Exile (Galus)

In chassidic literature, Galus is defined as the exile of the Divine Presence within our world — the exile of the Divine light within the material world that darkens and obscures it. As fore­shadowed in the words of Scripture,1 “I will surely hide My face on that day.”

In the times when the Beis HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in this lowly world of ours was manifest and palpable. Thus it was that ten overt miracles occurred in the Beis HaMikdash every day.2 In this way, every Jew who went up to Jerusalem for the thrice-yearly Pilgrim Festivals experienced Divinity revealed. Accordingly, expounding the verse3 that speaks of the obligation of every male to appear there, the Sages teach,4 “Just as he would come in order to see [the Divine Presence], so too would he come in order to be seen [by the Divine Presence].” The revealed light that radiated from the Beis HaMikdash also affected the outside world, alleviating its darkness, and making it less of an obstacle to man’s service of his Creator.

In the period of exile, by contrast, the Divine light is seem­ingly removed, and the Divine Countenance is masked: Divine revelation is not readily seen and experienced, and the miracles of the Beis HaMikdash are no longer with us. And within the workings of the created world, the Divine truth and light are imperceptibly hidden, as if in the darkness of night.

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The eclipse of the Divine light within the material world brings about the eclipse of the Divine soul within the animal soul: the individual Jew is in exile within himself.

In this state, he is unable to attain the level of divine service that was possible when the Beis HaMikdash stood. The revelation of Divinity at that time enabled every Jew to palpably experience the Divine reality, and hence to devote his entire self to his Creator, effacing himself before Him — utterly and earnestly, yet lovingly and pleasurably. In the time of exile, by contrast, when Divinity is hidden, one has to coerce himself to serve his Maker, by undertaking to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, his self-effacement is merely outward, not penetrating his inward essence.

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This distinction in the spiritual standing of the Jewish people — between the time of the Beis HaMikdash and the time of exile — brings about a corresponding distinction in their material standing. In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, when the Divine Presence was manifest, and the Jewish people were at a lofty level of spiritual attainment, their material status was propor­tionately strong. Thus, in the days when5Solomon sat on the throne of G‑d,” we learn that he6 “reigned over all the kingdoms from the River [Euphrates] to the Land of the Philistines, and until the border of Egypt.” By contrast, the sorry spiritual state of our people in this era of exile is reflected on a national scale.

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This observation raises a question: What is the ultimate goal and intent of this exile?

It is clear, for a start, that the exile is a process of atonement; in the words of the prayers,7 “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” In addition to this, Chassidus points out that exile has a positive side to it: indeed, there is a certain kind of divine service that can be carried out only in the conditions of exile. This task, which is no less than the goal and intent of exile, is the task of sifting and refining the materiality of this world, and elevating the sparks of holiness that are embedded within it.8

As explained in the works of Kabbalah and Chassidus, lofty sparks are scattered throughout the material world. Just as the stones at the top of a crumbling wall fall furthest, so too do these sparks plunge from their sublime heights to the very depths of exile. There they are obscured by kelippos, by the forces of impurity. Hence derives the task of the Jewish people in exile — to uncover and elevate these sparks, by means of Torah study and other forms of divine service, and by engaging in the things of this world for the sake of heaven.

This kind of divine service has undergone successive stages. At first the Jewish people had to deal with the lesser sparks, those which had not fallen so far, and for this, it sufficed that they study the Torah and observe the commandments in Eretz Yisrael. When the Divine Will ordained that the time had come to liberate the loftier sparks, those that had fallen under the remote dominion of the various nations of the earth, G‑d exiled His people to their lands for the sake of those sparks.

Moreover, within the era of exile itself there are successive stages. While the darkness of earlier periods demanded less ef­fort, the darkness of our days — the generation which can hear the approaching footsteps of Mashiach — is growing deeper and
denser. For the sublime and evasive sparks that still await re­trieval can be redeemed only by the redoubled exertions that re­doubled darkness elicits. Indeed, the all-pervasive darkness is a reassurance that the last traces of these sparks are now being res­cued from the clutches of the forces of impurity. The end of our generation’s task is already within sight. Mashiach can now ap­pear.

Adopting the above-outlined attitude to exile enables one to relate to it in quite a new way. Before our very eyes we can be­hold the goal of this long exile, and can witness its darkest and most formidable stages. For this is a descent for the sake of an ultimate ascent, and the steeper the present descent, the loftier the subsequent ascent. Or, to view the same dynamic from its innermost perspective, there is no real descent at all, only an as­cent. Only to the superficial observer is there a descent. From the perspective of the Divine intent hidden within, every descent is part of the ascent; every apparent additional descent is part of the ever more exalted ascent which it generates.

Redemption (Geulah)

Every created being, whether meteor or molecule, exists only by virtue of the Divine energy that flows within it. In the words of the prayers,9 “In His goodness He renews each day, continu­ously, the work of Creation.” Not even for an instant can the world be disconnected from the Divine life-force which pulsates within it, from the life-giving Divine light which permeates the entire universe, and which is the very existence of every being.

Though this concept can be grasped intellectually, it cannot be palpably sensed. The universe is not conscious that its very existence is constantly dependent on the ongoing will of its Creator, because the Divine life-force, which is the true “I” of all of creation, conceals itself behind numerous screens.

This concealment is an integral component of the intent of Creation, viz., that10 “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have a dwelling place among mortals.” In order to materialize this intent, G‑d created a world in which the Divine light is so imperceptible that the world appears to enjoy an existence separate and independent of its Creator. And precisely in the midst of such a seemingly lowly world, He seeks to find a dwelling place.

The task of building this dwelling G‑d entrusted to the Jewish people; He created a world of darkness, and commanded His people to illuminate it. Accordingly, when a Jew studies Torah and fulfills its commandments, “for a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light,”11 he lights up the world and reveals the truth which it hides — viz., that everything is Divinity. And by so doing, he builds the dwelling place that G‑d desires.

True enough, in these times we do not perceive the effects of every good deed that an individual Jew might do. Only when Mashiach comes will G‑d’s Will be realized that He have “a dwelling place among mortals,” for only then will the effects of the Torah and mitzvos of the entire era of exile be visible to all; only then will it be apparent to all that the entire universe exists only because of the word of G‑d. In the words of the prophet,12 “The glory of G‑d shall be revealed, and together all flesh shall see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken.”

This, in fact, is the true and inner significance of the coming of Mashiach. The accumulated good deeds of all the ages will then join forces to generate a mighty beacon that will banish the screen of evil, and allow all eyes to plainly see that13 “there is nothing else apart from Him.” At that time nothing will obscure the visible truth — that the reality of all existence is its Divine life-force.

Accordingly, the coming of Mashiach is not a peripheral ad­dendum to the Jewish people’s service of G‑d through the Torah and its commandments; rather, the coming of Mashiach is its core, the goal to which all else leads. So long as Mashiach has not yet come, the intent of creation has not been realized, and the universe has not fulfilled its destiny.

No Jew who realizes that the goal of all divine service is to create “a dwelling place among mortals,” to bring the entire world under the dominion of G‑d so that all will see the word of G‑d that animates it, — no Jew with this realization is able to re­main indifferent to the time at which this goal will finally be re­alized. Indeed, he looks forward to it with all his heart and soul, to the point that he does everything in his power to hasten its coming. Firm in his faith in the coming of Mashiach, his Torah study and his fulfillment of the mitzvos are fired with zest, as he joyously does his utmost to speed the coming of that momen­tous day of which it is written,14 “G‑d shall be King over the entire earth; on that day G‑d shall be One and His Name One.”

Rabbi Alter Eliyahu Friedman