Rabbi Adi Cohen
The eternal existence of the Jewish People, despite all the upheavals and hardships that they have suffered, is truly miraculous. But what makes the wonder of Jewish survival especially awe-inspiring is the fact that this miracle was predicted already in the Torah. The Torah foresaw the exiles, the persecution, the dispersion across the world, the reduction of the nation’s population – and its eternal survival against all odds.
The Four Corners of the Earth
In the Book of Devarim, the Torah warns of the calamities that would befall the nation as punishment for betraying Gd, and states: “Gd will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth to the other” (Devarim 28:64). We are told that the Jews would be exiled from their land and dispersed throughout the world. History bears witness to the fulfillment of this prophecy; there is hardly a place on earth without any Jews residing there. No other nation has been exiled to every possible civilization. Only the Jewish Nation, which is, by nature, close-knit, and thus could be least expected to spread out, has been scattered to the four corners of the earth.
The Torah continues: “And there you will serve other deities which are unknown to you and your forefathers, deities of wood and stone” – meaning, the Jews in exile will be subservient to worshipers of other deities, and subjected to forced labor, such that they will, in a sense, be considered as worshipping foreign deities. As Rashi explains: “They will not serve the actual deities themselves, but rather will pay taxes in the form of forced labor.” These foreign deities will have been previously unknown to the exiled Jews and their forebears, and these faiths will be represented by “wood and stone.”
Two new religions emerged after the Jewish Nation’s exile – Christianity and Islam. The symbol of Christianity is the wooden cross, and that of Islam is the stone in Mecca. These are new religions which the Jews and their forefathers never knew, and to which they were subservient throughout the centuries of exile.
The Exile Within Exile
In this same section, the Torah warns: “And you will remain few in number, instead of your once being as numerous as the stars of the heavens, because you did not obey…” (Devarim 28:62). The Jews’ population in exile will be exceedingly small, but they will survive. Logically, of course, the larger a nation’s population, the greater its chances of survival; and the smaller the population, the greater the risk of extinction, for several reasons, including the simple fact that it is more difficult for people to find a suitable mate. Sure enough, throughout our nation’s exile, its population was small, numbering just 17 million at its peak, and dwindling to just about 1 million during its darkest periods.
The Torah continues: “And among those nations, you will not be calm, nor will your foot find rest” (ibid. 65). The nations among whom the Jewish People will be scattered will not allow them peace or stability; as we know from Jewish history, the Jews were driven from country to country, rarely finding a safe, secure haven.
This phenomenon of an “exile within an exile” – a nation in exile being driven from one country to another – is unparalleled. No other nation has been exiled and then expelled from the land to where it was exiled. This phenomenon also belies logic; there is no explanation for why self-respecting governments, such as France, England, Spain, Germany, Russia, and others, forcibly expelled their innocent Jewish citizens. What human being could have possibly predicted that different nations, with completely different mentalities, would all behave the same way in respect to one particular matter – their attitude toward the Jews?
The “Stupidity” of Anti-Semitism
The Torah continues in the same section: “And your life will hang in suspense before you; You will be in fear night and day, and you will not trust your life. In the morning, you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and in the evening, you will say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the fear in your heart which you will experience and because of the sights that you will behold” (Devarim 28:66-67).
The Torah alludes in this passage to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, which has no parallel in world history. Professor Yosef ben Shlomo, in an essay written for officers of the Israeli Defense Forces, writes:
This hatred [of the Jews] is principled and unconditional, and therefore depends on no factors…not on any economic situation, not on societal conditions, not on the type of government and not on its relationship to the Jews, not on their success and not on their lack of appeal, not on failure and not on progress, for we have had experience in all these circumstances, and the hatred remains…
They hate us with the complaint that we are too good, and on the other hand, because we are bloodsuckers; because we are separate, and because we are too involved. They hate us in periods of economic prosperity, and persecute us in times of economic depression. The monarchy is disgusted by us, and so is the dictatorship, and the democracy. In times of anarchy we are the first prey of the looters. They view us as responsible for every disaster, and unnecessary for any success; they beat the one who bends to them and attack the one who walks upright; they prevent the observance of our religion, but will not accept one bent on assimilation; at every moment and in every situation, they have a reason to hate the Jews.
