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The Redemption of Israel Means the Redemption of the G-d of Israel

by Yehoshua Yevin

(published in Sulam, 1950)

Clearly the Israeli religion is religion without mythology. And perhaps this peculiarity -- this lack of myth -- epitomizes the singularity of the faith of Israel, for the lack of myth springs from the very essence of our faith in one unique G-d.

For when we speak of "myth" and "mythology" we refer to stories of wars between the gods, incidents and adventures in their lives, contests and victories or defeats. Mythology is, in short, the biography of the gods...and is dependent on polytheism, a multitude of gods without which it would not be possible.

Not so for the G-d of Israel. He is one and unique, He reigned before anything was created and will reign after all has ceased to exist.... Of course He has no need to fight for His power, which remains unchanged from before time until after its end....

To clarify matters: Of course I do not intend to say that the faith of Israel lacks for miracles. On the contrary: The Torah and books of the prophets are replete with miraculous and unnatural occurrences. This makes sense, too: The omnipotent G-d is He who set the rules in the beginning and He can surely change them at will. He created the rising sea and He has the power to turn that sea to dry land. And if we consider the matter, a rising sea is no less miraculous (though we have grown accustomed to it and inured to the wonder) than the splitting of the sea....

And now the question must be asked: This great and powerful G-d without myth and "biography," how are His greatness and power revealed in the world? Does not His immeasurable superiority itself, which no language can describe, ensure that He will remain forever abstract, withdrawn and hidden from the eyes of His creations, with no possibility of being discovered? Does not His very omnipotence sentence, it would seem, the Creator to static quietism, without change, since He has no need to combat or overcome anyone since: "All earth’s inhabitants are as nothing" to Him? Does not the omnipotence of the Creator of all sentence Him to an event-less, action-less state?

Moreover, as the great Jewish thinkers wrote, not only must this awesome G-d, the L-rd of Israel, be kept far from anthropomorphism, not only is He not body or of bodily image, but He must be kept far from being said to have any human emotions or activity, for He is wise but not with our wisdom, merciful but not with our mercy, kind but not with man's kindness, and therefore He can only be discovered in deeds. As the devout poet said "They imagine You not as You are but measure You by Your deeds" (Shir Hakavod). What, then, is the realm of the Creator’s deeds in which His greatness is revealed to us?

The great field of G-d’s activities and wars is, according to the faith of Israel - - history, the history of the world and first and foremost the history of the people of Israel, the chosen people of the world’s Creator. In these histories He is revealed and becomes, in all His grandeur -- real, great and holy in the eyes of His creations.

The G-d of Israel is more than anything else the G-d of history.

The Bible overflows with history.… The entire Bible from "In the beginning" to the final "go up" is history. Of the 24 books of the Bible, only three are a-historical: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job.… Though the Torah is apparently a book of laws and commandments, most is history.…

One might ask: "You say the G-d of Israel is the G-d of history, that G-d makes history. We learn, therefore, that history is the chronicle of G-d’s wars. But is not this involvement with wormy humankind beneath the dignity of the L-rd of all creation?.… Is it honorable for Him to give all His attention to this or that anthill, which we call Nineveh or Babylon or Rome, to raise it on high or trample it into dust?"

To understand the matter we must make clear to ourselves the tremendous value that the faith of Israel and the Bible attach to man ... man is great and deep and the possibilities of his greatness are unlimited. Therefore, G-d, compared to whom all creatures are as nothing, who has no one worthy of being His opponent of competitor, the Creator of the world who does not rely on His angels, this G-d sometimes sees man, wormy man, as His "opponent" and fears he may raise himself to be as G-d.…

Not from fear of "competition" or "jealousy" did G-d reduce man in stature but because He saw in the sapling He planted the infinite possibilities of ascension and development and saw that if man rises and crests in the heavens, asserts his power and dominion over creation ? he will not be rising to Divine power and cresting there, but rather to the Satanic power bringing destruction to the world and eventually himself. G-d saw the Satanic possibilities open to men garnering ever increasing power.… therefore the Gardener pruned him and reduced him in size. Today, in the generation of Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb, that worst of all terrors, we understand the ultimate wisdom behind these stories of danger inherent in the unfettered growth of man’s strength.…

How does G-d’s greatness as director of the historical process reveal itself in the Bible and Prophetic outlook?

First…in the principle of reward and punishment. G-d is a "G-d of vengeance," a "G-d of payment." The last chord in the "Haazinu" song of the greatest of prophets is "Sing nations with Him, for He will avenge the blood of his servants."

The fundamental belief of the Prophets is that no crime, no shedding of innocent blood by the human unit called nation or kingdom, is lost. Ultimately, it will bear fruit. The basic law of physics called the "Law of Conservation of Energy" states that no energy is lost. Our Prophets discovered a parallel law in the "physics" of human relations and the fate of nations: "The Law of the Conservation of Blood." Innocent blood spilled is not lost ....

