W ith the Balfour Declaration and the UN resolution for a Jewish state, we’ve witnessed the world’s recognition of the Jewish People’s right to Eretz Yisrael, which is intrinsic to the process of geulah. So why is there such a fuss now?

In our historical timeline, we’ve just marked the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and the 70th anniversary of the dramatic resolution by the General Assembly of the United Nations in favor of establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. Those decisions were given an unprecedented stamp of approval by the international community, and if we look at the matter outside of the political box, perhaps we can find the spiritual meaning underlying these events and trace their causes to something beyond the caprice of political trends.

The Balfour Declaration of November 1917 was really just a general statement, recognizing in principle the right of the Jewish People to return to their ancestral land and build a national home there. When the declaration came up for ratification by the Supreme Council of the Allied Nations at the San Remo Conference in 1920, it was the first time in history that the nations of the world stood up for the Jewish Nation as a united front. And a large portion of gedolei Yisrael saw that event as a flash of Hashgachah, lighting up the darkness for a brief moment.

Thirty years later, the UN General Assembly voted, by a wide majority, to endorse the founding of a Jewish state in what was then known as Palestine. On that night of November 29, 1947, I was a young boy living in Bnei Brak, and I remember my father a”h waking me up excitedly, not wanting me to miss that historic moment. “Get up!” he urged me. “The world has decided to give us a state of our own in Eretz Yisrael!”

On the radio, they were broadcasting a recording of the vote, and I remember the thrill of suspense as the nations, one by one, voiced their “yeses” and “nos.” The tension in the General Assembly was palpable as the votes mounted up, for it wasn’t at all obvious how each nation would vote, and until the last moment, the resolution was not assured of a majority. I remember my father weeping that night. After all, only two years previously we had escaped the killing ground of Europe, where my father had lost his whole family. All over Eretz Yisrael that night, people took to the streets and danced for joy. In sleepy little Bnei Brak, too, even the chassidim were overcome with emotion and danced in the streets. Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog sent a cryptic message, echoing the battle between Yaakov and the Angel of Eisav, to the Imrei Emes, the Gerrer Rebbe of the time: “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” That night has remained one of the unforgettable moments of my life.

During the years I spent in Brazil teaching and doing kiruv work, I learned about the pivotal role that country played in bringing about the decision in the Jewish People’s favor. In 1947, Osvaldo Aranha of Brazil was serving as head of the UN General Assembly, and he presided over the special session that was convened that November 29th. He was an admired figure in Brazil, and his name never failed to come up at any meeting between government officials and Jews, and especially at meetings with us Israelis. He made great efforts to sway the vote in favor of a Jewish homeland, even using whatever pressure tactics he could to achieve an affirmative decision. He acted out of a sense of mission. In fact, Aranha’s mother, a devout Catholic, had written him a letter shortly before the historic UN session, urging her son to be aware of the enormity of what was at stake. She wrote how it was his privilege at that fateful juncture to serve as G-d’s emissary, that he was sent to right the wrong done to the Jewish People who were expelled from their land and had wandered in exile for nearly 2,000 years.

THE UN VOTE CAME AT EXACTLY the most opportune time for the resolution to be adopted: two years after the end of the Holocaust. Immediately after the Holocaust, the world was still in shock. The photographs and documentation from the liberated death camps had just been released, and the people of the world had difficulty processing the horrifying revelations. They weren’t even able to formulate a fitting response. Once the realization sunk in that they had been oblivious while the machinery of wholesale slaughter was running at full throttle in Nazi-occupied Europe, the nations were seized with guilt and remorse. Millions of Jewish people had been the innocent victims of unspeakable torture and genocide, and they had done nothing to save them. Now — about two years after the initial shock — the time was ripe for the nations to feel they must atone, that the least they could do was give the Jewish People a safe haven of their own in the land of their forefathers.

The UN decision afforded the world a collective sense of putting things right.

But if the resolution had been tabled a few years later, it surely would never have been passed. By that time, the intense feelings of shock and guilt would have faded, taking a far second to each nation’s self-interest. Indeed, many of the nations who voted for the resolution were acting against their self-interest, but at that time the enormity of the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish People overrode other concerns. Some of those nations even announced that they’d made a mistake by voting in the affirmative. It was also one of the rare occasions when the United States and the Soviet Union — under the rabid anti-Semite Stalin — voted on the same side, in favor of a Jewish state. It never happened again that the two world powers saw eye to eye on such a pivotal issue. 

THAT WAS THE SECOND TIME THE WORLD LINED UP in support of the Jewish People. The question is, why? Does HaKadosh Baruch Hu need the approval of the nations in order to redeem us?

This very point is brought up in the Ramban’s commentary on Shir Hashirim, in which he describes a prophetic vision of the Jewish People in the modern world. He writes, “With the permission of the rulers of the nations, and with their help, they will go to Eretz Yisrael, and that generation will be a sinful one that has lost sight of the Torah, and there will be much brazenness and audacity, and no merit will be left to them but the merit of milah,” (Ramban’s Commentary on Shir Hashirim, haelef lecha Shlomo…).

The Ramban’s description fits the tragic spiritual state of the Jewish People with startling accuracy; yet he states how, “with the permission of the rulers of the nations, and with their help, they will go to Eretz Yisrael.” This is exactly how it happened, but again we ask, why does the return of the Jewish People to its G-d-given land have to be with the approval of the nations? What is the importance of their consent?

The answer is found in the Torah passage depicting the wrestling match between Yaakov and the angelic representative of Eisav, the father of the Western world. That all-night struggle culminates when the angel says to Yaakov, “Let me go now, for dawn is breaking,” and Yaakov replies, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that this struggle is a perpetual, cosmic struggle between Yaakov and Eisav, and countless rounds of that seminal wrestling match have been fought since then, throughout our history. But at the appearance of the first light of dawn, Yaakov demands a formal statement from Eisav, affirming Am Yisrael’s right to exist and prevail. Yaakov’s demand is intrinsic to the spiritual template of the encounter, and it is a component of the ongoing struggle between the Jewish People and the nations. And so, the world’s recognition of the Jewish People’s right to its G-d-given inheritance is intrinsic to the process of geulah.

Yet, when President Trump made his own dramatic announcement expressing his country’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, condemnations were voiced around the world. What caused such a turnabout? Was it not one more utterance of the blessing demanded by Yaakov, one more instance of “with the permission of the nations, they will go to Eretz Yisrael”? Im yirtzeh Hashem, we will continue the discussion next time. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 689)