Taking the Exile out of the Jews

February 22, 2024

A restatement of other prophecies?

At first glance, this verse is similar to the many others that foretell the ingathering of the nation of Israel from their exile, after they have been scattered across the world. For example, we first see this prophecy in Deuteronomy 30:

The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. – Deuteronomy 30:3-5

Another example is also from Ezekiel:

Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; Ezekiel 37:21

But a more careful reading of this verse reveals that there is a unique lesson here, beyond a simple restatement of the prophecy of the ingathering of Israel.

Peoples vs. Lands

Our verse states that God will do 3 things:

  1. Gather you from the peoples
  2. Assemble you out of the countries
  3. Give you the land of Israel

The first two of these three promises appear to be identical, essentially repeating the same idea. After all, what is the difference between gathering the exiles of Israel from “the peoples,” and assembling them from “the countries” where they are scattered in exile?

Let’s take a closer look at these two phrases. In the first, God will gather the exiles of Israel from the “peoples,” amim in Hebrew. Amim are peoples or nations. But in the second phrase, God will assemble them from the “countries.” The Hebrew for “countries” is aratzot, which literally translates as “lands.” What is this verse really telling us?

Jews identify with the exile

The 2000-year exile of the Jewish people, scattered across the globe, had many different aspects to it. The Jewish people were not only physically separated from the land of Israel, but they were also living for centuries in foreign cultures and societies. Over these many centuries, Jews became part of the nations wherever they lived. Of course, in many places and times, the Jews were persecuted and denied full rights. But for most of this history, in most places and times, Jews lived in relative peace, fully participating as members of these nations. Even today, the millions of Jews who live in the United States, for example, very much identify as American Jews. They are culturally American, are often quite patriotic citizens, and usually feel more at home in American society than they would in Israel. The same is true for Jews in every other country in the world over the past 2000 years. 

The return of the Jewish people from their exile is not defined only by the physical return to the land of Israel and the forming of a government of a Jewish state there. The end of the exile also means the end of the national identification of Jews in exile with their host countries. As a popular Jewish expression goes, “It’s easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take the exile out of a Jew.”

Redemption of Jewish identity

Our verse describes these two different aspects of the return of the Jewish people from exile. First, there must be an awakening of Jewish national identity. There can be no ingathering of the exiles of Israel as long as Jews see themselves as fully integrated members of other nations. Ezekiel is describing the process of the Jewish people rediscovering their national identity, seeing themselves as a Jewish nation, rather than as American, French, or Russian people of the Jewish faith. This is what is meant by God gathering the people of Israel “from the peoples.” In other words, this is the emergence of the Jew from the exile identity, no longer seeing himself as part of “the peoples.”

The second phrase in our verse refers to the physical exodus from the lands of the exile. This phase comes second because without the first stage, the development of Jewish national identity, Jews would not even realize that they are in exile at all. Why would they ever emigrate to Israel if they feel fully at home among the nations?

Three stages of redemption

To sum up: Our verse describes a 3-stage process in the redemption of Israel.

  1. Disconnecting from national identification with “the peoples” in which the exiled Jews live
  2. Leaving those lands behind 
  3. Taking possession of the land of Israel

We live in a time when the nation of Israel has been restored. Millions of Jews have left their host nations and forged a reborn national identity in Israel. But there are still millions who choose to remain in exile. Most have no intention of leaving. They fully identify with the nationalities of the peoples among whom they are exiled. As I mentioned above, these Jews would not even describe themselves as living in exile at all.

We pray for the awakening of all Jews to rediscover their identity as members of the nation of Israel, leading them home to the only Jewish homeland.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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