Why the Change?

Not long ago people living in one place did not know what was happening in another place. News from a nearby village might sometimes come in but would probably have been dismissed as “nothing to do with us.” However over the past years the world has changed dramatically. Now, every trivial thing a person does anywhere in the world can be known immediately by everybody else. Many people even feel entitled to know, give an opinion and pass on their often negative comments to thousands, if not millions of other people.

“We believe with perfect faith that the Creator is responsible for everything that has been, is and will be.” (Rambam) Obviously Hashem has seen fit that this societal earthquake should take place. Do we understand why? It appears to be a totally negative development with its massive potential for loshon horah and many other aveiros besides the loss of privacy involved. What was wrong when everyone lived in their own daled amos? Why the change?

After Avrohom Ovinu, who was then childless, asked Hashem about his future, Hashem took him outside, showed him the millions of stars that were in the sky and said, “Your seed will be as many as the stars in the sky.” But the posuk warned that Avrohom’s descendants would not have an easy life. “They will have to endure living in a land which is not theirs” — the exile in Egypt. Moshe Rabbeinu was also told of a future exile (Shemos 3:14, Rashi) and Yaakov Ovinu was told about four separate exiles during his dream on Har Hamoriah. (Bereishis 28:12, Medrash Rabboh). Why were the Jewish People destined to live “in a land which is not theirs” during so much of their history?

And what about the Chillul Hashem of us being almost constant strangers in other people’s lands? Almost every people has its own country where they have lived undisturbed for centuries if not millennia. Only the Jewish People, Hashem’s treasured nation, have the indignity of being scattered all over the world, repeatedly moving from place to place. We have been correctly labeled ‘The Wandering Jew.’ Surely this is an extreme Chillul Hashem. People doubt Hashem’s omnipotence if His People alone are scattered around the globe.

Avoda Zara 10b tells us that the Roman Caesar who hated the Jews asked his courtiers, “If a person has painful dead skin on his foot, should he cut it off and live or live and suffer?” They all understood that this referred to the Jews. All but one answered, “He should cut it off and live.” Only Ketiah bar Sholom, disagreed. “Firstly,” he said, “You cannot destroy the Jews because it is written “I have scattered them to the four corners of the world,” (Zechariah 2:10) so most of them are beyond your jurisdiction. And you would be accused of murdering your own citizens.” The Caesar acknowledged that Ketiah was right but pointed out that if someone is rash enough to prove the king wrong, he is punished by being buried alive.   On the way to his punishment, he accepted the Torah and gave all his money to Rebbe Akiva and his colleagues. The Gemara says that with this, Ketiah earned a place in the World to Come. Rebbe cried, explaining that while some people only earn their place in the World to Come after many years, some can earn it in one moment.

The Gemara itself and the Maharsha explain the deeper meaning of Zecharia’s words. Ruchos can mean ‘winds’ as well as ‘directions’. And the posuk actually says keruchos – like winds. The real meaning of the posuk is that the Jewish people are like the winds, without which the world cannot exist. The Maharsha brings the well-known posuk, Im lo brisi yomom volailoh, chukos shomayim vo’oretz lo samti – If it were not for my covenant of day and night, I would not have created the world.” He explains that if people do not have emuna in Hashem, the world does not have a zechus kiyum –the right to exist. And this connects with the simple meaning of the posuk that Hashem scattered us throughout the world in order to influence them and teach them about Hashem.

Now we have some understanding of why only the Jewish People have been destined to live scattered throughout the world. It is precisely because we are Hashem’s treasure nation, that we have been destined to live in “a land which is not theirs” for so much of our existence to give the whole world the merits needed for it to exist.

We have, however, a new problem. It wasn’t long ago that we were davening with great kavana, “Vekoreiv pezureinu mibein hagoyim unefutzoseinu kaneis miyarkesei oretz.” We asked Hashem to bring back our scattered ones from amongst the nations. Indeed we say it three times a day, “Tekah b’shofar godol …Raise up a banner in order to bring together those who are exiled.” If it is Hashem’s plan that we be scattered amongst the nations to give spread emuna which gives the whole world its zechus kiyum, how can we daven that we should all be brought back to Eretz Yisroel? Aren’t we working at cross-purposes with Hashem? We want to be there in Yerusholayim with a Beis Hamikdash, but He wants us to here in golus being a “light unto the nations.” Can both desires to be fulfilled?

Meforshim bring from the Zohar that technological advances were prophesied to accelerate in the mid-nineteenth century and this was fulfilled with new discoveries which changed society. An important game-changer was the invention of the telephone in 1876. Also, according to the Vilna Gaon, the world was to come to its final stages before the Geula at the same time. There seems to be a connection between the two. Perhaps we can suggest that Hashem was planning a grand solution to the conundrum of before. On the one hand this golus has been long enough. Through the bitter exile all our sins have been atoned for. Don’t we deserve to come home to Eretz Yisroel? But what about people all around the world who still need the good influence of the Jews? For them Hashem super-managed a technological revolution which will obviate the need for the Jews to be physically close to other people. He arranged a sea change in our society. He made sure that the printing press, the telephone, cameras, computers etc would be invented which would enable people, wherever they are, to hear about the Jews and to learn about their Torah from a distance. We can be serving Hashem in Yerusholayim and they can use their devices to see us, to learn about emuna in Hashem and thus keep the seven mitzvos bnei Noach which will give them the zechus to remain alive. Of course technology can be misused. There are many things that ‘The righteous walk in them and the wicked stumble in them.” (Tehilim 1:6). On the other hand, it can be the very mechanism by which the Geula can become a reality. We no longer have to be “strangers in a land which isn’t ours.” So now we can whole-heartedly daven and sing, “Vekarev pezureinu….