Parshas Toldos (5775)
Rabbi Chaim ben Yosef Vital (1543-1620) was a great Torah scholar and Kabbalist in Safed, Israel, and the foremost disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the Ariza”l). He recorded much of his master's teachings. Rabbi Chaim Vital also authored many seforim (holy books) of his own. One of his lesser known works is his Hebrew commentary Eitz Hada’as Tov on Tehillim (Psalms).
In his commentary to Psalm 124 – and in what can only be described as a veritable prophecy for our times - Rabbi Vital interprets the eight verses of the Psalm (originally composed by King David, who authored the Psalms over 3000 years ago) to be referring to Galus Yishmael, the “exile” and suffering of Jews at the hands of the Arab descendants of Yishmael (Abraham’s son) in the period just before the coming of the Messiah.
In light of the recent tragic murders of innocent Jews across the land of Israel perpetrated by fanatical Arab/Muslim terrorists, I thought it would be valuable to share with you how the great mystic Rabbi Chaim Vital understood this difficult period that Israel is going through, and how we are meant to deal with it according to the Torah Hashkafah (outlook).
[Please note: The bulk of the translation and elucidation of Rabbi Chaim Vital’s cryptic words is taken from www.dafyomireview.com, with extra commentary and explanatory notes added by myself.]
I first present Psalm 124, followed by Rabbi Chaim Vital’s commentary:
1. A song of ascents, by David. Had not G-d been with us – let Israel declare it now!
2. Had not G-d been with us when men (“adam”) rose up against us,
3. Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger was kindled against us.
4. Then the waters would have inundated us; the current would have surged across our soul.
5. Then they would have surged across our soul – the treacherous waters.
6. Blessed is G-d, Who did not present us as prey for their teeth.
7. Our soul escaped like a bird from a hunter’s snare; the snare broke and we escaped.
8. Our help is through the Name of G-d, Maker of heaven and earth.
“You already know that the exiles [that the Jewish people will have to go through after leaving Egypt until the coming of the Messiah] are four: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. (The fourth, Rome, began during the 2nd Temple Period and apparently ended with the Holocaust.) However, the Jewish people are destined further in the end of days to live in the exile of Yishmael, as mentioned in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer, and in the Midrashim of our Rabbis, and in the Zohar in the end of Parshas Lech Lecha….
King David prophesied with Ruach HaKodesh (“Holy Spirit”) in this psalm all that will befall the Jewish people during these exiles:
Behold, while living in the Four Exiles, the Jewish people will say (verse 1): “Had not G-d been with us – let Israel declare it now!” - which means that ‘now’ in these four exiles, if not for G-d Who was with us, we would have been destroyed completely…
But there is a fifth and final exile after all of the other exiles, and which is harsher than all of them. And this is the exile of Yishmael, who is called “Pereh Adam” (”A wild-ass of a man” – see Genesis 16:12), and he is not compared to a beast (like the other 4 exiles).
Then Israel will call out [to G-d for salvation] in a different manner, and will say (verse 2): “Had not G-d been with us when men (“adam”) rose up against us” - (the “man” refers to Yishmael, who is the “Pereh Adam”), because being that he is a ‘man’ due to his being the son of Abraham, and therefore he has the merit of his forefather, as we find [Abraham praying for Yishmael to G-d]: “Would that Yishmael live before You“ (Genesis 17:18), and he also has the merit of the Milah (circumcision). Due to this also, he is called “Adam”, therefore his exile is harsher than the other four kingdoms, as our Sages have taught us that because of this he is called Yishmael, for in the future, the People of Israel will cry out tremendous cries of anguish in the days of his exile, and ‘Yishma’ - ‘E-l’ [G-d will ultimately hear their cries] and will answer them.
And since the other [four] nations always had some form of rulership and dominion over other [smaller] nations, unlike Yishmael, who dwelled alone in the deserts, and who would not deal with other nations, but rather act like thieves who rob and maim others stealthily and return to their tents, and afterwards Yishmael will rise and become king over the entire world and over Israel – it therefore says [that the Jewish people will pray] (verse 2): “when a man rose up over us”, similar to what is said in the Zohar on the verse “a new king rose up” (see Exodus 1:8), because at first he was lower than all the nations and now he rose to Kingship….
And this is what Israel will say then: “Had not G-d been with us when men (“adam”) rose up against us” - which is Yishmael – “then they would have swallowed us alive” (verse 3), which means that during the fifth exile it will be different than all that passed over us [in the previous exiles], because they will want to ‘swallow us alive’, in the manner of “Then the thin ears of grain swallowed up…” (Genesis 41:24), “and it was not noticeable that they were inside them”, because G-d forbid, when their wrath will be kindled against us, they will desire to erase the name Israel from under the heavens, like something which is swallowed, whose existence is no longer noticeable at all, and is as if it never existed.
Unlike the Four Exiles which are referred to as (verse 4): “Then the waters would have inundated us”, because their exiles were less harsh and we were compared to one who was overwhelmed by water but his body still exists, and was not swallowed up completely. This is because, as it says (in the end of verse 4): “the current would have surged across our soul”, i.e. the four exiles were after our soul, leaving our bodies intact, as opposed to the exile of Yishmael when they will want to swallow us up body and soul.
The other nations – which King David refers to (in verse 5) as “treacherous waters” - initially wanted to have us reject our G-d, Torah and Mitzvah observance. It was only after we didn’t give up our Judaism that they killed us. And actually, it was through our tenaciously clinging to our belief that we merited that G-d saved us – as it says (verse 6): “Blessed is G-d, Who did not present us as prey for their teeth”.
The reference of the nations to “treacherous waters” might also allude to the Baptismal Font and to the forced conversions that the Jews were made to endure during the period of the Four Exiles.
[On the other hand], the exile of Yishmael will try to swallow us up as a whole. He will cause suffering to Israel, great and terrible suffering, such that none like these had ever been seen, and we will not know what to do. And we will have no other hope than to trust in His great Name to save us from Yishmael’s hands.
And this is what is meant (in verse 8): “Our help is through the Name of G-d, Maker of heaven and earth” - this means [G-d], Who made heaven and earth for the sake of the Torah and Israel [who were chosen to carry out G-d’s mission to be ‘a light unto the nations’ through the Torah], as in the verse “if not for my covenant day and night (Torah study), I would not have appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). Therefore He is ‘forced’ to help us from their hands, and redeem us a full future redemption, in order that there will be a cause for the existence of heaven and earth.”
These prophetic words, written by the holy Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital ZT”L over 450 years ago, should both frighten us and give us hope at the same time.
It is indeed true that (many of) Yishmael’s descendants, our Arab neighbors, would like nothing more than to “swallow us alive” as if we never existed, and that the threat to our continued existence as Jews in Israel - and elsewhere around the world - is very real and very frightening.
Yet as long as we remember that “Our help is through the Name of G-d, Maker of heaven and earth”, we have no need to worry. We are guaranteed that if we turn to G-d, Maker of heaven and earth, we will experience salvation, as it is inevitable that He will come to our aid, for without Israel and the Torah, the entire creation has no purpose.
May we all merit to see the end of this fifth and final exile with the coming of the Messiah, speedily and in our day. Amen.