Are the Oaths Interdependent?
Who Said the Oaths are Interdependent?
Zionism and Sabbateanism
Command the children of Israel to expel from the camp every leper, every zav, and everyone unclean from a body… as Hashem spoke to Moshe, so the children of Israel did. (5:2-4).
The Midrash explains these verses as an allusion to exile: “Command the children of Israel” and if they do not keep the commandments, “expel” exile them “from the camp” – Eretz Yisroel, where the Divine Presence is camped. The Midrash explains how the three types of uncleanness mentioned allude to the sins for which the Jewish people was punished with exile, and how the different exiles are alluded to in the verse. Then it continues: “As Hashem spoke to Moshe, so the children of Israel did” – what did the Holy One, blessed is He, say to Moshe? That if they repent in the kingdoms where they will be, the Holy One, blessed is He, will gather them in, as it says, “When all these things come upon you… and Hashem will bring you to the Land which your ancestors inherited, and you will take possession of it.” (Devarim 30:5) “So the children of Israel did” – the Jewish people will eventually repent in the end of days, and they will be redeemed, as it says, “With repentance and calmness you will be saved” (Yishaya 30:15). (Midrash Rabbah 7:10)
Any man whose wife strays and commits a trespass against him… (5:12)
Rabbi Akiva said: If a husband and wife are faithful to each other, the Divine Presence is between them. If not, fire consumes them (Sotah 17a). Rashi explains that “ish” (husband) contains the letter yud and “ishah” (wife) contains the letter hei. These two letters spell one of Hashem’s names. If they are not faithful, Hashem takes away His name from them and both of their names become “eish” (fire).
When Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer first publicized his idea that Jews should emigrate to Eretz Yisroel and work the land in order to hasten the redemption, the great Chassidic leader Rabbi Yisroel of Rizhin (1797-1850) made the following comment: “How does geulah (redemption) come about? We take the word golah (exile) and add to it an alef, which stands for the Yechido Shel Olam, the One G-d. But if the Yechido Shel Olam is not part of it, then it prevents the geulah!” (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 156)
It is important to note that although Rabbi Kalischer advocated immigration and settlement in Eretz Yisroel, he had no intention of coming to a confrontation with the gentile power that ruled the Land, which even he agreed would be a violation of the Three Oaths. See his letter to Rabbi Meir Auerbach: “Those who fell into pits in earlier times – they were the ones who came illegally, using force, and they almost transgressed the oath ‘not to arouse…’. But I have already written about this in my book, that my ‘Organization to Settle Eretz Yisroel’ is not like them.” (The Writings of Rabbi Kalischer, p. 204) See also Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidos’ defense of the movement, printed in Shivas Tzion (v. 1 p. 35): “When this movement first began to capture Jewish hearts, there were many who opposed it, but now almost all the opposition is gone. The people have already realized that we have no plans to take the Holy Land from the Turks with sword and bow, and we have no plans to make a government there. Our entire goal is to found an organization of farmers who work the land…and this poses no problem of ‘forcing the end’…”
For behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and a razor shall not go up on his head, for the child will be a nazirite of G-d from the womb, and he will begin to save Israel from the Philistines. (Shoftim 13:5)
The simple meaning of the word “yachel” is “begin,” as we have translated it above. But the Gemora (Sotah 10a) explains a different level of meaning: “yachel” can also mean “it is nullified,” namely, the oath of Avimelech was nullified. Scripture is about to relate the story of Shimshon’s life and how he terrorized the Philistines. Avraham Avinu and Avimelech, king of the Philistines, had made a sworn covenant with each other (Bereishis 21:23). But since the Philistines fought with and subjugated the Jews, thus violating the oath, the Jews were released from their obligation to keep the oath, and Shimshon was permitted to do what he did.
Some Zionists claim that there is a similar relationship between the oaths of the Jewish people and the nations (Kesubos 111a). The Jewish people was prohibited under oath from going up to Eretz Yisroel “as a wall,” rebelling against the nations, or forcing the end of exile. The nations were prohibited from subjugating the Jews too much. The claim is that since the nations violated their oath by killing six million Jews, the Jewish people is no longer bound by its oaths.
One need not look far to see the fallacy of this argument. Avraham and Avimelech swore not to harm one another, so when one harmed the other the covenant was broken. But why does one nation harming the Jews in exile give the Jews the right to take Eretz Yisroel away from a different nation that occupies the land? Why should one nation suffer for the violation of another nation?