In 1923, David Lloyd George, who had served as Prime Minister of Britain, was quoted as saying:
Of all the bigotries that savage the human temper there is none as stupid as the antisemitic. In the sight of these fanatics, Jews of today can do nothing right. If they are rich, they are birds of prey. If they are poor, they are vermin. If they are in favor of war, that is because they want to exploit the bloody feuds of gentiles to their own profit. If they are anxious for peace, they are either instinctive cowards or traitors. If he lives in a strange land, he must be persecuted and pogrommed out of it. If he wants to go back to his own, he must be prevented.
“A Topic of Discussion”
The Torah describes further: “And you will become an astonishment, an example, and a topic of discussion, among all the peoples to whom Gd will bring you” (ibid. 37).
Rashi explains the phrase “an astonishment” (“leshamah”) to mean that people will be baffled and astonished by the hardships and suffering that the Jewish Nation will endure. And “an example” (“lemashal”), Rashi writes, means that “when some terrible calamity befalls someone, people will say: ‘This is like the trouble that happened to so-and-so’.” Meaning, the Jewish People will serve as an example of every kind of disaster and misfortune. They will also be “a topic of discussion” – meaning, people will speak about them. The Jews will always be the focus of people’s attention, and they will be rigorously scrutinized, with people eagerly looking to identify their faults.
It seems bizarre that a tiny nation, scattered throughout the world, would be the focus of people’s attention and consistently subject to scrutiny. Such a prediction sounds utterly irrational. And yet, history has proven the accuracy of the Torah’s words. In every generation, the entire world spoke about the Jews; and in our day, of course, Jews are always highlighted on the news and are continually the subject of conversation.
Mark Twain wrote in 1899: “If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people.”
A nation that will suffer countless exiles, oppression, hostility – even the “final solution” of complete annihilation – could be expected to disappear from the world. Yet, the Torah promises that against all odds, and contrary to all reason and laws of history, the Jewish People will survive: “But despite all this, while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not despise them, nor will I be repulsed by them to annihilate them, thereby breaking My covenant that is with them…” (Vayikra 26:44).
Additionally, the prophet Malachi wrote: “For I, Gd, have not changed; and you, the sons of Yaakov, have not reached the end” (Malachi 3:6). The Rambam, in his Iggeret Teman (“Epistle to Yemen”), explains: “Just as it is impossible that the existence of Gd could be nullified, so too, it is impossible that we should be lost and nullified from the world.”
These explicit promises, and others like them, appear throughout the books of the Torah and the Prophets. They promise that the Jewish People will be few in number, scattered among the nations, persecuted and hated, but they will nevertheless survive forever.
The Land’s Desolation
The Torah describes the Land of Israel as “a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and springs that flow in valleys and mountains; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-producing olives and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it” (Devarim 8:7-9).
Even before Beneh Yisrael entered the Land of Israel, they were told that it is a fertile land, suitable for development and agriculture, a land with the necessary water sources, a flourishing land whose inhabitants will “lack nothing.” Elsewhere, however, the Torah states that when the Jewish Nation will be exiled, “I will make the Land desolate, so that it will become desolate also of your enemies who live in it… Your land will be desolate, and your cities will be laid to waste” (Vayikra 26:32—33). During the nation’s exile, the land will be empty.
The Torah foresaw that when the Jewish people will reside in their homeland, it will blossom, but when they live in exile, it will be desolate – not only without Jews, but also without enemy nations.
This prediction runs contrary to all historical experience and logic. In the natural order of things, once a nation is conquered, the new settlers come and exploit the land’s resources and take full advantage of its economic potential. And let us not forget that the Land of Israel is sacred not only to the Jews, but also to millions upon millions of Christians and Muslims. Moreover, it is located at the meeting point of three continents – Asia, Europe, and Africa, such that it has great strategic importance as a transportation route. Additionally, the climate is mild and the soil is fertile, making it a desirable place to live.
Yet, the Torah foresaw that after the Jews were banished from the land, it would remain desolate and undeveloped.
The Ramban, in his Torah commentary, explains that “in all our exiles, the land will not accept our enemies. This is also a great proof and promise for us, for nowhere else in civilization will you find a land that is good and spacious, which had always been settled, that is as desolate as the Land of Israel. Everyone tries to settle there, and no one is successful.”
The Modern-Day Blossoming of the Land of Israel
Did the promise that the Land of Israel will flourish when the Jews reside there come true?
