Two Paths to Redemption


In this video, we will discuss the history of the Jewish people – an absolutely amazing story that – incredibly – was written very clearly in the Torah, long before it happened in reality.

In earlier videos, we discussed how the Israelites – the Am Levadad – received the Torah at Sinai and were commanded to take it with them to the Land of Israel and to build a society following the Torah’s instructions.  We explained that following this blueprint would make their society close to a perfect one, a model for the rest of the world to emulate. This would enable them to fulfill their purpose as ממלכת כהנים – “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. It would lead the entire world to its destiny, and bring human history to its successful conclusion in the messianic era. 

Now, there are two different ways that this could have happened. 

OPTION ONE:  Let’s first imagine an ideal scenario, where the people of Israel would have acted completely correctly, scrupulously following God’s commands.  In such a scenario, God promised them all of the support they would need – they would have gradually but easily conquered the land of Israel, and built their society there without meeting any significant resistance. Their country and nation would be perpetually blessed with peace, health, and economic prosperity.

These promises are conveyed in the following verses from the book of Shemot (Exodus), which appear on-screen in the video:

כִּ֣י אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע֙ בְּקֹל֔וֹ וְעָשִׂ֕יתָ כֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲדַבֵּ֑ר וְאָֽיַבְתִּי֙ אֶת־אֹ֣יְבֶ֔יךָ וְצַרְתִּ֖י אֶת־צֹרְרֶֽיךָ׃ 
כִּֽי־יֵלֵ֣ךְ מַלְאָכִי֮ לְפָנֶ֒יךָ֒ וֶהֱבִֽיאֲךָ֗ אֶל־הָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ וְהַ֣חִתִּ֔י וְהַפְּרִזִּי֙ וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י הַחִוִּ֖י וְהַיְבוּסִ֑י.... 
לֹ֥א תִהְיֶ֛ה מְשַׁכֵּלָ֥ה וַעֲקָרָ֖ה בְּאַרְצֶ֑ךָ אֶת־מִסְפַּ֥ר יָמֶ֖יךָ אֲמַלֵּֽא.... 
...עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּפְרֶ֔ה וְנָחַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃  וְשַׁתִּ֣י אֶת־גְּבֻלְךָ֗ מִיַּם־סוּף֙ וְעַד־יָ֣ם פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים וּמִמִּדְבָּ֖ר עַד־הַנָּהָ֑ר
 (שמות כג: כב-לא)

but if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. 
When My messenger goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites….  

No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days….
…until you have increased and possess the land. I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the [Euphrates] River (Exodus 23:22-31)

Located as they are along the major international highways through the middle east, travelers to and from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and further points in Europe, Asia, and Africa would pass through this area, and would marvel at the beautiful life the people had.  If the nation living there was following all of the laws in the Torah, visitors to the land of Israel would see a peaceful society that respects its elders, provides for its children, and cares for its poor, where justice prevails and people resolve disputes amicably with the help of honest and wise judges. In its capital Jerusalem, visitors would see a benevolent and humble king presiding over this noble people, and – most importantly – they could visit the Temple at the heart of this great nation, and understand that all these blessings derive from the unity of the people in their worship of God.

Sooner of later, people would simply acknowledge that those living in the land of Israel have much better lives.  They would want those blessings for themselves, and Isaiah’s vision would come about automatically, as a natural process of history.

As we explained in Video #4 (“The Torah is Not Only for the Jews”), it would probably take some time to overcome the natural resistance to change and to the moral demands of ethical monotheism, but sooner or later, people would simply acknowledge that those living in the land of Israel have much better lives.  They would want those blessings for themselves, and these words from Isaiah’s vision would come about automatically, as a natural process of history:

וְֽהָלְכ֞וּ עַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֗ים וְאָֽמְרוּ֙ לְכ֣וּ׀ וְנַעֲלֶ֣ה אֶל־הַר־ה' אֶל־בֵּית֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְיֹרֵ֙נוּ֙ מִדְּרָכָ֔יו וְנֵלְכָ֖ה בְּאֹרְחֹתָ֑יו כִּ֤י מִצִּיּוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֣א תוֹרָ֔ה וּדְבַר־ה' מִירוּשָׁלָֽ͏ִם

And many nations will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us of His ways, and that we may walk in His paths, for teaching (Torah) shall go forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)

That’s one path that could have led to the redemption of the world: the Am Levadad faithfully fulfilling its role as the Kingdom of Priests, setting an inspiring example that others would follow voluntarily.

It’s a great plan, but it has one weakness: It depends on human beings, the people of Israel – the Am Levadad – to uphold our responsibilities and live according to the Torah.  If we would do that, it would be great – but what was to happen if we would not do that? What would happen if we would become lazy, selfish, or even corrupt? 

That brings us to…OPTION TWO: In such a situation, God would have a problem, so to speak. On the one hand, He couldn’t threaten us with destruction and certainly could not carry out such a threat. Doing that would violate His promise to Avraham, and would also prevent history from coming to a successful conclusion.  But on the other hand, since the redemption of the world depends on this, God would need a way to make sure that we can never be allowed to fail in our mission. 

So now we can understand that God needed to formulate a contract of sorts with the people of Israel, in which He would make clear that if we disobey His commands, there would be severe consequences. Although He won’t destroy us, He must threaten conditions that would ultimately make it impossible for us to perpetually and indefinitely refuse to carry out our mission. 

And indeed, if we look in the Torah, we’ll see that this is precisely what He did.

In two separate places – at the end of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus (26:3-46) and towards the end of Devarim/Deuteronomy (28:1-30:10), the Torah gives systematic presentations of the “ground rules” God laid down for Jewish history.  These passages are conventionally referred to as Tochacha, or “rebuke”.  It’s worth reading them carefully in the original, but in this video, I’ll summarize them for you, and read only a few key phrases.

In two separate places, the Torah gives systematic presentations of the "ground rules" God laid down for Jewish history.

Let’s start with the passage in Vayikra.

Here, the Torah says that if the people of Israel would tragically reject God’s offer to provide us with blessings in return for following His Torah, He would have no choice but to begin to put pressure on us.  Initially, the Torah enumerates relatively minor misfortunes such as illness, economic difficulties, and military setbacks leading to a terrible loss of national morale – all designed to cause pain, but no lasting damage.  The idea seems to be to inflict a modicum of suffering upon us in the hope that we will quickly change our ways.  If we do that, the problem will be solved, and God can remove the suffering and restore the blessings, knowing that the plan is back on track. 

However, should the people stubbornly refuse to heed God’s messages, He will then have no choice but to apply even greater pressure, and to gradually increase this pressure until it accomplishes its objective.

The next stage threatens more severe misfortunes:

וְנָתַתִּ֤י אֶת־שְׁמֵיכֶם֙ כַּבַּרְזֶ֔ל וְאֶֽת־אַרְצְכֶ֖ם כַּנְּחֻשָֽׁה... וְלֹֽא־תִתֵּ֤ן אַרְצְכֶם֙ אֶת־יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֣ץ הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יִתֵּ֖ן פִּרְיֽוֹ... וְהִמְעִ֖יטָה אֶתְכֶ֑ם וְנָשַׁ֖מּוּ דַּרְכֵיכֶֽם׃ (26:19-20, 22)

I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper…. Your land will not yield its produce, and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit…. They will decimate you, and your roads will be deserted.

וְהֵבֵאתִ֨י עֲלֵיכֶ֜ם חֶ֗רֶב נֹקֶ֙מֶת֙ נְקַם־בְּרִ֔ית וְנֶאֱסַפְתֶּ֖ם אֶל־עָרֵיכֶ֑ם וְשִׁלַּ֤חְתִּי דֶ֙בֶר֙ בְּת֣וֹכְכֶ֔ם וְנִתַּתֶּ֖ם בְּיַד־אוֹיֵֽב׃  (26:25)

I will bring a sword against you to wreak vengeance for [your abandonment of] the covenant; you will withdraw into your cities, and I will send pestilence among you, and you will be delivered into the hands of the enemy.  

But what if even that’s not enough?  What if we become so stubborn that we still refuse to repent, and continue to sin even as we’re cowering behind the walls of our cities, weakened from hunger and disease, surrounded by enemies poised to invade and massacre us?  At that point, there is nothing left to do, but to allow the enemy to break through and completely destroy the country. 

And that’s exactly what it says God will do:

וְנָתַתִּ֤י אֶת־עָֽרֵיכֶם֙ חׇרְבָּ֔ה וַהֲשִׁמּוֹתִ֖י אֶת־מִקְדְּשֵׁיכֶ֑ם וְלֹ֣א אָרִ֔יחַ בְּרֵ֖יחַ נִיחֹֽחֲכֶֽם׃ וַהֲשִׁמֹּתִ֥י אֲנִ֖י אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְשָֽׁמְמ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ אֹֽיְבֵיכֶ֔ם הַיֹּשְׁבִ֖ים בָּֽהּ׃ (26:31-32)

I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell the pleasing aromas [of your offerings]. I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it will be astonished by it.

And yet, as we have explained, the Am Levadad can never be destroyed.  So, therefore, there needs to be a way to destroy us, without destroying us.  When our society has become corrupt beyond repair, it needs to be dismantled, but the people of Israel must live on. We must pay the terrible price for our sins and learn the lessons of our mistakes so that eventually we can rebuild our nation and fulfill our destiny.

And yet, as we have explained, the Am Levadad can never be destroyed!

This is where the unique concept of galut, exile, comes into play – and it says later on:

וְאֶתְכֶם֙ אֱזָרֶ֣ה בַגּוֹיִ֔ם....  וַאֲבַדְתֶּ֖ם בַּגּוֹיִ֑ם וְאָכְלָ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם אֶ֖רֶץ אֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃  (26:33,38)

I will scatter you among the nations…. You shall become lost among the nations, and the land of your enemies will consume you.

On the surface, this looks like the complete destruction of the nation: with its land lying desolate, the people scattered throughout the world and “lost” among their enemies – it seems like everything is over. 

Indeed, that is what it looks like. However, as we have already established, the Am Levadad can never be destroyed; even the complete destruction of the land and the exile of its inhabitants can never spell the end.  The Am Levadad may suffer horrifically, but we will survive for as long as necessary in exile; our national existence will eventually be restored, later on. That’s what the Torah said, and incredibly, history has shown it to be true!

Now, let’s pick up the story as it is described in the parallel passage, near the end of Devarim:

וְנִשְׁאַרְתֶּם֙ בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֔ט תַּ֚חַת אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֱיִיתֶ֔ם כְּכוֹכְבֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָרֹ֑ב (28:62)

You shall remain few in number, after having been as numerous as the stars in the skies.

Although this is presented as a curse, it also includes a hidden blessing – after all, contained within the decree “You shall remain few in number” is the promise “you shall remain”!

These prophecies were written thousands of years ago but today, they read like a history book

Indeed, it must be so.  This is an axiom of history: no matter what the people of Israel do wrong, we can never be destroyed, because we have a crucial task to perform.  We may be subjected to the most horrific sufferings imaginable, but we will always remain.  According to the Torah, this will continue, if necessary, until life becomes completely unbearable in exile:

וֶהֱפִֽיצְךָ֤ ה' בְּכׇל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים מִקְצֵ֥ה הָאָ֖רֶץ וְעַד־קְצֵ֣ה הָאָ֑רֶץ וְעָבַ֨דְתָּ שָּׁ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־יָדַ֛עְתָּ אַתָּ֥ה וַאֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ עֵ֥ץ וָאָֽבֶן׃ וּבַגּוֹיִ֤ם הָהֵם֙ לֹ֣א תַרְגִּ֔יעַ וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה מָנ֖וֹחַ לְכַף־רַגְלֶ֑ךָ וְנָתַן֩ ה' לְךָ֥ שָׁם֙ לֵ֣ב רַגָּ֔ז וְכִלְי֥וֹן עֵינַ֖יִם וְדַאֲב֥וֹן נָֽפֶשׁ.... וּפָֽחַדְתָּ֙ לַ֣יְלָה וְיוֹמָ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תַאֲמִ֖ין בְּחַיֶּֽיךָ׃ (28:64-66)

God will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, [made of] wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have known. Yet even among those nations you will not find peace, nor will your foot find a place to rest. God will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and a despondent spirit…. You will be terrified, night and day, with no assurance of survival.

The Torah also makes clear that the purpose of all this suffering is to preserve our identity and prevent us from assimilating among our host nations while enabling us to learn the error of our ways, ultimately leading us to return: to return to the land of Israel, and to the laws we must observe to merit living there. 

For the most part, of course, Jewish history has followed this second path toward redemption – the path of exile.

Tragically, just about every word of these “rebukes” has been fulfilled, both in letter and in spirit.  These prophecies were written thousands of years ago but today, they read like a history book.  For several millennia, Jews have experienced exile, dispersion, and persecution reaching unimaginable levels of cruelty and suffering unspeakable horrors, yet we have proven immune to destruction, in ways that defy logic and baffle historians.  We have spread – just as the Torah predicted – to every inhabited corner of this planet.

Even in exile, our interactions with other nations have helped spread the messages of ethical monotheism.  Today, primarily because of Christianity and Islam – two great religions that are both, in different ways, based on the teachings of the Torah – and also due to lots of smaller religions, most of which split off from one of those two – more than half of the people on earth believe in the God of Avraham, and in the principles of ethical monotheism!

In an extremely important passage that was absent from printed editions for many years due to Christian censorship, Rambam writes:

"Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity? All the prophets spoke of Mashiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior who would gather their dispersed and strengthen their observance of the mitzvot. In contrast, Christianity caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord.

Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts, our thoughts. Ultimately, all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him [Mohamed, the founder of Islam – ed.] will only serve to prepare the way for Mashiach's coming and the improvement of the entire world, motivating the nations to serve God together as Tzephaniah 3:9 states: 'I will transform the peoples to a purer language that they all will call upon the name of God and serve Him with one purpose.'

How will this come about? The entire world has already become filled with the mention of Mashiach, Torah, and mitzvot. These matters have been spread to the furthermost islands to many stubborn-hearted nations. They discuss these matters and the mitzvot of the Torah, saying: 'These mitzvot were true, but were already negated in the present age and are not applicable for all time.'

Others say: 'Implied in the mitzvot are hidden concepts that can not be understood simply. The Mashiach has already come and revealed those hidden truths.'

When the true Messianic king will arise and prove successful, his position becoming exalted and uplifted, they will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage and their prophets and ancestors caused them to err."

(Rambam, Hilkhot Melakhim/Laws of Kings 11:6-9. Translation by Eliyahu Touger via Sefaria)

That’s a lot of progress since Avraham’s time!

The Torah also lays out for us the end of the story – the final redemption, when the Am Levadad returns home triumphantly from exile, finally fulfilling its historic mission.

That redemption will be the subject of the final two videos in this series.

Dive deeper

I actually think the polytheist and the atheist are quite similar to each other – in fact, they’re almost identical! One might even describe atheism as a special form of polytheism.
What do I mean by this?
Well, let’s realize that in classic polytheistic conceptions of the world – even if there was often a “head” or “chief” god, there was no single ruler in charge of everything. Instead, the polytheist viewed the universe as a chaotic place controlled by various powers, which he personified and called “gods”. While the specific names and mythologies varied from one region or culture to another, there were striking similarities between them. They all believed in a pantheon of gods, each of which was thought to be responsible for a different natural or human phenomenon: there was usually a sun god and a moon god, a god of wind, a god of rain, a god (or often, goddess) of fertility, a god of war, a god of love, and so on. And at least in ancient times, these gods often looked and behaved very much like humans: They were jealous of each other, fought with one another, formed alliances, and deceived one another.
To survive in such a world, the polytheist would worship the various gods and try to figure out what they needed so he could win their favor and entice them to act in his interest. He might also engage in magical rituals that he believed could harness various forces to help him.
Now let’s compare this to the way a modern atheist sees the world. Unlike the polytheist, she doesn’t believe in gods with personalities and emotions. But beyond that distinction, her vision of the world is very similar. She also sees a chaotic universe in which various forces interact and clash with one another. Her universe, like that of the polytheist, has no ruler, and nobody in charge.

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