Furthermore, Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe in his commentary Yefeh Kol to the Midrash Shir Hashirim points out that since there is already an oath not to rebel against the nations, the oath about “going up as a wall” cannot mean only taking the land by military force, because that would be superfluous – it would be included in the general prohibition on rebellion. Rather, it means that any effort to take possession of Eretz Yisroel, even with the approval of the nations living there, is forbidden. With this in mind, one cannot possibly say that the oaths are some sort of deal between the Jews and the gentiles, for the oath prohibits Jews from taking the land even when gentiles allow it. The violation of this oath is not a sin against the gentiles, but a sin against Hashem Himself. Violation of the oath against forcing the end, which includes false messiahs and, according to Rashi, even excessive prayer, is certainly not a sin against the gentiles but against Hashem Himself.
Also, although the great destruction wrought by Germany is the worst our people have ever suffered, there is no reason to say that previous massacres such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the destruction of Beitar, the Crusades and the massacres of 1648 (Tach Vetat) did not constitute a violation of the gentiles’ oath. Why then did the Zionist idea sprout only in this most recent century? In previous generations not only was such an idea never entertained, but it was expressly forbidden by the greatest Torah sages of the time. The Amoraim lived after the Roman massacres and yet they recorded the Three Oaths in the Gemora as practical law. The Rambam knew of the early Crusades and also terrible persecutions in his own lands by the Muslims, and yet he warns the Yemenite Jews not to violate the oaths. The same is true of other Rishonim such as the Rashbash (siman 2) and the Rivash (siman 101), and more recent poskim such as the Avnei Nezer and Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who deal with the oaths as practical halacha.
It is interesting to note that one anonymous commentator, quoted in the Kitzur Alshich Ushar Meforshim (printed in the Lewin-Epstein Chumash) on Shir Hashirim 2:7, does connect the oaths of the Jewish people and the nations, but in the opposite direction. The Gemora says that if the Jewish people violates the oaths, Hashem will permit their flesh like the deer and hinds of the field. This commentator explains this to mean that Hashem will release the nations from their prohibition on subjugating Israel too much. He mentions specifically the sin of forcing the end. But as explained above, this is not a sin against the gentiles, but rather against Hashem. Why then should the gentiles have the right to punish us for it? Clearly, this commentator does not mean that the gentiles are actually released from their oath and are doing a mitzvah by afflicting us. They will be duly punished for exercising their free will. At the same time, their actions against us are part of Hashem’s plan to punish us for violating the oaths. “Just as the heavens are high above the earth, so My ways are high above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.” (Yishaya 55:9)
Now we will review the historical record to show that no Jewish sage or commentator in the pre-Zionist era ever made the argument that the oaths are interdependent. Every source text that the Zionists can find falls into one of three categories: 1) Reference to an action by G-d, not an annulment of the Jewish oath; 2) Reference to the annulment of the oath prohibiting rebellion against the nations. 3) Reference to the annulment of the oath against excessive prayer. But no one has ever said that the oaths against going up as a wall and forcing the end of exile through action were subject to annulment when the gentiles violate their oath.
We begin with the Midrash, Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:7: “Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina says: There are two oaths here, one for Israel and one for the nations of the world. He made Israel swear that they would not rebel against the yoke of the kingdoms, and He made the kingdoms swear that they would not harden their yoke upon Israel, for if they would harden their yoke upon Israel, they would cause the end to come not in its proper time.”
The Midrash does not say that the oaths are a covenant between Israel and the nations, nor does it say that if the nations harden their yoke upon Israel the oath is annulled. It says only that if they harden the yoke, G-d will bring an early end to the exile.
Similarly, the Shitah Mekubetzes in Kesubos 111a says in the name of the disciples of the Rashba: “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, what will you tell Him? That I am lovesick.” (Shir Hashirim 5:8) The Jewish people is speaking to the nations of the world, after the Holy One, blessed is He, made the nations swear not to afflict Israel too much, lest they cause Him to arouse their love before its time, because the Holy One, blessed is He, cannot bear to see Israel in great distress and not save them, as the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 97b), “When the time to redeem them arrives, the Holy One, blessed is He, will raise up a king whose decrees are like Haman’s and he will bring them to repent, and then immediately they will be redeemed.”
Here again, it is clear that G-d will be the one to bring the redemption before its time. In passing, we note that the Shitah Mekubetzes states clearly that redemption, even when early, must be preceded by repentance.