The historian Josephus Flavius, who lived during the Second Commonwealth and saw the Land of Israel before its destruction, writes in The Wars of the Jews:
It is a rich land with ample pasture, with numerous fruit trees and a wealth of grain that attracts men from far away who love agriculture. The entire land is tilled by its inhabitants; there is no desolate stretch of land anywhere. Because of the land’s great fertility, the cities and villages of the Galilee are very populous; the smallest village has 15,000 inhabitants.
What happened to the Land of Israel once the Jews left? Did it lie desolate, as the Torah predicted?
Famous tourists who visited the land in the 19th century described what they witnessed.
- V. Schultz writes: “And what is the current state of Palestine? It has turned into a desert in comparison to its former, usual fertility. In our travel, we were forced more than once to hike for hours until we found a shady place to rest under a tree.”
Mark Twain, who visited the Holy Land in 1867, writes in Innocents Abroad: “Arrived at an elevation of twelve hundred feet above the lake (Sea of Galilee); as bald and unthrilling a panorama as any land can afford, perhaps, was spread out before us.” He continues: “Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route…hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
In another place he describes: “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.” He concludes: “Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is dream land.”
Professor Sir John William Dawson writes in 1888: “Until today no people have succeeded in becoming settled as a nation in Palestine. No national entity or national spirit has acquired a foothold there. That mixed multitude of sparse tribes that dwell there hold onto the land only as sharecroppers, temporary owners, and it appears as if they are awaiting those with the right to permanent ownership of the land to return.”
Now, what happened to the Land of Israel when the Jews returned to it? Did it again flourish and bring forth fruits?
To answer this question, we need only take a look around the Land of Israel today and feast our eyes on the green fields and blossoming fruit trees that fill the length and breadth of the Land, and take a walk in the modern cities, where we can only be amazed by the skyscrapers and enormous bridges. And to think that all this took place within only 100 years!
Such an important event in the history of the Jewish People should certainly be foretold by one of the prophets, and sure enough, the prophet Yehezkel foresaw thousands of years ago the land’s return to prosperity when the Jews return, describing it as if it happened right before his eyes:
Mountains of Israel, hearken to the word of Gd… So said the L-rd Gd to the mountains and to the hills, to the streams and to the valleys, to the desolate ruins and to the deserted cities, which became a scorn and a mockery among the remnant of the nations that are around… And you, the mountains of Israel, will produce your branches, and you will bear your fruit for My people, Israel, because they are about to come… and you will be tilled and sown. And I shall multiply men upon you, the whole house of Israel in its entirety, and the cities will be settled, and the ruins will be built up.” (Yehezkel 36:1-10)
Yehezkel prophesies that once the Jews return, the Land will bear fruit and prosper as it had in the past. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) adds that the flourishing of the Land of Israel is a sure sign of redemption: “Rabbi Abba said: There can be no more manifest sign of the imminent redemption than that which is said: ‘And you, the mountains of Israel, will produce your branches, and you will bear your fruit for My people, Israel, because they are about to come’.”
Rabbi Shmuel Ideles, the Maharsha, comments on this Talmudic passage: “As long as the Jewish people are not in their land, it does not yield its fruits the way it should. However, when it goes back to yielding fruits, this is a revelation of the imminent redemption and that the Jewish people will return to their Land.”
The Torah and the Prophets promised thousands of years ago that the Land of Israel will flourish only when the Jewish people inhabit it – and we see today with our own eyes how this promise has been fulfilled.
Rabbi Adi Cohen is the head of Maagley Yosher educational institutions, who has educated hundreds of students over
The eternal existence of the Jewish People, despite all the upheavals and hardships that they have suffered, is truly miraculous. But what makes the wonder of Jewish survival especially awe-inspiring is the fact that this miracle was predicted already in the Torah.
“…Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. …the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people.”
srael’s 8,522 square miles makes it smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Yet, despite its size, this tiny strip of land is the most hotly-contested real estate in the world. It is truly miraculous that Israel exists, considering that it is surrounded by enemies that want to destroy it.
The Ramban writes that “in all our exiles, the land will not accept our enemies. This is also a great proof and promise for us, for nowhere else in civilization will you find a land that is good and spacious, which had always been settled, that is as desolate as the Land of Israel. Everyone tries to settle there, and no one is successful.”