E xactly a hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration was issued in support of a national home for the Jewish people. At the same time, the Communist revolution took over the Russian Empire, casting a blanket of darkness over much of Europe. Can we begin to see the common thread between the two, which will be visible in all its brightness with the final curtain call?

As the last rays of the year 2017 begin to sink toward the horizon, I look back over the past hundred years and tremble. What a century of upheaval, of pain and angst it has been! Is there any meaning to it all? Does it tell us anything about what we can expect in years to come?

One hundred years ago this month, two world-shaking events took place, seemingly unrelated to each other. But today, after the passage of a century and all that has transpired in that span of time, things emerge more connected than at first glance.

In November 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued in London, and the Bolshevik Revolution toppled the Russian Provisional Government in St. Petersburg. Both events changed the world radically, and changed life for the Jewish People in particular.

The Balfour Declaration, announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish People” in Palestine and publicized toward the end of World War I, elicited varying levels of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the “October Revolution” was bringing a mighty power struggle to an end, as a reign of terror, based on Communist and atheist ideology, officially overtook the Russian Empire. The Balfour Declaration was the “start-up,” in today’s jargon, that would eventually lead to the founding of the modern State of Israel and the settling of over seven million Jews in their ancestral land. Whatever opinion we may hold with regard to the secular Zionist state — and there is a wide range of opinions among us — the facts themselves cannot be ignored. An event of historical magnitude occurred.

For many years, the anti-faith regime ruled the Soviet Union with an iron hand, roping a majority of Western intellectuals as well into its atheist outlook. The spirit of equality that it claimed to uphold cast its spell on many of the best and brightest. I must admit that I, too, was among a small portion of yeshivish youth in the 1950s captivated by the ideas of equality propagated so skillfully by the Red Monster. At the time, I truly believed that Torah could be combined with the ideals of equality between man and his fellow, which Communism appeared to exemplify. Eventually, I was cured of this delusion.

Today, looking back a century later on the effects of the Bolshevik Revolution, I can say with certainty that for the 70 years the Soviet regime was in power, it sowed destruction everywhere it reached. It exterminated over 25 million people in its purges, which in most cases were unjustified even in terms of its own ideology. And in China, the Communist regime of Mao Zedong managed to outdo Stalin by a long shot. The blood of some 65 million Chinese citizens lubricated the ruthless machinery of that revolution and its subsequent reign, which had no problem executing anyone who flinched in opposition. Indeed, red was an apt choice of color to represent the Communist version of respect for human life.

As for its glorious message of equality, that agenda somehow never managed to advance. Amazingly, though, there are still some diehards in the world who believe Communism remains the only hope for mankind, and that the revolution must eventually succeed. Of course, along with its many other crimes, the Soviet regime did its best to run Judaism and the Jewish People into the ground as well — yeshivos and shuls were forcibly shut down, mitzvah observers were hunted down and punished, and Judaism went underground. And although there were islands of remarkable Jewish heroism in that sea of terror, nevertheless, Judaism in Russia was nearly crushed out of existence.

The Chofetz Chaim, who found himself at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in one of the areas already under its control, sought to leave the borders of the Soviet Union at any price. A group of surviving rabbanim came to him secretly, imploring him not to leave. “To whom are you abandoning us?” they asked.

He answered them, “This is a medinah where it’s assur to utter the name of Hashem. It has the din of a latrine, and I am not willing to live in a latrine.”

When the Communist regime finally imploded 70 years later, the Iron Curtain flung wide open, the spiritual destruction of Russian Jewry and the abysmal ignorance of millions of Jews long locked up in that gigantic prison became plainly evident to the outside world.

Let us not forget that in this same hundred-year period, sandwiched between the Communist Revolution and the founding of the Jewish state, the kingdom of the Nazi Ashmedai arose. Like the Communists, it waved the banner of denial of G-d’s dominion. Through physical mass murder, it, too, decimated the Jewish population throughout the countries of Europe that were not under Soviet control. It exterminated six million of our brothers and sisters, may Hashem avenge their blood — carrying out what Stalin had also intended to do to the Jews of Russia, but was prevented from accomplishing by his own sudden death.

With the addition of two world wars that claimed tens of millions of lives, both from the massive armies that were sent to fight each other to the death, and the many civilians who fell victim to both sides, we have a sweeping overview of the horrors of the past century.

One looks back over this timeline of carnage and wonders, is there any meaning to be found within that chaos? Or is it nothing but blind historical forces at work? Is this really all there is to the world we live in? Are we supposed to go on trying to live, when thoughts of the future leave us paralyzed with fear?

Rabbi Dr. Isaac Breuer, one of the great religious thinkers of recent times — a grandson of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and a leader of the worldwide Agudath Israel movement — sheds light in his sefer, Moriah, on how we, as believing Jews, are meant to view everything that happens both in the world at large, and to us personally.

Rabbi Breuer called the two world wars of the past century “messianic wars.” He explained how both of those wars toppled the very institutions that had been pillars of world civilization, and proved to all mankind that all their efforts to build a world upon manmade ideals such as communism, capitalism, nationalism, and all the rest — divorced from faith in the Creator — are doomed to failure. All of these failures, Rav Breuer explained, stem from the original attempt of the Dor Haflagah to build their tower of Bavel — the quintessential civilization independent of the Creator.

By terming the world wars “messianic,” Rabbi Breuer imparts deeper meaning — beyond the screen of superficial perception — to all that the world has experienced. We need to hold tightly to the hope that from the death of all manmade visions of utopia that ended in ruin and chaos, mankind will finally recognize that without belief in the Creator, there is indeed no hope for humanity — and then the light of Mashiach will illuminate the world.

In this light, Rabbi Breuer was highly critical of Zionism’s vision of Am Yisrael’s salvation through nationalism. If the founding and defense of a political entity is seen as the entire destiny of the Jewish People, then it, too, is doomed to eventual dissolution, for it contradicts the essence of Am Yisrael as the people of the Torah.

That century of upheaval is behind us. Its great visions have gone up in the flames of war, while alongside them, the Balfour Declaration stood like a signpost from Heaven, signaling a change of direction. While the world fell apart, Jews have returned to the land of their ancestors. Doesn’t this, too, have something to teach about this past century of turmoil? Does it not hint that there is Someone behind the screen of human deeds, directing the show? And He is leading it all to the coming of Mashiach.

Yes, there is hope. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 685)