That G-d will bring the redemption and not the Jews is also clear from the Pnei Yehoshua on Kesubos 111a. The Pnei Yehoshua asks how the oath on the nations of the world fits in with the verse “do not arouse or awaken the love before it is desired” which refers to the redemption of the Jewish people. He answers that if the nations afflict the Jews too much, “they will cause the Holy One, blessed is He, to hasten to bring the redemption before its time, as we find in the case of the Egyptian exile.”
(The Pnei Yehoshua also asks how the oath against revealing the secret to the nations has to do with the redemption. He answers based on Rashi’s second explanation, that “the secret” refers to the reasons behind the Torah. When the gentiles learn the reasons and secrets of the Torah, they will come to recognize the great love between G-d and the Jewish people, and they will then stop ruling over them and will arouse the redemption before its time. Thus Chazal with their holy inspiration foresaw today’s situation, where 85 million Christians are strong supporters of Zionism and push the Jewish people out of exile prematurely, all due to the fact that they have read the Torah and recognize that the Jews are G-d’s beloved people.)
Now we move on to the second category: those who write that the oath on rebellion against the nations becomes annulled when the nations violate their oath. As we wrote here two years ago, the oaths not to go up as a wall and not to force the end are not for the benefit of the gentiles, and thus they cannot be part of a deal between the gentiles and the Jewish people. Rather, G-d gave us these oaths for our own benefit, so that we should not try to redeem ourselves at the wrong time. But the oath prohibiting rebellion against the nations might be, logically speaking, part of such a deal with the nations. Of course, if one nation violated its oath, that would not permanently annul the oath of rebellion against the nations, nor would it give the Jews the right to rebel against a different nation; but there might be a temporary relaxation of the Jewish oath with regard to the offending nation.
This is what Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani writes in his commentary Zera Shimshon (published in 1778) on Megillas Esther 9:1. Scripture tells us that on the 13th of Adar, the very day that the Jews’ enemies had planned to destroy them, the exact opposite happened: the Jews destroyed their enemies. The Zera Shimshon comments that Scripture goes out of its way to say that “the opposite happened” because if not for this, the Jews would not have had the right to lift up their hands against the gentiles. But now, since the gentiles planned to kill the Jews, the Jews were permitted to kill them. Because it states in the thirteenth chapter of Kesubos, “What are these three oaths? One that the Holy One, blessed is He, made Israel swear not to rebel against the nations of the world, and one that He made the nations of the world swear not to afflict Israel too much.” And the Shulchan Aruch says (Yoreh Deah 236:6), “When two people swear to each other and one violates his oath, the other is also permitted and needs no annulment.”
Note that of all the oaths in Kesubos, he only quotes two: the prohibition to rebel against the nations, and the nations’ oath. He does not quote the oath prohibiting mass immigration to Eretz Yisroel, nor the oath prohibiting us to force the end, because those oaths have nothing to do with the nations and are not subject to any deal with them.
In passing, we note that the Zera Shimshon assumed that the oaths would have applied to the Jews in the time of Haman despite the fact that the king gave them permission to fight back, and despite the fact that their lives were in danger. Thus the very same Zera Shimshon that Zionists trumpet as one of their proofs, besides not being any proof at all, actually contradicts two of their most central claims.
Finally, we have those who say that when the nations violate their oath, the Jews are allowed to pray excessively for the redemption, something that they are ordinarily prohibited from doing under the oath “that they should not force the end”. These are Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in Maaseh Yedei Yotzer on the Hagadah, and Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein in Avkas Rochel 9:1. This does not mean that the Jews are permitted to take any action towards the redemption! The difference between being permitted to pray and being permitted to take action is simple: taking action toward the redemption is tantamount to heresy, but violating the oath through excessive prayer is not, since on the contrary, prayer strengthens the Jew’s belief that G-d controls all events and only He can end the exile. Therefore, as long as the gentiles treat the exiled Jews in accordance with G-d’s decree and did not exceed their limit, G-d does not want us to pray for the end of exile, since the exile was His plan and is for our benefit. But when the gentiles exceed their limit, their actions emanate from their own free will and not from G-d’s decree, and so we may pray to G-d to save us from them (Vayoel Moshe 1:79). This was explained at length in the Parsha Pearls for Pesach.
Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying, so shall you bless the children of Israel, say to them… (6:23)
Rabbi Yaakov Sasportas (1610-1698) received a halachic inquiry from a Jewish community that had always followed the practice of saying Birkas Kohanim only on Yom Tov. But Shabbesai Tzvi, the false messiah, had come to town and started the practice of saying Birkas Kohanim every Shabbos. When the false messiah became an apostate and his movement was recognized by most Jews as wicked and heretical, the community wanted to know if they should now revert to their old practice of Birkas Kohanim only on Yom Tov. Rabbi Sasportas replied that indeed, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is very great and it is very good to say it every week, even every day. Chazal say that during exile, every day’s curses will be worse than those of another day (Yalkut on Devarim 28:67), and the only antidote to this is to have the blessing of Birkas Kohanim every day. But we have a rule: “A good thing comes about through a good person and a bad thing through a bad person” (Shabbos 32a). The heretic Shabbesai Tzvi, he says, was not merely a bad person but a “meisis” (inciter to idolatry), regarding whom the Torah says, “Do not have mercy on him or cover up for him” (Devarim 13:9). Certainly, then, it is not proper that a mitzvah should be started by him. The practice must be discontinued (Responsa Ohel Yaakov 70).
Rabbi Sasportas published a book called Tzitzas Novel Tzvi about the Sabbatean movement and his reaction against it. The book has been republished many times in an abridged form, called Kitzur Tzitzas Novel Tzvi. Reading this book, we notice some similarities between Sabbateanism and Zionism, and from Rabbi Sasportas’s reaction we can learn what our reaction should be today.
For example, he writes (p. 37a) of a certain follower of Shabbesai Tzvi, “How could he have had the audacity to claim that moshiach will go and ask the Turkish Sultan to set Israel free and make him king? This is wrong, for the redemption will not come through any man, but only through Hashem’s hand, as it says, ‘On that day I will raise up the fallen succah of David’ (Amos 9:11). And in the dream of Nevuchadnetzar, ‘a stone broke off, not by hands’ (Daniel 2:34), which meant that ‘the G-d of Heaven will establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed’ (v. 44). So how could it happen through the Turkish Sultan?”
In a letter of advice to a rabbi who was attempting to convince his community not to join the Sabbateans (p. 50b), he writes: “In general, you should warn them not to force the end of exile and not to violate the oaths written in Shir Hashirim (2:7) ‘not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired.’ Remind them of history, of past generations who erred in following false messiahs and prophets. In cases where danger is likely, we must not rely on miracles! This is especially true of the western communities, whose exile is much more difficult due to the oppressive governments they live under. They must lend their shoulder to bear the yoke of exile, and wait for their redeemer, though he may tarry. They must hope and hope again, for he will surely come and not delay. And in reward for their hoping, the redemption will come sooner, as Chazal say, ‘Israel has no merit but hoping. They are worth redeeming in reward for the waiting’ (Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 736).”
Rabbi Sasportas also prints a letter by the rabbis of Venice, bemoaning the fact that their community strayed after Shabbesai Tzvi: “Who does not understand the acts of Hashem? The justice of Hashem is true and right, measure for measure. Because our community did not keep the oath not to arouse or awaken the love, we were punished with anger and powerful hatred that is aroused against us among the gentiles in all places.”
The similarities are striking. Zionism, too, claims to launch the messianic era through human effort. Zionism, too, instead of arousing love, has aroused hatred against Jews among nations all over the world. But with Zionism, everything is unfortunately on a much larger scale than with Sabbateanism.
The Rambam writes at the end of Iggeres Teiman: “And these are things the prophets have already foretold, and they have told us about what I have told you, that when the time of the true moshiach draws near, there will be many who lift themselves high and place doubts in people’s minds, but their claims will not be born out, and they will perish and many will perish with them. And when Shlomo, peace be upon him, made known with his holy inspiration, that this nation when it is sunk into exile will try to arouse itself not at its proper time, and they will die because of this and travails will come upon them – he warned against this, and made an oath against this in an allegorical way, and said, ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem…’ And you, our brethren, our beloved – keep his oath and do not arouse the love before it is desired!”
Although the Rambam wrote Iggeres Teiman against a particular false messiah, in retrospect we see that that false messiah did not get very far, neither did any other false messiah in Jewish history. Even the Sabbatean movement’s spread among a large part of the Jewish people lasted less than a year; after that it was a mostly undercover, shunned heresy. The warning of Shlomo Hamelech was clearly referring to the by far most successful false messianic movement in Jewish history: Zionism.
We must listen to the Rambam carefully – he is talking to us! “Shlomo, peace be upon him, made known with his holy inspiration, that this nation when it is sunk into exile will try to arouse itself not at its proper time, and they will die because of this and travails will come upon them – he warned against this.” When else in Jewish history can it be said that the nation as a whole “tried to arouse itself not at its proper time”? If Zionism is not the very thing foreseen by Shlomo Hamelech, then what was?