The Struggles of the Jew in Golus

Based on an address delivered at national convention of Agudath Israel of America 1988.


The Jew in Golus: We are all aware that at specific points in history our conduct was unworthy, and as a result, we–the Jewish People–underwent a churban, suffering the destruction of our Beis Hamikdash and exile from our homeland. The prophets had warned us of the consequences of our conduct and tragically their admonitions came true–not once but twice…In fact we are still in the midst of the second golus, yet to be redeemed.

Golus, however, is not simply a punitive state. But an expression of G-d’s paternal concern, for “As a father punishes his son, so does G-d inflict punishment on you” (Devarim 8.5). In that vein, golus is meant to be instructive, prodding us and guiding us to improvement as Jews and as ethical beings.

Yet, throughout history there have been those who have failed to respond to the teachings of golus, and instead of seeking to strengthen their commitment to Torah, they endeavored to blend in with their host culture. Not just in Germany, not only the Reform movement, but in all places of our exile throughout our long golus, there have always been those who thought that assimilation would win them acceptance by their non-Jewish hosts, and total acculturation would win them respect and love…As one step toward accommodation followed another, it took the likes of a Hitler, yemach shemo, to demonstrate that even after four successive generations of intermarriage, a trace of Jewish ancestry cannot be lost. Even the hapless offspring of so many generations of dilution was banished to the concentration camps as a Jew!

In its function as a means of instruction, golus is meant to refine the Jew, for the experience of being tossed about on the stormy seas of exile can ultimately serve to bring out the best in the Jew. Indeed, today the realization is growing: Survival–and for that matter, salvation–lies in discovering our heritage, and asserting it We are witnessing the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: “I will return…the hearts of sons to their fathers” (3, 24). Who would have expected that the Shavler Rav, Rabbi Meir Atlas זצ״ל, one of the founders of the Telshe Yeshivah in Europe, would have grandchildren in South Africa, drifting away from Yiddishkeit? And who would anticipate that one of them, a gifted surgeon, would thirst for a life of Torah and mitzvos, and would today in–Jerusalem–be studying Torah with depth, and be engaged in writing seforim for reaching out to our alienated brethren?


Unfortunately, we tend to lose sight of the mere fact that we are still in golus and it is at this point that golus as a state of alienation from the Divine enters us, so to speak. I recall a conversation I overheard between Rav Elya Meir Bloch and Rav Mordechai Katz זצ״ל, during the early years of their heroic undertaking of transplanting Telshe to America’s Midwest. Reb Elya Meir remarked that he was so unaffected by the change in his environment that “at this moment I’m not even in the United States. I’m sitting in Telshe.” Responded Reb Mottel: “You’re so influenced by your environment that you’ve even lost your sensitivity to the fact that you’re here–in the United States!”

In the case of such men of stature, “loss of sensitivity” was a very subtle matter. Our gedolim have always been concerned that their commitment to Torah values not be diluted by the golus environment. A hundred years ago, Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidus, Rav of Ratzin, wrote an unsigned tzava’a (ethical will) to his community, entitled Divrei Emes, in which he said: “My dear children, we live in a corrupt world. We have abandoned mitzva observance, and we are guilty of all sorts of major transgressions every day. [Whom was he addressing? Jews who during the month of Elul close their businesses in mid-day and repair to the beis hamedrash not to escape an anti-Torah influence that pervaded the streets, but to avoid self indulgence!]

“Study the Sefer Chofetz Chaim, my children, and see how we must guard our tongues, and how failing to do so brings such churban (ruin) in our lives.” He addressed Torah Jews as though they were the dregs of society! Yet we assume that our lives are fully consistent with the Torah’s expectations and that by virtue of simply approaching the “ladder firmly planted on earth, with its top reaching toward heaven”–never mind attempting to climb it–we have already done our duty.


Before we can consider ourselves free of influence from our golus environment, we must answer some basic questions:

Can our business activities stand up to a point-by-point examination by criteria based on the Shulchan Aruch? Are our financial dealings truly free of deceit, usury, and misleading practices? or are we infected by the atmosphere of greed and wealth-at-any-cost, so prevalent in today’s marketplace of values?

