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Tears of Exile, Seeds of Hope: The Unbreakable Bond Between God and Israel

The historical covenant between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the congregation of Israel is complex. In Parashat Bechukotai, there is a contract between the Holy One and the people of Israel. "If you follow My statutes" (Leviticus,26,3)– things will be good; "If you do not follow My statutes," – things will be less good or even bad. The parashah contains descriptions of peace in the Land of Israel and peace among the people of Israel, alongside descriptions of deterioration, the possibility of exile, and sinking to the lowest depths. However, in the end, there is a promise that even after enduring all the horrors and hardships of exile, we will eventually return to the Land of Israel.

This disagreement raises a profound question-what does redemption truly hinge upon? In the Talmud, we encounter a spirited debate between two of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's most esteemed disciples, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Eliezer asserts that Israel's redemption is contingent upon their repentance, while Rabbi Yehoshua posits that redemption is inevitable, irrespective of repentance. In essence, Rabbi Yehoshua suggests that the Holy One, blessed be He, will not defer His historical plan due to human choice. Even if people choose a path of transgression, the Master of the Universe remains steadfast in His promise to restore Israel to the Land of Israel.

On such an important matter, doesn't the written Torah before us have something to say? It states, "They will then confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, their betrayal that they dealt Me and that they also treated Me as happenstance. Then I, too, will treat them as happenstance and bring them [back while] in the Land of their enemies. If then, their clogged heart becomes humbled, then, [their sufferings] will gain appeasement for their iniquity, and I will remember My covenant [with] Jacob, and also My covenant [with] Isaac, and also My covenant [with] Abraham I will remember. And I will remember the Land, (Leviticus,26,40-42)

How should we understand this verse? It can be interpreted that their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled. They will make amends for their iniquity, meaning they will repent, and then God will bring them back to the Land, which aligns with Rabbi Eliezer's view.

However, if we pay attention, the Torah uses a small word that is difficult to translate – the word "או" (or). Rashi, our greatest commentator, interprets "או" in two ways: "או" meaning "if" – if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, then God will remember the Land and bring Israel back to it, which aligns with Rabbi Eliezer's view. In his second interpretation, Rashi says "או" means "perhaps" – perhaps their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled. Whether they repent or not, in any case, "I will remember My covenant with Jacob," which aligns with Rabbi Yehoshua's view.

It is intriguing to note that the Torah employs an enigmatic word. It appears that the Holy One, blessed be He, has crafted His Torah in a way that the text beckons the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. There is a compelling argument for Rabbi Eliezer's moral stance that redemption is inseparable from repentance. Simultaneously, there is a compelling case for Rabbi Yehoshua's perspective that historical progression cannot be hindered by human choice. Thus, the Torah presents both viewpoints and leaves room for interpretation.

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Tears of Exile, Seeds of Hope: The Unbreakable Bond Between God and Israel

Parashat Bechukotai discusses the covenant between God and Israel, emphasizing the importance of repentance for redemption. The Talmudic debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua delves into whether redemption is contingent on teshuva. Rashi's commentary interprets the ambiguous term "או" to support both views. This dual perspective highlights the Torah's open interpretation, showing that redemption can depend on human repentance or divine promise, reflecting a complex interplay of conditions in Judaism's understanding of historical progress.