The Ingathering of the Exiles
When Naftali Herz Imber wrote the beautiful poem “Hatikva” in 1878, he expressed the two thousand year old hope of the Jewish people to be a free nation in our own land.
Two decades later, the first Zionist Congress in 1897 adopted the core ideal that “Zionism seeks to establish a homeland for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel secured by public law, namely for the sake of the gathering of the exiles to the land of Israel.”
Just a few years after that, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, one hundred years ago next year, the British government “viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. And just over three decades later the State of Israel became a reality.
It took little more than half a century to move from political ideal to statehood. But the yearning of Jews to return to their land stretches right back to the dawn of our history as a nation. What are its ancient roots? How far back can we find historic references to this ideal?
The gathering of Israel, kibbutz galuyot, literally, the Ingathering of the Exiles, stretches back to biblical times. It is the promise of Sefer Devarim, chapter 30 given by Moses to the people of Israel prior to their entrance into Eretz Israel.
Moses forsaw that the people of Israel would sin in their new land and would therefore be exiled. However, he also foresaw the people’s eventual return to their homeland.
And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you,
And you will return to the Lord, your God …..
Then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you.
Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the Lord, your God, will gather you from there ….
And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you will take possession of it …..
During the days of the Babylonian Exile, writings of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel encouraged the people of Israel with a promise of a future gathering of the exiles to the land of Israel.
Isaiah writes - And He shall raise a banner to the nations, and He shall gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah He shall gather from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah Chapter 11, verse 12)
Jeremiah Chapter 29 reiterates the same message –
And I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will return your captivity and gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will return you to the place whence I exiled you. (Verse 14)
Ezekiel, having already lived in exile says –
With a pleasing savor I shall accept you when I take you out of the nations, and I shall gather you from the lands in which you were scattered, and I shall be hallowed through you before the eyes of the nations. (Chapter 20, Verse 41.)
Following their expulsion and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70CE, the majority of Jews were dispersed throughout the world. Ever since then, Jews have never lost hope of returning to the land of Israel.
As we replaced the rituals of our Temple with our daily prayers this dream remained at their core.
Every time we say the week day Amidah, we make the bracha –
T’kah b’shofar ga’dol l’chay’roo’taynu, v’sa nase l’kabaytz ga’loo’yo’taynu, v’kab’tzaynu yachad may’arba kan’phot ha’aretz. Ba’ruch Ah’tah Hashem m’kabaytz nid’chay ahmo Yisrael.
Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise high the banner to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four quarters of the earth. Blessed are You, Lord, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.
Chazal (our sages) included this benediction in the Amidah, as we know, a central part of Jewish liturgy. It is the earliest benediction wherin an appeal is made concerning subjects related to Jewish nationality and restoring the existence of the Hebrew nation as an Independent nation.
The Rambam connected its materialization with the coming of the Messiah.
In Law of Kings, Maimonides writes:
The Messianic King will arise in the future and restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former state and original sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. All the laws will be re-instituted in his days as they had been aforetimes; sacrifices will be offered, and the Sabbatical years and Jubilee years will be observed fully as ordained by the Torah.
According to Maimonides, of all the assignments attributed to the Moshiach, the Torah attested to one “ then the Lord your God will bring back your exiles “. The Messiah is the ingatherer of the exiles of Israel.
Other Jewish scholars may view this differently from Maimonides. They argue that the Torah attested to a period and not a person, a period in which the people of Israel return to their homeland, the Land of Israel. The act of ingathering of the exiles of Israel in the land of Israel will bring about the coming of the messiah as the hand of God is in the events of the creation of the State of Israel.
Ha Rav Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook one of the leaders of the Religious Zionist Movement used to quote from the response book “Yeshuot Malko” stating that this is a great mitzvah, because the gathering is “Atchalta De’Geulah” the beginning of the redemption.
Charedi Judaism and Chabad take the writings of the Rambam literally: the Messiah is assigned the mission of completing the ingathering of the exiles of Israel.
In more modern times Napoleon in his proclamation to the Jews of Asia and Africa in 1799 “invited all the Jews of Asia and Africa to gather under his flag in order to reestablish the ancient Jerusalem”.
The Zionist realisation of kibbutz galuyot set into motion the transporting of legal and nonlegal immigrants to the land of Israel. It was the tangible outcome of all those centuries of yearning.
The Aliyah Bet was the illegal immigration to the land of Israel under the British Mandate’s laws including during World War 2 and the Holocaust. The Aliyah Bet was organized by the Yishuv from 1934 until the declaration of the State in 1948. During Aliyah Bet’s fourteen years of activity, 115,000 Jews made Aliyah to the land of Israel. They came by sea, but also by land and by air to defy the mandate.
The Exodus boat brought four and a half thousand. The largest flotilla, made up of the ships Pan York and the Pan Crescent, known as the Komemiut and the Atzmaut brought 15,000 souls at once to Palestine, including my very own father.
Once the state was finally declared in 1948, the Declaration of Independence (Megilat Ha’Atzmaut) enshrined this ideal – “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish Immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.” The ideal is embodied the concept of Aliyah, literally “going up”, since the Holy Land is considered to be spiritually higher than all other land. The immigration of Jews to the land and the State of Israel, the “mass” wave of Aliyot have been likened to the Exodus from Egypt.
The essence of Israel’s development both before and after the declaration of the State has been this aliyah of Jews from dozens of countries on every continent speaking over a hundred different languages. They came from Russia before the revolution, from Germany and Austria fleeing the Nazis and from Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia out of the ashes of the Holocaust. They came from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and North Africa expelled by Arab anti Zionism. They came from Latin America and Turkey fleeing cruel military juntas and from Iran fleeing the Ayatollahs. Most recently they have been rescued from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Ethiopia.
Since the founding of the state more than 3,000,000 Jews have immigrated to Israel. Absorbing these large numbers has been a continual challenge, but the large number of immigrants have, in turn, provided a cultural diversity that has greatly enriched life in Israel.
We now have a living, breathing, thriving state of our own. As we pray for Medinat Israel in Shule every Shabbat and festival we appeal to God to bless the land of Israel using the words of Moses – Lead them, swiftly and upright, to your city Zion and to Jerusalem, the abode of your name, as it is written in the Torah of your servant Moses:”Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there he will fetch you. And the Lord your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed and you shall possess it …
Although the process of Kibbutz Galuyot is far from complete, the ingathering continues with Jews continuing to make Aliyah from around the world, whether for reasons of idealism and religious fulfilment or because of the continuing difficulties of Jews in many lands. Wherever we are born we know, in the ever powerful words of Imber’s poem, we can be a free nation in our own land. Lihiyot Am chofshi be artzeinu eretz zion b’yerushalayim.