Does it Have to Get Worse Before it Gets Better?

I grew up hearing this story and learning this text. It’s a fundamental pillar of Religious Zionism; a triumphant description of our generation:

“Rebbi Chiyya and Rebbi Shimon ben Chalaphta were once walking in the valley of Arbel and witnessed the breaking dawn as it started radiating. Rebbi Chiyya said to Rebbi Shimon ben Chalaphta: so will be the redemption of Israel; it starts out very little and grows and stronger as it goes on.” – Yerushalmi Brachos 1:1

This is the grand vision of redemption unfolding. The gradual warmth and light of Geulah rising to rescue us from exile. The imagery carries with it a sense of hope and optimism, of fate and destiny. A reality that is impossible to stop, change or destroy. Our national destination is preprogrammed into the fabric of existence itself.

Indeed, the Rambam (הלכות מלכים ומלחמות י״א א) paskens that the coming of Moshiach is not simply a fulfillment of prophecy, but an undeniable truth of the Torah itself:

וכל מי שאינו מאמין בו. או מי שאינו מחכה לביאתו. לא בשאר נביאים בלבד הוא כופר. אלא בתורה ובמשה רבנו.

Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses, our teacher.

Forgive my irreverence, but there is a problem with all of this on a visceral, experiential level: When the sun rises, the shadows of night retreat. They do not return sporadically and cruelly, as if the sun was bobbing up and down on the horizon. When the sun rises, there is a predictable increase in light, at exactly the same rate as the decrease in darkness.

What we are experiencing is not predictable. It is not consistent. The shadows are looming longer and darker this year than any other in recent memory.

Ribono Shel Olam! Where’s the Geulah? Where’s the sunrise? Is the road to redemption really supposed to be paved with so much blood and and so many tears? Should we be marching to Yerushalaim or to hospitals and funerals? Is Moshiach supposed to arrive at the end of the shameful scandal of taking Israel to the International Court of Justice? Perhaps You could send him before this Chillul Hashem gains any more libelous steam?

This is the scream that arises from the soul of every Jew. Often times, it feels like we scream alone. But we are not alone. Indeed, we are in the company of Moshe Rabbeinu himself, who levies exactly this question to Hashem in the concluding words of last week’s parsha:

וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי, וּמֵאָז בָּאתִי אֶל־פַּרְעֹה... הֵרַע לָעָם הַזֶּה וְהַצֵּל לֹא־הִצַּלְתָּ אֶת־עַמֶּךָ׃

“My Lord, why did You bring this harm upon this people? Why did You send me at all? Ever since I came to Pharaoh... he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your nation!”

Moshe Rabbeinu is troubled with October 7th, just as we are. He’s watching the Galus intensify even as Hashem has promised that Geulah is coming.

How does Hashem answer these allegations?

עַתָּה תִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לְפַרְעֹה כִּי בְיָד חֲזָקָה יְשַׁלְּחֵם וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה יְגָרְשֵׁם מֵאַרְצוֹ

“Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land.”

Is Hashem relenting? Is He caving? What does He mean when He says “now you will see?” The Netziv explains: The pain you are experiencing now is not an indication of Hashem’s absence. Indeed, it is quite the opposite; this pain is a clear sign of the Geulah.

The Beis Yaakov of Izbhitz (פר’ שמות כז) explains:

There are two narratives occurring simultaneously: Our descent into slavery and the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, the redeemer. One might assume that when Moshe is born, the exile would begin to dissipate. But the opposite occurs. Moshe’s birth heralds harsher sentencing; and his return to Egypt decades later makes the slavery even worse.

But why is this case? How are we to make sense of this mysterious process?

When Hashem begins the process of waking us up from our national sleep in exile, this awakening is felt throughout the world. Klal Yisrael is slowly rising from the ashes of history, and taking our rightful place as a beacon of light to all of humanity. This unfolding dawn is echoed in every person, and every nation. Everyone feels the rising of Hashem’s people. Some are inspired by it, while others feel the desperate need to oppose it, fight it and attempt to squash it.

It is this truth that might help us understand the absurdity of the world’s obsession with Israel. The reality is quite clear: Hashem is forcing each nation, each politician, party and person to take a side. There can be no equivocating.

This is the meaning of the Netziv: When the process of redemption is interrupted by anger, hatred, anti-semitism and aggression, you can be sure that a greater awakening is taking place. In a strange way, it is our enemies, most threatened by our Geulah, who feel it happening first.

Of course, like everything else in our lives, our conflicts, pain and challenges on a national level are happening inside of us as well. In our own hearts and minds there is an awakening to come home to Torah, Mitzvos and Eretz Yisrael. And rising up against this wave of positivity and progress are the feelings of cynicism, narcissism and defeatism.

Make no mistake. The war is being waged on every front and even the smallest of our personal victories lends greater strength to our national mission on the battle fields of Gaza, in the Halls of Congress and on the world stage.

Hashem’s message to Moshe then, and to us now is one and the same: The end is near; that’s why they’re fighting so hard. “Soon you will see...” With Hashem’s help, we will not need to wait much longer.