Is Israel Big Enough to Hold the Ingathering of the Exiles?

Aug 19, 2022

עוֹד יֹאמְרוּ בְאָזְנַיִךְ בְּנֵי שִׁכֻּלָיִךְ צַר־לִי הַמָּקוֹם גְּשָׁה־לִּי וְאֵשֵׁבָה׃

The children you thought you had lost Shall yet say in your hearing, “The place is too crowded for me; Make room for me to settle.”

Isaiah 49:20

Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, marks the beginning of a period of mourning and consolation. This is reflected in the selections from the Prophets that read in the synagogue on Shabbat. For seven weeks between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Jews read sections from the Book of Isaiah called nechama, or consolation. 

In the selection of the Prophets read in conjunction with the Torah portion of Eikev, the Prophet Isaiah describes the desolation that will be the land of Israel during the Jews’ exile. The prophet reassures us that this desolation will end and the people will return. 

But his reassurance takes the most unusual form. The returning exiles will complain that the land is too small for them!

As for your ruins and desolate places And your land laid waste— You shall soon be crowded with settlers, While destroyers stay far from you. The children you thought you had lost Shall yet say in your hearing, “The place is too crowded for me; Make room for me to settle.” Isaiah 49:19-20

Is this supposed to be encouraging? Is Israel going to be big enough for the ingathering at the end-of-days?

Remarkably, the prophet Isaiah describes the sorrow that the city of Jerusalem feels. It is understandable that the Jews feel responsible for the exile due to neglecting God’s commandments. We deserved God’s ire. But the city itself also feels that God has forsaken it:

Tzion says, “Hashem has forsaken me, My Lord has forgotten me.” Isaiah 49:14

The city feels the loss of its people, as the prophet uses the most painful metaphor imaginable to describe it:

Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you. Isaiah 49:15

Isaiah comforts Jerusalem, promising that “swiftly your children are coming” (Isaiah 49:17). The Jewish people are returning in droves to the land who waits with open arms to embrace them and welcome them back. But the children themselves express their difficulty in understanding how this small land might contain so many returning Jews comfortably.

I once had a friend who was blessed with ten children but he was also blessed with an especially small house. One evening, when the atmosphere was particularly frantic and it seemed like a few of the neighbor’s children had snuck in, my friend commented, “I am sure I have too many kids. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out which ones I would send back.”

Anyone who has been to Jerusalem recently can attest that the prophecy is well on its way to being manifested. The light rail, a marvel of urban planning, is standing room only on most days. The city is bursting at the seams while cranes crowd the skyline, building new neighborhoods at a breakneck pace.

Though it is undeniably true that the land of Israel is small, there are other prophecies that give hope that this will not limit the final redemption. Shir Hashirim Rabbah (7:5) writes, “Jerusalem is destined to expand on all sides, and will reach the gates of Damascus.” Yalkut Shimoni (Isaiah 503) wrote, “Jerusalem is destined to spread forth to the entire Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel will spread forth to the entire world.”

.While we pray for the final redemption and the building of the Third Temple, there may be some concern that no structure will be big enough to serve as a house of prayer for all nations. But the Mishnah (Avot 5:5), assures us this won’t be a problem, writing, ““One of the miracles in Temple times was that ‘no man ever said to his fellow, “My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me.”’

According to the Alshich, a Torah commentator in the 16th century, when the Jews call out ““The place is too crowded for me; Make room for me to settle,” they are calling on the Land of Israel to expand and fulfill its destiny to fit all of her children despite her small physical size.

In so many ways, Israel transcends the physical laws of nature. Though it may seem small, Israel will hold all of the Jews, just as my friend’s house held all of his children and will, God willing, have room for the grandchildren. All of the nations will ascend to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts and the city will not seem crowded. 

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