“And from the west they shall fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, His glory, for distress shall come like a river; the spirit of the Lord is wondrous in it.
וּבָ֤א לְצִיּוֹן֙ גּוֹאֵ֔ל וּלְשָׁבֵ֥י פֶ֖שַׁע בְּיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב נְאֻ֖ם הֽ’:
And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob, says the Lord. As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth, shall not move from your mouth or from the mouth of your seed and from the mouth of your seed’s seed,” said the Lord, “from now and to eternity.”
[Isaiah Chapter 59:19-21]
Isaiah prophesies the future redemption with God’s words “And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob.” The Gemara [Yoma 86b] elucidates the posuk (verse) thus: “why will a redeemer come to Zion? Because of those that turn from transgression (i.e., repent) in Jacob.” The implication of the Talmudic statement is that redemption will come after Israel repents its sins.
If, according to the Gemara, repentance will precede the redemption, why is the order within the verse the opposite? The verse apparently should state “Those who repent of transgression in Jacob … and a redeemer shall come to Zion.”
We shall answer this question in two ways, which will indicate the connection between the Nation of Israel’s repentance and the future redemption.
Righteous and Non-Righteous hasten the Redemption
In his work “Tzipita liYeshua” the Chafetz Chayyim writes that the redemption is brought near not only by the actions of the righteous, but also by the deeds of wicked people. Chafetz Chayyim notes the apparent inconsistency in the fact that the verse speaks of Israel’s repentance at the time of redemption, yet Chazal (our Sages) [Gemara Sota 49b] teach that in the generation of redemption “chutzpah will proliferate.” How are the two to be reconciled? Chafetz Chayyim explains that in the generation of redemption there will be two types of people: heretics and those who remain faithful to Torah; and each will contribute to hastening the redemption.
The actions of the righteous hasten the redemption through the great merit of their actions, which is heightened by the fact that even in a generation in which many abandon the Torah; the righteous remain steadfast in their observance of Torah. The challenges of such a generation are greater than those of earlier generations.
Chafetz Chayyim explains that the deeds of the wicked also hasten the redemption. This is so, he notes, since in earlier generations, when all Jews clung to Torah, and were willing to sacrifice their lives for it, the need to bring the redemption was not so pressing, since the Torah was faithfully kept. God did not bring the redemption in such generations in order to increase the merits of the Nation of Israel. However, in current generations, when many Jews abandon Torah and foreign concepts and heresy are abundant, there is a great need to bring the redemption. Therefore, in such a setting, God will hasten the redemption, so that even the wicked will come to realize the truth of Torah and repent.
Chafetz Chayyim concludes his comments with encouragement that we not be disheartened by the proliferation of heresy in our era; it is an indication that the redemption is near, that God will end Israel’s exile so the nation will cease wandering from its true path. God will hasten the redemption so that those who are far from Judaism will return.
Our Generation is Both Entirely Worthy and Entirely Wicked
Rabbi Kook zt”l notes Chazals’ (our Sages’) comment [Gemara Sanhedrin 98a] that Mashiach will arrive only in a generation that is entirely worthy or one that is entirely wicked. Rabbi Kook writes that our generation is both entirely worthy and entirely wicked, and explains this apparent contradiction thus: our generation has a great internal desire to achieve redemption; the pursuit of communism, socialism, etc. is not simply a manifestation of abandoning our traditions, but a sincere desire to realize great ideals, which, unfortunately many think can be achieved only outside of Torah. Many thought that Torah is limited to practical mitzvot, which are completely devoid of ideals or great vision. In other words, Rabbi Kook argues that this generation’s sins result specifically from its virtue! Outwardly and in a practical sense, some of the generation reject Torah, desecrate Shabbat and eat non-kosher food; however, on the internal level, these acts are motivated by the desire to realize the great ideal of “tikkun olam” (rectifying the world).
Thus, on an internal level, our generation has actually repented; it is truly connected to the goal of tikkun olam, which is the purpose of Torah and Divine service. On the internal level, the generation is “entirely worthy,” while on the external level it is “entirely wicked,” due to its sins.
The solution, asserts Rabbi Kook, is not in confronting those who reject Torah, rather to show those who have abandoned Torah that what they seek is actually to be found within Torah. The true aspiration for tikkun olam exists within Torah, but those who reject Torah have yet to see this, they have been exposed to a limited part of Torah, which they believe to be the entirety of Torah. This is not so, Torah has deep levels in which all the great ideals of tikkun olam are to be found.
Concerning the question, we raised, why Isaiah inverts the order, the answer is that redemption will come in a generation which has both repentance and wickedness. There is internal and external repentance. Internally, Israel has repented – the nation is connected to what Torah wants of Israel, and this will hasten the redemption. However, this is not complete repentance, which requires Israel’s full return to Torah and mitzvot.
We noted the Talmudic statement that Am Yisrael’s repentance will hasten the ultimate redemption. Based upon this, we asked why Isaiah inverted the order and presented redemption before repentance.
Chafetz Chayim writes that in the generation of redemption, which essentially is our generation, there will be both repentance and heresy, and each will contribute to bringing the redemption. The righteous will hasten redemption trough their observance of Torah even in a generation full of heresy; the wicked will hasten the redemption because God will end Israel’s exile as a means of bringing His sons to repent, God will bring redemption so that those who have distanced themselves will see the light of truth and repent and return.
Rabbi Kook explains that in our generation, the generation of redemption, even within the heretics there is an aspect of repentance. Internally, the desire of the heretics is to achieve the purpose of Torah, tikkun olam. However, on the external level, they have chosen not to follow Torah, but to pursue foreign ideologies, (falsely) believing that these ideologies fulfill their dreams.
We must realize that the reality of our generation is an indication that the redemption is near. Precisely at this juncture, we must increase our devotion to Torah, realizing that this will hasten the redemption, which is getting nearer and nearer. We must call to our brothers who are not yet Torah observant and show them that true tikkun olam is found in observance of Torah and mitzvot. In truth, everything they seek is found within Torah, and it is only on a superficial level that this is not apparent.
May we merit, with God’s help, complete repentance of the entire Nation of Israel and complete redemption, speedily in our days. Amen