There is a "personal" reward and punishment toward one criminal nation. But the Prophets also speak of a "general" day of reckoning, a squaring of accounts with all sinful nations, the "Day of the L-rd." The Prophetic descriptions differ. For Malachi this is the "Great and awful day of the L-rd," a day hot as a furnace, in which all evildoers will be burnt; for Ezekiel this is the day at the End of Days when Gog and Magog will be punished, when G-d will wreak justice upon a nation that has invaded Eretz Israel, and He will thereby be sanctified and win fame before many nations.… Ultimately "Egypt will be wasteland.… and Edom a desolate desert," and "Judah will be forever, Jerusalem for all generations. And I will avenge the unavenged blood, and G-d will reign in Zion."

For the payment and vengeance brought upon the criminal nations by the G-d of Israel is only one aspect of the revelation of the greatness of the L-rd of the universe. The second principal aspect is, in the beneficent goals destined for His chosen people, in the good and blessing to be bestowed upon Israel… The victory of Israel and her salvation from the idolatrous enemies who angered G-d, this itself is the supreme revelation of G-d’s strength. In this respect one may say that the "fate" of the nation’s G-d is identical to the fate of the nation, for in her greatness He is made great and marvelous and when disasters befall her, it is akin to an eclipse in the administration of the world, that which is called "a hiding of the Divine face." With the victory of Israel and the fall of Israel’s enemies comes the apex of G-d’s greatness: the apotheosis; and the nation’s leaders marvel in song at G-d’s grandeur. Three times we find in the Bible songs and all at the time of great defeats for Israel’s enemies and victories for Israel: The song of Moses at the Sea, the song of Deborah and the song of David, the conqueror.

Thus we see the history of nations in general and Israel in particular … is the great field of activity and revelation of G-d. Thus 3,000 years before Hegel, who "discovered" that history is the field on which the world-spirit reveals itself, this fact had been discovered by the Prophets of Israel; only they called the "world-spirit": G-d.

Our fathers did the Creator-of-all a kindness, as it were, when they spread His reputation and called upon the name of G-d everywhere they went in an idolatrous world. Thus the Scripture tells of the "faithful kindness of David"; in other words, when he brought the lands he conquered and annexed under the supreme authority of the G-d of Israel, as he defeated the idolators, he simultaneously, as it were, did his Creator a favor.…

The Kabbalists and more recent Hasidim who speak of the righteous Tzaddik who reverses Divine decrees and of man’s repairing the damages of the upper worlds, can find basis for these ideas in our faith’s earliest sources.

Since, as we have shown, "G-d and Israel are one" according to the Prophetic tradition and the "fate" of the G-d of Israel is tied to the fate of Israel, and only when the chosen people rises is this nation’s G-d raised high, therefore great difficulties confronted the Prophetic theories of history as the nation endured the great disasters which befell her. The L-rd of the universe is the G-d of Israel, dwelling in Zion and Jerusalem. He, G-d, directs history, and primarily the history of Israel.

Then foreign conquerors seized the country; Judea and Israel were wiped from the world’s map; the House of G-d and that city which is the seat of G-d, were turned into a rubble heap.…Yet it is nonetheless impossible even to imagine the G-d of Israel "interrupting" his existence as G-d of gods and L-rd of lords and as G-d creating history. Such an idea would be unimaginable and unacceptable to any believer.…

The solution to this paradox is presented in the Book of Daniel … the far-reaching theory of the Four Kingdoms, four global powers who will by the Creator’s will successively rule the world.… Only after the destruction of the fourth kingdom (Rome) will G-d establish the true Kingdom, the Kingdom of G-d, during which Israel will return to its rightful place as a special people, the chosen of G-d.

Perhaps this response met logic’s demands, but it was unable to provide real emotional consolation to the nation as she was dying for G-d, being driven as sheep to the slaughter, praying to her G-d for salvation, and finding her prayers unanswered.... The nation was slaughtered and destroyed and though she did not break her compact with her G-d -- her Jobian heart burned.…

Then, along with the "Four Kingdoms" theory a new concept took hold: In light of the abysmal cruelty, in light of the dark reality that the G-d of Israel, the G-d of the universe, reigning over all heavenly bodies, He who determines the paths of stars and constellations, He has on this planet not even a corner, not even a single synagogue which is safe from looting and desecration in times of thievery and slaughter... then in the course of generations the nation’s deepest view took root: the concept of the Galut HaShechina, the exile of the Divine Presence. That is to say: the Divine Presence is Herself a participant in the nation’s troubles and suffers together with the nation.… In the End of Days, however, she will shake herself as a lioness and redeem her people, and as she redeems her people she will redeem herself.…Therefore when the Jew in exile sat reciting Tikun Hatzot , the midnight devotional prayer, when he sat on the ground, weeping for heavenly mercy and for the speeding of a miraculous redemption, he used this complaint: "I have sinned, and He [G-d] is locked in chains."

