"If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?" Pirkei Avot 1:14
Dear Friends, dear Partners,
Best wishes for a vibrant and happy Passover.
Joëlle & Gad
The Two Possible Courses of Redemption
Passover is, to a great extent, the festival of redemption. The Exodus from Egypt is no doubt one of the most formative events in Jewish history, and is commemorated in all the Biblical festivals, as well as in numerous commandments and other events.
The Exodus was apocalyptic not due to the super-natural events involved in it, but also because it created an extremely significant change within a relatively short time, and without preparation. True, the events recounted in the Book of Exodus did take quite a few months; but when juxtaposed to the thoroughgoing change that the People of Israel underwent – from a loosely related ethnic group of slaves into a new nation – the redemption from Egypt does indeed seem very sudden and surprising.
The Exodus, which has also made a great impression on other nations, has thus become a prototype of redemption, a model against which other redemptions are measured and assessed. Even important events such as the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty during the Second Temple era were not considered to be of equal value to the Exodus. Only the final redemption is compared to the Exodus and is even expected to overshadow it.
The final redemption is seen as a decisive event not only for the Jewish people, but also in world history. In Jewish tradition, the coming of the messiah is not only a matter of national deliverance, nor even of a Jewish renaissance, but an intrinsic change in world history. In a certain sense, the coming of the messiah marks the “end of history” – at least the end of history as it has been in the past few millennia.
Concerning this final redemption, there are two alternative scenarios, both of which are found already in Biblical prophecies, and are expanded upon in the Talmud. The difference between them stems from the question, will redemption be a revolutionary event – or an evolutionary one. The Exodus from Egypt, which was the first redemption, was a whirlwind of supernatural events, a total revolution; and indeed, many descriptions – in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources – depict the final redemption in a similar way. “The great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 3:23) is a universal earthquake which begins with “darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18), and involves colossal wars between “the children of light and the children of darkness.” Like the Exodus it is, so to speak, a Divine tour de force vis-à-vis the world. When God wills it, all of reality will be torn to shreds, and the new day will shine – as was the case in the Exodus from Egypt – out of “blood and fire and pillars of smoke” (Joel 3:3).
The other scenario of redemption is an evolutionary one, and is based on the progress – slow or fast – of humanity toward a higher state of existence. “For ye shall not go out in haste, neither shall ye go by flight; for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will follow you behind” (Isaiah 52:12); or, in other words, “in sitting still and rest shall ye be saved” (Ibid., 30:15). While the Exodus from Egypt contained an element of flight, this redemption will be a slow, smooth process whereby, despite the enormous differences between the present and the future, it will still be possible to discern the processes that prepared for redemption and promoted it. Even the Biblical simile comparing redemption to birth – a dramatic event with a clearly defined “before” and “after” – presupposes a long pregnancy that prepared for it.
The difference between these two almost diametrically opposed scenarios can be explained by the somewhat enigmatic Talmudic saying: “The son of David (=the Messiah, namely: the final redemption) will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked” (Tractate Sanhedrin 98a). Redemption for an “altogether righteous” generation is preceded by years, possibly even very many years, of preparation, whereby human beings better themselves; this kind of redemption is just the finale of an evolutionary process. Redemption in an “altogether wicked” generation, on the other hand, cannot possibly be an extended, slow process, because such people make no preparations for it, and it therefore entails a revolutionary outburst which, in this case is not a grass-root revolution but a Divine one. As such, it must shatter the old patterns – a painful, even tragic event.
At the end of the Passover Haggadah there are some mentions of the future redemption, which is the second half of the night of the redemption from Egypt (which took place at midnight – Exodus 12:29). The future redemption is, then, the continuation and completion of the Exodus. This is not only solace and encouragement in the face of our present trials and tribulations: it is also a logical sequence. The Exodus, in this sense, is a comma in the course of history, whereas the final redemption is a full stop. But what shape the final redemption will assume – that depends, to a great extent, on us, human beings; it is us who will determine, through the totality of our actions, whether we are an “altogether wicked” or “altogether righteous” generation, and consequently, if we are to expect “blood and fire and pillars of smoke” – or “sitting still and rest”.
R. Adin Steinsaltz Even Israel
The picture above displays the cover of the “Ethics of the Father”, written in eight languages, illustrated by international painters. This book is the last one published by the Matanel Foundation, for the gap year programs (mechinot), universities, schools and other institutions. Those interested to receive them, please click on the following link: