The End of Exile
When is exile over?
This is a question that has bothered Jews for thousands of years. The answer to this, like everything else concerning our national existence, must be found in the Torah.
The second of the five Chumashim, Sefer Shmot, is called by the name "The Book of Exile and Exodus". In his introduction to his commentary on this chumash, Ramban points out that the first four chapters deal with our People's first exile and the physical liberation from it. The remaining chapters concentrate on what we may refer to as spiritual liberation. During the past two weeks our Shabbat Torah readings were about the first stage of this latter liberation, the receiving of the Torah. This week's chapter and the one before it deal with the climax, which is the construction of the Mishkan sanctuary, a project that is the main focus of the remaining five chapters of Shmot.
Exodus from exile, he concludes, is not the mere removal of shackles, but a return to the lofty spiritual level of our patriarchs who served as "chariots" for the Divine Presence in this world. Only when physical and political freedom is followed by a commitment to Divine guidance, and the creation of an earthly base for that Divinity, can our people be considered as having ended their exile.
There is an important message here for all those whose shortsightedness misleads them into assuming that the mere establishment of a national homeland, as important as it is, spells the end of exile. We should rather view this Heavenly gift of a return to our land as a long-awaited liberation from physical and political persecution that enables us to freely pursue the next two stages. The first is completely in our power - to recommit ourselves to the Torah our ancestors received at Sinai. In regard to the final stage we can today only create a "minor sanctuary" in the form of synagogues and yeshivot for prayer and Torah study. But this will pave the way for the climax of the ultimate sanctuary, the Beit Hamikdash, and a return to the spiritual level of our patriarchs with the Divine Presence resting upon Israel forever.