Rabbi Oury Cherki
What is Redemption?
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
In the first chapter of his book “Netzach Yisrael” the Maharal of Prague defines the concept of redemption based on his view of the exile. By doing this he makes use of a common theme in his way of looking at things: The Unity of Opposites. An idea can often best be defined by understanding its opposite. Thus, black is used in defining white and evil is used when trying to define good.
Thus, the Marahal defines exile as having three elements: The exit from the natural habitat (the Land of Israel), dispersion among the other nations, and being ruled by another nation. This means that redemption, the opposite of exile, is characterized by three elements: return to the proper place, ingathering of the exiles, and national independence.
Note that the definitions of exile and redemption do not have any spiritual characteristics. Redemption is a political action. As opposed to Christian belief, which views redemption as a spiritual and mystical event where the soul is rescued from the impurity of its sins and from eternal hell, Judaism is not explicitly worried about the fate of the soul – after all, “Every person of Israel has a place in the world to come” [Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1]. Judaism rejects the concept of a deity which is hostile to mankind and seeks revenge. The main task which mankind is required to perform is “tikun”, mending the ways of this world. Since the main power that moves historical events in this world is political the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Abraham a role which was in essence political – to create a nation within boundaries of a specific land – that is, to establish a country.
There are spiritual processes that take place based on the redemption, such as repentance, world peace, the return of prophecy, the rebuilding of the Temple, and more. But these are consequences of the redemption and not part of its essence. There is a powerful dispute between two great men, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, about whether redemption depends on prior repentance by Israel or not (Sanhedrin 97b-98a). No matter how this dispute is decided, the very fact that the question is discussed in this way shows that everybody agrees that redemption is not repentance itself but rather a process that takes place in parallel with it.
Among the holidays which the Torah has given us, there is a difference between Pesach, when we celebrate the liberation of 600,000 idol worshippers from Egypt, and Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Torah. It is true that the two holidays are linked together by the counting of the Omer, but in any case the Torah did not imply that the national holiday of Pesach depends on the existence of the Torah holiday of Shavuot. In fact, the opposite is true: The precondition for being given the Torah was the redemption from Egypt. Even if an enlightened Pharaoh had granted Israel religious freedom in Egypt, this would not be the Israel’s Torah, since it would not include a basis of political independence. Only in this way is it possible to achieve the great vision that “All the families of the world will be blessed through you” [Genesis 12:3].