Are we permitted to take steps to shorten the galus? Can the Jewish people forcefully reclaim the Land of Israel? Are Jews permitted to rebel against the nations? What are the Three Oaths? Are they still binding nowadays? Can we pray to end the galus? What steps are forbidden to take in attempt to end the galus? Is engaging in practical kabala to bring the geula permitted? Are we, today, repeating the Bnei Efraim’s mistake? Of this, and more, in the coming article.
In this week’s parasha we read of the actions Moshe Rabbenu took to extract the Jewish people from Egypt, the first seven Plagues, and Pharaoh’s insistence that the Jews remain. Last week’s article discussed the Beni Efraim’s premature attempt to leave the Egyptian exile, and their tragic end. In this week’s article we will examine our current exile, and the permitted and forbidden ways to end it. As Mark Twain’s famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” we may ask: are we repeating the Bnei Efraim’s mistake? In the following article we attempt to provide our readership with an impartial, fact-based overview of the full spectrum of halachic sources on the topic, while following the halachically accepted ruling methodology.
The Three Oaths
The discussion begins with a pasuk in Shir Hashirim 2:7: “I adjure you, O daughters of Yerushalayim, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, that ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please.” What oath did G-d place upon the Daughters of Yeruslahayim? The Gemara (Kesubos 110a) learns from this pasuk that there are actually not one, but six oaths: not go up [to the land of Israel] in a wall; not to rebel against the nations of the world, that the nations not excessively oppress Israel; not to reveal the end of the galus; not to postpone the geula, or: not to end the exile prematurely; and not to reveal the secret to idol worshippers.
This list contains seemingly cryptic items, which we will explain in light of the various commentaries. Nevertheless, profound understanding of these concepts is only possible to Torah scholars involved in kabalistic studies.
Not to Go Up in a Wall
Rashi explains that “going up in a wall” means a mass immigration. The Maharsha (Kesubos 111a) explains that Rashi understand the oath as preventing us from “ascending to Israel forcefully, with intention to build a wall.” The Rashash and Vayoel Moshe explain that the “wall” here is a metaphoric term, alluding to any mass, organized immigration, as the Gemara uses the term elsewhere (Yoma 9a) “If you had gone up together as a wall in the times of Ezra (when only a minority returned to Zion)…” Vayoel Moshe explains that the oath not to come to Eretz Yisroel “as a wall” in three ways: 1) not to make aliyah in a large, organized group; 2) that the majority of the Jewish Nation not make aliyah to Israel, and 3) not to conquer Eretz Yisroel from the occupying nations.
What about the mitzva to settle in the holy land and make it habitable (Bamidbar 33:53)?
The Rashash understood that this biblical obligation is binding on the individual level, but not on the collective. Kaftor V’Perach (chapter 10), after listing the virtues of moving to Israel, adds not to do so with the intent to conquer it, since there is an oath not to “go up in a wall”.
Establishing a Jewish State
Rashi explains that the oath not to “go up as a wall” only refers to ascending to Israel forcefully, without international permission. Rabbi Yehonoson Eibeshitz (Ahavas Yehonoson) explains in his commentary to the haftoras that even if the nations of the world would call the Jews to gather and go live in Israel before the time of the geula, they should refuse. While the time may be ripe at the moment, it is only for the time being. Should they sin again, they will again go to exile – and this time, it will be harsher than the previous. Only when the Final Redemption comes will all of the exiles return.
The Avnei Nezer (YD 454:51) understood this concept differently. In his opinion, if the ruling nation does not agree to immigration, only individuals can move to Israel, calmly and with peaceful intentions. However, if the time comes when the nations of the world “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” (Balfour Declaration), ascending to Israel is not considered “going up in a wall”, and permitted. He adds one caveat: the advantage of moving to Israel is only with a group that intends to keep the mitzvos, since if not, the pasuk writes: “Who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?” (Yeshayahu 1:12). Eretz Yisroel is Hashem’s court, and living there without keeping his mitzvos is the ultimate disrespect. As for Rabbi Yehonoson Eibeshitz’s opinion, he explains that it was written as an explanation for a pasuk in the haftorah, not as practical halachic ruling, because no doubt — he would never have contradicted Rashi’s halachic ruling. Furthermore, halachos are never deduced from homiletic texts.