…And since this is how the nation perceived its G-d in the long generations of the Exile, the imagery and perceived revelations of G-d naturally underwent changes. Not G-d Himself, for He, L-rd of the universe, is "without change and alteration," but the manner in which He was seen by man: No longer as the G-d of David, no longer "Riding on Cherubim," no longer with "His nostrils steaming and a devouring fire out of His mouth, radiating burning coals," but rather "a voice sighing like a dove," weeping over children exiled from their father’s table .. no longer the sound of organ and trumpet expressing appreciation for the King of kings’ kings, but elegies and sighs and sobs for the exiled Shechina .

With the beginning of the return of the nation to the historical arena, with the beginning of the redemption of the Israeli people, we see the beginning of the redemption of the G-d of Israel from the chains which bound Him these thousands of years of Dispersion. Those marvelous martyrs on the gallows, those who recited the Midnight Devotion not mournfully on the floors of their homes but in the nighttime ambushes on the trails of foreign soldiers of occupation, those freedom fighters who initiated the beginning of the redemption of Israel, initiated the beginning of the redemption of the G-d of Israel. More precisely: With them, the hanged martyrs, who were the messengers and agents of the G-d of Israel, the G-d of Israel redeemed Himself … no longer a voice sighing as a dove, the black garbed, never-able-to-rest Shechina wandering around the globe with her children. In the War of Liberation against the British and afterwards in the war against the Arab invaders, the L-rd of Hosts, the ancient G-d of Israel, awoke and led His people to avenge Himself on those who angered Him. This is the ancient G-d of David, of whom it is said "G-d will rise, His enemies be dispersed, His despisers flee before Him."

The G-d of Israel, Ancient G-d, G-d of Sinai, is He who led His nation, and wherever he stepped, His enemies fled and were swept from His land. He redeemed and was redeemed.…

And certainly the blame lies not with Him, that we did not ascend the Temple Mount, that we did not cross the Jordan, for we did not wish to. Our leaders did not wish to. For they set out not to fulfill the dreams of the Prophets, but rather the decisions of the U.N.…

The religious renewal which will occur will be a return to the G-d of old as the Prophets perceived Him, to the great G-d, of reward and blessed revenge, who judges those who anger Him and grants greatness to the nation which keeps His covenant.… The nation will shake off the dust of her wanderings in foreign lands and charge like a lion of fire, and her G-d will charge with her. I spoke of the hanged martyrs, with which the G-d of Israel began to redeem Himself and His people. We believe that others will follow them, lions who will yet ascend the Temple Mount fully armed, who will reach the banks of the Euphrates in battlegear, as Uri Zvi Greenberg predicted in his songs; and they will complete the redemption of their nation and G-d. They, the brave-of-the-future, will complete the redemption of the G-d of Israel by establishing in place of this barely sovereign mini-state His Kingdom, the Greater Kingdom of Israel, and they will expand the borders of the chosen land to the limits of the Promised Land. Or more correctly: With them, the future-brave-who-carry-out-His-desires, the G-d of Israel will redeem Himself and His nation.…

Then, then the last of His chains will drop away. Then the entire scale of our prayers and thought will be changed: from minor to major, from weak-kneed to majestically strong. Then, most certainly will come a change in all forms of our worship (without affecting in the least its sacred foundations): Instead of heartfelt but whiny-weepy cantorial flourishes, the organ of the Temple. Instead of mournful broken-bodied and broken-souled stooping in dark houses of worship, joyfully singing pilgrims ascending the Temple Mount. There will be no change in the Psalms of David recited before the Altar: They are as unchangeable as the L-rd of the universe for whom they were composed, for no more sublime praise can be imagined; but the musical scale will change ? to majestic soaring. And when marching, when the nation sets out to widen her borders and repay her enemies, her G-d will again pass before her, the ancient L-rd of Hosts, the "warrior G-d" crushing peoples beneath Him, and this will be understood plainly, no longer figuratively.…

The difference between Bialik’s description of G-d (in Levadi) as the broken bodied Shechina already chased from all the world’s corners, and the image in one of Uri Zvi Greenberg’s early poems (Kelev Bayit) of the G-d of Israel as a wisened and angry commander whose anger is not quenched until he sees blood on the field (the blood of conquerors and freedom fighters …) perhaps demonstrates most clearly the powerful transformation of the Divine revelation for us ... culminating in His renewed revelation as "G-d as a man of war."

Uri Zvi Greenberg wrote his prophetic poem The Shechina Leaves the Christian Countries more than 25 years ago. Even the title hints not only at the renewal of the nation, as she rises from her bloody abyss, but also at the redemption, so to speak, of the G-d of Israel; for the Shechina, as she leaves the Diaspora and returns to her Home in Zion, why?: in so doing, she reveals herself as the L-rd of Hosts dwelling in Zion, the G-d of history.

(The original article has been slightly abridged.)