How important is Torah in our daily lives? Would it be dominant (as it should be), then we would not find ourselves spending thousands of dollars on vacations with such ease, when our Torah institutions are suffering so from financial hardships. Paying full tuition should not put a parent’s mind at ease, as long as our children’s rabbeim are paid an insufficient wage to the extent that gifted, inspiring men are forced to leave the field of chinuch to find more lucrative ways to provide for their families.

Is Torah study central to our day? I recall hearing the late Ponevezher Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman זצ״ל, speak in Baltimore, when I was a child. While most of his address was beyond me, I remember vividly how he decried the “sandeh” (Litvish pronunciation of shandeh–scandal) of being content with a Sunday school education, instead of a full-week chinuch for children. Our contemporary Sunday/sandeh is the lack of Torah commitment that permits a yeshivah graduate to spend less than four or five hours of his free day every week in the beis hamedrash. A weekly opportunity to immerse oneself in Torah study for a good portion of the day should not pass, without being utilized to the maximum!

There is another, highly significant reason to study Torah with intensity–as a means of combating the influence of golus. Learning with depth transforms a person and endows his world-view with a Torah perspective. Indeed, the passage in Tehillim says: “Gal aynay v’abita niflaos miTorasecha–Open my eyes that I may see wonders from Your Torah.” The word is “from” not “in Your Torah.” In addition to the marvelous insights in Torah that one gains from study, one also acquires a new enlightening way of understanding the world and interpreting events taking place.

The imperative is to study! Immerse yourself in Torah! And then you can follow with: “Lift up your eyes and see: Who created this!” Not what created this, not merely gaining a deeper appreciation of the marvels of science and the wonders of nature. But “who” and develop a profound awe over the Creator responsible for these marvels. Without the benefit of a Torah perspective, one can view the most breathtaking panorama in all creation, and echo the words of the Soviet cosmonaut, who was the first person to see earth in the spectacular setting of outer space: “I searched the broad expanse of the heavens and saw neither G-d nor angels.”

The Rambam, in his introduction to his Sefer Hamitzvos, advises a person to first witness the Creator’s miracles in His Torah; then he will be equipped to see His miracles in the heavens. Without the prerequisite of Torah study, one can scan the heavens with great intelligence, and still see naught.

The requirement for recognizing G-d’s hand in dally occurrences is no different. Our sacred literature is full of precedents for this.

When Yakov Avinu left home to spend over twenty years of his life with Lavan in Charan, he detoured for fourteen years, which he spent in the Yeshivah of Shem and Eiver. His activity there is described as hehitmin atzmo–literally, he hid himself in Torah, a term that connotes total immersion. This was necessary because passion for Torah and indulgence in worldly pleasures are mutually exclusive. Strengthening himself in the one–Torah study, he was prepared to reject the other–materialism and hedonism, which was the hallmark of Lavan’s society.

Upon approaching Har Seir, the Jews were instructed to travel tzafona–northward, to avoid the Edomites. The Midrash relates the word tzafona to tzafun–hidden, implying that they hide themselves, that is immerse themselves fully–into Torah study so as not to be distracted by the blandishments of the Edomites’ way of life.


While golus is the antithesis of geula, the two are intertwined, in that golus is a preparation for geula. Indeed, Chazal tell us that Chumash Shemos–Sefer Hageula, the Book of Redemption–is introduced with the names of Yaakov’s twelve sons, to tell us that all twelve have names that foretold the geula. During all two hundred and ten years in Goshen, where the Jews were eventually subjugated and then enslaved, they were preparing for their redemption. Especially Shevet Levi, which persevered in Torah study and Yiras Shomayim, preserving the essence of their Jewish identity, and was preparing for the geula actually ushering it in.

We can fulfill our role today in bringing this bitter golus to its final end by maintaining that same fidelity to Torah, that same deep involvement in Torah study as our predecessors did in their own golus. Unfortunately, some people in leadership positions today are under the impression that the battle for Jewish survival will be won on the front pages of our newspapers, while in truth seeking publicity is contrary to daas Torah, and can only be counter-productive. The Jew, who guides his every step with Torah, is a Jew who has purged himself of golus from within, and is bringing us closer to the day when we are totally free of golus.




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