Shoftim – The Mental Shackles of Exile

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In Kabbalas Shabbos we sing in the fourth and fifth stanzas of Lecha Dodi: “Shake off the dust – arise! Don your splendid clothes, My people. Through the son of Yishai, the Bethlehemite! Draw near to my soul – redeem it! Wake up! Wake up! For your light has come, rise up and shine; Awaken awaken, utter a song. The glory of Hashem is revealed on you.”

These stanzas are based on three pesukim in this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Shoftim, which take place in the 51st and 52nd perakim of Yeshayahu: “Awaken, awaken, arise, Jerusalem, for you have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of His wrath; the dregs of the cup of weakness you have drained” (Yeshayahu 51:17). “Awaken, awaken, put on your strength, O Zion; put on the garments of your beauty, Jerusalem the Holy City, for no longer shall the uncircumcised or the unclean continue to enter you. Shake yourselves from the dust, arise, sit on your throne, O Jerusalem; free yourself of the shackles around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion” (Yeshayahu 52:1, 2).

This Haftorah speaks of the low points of exile and the hope of redemption. The Ibn Ezra in 52:1 is of the view that all the commentaries agree that this prophesy is still talking about the future (by the final redemption; which means the previous perek is also discussing the future).  In 51:17 Yeshayahu says; “Awaken, awaken… for you have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of His wrath.”  The Ibn Ezra says this is a form of a parable comparing the Jews to a drunkard who no one knows what to do with, since he is unconscious. In 52:2 when Yeshayahu says “Shake yourselves from the dust,” the Ibn Ezra again says this is a form of a parable; that is why he tells them to “sit on your throne;”  he is currently lying in the dust. Yeshayahu further tells the Jews: “free yourself of the shackles around your neck” because they will not be subjugated under the rule of the other nations anymore.
Yeshayahu is prophesizing of a time, may it come speedily in the near future, when all the Jews will be redeemed from exile. But currently we are like an unconscious drunkard who drank the wrath of Hashem, lying in the dust. We are also shackled under the rule of the countries in which we live. In the prophecy Hashem is encouraging us to, when the redemption arrives,  arise from the dust to adorn ourselves in beautiful royal clothes, sit on our thrones, and remove the shackles from around our necks, for the unclean and uncircumcised will no longer be in Yerushalayim. The whole world will be sanctified with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the coming of Moshiach. The Jewish people under the leadership of the Moshiach will be the leading class of the entire world; therefore they should remove the shackles around their necks.It would seem that until that point the Jewish people will have a feeling of being trampled and shackled by the other nations, no matter how free the country they live in or how rich and powerful the Jews are. We can be the leaders of the economy, industries, Hollywood and, science. We are influential in the government; but we will still feel shackled, and Hashem will have to beseech us to remove the shackles when we are redeemed. Why is this?

We must say that for every Jew, no matter what state he or she is in, observant or non-observant, rich or poor, living in a free country, or under a dictatorship, all are subjugated under the shackles of exile. But it’s not only psychological. There is a halachic concept introduced by the rabbis called דינה דמלכותא דינא, the law of the land is the law, meaning the rabbis decreed that we have to follow the rules and laws of the country we are living in (as long as they don’t directly go against the Torah). The fact that the Rabbis decreed such a thing means it becomes incorporated into the law of the Torah, since there is a mitzvah to listen to the rabbis, as it says in this week’s Torah portion:  “And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the Lord will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left” (Devarim 17:10, 11).

May the redemption and true sovereignty come speedily in our days!

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