Rebelling Against the Nations
The Maharsha (part I, Kesubos 111a) notes, that along with the prohibition to ascend to Israel with intention to build a wall, there is a general prohibition to rebel against the subjugating nations, wherever we may find ourselves.
The Rambam does not mention the mitzva of conquering Eretz Yisroel or settling it among the positive mitzvos. The Megillahs Esther and Beis Halevi (volume II, chapter 50) explain that the Rambam understands this mitzva pertains only to the generations of Moshe and Yehoshua, King David and the Moshiach. Until then, we are bound by the oath not to rebel against the nations. Therefore, this mitzva is not counted among the 613 mitzvos. The Ramban (positive mitzva 4), however, disagrees, and lists conquering Eretz Yisroel among the positive mitzvos. According to the Ramban, living in Eretz Yisroel is a mitzva even during the galus, and even for the individual and that is what he did.
The Yefe Talmud (Kesubos 111a) writes that while it could have made sense to claim that if the nations of the world break their oath we are permitted to break ours, in truth, it is not possible. The oaths are not made between us and the nations of the world, in which if one party breaks it – the other can too. Rather, the oaths are between Hashem and the Jewish people, and Hashem and the nations. As individual oaths, they are not connected in any way.
Revealing the End of Days
Rashi (Kesubos 111a) explains that this oath binds the prophets who knew it, forbidding them to reveal it.
Delaying the End of Galus
How can we stall the geula? Rashi explains that the exile is prolonged due to our sins, and the prohibition to prolong it is the oath not to sin. The Maharsha (Kesubos 111) explains it differently. In his opinion it is the loss of hope, the feeling that the geula is too far off. Rather, we are obligated to live in the feeling that “salvation is near to come” (Yeshayahu 56:1).
Speeding Up the Galus
Rashi (Kesubos 111a) reads two meanings in the previously mentioned oath. One is not to delay the end of the galus, and the other is the flip side – not to speed it up. This, explains Rashi, is the prohibition to pray excessively for the end of the galus. This sounds surprising – don’t we pray three times a day for the Final Redemption? Indeed, we do, but this oath is directed at those involved in practical kabala who have the knowledge and ability to hasten the end of the galus. The oath warns them not to end the galus prematurely. The Yefe Kol explains (shir Hashirim 2, 1:7) that the final geula can only take place in the right time, and if it will be brought upon prematurely, it won’t be complete.
The Chasam Sofer (column VI, chapter 86) explains that this prohibition refers to following in the footsteps of Yosef De La Reina (c. 1418 – c. 1472). He attempted to hasten the messianic age, and perished in the attempt. The Toldos Yaakov Yosef (Shelach) explains it is a prohibition to pray or engage in kabalistic measures in a way that forces Hashem to do something, so to speak “against His Will”. Rather, we are encouraged and obligated to pray and act towards bringing the geula closer in the acceptable direct channels.
The Yismach Moshe (Yashir Moshe Shir Hashirim 2:7) explains this forbids “forcing” G-d to redeem us from exile, similar to how Eliyahu Hanavi (Melachim I, 17:1) swore off rain, or Choni HaMe’agel drew a circle and swore not leave it until it would rain (Taanis 23a). However, praying, even intensely and excessively, is certainly permitted and praiseworthy.
Revealing the End
Rashi (Kesubos 111a) explains there is a prohibition to reveal the secret of the Hebrew calendar or the hidden reasons of the mitzvos to non-Jews. The Pnei Yehoshua (Kesubos 111a) does not understand how these secrets are related to the Three Oaths. He answers that perhaps, if they would know them they would stop subjugating the Jewish nation and the exile would end prematurely.
The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Raba, 2 1:7) explains the essence of the international oath with the nations of the world is for them not to excessively subjugate the Jewish people. This, explains the Midrash, is to ensure Hashem does not see their suffering and bring the geula earlier as he did in Egypt. The Rashba’s disciples (quoted in the Shitta Mekubetzet, Kesubos 111) add that only in the End of Days, if Israel will not repent of their own accord and not correct all that needs to be corrected, terrible decrees will befall them, and then Israel will repent and correct what needs to be corrected.
The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar 7:24a) writes that Hashem adjured the nations to honor their Jewish subjects.
Essence of the Oaths
The Maharal in his commentary on Kesubos (Chidushei Agados, 111a) writes that the oaths were necessary to enable Israel to live in exile since if not for this decree, galus could not exist, because natural order prevails. The oaths, which are the galus decrees, are necessary for the existence of this phenomenon, and violating it in any way, either by Yisroel – by “going up in a wall”, or by the nations in “subjugating them excessively” goes against G-d’s Will.
