In a speech to a gathering of the American branch of the Orthodox Zionist organization Mizrachi, delivered a month after Israel declared its independence, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explored the religious significance of the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty. The speech, delivered in Yiddish, was translated by Arnold Lustiger, and published last year. It has now been made available online.
Soloveitchik begins with the rabbinic reading of the biblical phrase “I took you out of Egypt”—spoken by God to the Jewish people—as “I was taken with you out of Egypt,” a reinterpretation that can be accomplished in Hebrew by simply rearranging a few dots. It therefore follows that the Divine Presence (Sh’khinah) accompanied the people of Israel into exile, and will return from exile with them. But could the creation of a secular polity in Mandate Palestine really accomplish this metaphysical transformation? And, more importantly, what can be done to ensure that Jewish statehood does return Divine immanence to the Holy Land. These are the questions that Soloveitchik attempts to address:
The progression of Jewish history used to be chaotic, insane, and absurd. It now has a sense of purpose and significance. It has a direction and an objective.
We need to stop and examine this assertion of purpose, of direction, of an ideal. What is it? The answer is simple. The state of Israel will liberate a segment of the Jewish people from exile in the political-social sense. Naturally, not everyone will be redeemed through it. Even the Exodus from Egypt itself did not free all the Jews from Egypt; the sages suggest that not all enslaved Israelites were redeemed, perhaps only one fifth, and some say only one 50th or even one out of every 500 Jews in Egypt were actually liberated (M’khilta, B’shalaḥ 13:18).
Exile is a subjective concept. Through the new Jewish state, we Jews have at least been given the opportunity to liberate ourselves from exile. But will the Ribbono shel Olam [the Master of the Universe] Himself also be freed from exile by the state of Israel, or will He remain in captivity in a Jewish state? This is the main question we religious Jews have been asking ourselves for the past several months.
With regard to redemption of the Sh’khinah from defilement, I am definitely optimistic. Whoever ultimately stands at the helm, life in Israel will to a certain extent be completely Jewish. I read in the press that the kitchens of the Israeli army are strictly kosher. When, on that fateful Friday, the establishment of the state of Israel was proclaimed, the ceremony was held eight hours early so as not to desecrate the Sabbath, despite various logistical difficulties associated with doing this. The act alone sanctified the Sabbath more than 50 rallies dedicated towards Sabbath observance.
Naturally, religious Jewry must stand watch and fight for [Sabbath observance], but I can assure everyone that Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael will be holier than it was in the Jewish neighborhood in Berlin, in the Frankfurt Ghetto, or even on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.