What is galut?
Galut means exile. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Jewish nation was driven out of its homeland and sent off into a tear-soaked galut that lasts to this very day. We wait and yearn for the day when our galut and suffering come to an end, when we will be returned to the Holy Land, with the coming of our redeemer, the Moshiach.
Why are we in galut?
Galut is often described as a punishment for our own failings. But this is only part of the story. At the "Covenant Between the Parts" between G‑d and Abraham, at which it was first established that there was going to be a Jewish people, G‑d informed Abraham that his descendents will be strangers in a land that is not theirs. The galut of the Jewish people was ordained before there was a Jewish people.
Galut is often described as a punishment. But this is only part of the storySimilarly, it is a common conception that the Messianic Era is primarily intended as an opportunity for G‑d to reward His people for the millennia of galut when they loyally struggled and toiled in His service. While this is certainly one of the reasons for the Redemption, it is not its ultimate objective.
The second verse of Genesis tells us that "the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of G‑d was hovering over the face of the water." On this the Midrash comments, "'The spirit of G‑d'—this is the spirit of Moshiach." In other words, G‑d created light and dark—both physical light and dark as well as their metaphoric counterparts: Redemption and galut. And even before that time, He envisioned a time when the light will banish the dark. He envisioned the spirit of Moshiach.
The Messianic Era was actually G‑d's prime motivation in creating worlds, in the words of the Midrash: "G‑d desired a dwelling place on the lowest realms." The divine source of our physical world is so concealed that we feel ourselves to be completely independent beings; we don't sense or feel G‑d, in fact, we even have the logic-defying ability to deny our very fountain of existence which we are dependent upon every moment of our existence.
And G‑d desired to "dwell" – to be sensed and acknowledged – in this "low" and hostile climate.
This wish will be realized with the coming of Moshiach. And in order to reach that goal, we need first to undergo galut.
Every one of G‑d's creations is imbued with a soul, a spiritual essence. But this core is hidden. Instead of objects proclaiming that they are G‑d's creations, granted existence only in order to increase His glory, they proclaim – verbally or otherwise – that they are independent beings.
It is our task to rip off this façade, to destroy the concealment. This is accomplished every time we utilize an object in the service of G‑d. Such an act reveals the ultimate purpose of this particular creation. When we use a table to study Torah, when we use wax to light Shabbat candles, when we use money for charity, when we use our feet to walk to the synagogue—all these acts serve a singular purpose, revealing the divine essence of another component of creation.
This is what the Redemption is all about—not some radical change in creation, but the uncovering of nature's truest selfThis is the underlying reason why over the course of the centuries our nation has been scattered to the four corners of the earth. The "sparks" of holiness embedded in creation were dispersed throughout the globe, necessitating a Jew to make a blessing over a cup of water in Shanghai, to put up a mezuzah in Uzbekistan, and use waters in Johannesburg as a mikvah. Today, with the globalization of the markets, this is even simpler: we can sit in the United States and light menorahs that are "Made in China"...
This is what the Redemption is all about—not some radical change in creation, but the uncovering of nature's truest self, accomplished though our sojourn in galut.
As of now, the effect we have on the objects that we elevate is concealed. When the Moshiach comes, our eyes will be opened and we will see the fruit of our millennia-long labor.
This is why, interestingly, the Hebrew word for Redemption, geulah, is constituted of the very same letters as the word for exile, golah, with only the added letter of aleph transforming the word from "exile" to "redemption." The aleph, which has a numerical value of one, represents the One Creator, whom we insert – reveal – in every component of creation, thus consequentially bringing the object to a state of redemption. With the cumulative revelation of the alephs within every component of creation, we bring the world as a whole to a redemptive state. A world wherein G‑d is revealed.
On a deeper level, the tragedy of galut isn't limited to physical displacement, and is not necessarily defined by persecution and suffering. Galut is a time when G‑d's presence is concealed, when nearly all perceptible traces of the relationship we share with Him have vanished. We don't feel or see G‑d's love for us, and we don't really feel like His children. We may study His Torah and follow His commandments – and we are told that by doing so we connect with Him – but we don't feel it.
Which is why even a Jew who lives in Jerusalem today says in his prayers, "Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land." For even one who is physically in the Land of Israel, is still in galut.
Through fire and water we've proved our fidelity beyond the shadow of any doubtIn the early years of our nationhood, G‑d's presence was felt. He frequently and very openly interfered in the happenings of this world, and specifically on behalf of His chosen nation. This motivated us to want to connect to Him; the love we were shown elicited a reciprocal feeling on our part; it was G‑d who fueled the relationship.
The Messianic Era is the consummation of our relationship with G‑d, and to earn this privilege we have to prove that the relationship is real to us, part and parcel of who we are, so much so that we steadfastly maintain this relationship even in the absence of any revealed reciprocation from G‑d. Even when remaining loyal to him costs us dearly.
Two thousand years of spiritual blackness have not deterred us. Through fire and water we've proved our fidelity beyond the shadow of any doubt. Galut has outlived its usefulness—it's time for the Redemption!