The Avnei Nezer (YD 454:40) explains this subject contains many Torah secrets, as the Arizal explained extensively. Therefore, everything under this title is purposely obscure and vague. He continues (footnote 44-45; 50) that the oaths are not actual oaths Israel were placed under, but rather one similar to the one taken by the Jewish soul before birth, to be righteous and not sin. One who agrees to follow Torah and mitzvos is led by his Neshama, and follows G-d’s Will, including the decree of exile. While no prohibition is involved in breaking these vows, a Jewish soul naturally refrains from doing so, and any desire to do so does not originate from the pure Jewish soul, but from other elements. Since there is no actual transgression involved in it, the poskim did not mention these oaths in their works.
Similarly, Rabbi Shaul Nathanson wrote in Diveri Shaul (Shemos) that the oaths are the basic Jewish nature that bows to its oppressor, and does not naturally rebel against his tormentor.
The Avnei Nezer explains the international oath involves each of the nations’ individual ministering angel who naturally directs their behavior towards Israel. This angel was placed under oath not to excessively subjugate the Jewish people, and the first to pay for a nation that breaks their oath is its ministering angel.
Vayoel Moshe (Maamar Shalosh Shvuos) uniquely maintains that breaking the Three Oaths is a full Torah prohibition. He maintains that the reason it is not mentioned in the poskim is simply because it was realistically impossible. Only when a false messiah appeared in Yemen and encouraged them to break the oaths did the Rambam (Iggeret Teiman) instruct the people not to follow him. This, explains Vayoel Moshe, proves that breaking the oaths is halachically considered a full Torah prohibition. He cites the Rashbash (2) who maintains that due to the oath, the mitzva to settle Eretz Yisroel is non-compulsory.
The Avnei Nezer (YD 454:46) writes that there is no punishment for not adhering to the oaths. However, when breaking them, we lose connection with Hashem. Loss of this connection results in seeing the pasuk “If the Lord will not guard a city, [its] watcher keeps his vigil in vain” (Tehilim 127:1) being realized – i.e. loss of Divine protection. When the soul’s root is disengaged from its source, Hashem’s Divine protection is removed. Then, the part of the oath (Shir Hashirim 2:7) “by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field” comes true, in which Jewish flesh is made ownerless, like animals in the wild.
Rabbi Chaim Vital (Introductions, Sha’ar HaHakdamos) writes that the three oaths only pertained to the first five thousand years following the Creation. Once the sixth thousand begins, he writes, Bnei Yisroel are permitted to repent and leave the galus. While this is a widely accepted concept, the Vayoel Moshe (Ma’amar Shalosh Shvuos) suspects it might be a forgery.
This idea is mentioned here, albeit briefly, only because it is widely cited. It is important to note that the source is deeply esoteric and requires extensive understanding of kabala in order to comprehend the difference between the first five thousand years and the sixth. Various kabalistic sources discuss it, and understanding it requires profound kabalistic insight.
Facts on the Ground
While the entire discussion until now has focused on the theoretic concept of Redemption and ending the galus, the facts as they are today have an Israeli, Jewish (albeit not Torah observant) government in the biblical Land of Israel, and an Israeli army protecting its borders. Is the Israeli government a contradiction to the Three Oaths? This topic has been debated widely among various halachic and Torah leaders. Here we will mention the three central opinions on this issue.
The Satmar Rebbe’s opinion (Vayoel Moshe, Shalosh Shvuos) is that the factual existence of a Jewish government that wishes to govern Eretz Yisroel transgresses the Three Oaths.
Rav Kook (Tov Rei, Kesubos 111a) maintains that since the land was void of a governing power once the Ottoman Empire crumbled, (the British Mandate was a limited mandate, not a ruler), there was no rebellion in overtaking the land, and doing so did not break the Three Oaths.
The Kehilos Yaakov (Karyana D’Agarta III, 5749) writes that while the historic facts are debatable — if there was a transgression of the Three Oaths in establishing the State of Israel in 1948 or not — now, once these are the facts, there is no transgression involved. This, he writes, might explain the unending bloodshed in Israel which could be the punishment for breaking the Oaths. However, once the government is the reality, the Jewish State is not a contradiction to the Three Oaths.