From the Editor – Sukkot-Simchat Torah 5784
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
A Time for Vision and Hope
It was an era of disappointment.
The return to the Land began with so much excitement. In the first year of his reign, Cyrus the Great granted permission to the Judean exiles to return home. Zerubavel and Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol led the first olim from Babylonia back to their homeland. And on that first Sukkot, the pioneers set up an altar in Jerusalem and brought sacrifices to G-d.
But a painful reality soon overwhelmed the first returnees. The task of rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash was overwhelming. The people lacked resources, and the Samaritans did everything in their power to undermine the process. Worst of all, the people themselves seemed spiritually unworthy of the task at hand. Most rabbis and scholars chose to remain in exile, and many of the pioneers who returned were intermarried and lax in their Torah observance. Unsurprisingly, the process of rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash was delayed for many years, and the people despaired.
Eighteen years after Cyrus’ dramatic declaration, the “new Yishuv” was floundering and the rebuilding had ground to a halt. At this critical moment, the prophet Chaggai began to prophesy. “In the seventh month, on the 21st day” – on Hoshanah Rabbah – Chaggai directly addressed the elephant in the room: “Who among you is left, who saw this house in its former glory? And as you see it now, is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (Chaggai 2:3). Those who still remembered the glory of the first Beit HaMikdash, filled with “pure gold and precious stones” (Abarbanel), could only feel depressed and disappointed by the small scale of the current construction. Even if they succeeded in rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash, it would be a pale reflection of its predecessor. This was not the glorious return they yearned for in Babylonia!
Chaggai acknowledges the disappointment – but then exhorts the leaders of Judah: “Be strong, O Zerubavel… be strong, all you people of the Land… and act! For I am with you – says the G-d of Hosts” (Chaggai 2:4). You may not see it, but G-d is with you, just as He was when He took you out of Egypt. There may be no nature-defying miracles or seas that split, but G-d dwells among you! “My spirit is still in your midst. Fear not!” (2:5). Those enemies that plague you? The day will come when they will pay for their evil. “And I will shake up all the nations” (2:5). “In just a little while longer I will shake the heavens and the earth.” Great days are coming soon! Do not allow the frustrations of the moment to bring you to despair, for G-d “will fill this House with glory” (2:9).
We, too, are living in an age of disappointment. As we devolve into infighting, our enemies grow ever bolder. Those of us who live in Israel’s biblical heartland are afraid to drive on local roads and highways, where Arab terrorists regularly murder our neighbors at will. Those who remember the glorious days after the Six-Day War, when Jews fearlessly walked the streets of Beit Lechem and Chevron with their heads held high, can only sigh in bitter disappointment. Meanwhile, millions of Jews remain in exile, with no plans to return home. Most of all, 56 years after “Har HaBayit B’Yadeinu,” most Jews have all but forgotten our ultimate goal of rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash. Where is our pride, our strength, our belief in ourselves?
During times like these, we must remember Chaggai’s Hoshanah Rabbah prophecy. Though we may not realize it, G-d is with us. Great days are coming, “in just a little while longer,” when G-d will “shake the heavens and earth,” when we will merit the rebuilding of the Temple on Har HaBayit and the descendant of David and Zerubavel will lead us to a time of glory even “greater than the first one.”
But why did Chaggai share this message on Hoshanah Rabbah, of all days? Hoshanah Rabbah is the day of the beating of the aravot, the humble willows that represent the condition of Am Yisrael in our time. Without water – without faith in our people and the vision of redemption – the willow tree will wither away. But if the elders of Israel bring “water” to the people and inspire them with G-d’s awesome vision for the future, the nation will burst forth with awesome vitality, like a flourishing willow alongside a river.Now is not the time for despair, for depressing comparisons of our current moment with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. It is a time for strength and hope, for the vision of Chaggai. For “the glory of this last House shall be greater than the first one… And in this place I will grant peace, says the L-rd of Hosts” (2:9).
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.