In an article for Pessach 5773 (1 of 3), Rabbi Cherki notes that the redemption of Israel is really the redemption of the whole world.
I want to wish my readers a happy Pesach, a happy holiday of redemption.
This holiday which is fast approaching, the great holiday which marks the release of the nation of Israel from slavery to freedom, bears a message of good news for the entire world.
One of the greatest Jewish philosophers of all time, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, said that the exodus of Israel from Egypt will forever remain the springtime of the entire world. The holiday teaches the world that emancipation is possible. Thus, the release of the Children of Israel shines a light on all of humanity, teaching us that mankind can free itself from the shackles of nature, from the shackles of the evil inclination, and from political bonds. All of this is possible, there is hope for mankind. But we must take into account that the freedom that we celebrate on Pesach came after a very long period of exile – an exile which was very harsh and difficult.
We might well ask: Why did the Divine Providence find it necessary to tell us in advance that the nation would have such difficult experiences? And why did the periods of exile return again and again, so much so that the vast majority of the history of Israel was spent in exile and in bondage? What was the reason for all of this?
We cannot accept that this entire history was simply the result of sins that we committed. Sins are a very serious matter and people are punished for doing them, but it would be very much out of proportion to assume that all of these periods of exile are explained merely as punishment for sins. One of the great masters of Jewish thought, the Maharal of Prague, in fact explained about four hundred years ago that exile and redemption are two essential modes of existence for the nation of Israel. We can conclude that it is important for us to try to understand the meaning of the exile in greater depth.
The Torah teaches us that the first exile in history was not that of Israel but rather the exile of all of humanity. In the story of the Tower of Babel, we learn that “seventy nations” of the world were created from an original split, because of a lack of companionship. We learn that this was a dispute that was born in the earliest stages of the history of mankind, and that this dispute led in the end to wars and much human suffering.
To this very day we can say that humanity in general is still in exile. This means that when Israel is sent into exile, they have a mission to perform when they encounter the exile of the other nations.
We see in the book of Genesis that the number of the children of Israel who first went to Egypt was seventy, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world. This is explicitly stated in our traditions, clearly implying that there is a universal objective to be accomplished when Israel descends into the other nations.
What is this mission? It is quite simple. There is a process that masters of the Kabbalah call “gathering the sparks.” Every human culture has some sort of holy root, a moral spark which is not enriched by factors that exist in other cultures because of the enmity between the various nations.
The nation of Israel is sent into exile among the other nations, and while it is there it gathers elements from all the other cultures. This is what is called “gathering the sparks.” We are the only nation that can at one and the same time be a bit American, a bit Moroccan, somewhat French, a bit Russian, sort of Australian, and also Indian. We are a combination of myriad elements that come from all the places where we were in exile. And we really did journey to the farthest corners of the world.
When we return to our own land, we bring with us all of these elements that we picked up in the “seventy” cultures of the world, and we use them to rebuild the original human being – in the image of G-d that existed before the Tower of Babel. As part of this task, we shine universal love on the entire world.
Therefore, it should be no surprise, now that Israel has returned from all over the world after gathering together traits from the other nations, to see that the other nations feel that the Children of Israel have something to offer them. And now the universal meaning of the return to Zion which shines over the entire world will be revealed. In this way, the redemption of Israel is really the redemption of the entire world.
The very fact that we have been redeemed at this point in time allows us to see humanity as a whole when we look at ourselves in a mirror. This will help build up a human brotherhood which will bring peace back to all of mankind.