Rabbi Oury Cherki
Periods of Exile
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
Exile is an integral part of the history of the nation of Israel. More than half of the time that the nation has existed was spent in exile. This is clearly a very important fact. This reality sometimes leads people to make a mistake and attempt to idealize the exile, or at the very least to generate a feeling of guilt when the nation leaves the exile.
The Maharal of Prague explains that exile and redemption are two sides of the same coin, based on the principle that two opposites form a single unified whole. Just as the creation reveals the existence of the Creator, the world itself also serves to hide Him. Based on this idea, we can conclude that true knowledge of G-d requires us to be familiar with both sides: revelation and concealment. Revelation comes when the Shechina appears and the Children of Israel are living on their land. Concealment takes place when G-d’s face is hidden, in exile. However, the goal of the whole process of history is to achieve a face-to-face encounter, a friendly meeting between the Creator and His creatures: "You will call me ‘My Husband’ and you will no longer call me ‘My Master’" [Isaiah 2:18]. This means that the release from exile is needed for the Creator and does not merely fill a need of the creatures. And this makes it very clear why the Torah began its story of the history of the Hebrew nation with a description of the release from exile in Ur Kasdim.
Exile came upon the nation of Israel three times: in Egypt, in Babylon, and in Edom (represented by Rome). The time span of the exiles was different – 210 years in Egypt, 70 years in Babylon, and 1880 years in Edom. In his book "Derech Emunah" (The Way of Faith), Rabbi Avraham Bibago explains that in each exile it was necessary for the nation of Israel to struggle against forces which competed against prophecy. In Egypt the competition was against the culture of sensory feeling of the sorcerers, and in Babylon it was against the culture of imagination of the Chaldeans. In Edom, the struggle was against philosophy, which Rabbi Bibago calls the "sense of understanding." By this he means that even though philosophy gives the appearance of being purely intellectual, its foundation is really based on the senses. The length of each exile is proportional to the strength of the competing approach. Only with the failure of philosophy to serve as a solid basis for a spiritual life was it possible for the third exile to come to an end.
The Zohar (in the "Tikunim") describes which Torah creation resulted from each exile: First the Torah, then the Mishna, and then Kabbalah. The mitzva of sending a mother bird away from a nest before being allowed to make use of the eggs, the chicks, and the grown offspring, corresponds to the exile of the Shechina, which in relation to Yaacov is referred to as a danger for "mother and children" [Genesis 32:11]. The prophet makes this parallel even clearer: "For your sins, your mother was sent away" [Isaiah 50:1]. The eggs correspond to the masters of the Torah. When we left the exile of Egypt we were given the written Torah. The chicks represent the masters of the Mishna (and the Talmud). When we left the exile of Babylon, we had with us the Oral Torah, which was published by the "Anshei Knesset Hagedolah" and was written down in the Babylonian Talmud. When we left the exile of Europe we took with us the Kabbalistic teachings. This symbolizes the sons, the masters of the Kabbalah ("banim" means sons, and it is also related to the word "binah" – understanding).
We can conclude that there will not be another exile, heaven forbid, since the nest has been emptied of its entire contents – the eggs, the chicks, and the offspring.