on the differences between galut and geulah, between life in the diaspora and what life will be like when the Jew will be totally independent and free.
In galut the Jew has a pinkas-a scroll-on which he cannot write. Jews in the diaspora wrote history and philosophy for others but not for themselves. The Disraelis, Kissingers, Spinozas, Freuds, Bergsons and others wrote pinkasim for different nations but not for their own.
In galut, the head of the Jew, like that of the fetus in the womb, is bent downward. The enemies of our people do not permit Jews to lift their heads and to talk like other free men. They heap derision, insult and scorn on our heads and prevent us from living in dignity. When one Jew does wrong the entire Jewish community is forced to bend its head in shame and suffer indignities and persecution.
Like the fetus in the womb, the mouth of a Jew has to be shut. Jews are intimidated and forced to be mute on matters of human concern. If he expresses a liberal thought he is accused of being a radical bent on destroying the government. If he espouses a conservative philosophy he is accused of being a capitalist and an enemy of the working class. To this day Jews in the Soviet Union are warned against communicating with their visiting brethren from other lands. Even in the few Synagogues that are still open for worship in Russia, a visitor is kept from conversing with Russian Jews. The handful of Jews left in Iraq and Syria are held as virtual prisoners from whom no one ever receives a communication.
Another characteristic of the fetus is that it is totally dependent on the food of another individual. This is true with respect to the Jew in galut. He does not enjoy independence of thought or deed. As the saying goes, veet ess kristelt zich zo yidelt zich. Many of the superstitious ideas and practices of the Jew in galut did not originate in Judaism. The horseshoe as a symbol of good luck, the rabbit's foot as a sign of fertility, the knock on wood as a means of shunning bad luck, and the avoidance of the number 13-all have been adopted from non-Jewish sources. They are prohibited modes of behavior that came from a world iii which the diaspora Jew was forced to live. They came to him through the process of spiritual osmosis.
Rabbi Simlai assures us that when the Jew will be privileged to breathe the fresh air of geulah, of independence and freedom, he will become a different specimen of man. Just as when the fetus emerges from the cramped quarters of the womb it assumes an independent life-breathing, eating, drinking on its own-so will the Jew experience a psychological and spiritual rebirth. He will be self-reliant, independent in thought and dignified in conduct and stature.
The story is told of a Jew in Israel who for many years walked in a stooped position. People thought that he was suffering from a spinal illness or an arthritic disorder. One late afternoon, after the liberation of the Western WalI in Jerusalem, he was observed standing at the Kotel and reciting aloud the benediction of zokef kefvfim, in which thanks are offered to God for enabling man to stand erect. A man who knew him was surprised and said, "My friend, this blessing is recited upon arising in the morning and not late in the afternoon, when it is time to repeat the minchah service!" To which the other fellow replied, "You see, I am a Jerusalemite. At the time that the Holy City and the Wall fell into the hands of Jordan, I vowed that I would walk only in a stooped position. Now that Jerusalem and the Kotel are ours again I can straighten my back. I am now thanking God for zokef kefufim-for straightening my back and enabling me to walk in dignity, with my head up, like a man."
When one is in Israel, despite the anxiety for its future, one walks as if he were ten feet tall. One doesn't have to be abnormally careful of what one says or doesn't say, of what one does or doesn't do. One is amongst one's own and acts normally and naturally. That is the result of feelings of geulah.
There is the hope that with the approach of geulah shlomah, of total redemption and salvation, the last of the benefits of freedom promised by Rabbi Simlai will come to us. Ner dolek, "the light will be kindled." The Maharsha (Nidah 31b), maintains that this refers to the verse ner hashem nishmat adam, "The candle of God is the soul of man" (Prov. 20:27).
From the days of Abraham who discovered the true baal habirah, "the owner of the palace," unto the present time, we have assumed the role of "the lamplighters of the world." It is our duty to kindle the ner hashem, the light of God-to teach man about the God of justice and compassion. It is equally our task to bring the message of nishmat adam, that man was endowed with a soul. Throughout the generations our prophets and sages have endeavored to teach that man is not a "naked ape;" that he was not intended to be a beast of the jungle. On the contrary, he is a yetzir kapov shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu, "a creature of the Holy One, Blessed Be He," whom He shaped betzelem elohim, "in the image of God."
These lights we will yet kindle in the glorious epoch of geulah. That is the promise of Rabbi Simlai and the fervent hope of the faithful Jew.