This week’s Torah portion is a continuation of the lengthy final speech that Moshe delivered to the Israelites before he passed away. The speech in fact takes up most of the fifth book of the Torah, the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy.
In this week’s passage, Moshe relates the most oft-mentioned prophecy about the Jewish people. Namely that we will be exiled from Eretz Yisrael, “scattered to the four corners of the globe”, but eventually brought back – both physically to the Land of Israel and spiritually as well.
And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples (of the world) and you will remain few in number among the nations to where the Lord will lead you… And from there, you will seek the Lord your God and you will find Him if you seek Him with all of your heart and with all of your soul. When you are troubled, and all these things happen upon you in the end of days, then you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. (4:27-30)
Rabbi Weinberg zt’l who created Aish HaTorah back in 1974 – as well as other outreach organizations before that – used to tell the story of when he first expressed interest in reaching Jews with little or no affiliation to Judaism. Now you have to keep in mind the time period when this took place. It was in the 60’s. The Holocaust was just 20 plus years earlier and Orthodox Judaism was weak and fragile and seen as being on its way out and dwindling further. The small Torah-observant Jewish communities were very inward looking and trying to just hold their own. It was in this atmosphere that Rabbi Weinberg informs his friends and family that he wants to reach these assimilated Jews who have very little connection to their people, history, heritage or Torah. His friends and family basically called him nuts and told him that he is wasting his time.
Fast forward a few decades later after he has much success in changing the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish people. Those self-same folks ask him how he did it. As Rav Noach used to relate, they would say to him, “The great rabbis of old used to write on their tombstones (that they were so proud) that they would bring one or two Jews back to their Avinu Shebashamayim – their Father in Heaven! Noach, how’d you do it? How did you manage bring back thousands and thousands?!?!”
So he would tell them: “You go to a construction site and see a crane moving a huge wall of concrete. On the ground the foreman stands and places his hands on the slab to direct it exactly where it should go. The fool who doesn’t bother looking up declares, ‘Look at how strong that guy is – he is like Superman! He can lift thousands of pounds of concrete!’ But anyone with eyes in his head sees that the crane is doing all the work and that the foreman is merely setting it in its proper spot.
So too, the Almighty promised us in his Torah that the Jewish people will stray, but eventually ‘from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all of your heart and with all of your soul… then you will return to the Lord your God.’ If God promises that the Jewish people will return to Him, then you can bet on it. It is definitely going to happen. He is the crane. All you have to do is put your hands out in the right time and at the right spot to guide it along. You just have to make the effort and be the conduit to facilitate what God promised He will do.”
Rav Noach’s word tells us a lot about the power of prophecy. You see, people often wish they could meet a prophet. That to meet such an illustrious person with such a close connection to God would perhaps magically change their life. But people got it backwards because the power of prophecy is not when it is being made but when it is being fulfilled.
If you hear an Isaiah or Jeremiah prophesy, you might scratch your head and wonder if he is legit or a nut-case. Plus, they are talking about something that might happen soon, or maybe in a year, or maybe in a decade, or maybe in another century or even in thousands of years from when they utter their words. But once the prophet’s words come true and the totally unforeseen thing happens, it is then and only then that you see the fulfillment of the prophecy. It’s only at that latter time when you can appreciate the special and miraculous nature of the prophet’s words.
And this is what we are witnessing in our day and age. It goes without saying that the fulfillment of the prophecies of returning to the Land of Israel is miraculous in its own right. But the return from our spiritual wasteland is just as miraculous. And in my lifetime I have seen a dramatic realization of these words of Moshe.
When I went to Aish in the summer of 1979, the idea of someone from a non Torah-observant background studying in a traditional yeshiva, changing his or her lifestyle and starting to keep Shabbat, keep kosher, put on tefillin daily – or any other of a number of Jewish practices – was practically unheard of. There were very few people from my peers “seeking the Lord your God” let alone finding Him. Just wasn’t happening. And if it did, other family members thought we were caught up in a cult or brainwashed and siblings were sent to Israel to rescue us as my Dad did when he sent over my brother, Sid “to talk some sense into him.”
Now compare that to today where everybody, and I mean everybody, is all too familiar with a fellow Jew who has come back to Judaism in some way or fashion. In 1979 hardly anyone knew of someone attending a Torah class or who has, in some form or another, “returned to the Lord your God”. Today everyone knows someone who has.
The power of prophecy is not when it is being made but when it is being fulfilled. Can anyone deny that Moshe’s words that he spoke so many thousands of years ago are happening right here and right now? You just have to open your eyes and watch it happen. Better yet be like Rav Noach, put your hands out and make it happen.
Oh, oh people of the earth
Listen to the warning
The prophet he said…
Oh, oh children of the land
Quicken to the new life
Take my hand
Fly and find the new green bough
Return like the white dove