There is a little “game” I sometimes play at this time of the year when reading the haftarot of Shiv’a de-Nechemta (Seven Haftarot of Consolation from the book of Isaiah which are always read in the weeks following Tisha be-Av): I like to count how many of these prophecies have already come true or are in the process of being realized. One of the more high profile prophecies which we have been extremely fortunate, over the last century, to witness and participate in is Kibbutz Galuyot. As an immediate result of the destruction of the Temple, most Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel and began a two thousand year sojourn in foreign lands – subjected to oppression and continual wandering. Instead of her natural and rightful population, many different nations inhabited and ravaged Eretz Yisrael.
Yeshayahu reassures the land that Hashem has not forgotten her and all her sons will return: מִהֲרוּ בָּנָיִךְ; מְהָרְסַיִךְ וּמַחֲרִיבַיִךְ מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ. שְׂאִי-סָבִיב עֵינַיִךְ וּרְאִי, כֻּלָּם נִקְבְּצוּ בָאוּ-לָךְ (Is 49:17-18) Loosely translated: “Speedily your sons come, Your destroyers will depart from you. Look around and see – all have gathered and returned to you.” Quite simply (according to Rashi and others), Hashem is promising redemption in two spheres: All the Jews will return quickly to Israel and those foreigners who have been occupying and misusing the land till now, will be expelled. The first phase, of returning the Jews, is in line with other prophecies: “And it will be on that day…those lost in the land of Assyria and the outcasts in the Land of Egypt will come” (Is 27:13), “Behold I will take the children of Israel from the nations into which they have gone…and bring them into the land” (Ez. 37:21) “Hashem, Return our exiled like streams in the Negev [desert, with forceful flash floods]” (Tehillim 126). Yet, the second phase is no less crucial because if we return to the land but the foreign aggressors remain there, much tension and difficulty is created – as we see time and again in modern day Israel, even up to this last week!
An additional, and unfortunately, all too relevant twist is added by the Metzudat David. Not only does the verse not specify who the “Destroyers” are, but it adds the superfluous word “ממך – from you”. The destroyers are from within you: Those self-hating Jews, the informers, those spreading disunity, hatred and discord among the nation, those who spiritually caused the destruction and have since prevented the return and the rebuilding. These internal, Jewish destroyers will be expelled from the Jewish nation and land with Kibbutz Galuyot, not some external foreign force! How appropriate!
However, upon closer examination of the verse, a further theological point can be discerned, according to the Abarbanel. Instead of reading the verse as two separate events – return of the exiles and expulsion of the aggressors – the verse could be read as a causative conditional statement: [If] speedily your sons come, [then] your destroyers will depart. This then changes the whole focus of the prophecy. The responsibility and initiative rests with us! Hashem promises that if we all come back speedily to Eretz Yisrael, he will take care of the rest. Should most of Am Yisrael not return, the expulsion of our “destroyers” will not take place. During the beginning of the second Temple, this was definitely the case. Few returned and those who did were from the lower echelons of society. As a result, they suffered untold troubles from the (new) locals. Perhaps this is the source of our current negative political situation vis a vis the modern day aggressors in Israel?
So as not to end on a pessimistic note, I would like to point out that the verse suggests two concurrent processes. It begins with the nation’s return, describes the expulsion of the destroyers and then returns to describe in greater detail the fullKibutz Galuyot. This is a “work in progress” – and we are a part of it!