The exile of the Jewish nation from their land involved the mystery of death. This is apparent from the Vision of the Dry Bones – exile is likened to a cemetery. And so our sages have said, “Tzion is considered to be dead, as the verse states ‘you have placed me in the dark like the eternally dead.’” (Midrash Zuta, Eicha 1:16)

Death involves the disintegration of a complete body into many shards. Applied to am Yisrael, it refers to a situation in which we are living life on the external level, with each person focusing on his individual life alone. For we are no longer one body, but rather disjointed limbs, cells separated from one another and scattered to the four winds of the world.

This is discussed by the Vilna Gaon, who writes the following toward the end of his explanation to the Safra D’Tzniyusa (end of “Einayin Leah v’Rachel”):

“We no longer know have what to do, until a spirit will descend upon us from on high. From the time the Beis HaMikash was destroyed, our spirit, the crown upon our heads, left us – a body, without a soul. Our exile to the other lands was our burial in the grave. The non-Jews who seek to consume our flesh are likened to the worms that surround us. Still, there were study groups and large Yeshivos – but that lasted only until the flesh disintegrated and the bones began to become disjointed further and further. Still, the bones retained their form, the talmidei chachamim maintained the form of the body – but only until the bones themselves rotted and nothing was left save for a pile of dust. ‘Our souls have sunk to the dust’, and we yearn expectantly for techiyas hameisim, ‘Awake, arise from the dust’, when the spirit from on high will descend upon us.”

This is the crumbling of exile. Therefore, the avodas Hashem of exile is founded on the external element alone – one’s personal rectification. This is because during the time of exile, it wasn’t possible for a person to consider himself in the context of his internal element due to the disjointed nature of the nation. His entire understanding of life revolved around its external aspect – he considered himself an independent being, concerned only with his personal portion both with regard to this world and the next. Therefore, avodas Hashem was founded solely upon the rectification of each spark on its own, for this was the perception of the generations of exile.

In truth, this is one of the curses of exile – the loss of the inner life of the Jewish nation which is only possible during the time of redemption and when am Yisrael are once more in their land, as the Zohar comments on the verse, “And who is like the Jewish nation, a single nation (goy echad) in the land” – “They are only called ‘echad’ when they are in the land.” (Vol. 3, 93b) [1]


[1] “Because Knesses Yisrael is currently in exile, He is not called “one”, as it were. When is He called “one”? At the time when the Jewish nation will leave exile and Knesses Yisrael will return to its place, to achieve intimacy with Kudsha Brich Hu, as the verse states (Zecharya 14:9), ‘On that day Hashem will be one and His Name will be one’ – one without the other are not called “one”. We can understand how Hashem and Knesses Yisrael are called “one”, when is the Jewish nation below – which is arranged in the likeness of the upper realms – called “one”? It is in the Lower Yerushalayim that the Jewish nation is called “one”. How do we know this? From the verse which states, “And who is like the Jewish nation, a single nation (goy echad) in the land” – they are certainly called “one” in the land. With the land, they are called “one”, but not when they are alone. For it would have been enough to say, “And who is like the Jewish nation, a single nation.” But in truth, they are only called “one” when they are in the land, when they achieve intimacy with the land, in the likeness of the upper realms. Therefore, everything is bound together, one to the other. Fortunate is the portion of the Jewish nation!”

To be continued…

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Rav Reuven Sasson
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