The second summer after our marriage, years before we were observant, my wife and I were employed as fire lookouts in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. We lived in a cabin on top of Mount Scott, 8,832 feet above sea level. Our view extended about 150 miles in each direction and we looked down on Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful spots you could imagine.
Crater Lake lies in a "caldera," which is a hole left after a volcano erupts. That hole filled with water and eventually became a very deep lake, bluer than the sky. Can you imagine? Here is a tall mountain (originally, they say, about 12,000 feet high) which literally blew its top! Ash particles from that explosion were found buried in the ice in Greenland, over 3,000 miles away!
Before such violent explosions occur, there are tremors. The earth shakes; smoke billows from underground. These phenomena are related to hot springs, which we have in Israel at such places as Tiberias and the Dead Sea, as well as in Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
The earth warns us when something big is about to happen. In Mexico City several years ago, on a speaking tour, we noted that every public building has an earthquake escape plan. Sirens go off when a quake is felt on the Pacific coast, where the fault lies, and they have about four minutes to evacuate before Mexico City starts shaking.
We also have "a few minutes" from when we commit a "fault" to when the earthquake hits! As the Torah warns us every day, "Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of G-d will blaze against you." (Shema)
In Biblical Egypt, before the entire civilization exploded, there were years of tremors. There is justice, after all, in this world; G-d does not let His children suffer forever. "The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." (Psalm 121) G-d had told our father Abraham centuries earlier that his children would be "aliens in a land not their own...." (Genesis 15:13)The Egyptians may have thought that they were the masters, but in reality they were bringing about their own downfall by cruelly enslaving G-d's nation. By the time Moses had arrived, Egypt was about to undergo the Ten Plagues, which brought about its complete downfall.
Today, we are also experiencing severe tremors, and since the final redemption, according to the holy Rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim, will resemble the exodus from Egypt, I would like to suggest that this week's Torah portion suggests to us a way of understanding our contemporary situation. It seems clear that we are not yet at the stage of the Ten Plagues, for at least the reason that there is apparently no figure equivalent to Moses present in today's world who is capable of leading the Jewish People out of exile to a new revelation. There is, however, from the severity of our contemporary tribulations, a clear implication that the Redeemer is not far off.
The surrounding culture, it seems, is capable of imagining a world that destroys itself, but only the Children of Israel are capable of going from destruction to redemption. Do we not, after all, say a blessing on the Resurrection of the Dead as the second blessing in every thrice-daily Shemoneh Esreh prayer? G-d extricated us from the collapse of Egypt and enabled us to ascend to Mount Sinai. So, it is clear, He will do the same at the time of the redemption from this exile.
The scenario seems to be unfolding right now. The nations of the world cannot see beyond the current shaking and trembling of the world civilization, but we can see beyond it to a new age of spirituality in which "Hashem Echad Ushmo Echad... G-d is One and His Name One." That era will be as different from our era as our father Jacob was different from Esau. So, in order to prepare for it, we are going to have to contemplate the magnitude of the changes which are likely to occur and prepare ourselves to let go of our attachment to the culture of Esau.
Why should we assume that, at the end of history, the House of Esau will stand any more than Egypt stood at the time the Children of Israel were redeemed? Does the Prophet not say, "The House of Jacob will be a fire and the House of Joseph a flame ... and the House of Esau like straw, and there will be no survivor of the House of Esau, for G-d has spoken!" (Ovadiah1:18 /Haftaras Vayishlach)
Our presence at Mount Sinai was only possible because we had separated ourselves and our fate from that of Egypt. In the same way, our presence at the rebuilt Temple will only be possible when we have divested ourselves of the influence of Edom, the Western World.
My friends, can we please pause and contemplate the magnitude of these occurrences? Do we understand how all-encompassing is the culture of Edom? We are entwined amidst the tentacles of the octopus which envelopes us. Can we imagine living without all the strident materialism and emptiness? We live in a world filled with the noise of those who pursue their own pleasure and gratification. These are all the trappings of Esau. This has nothing to do with reality!
We are now experiencing the tremors presaging a huge change in the nature of human society. When ancient Egypt fell, our ancestors entered a world which was totally different from the world to which they had been enslaved. When the culture of Edom falls and Torah dominates the world, when the light from the Holy Temple illuminates all mankind, then we will all realize the depth of our slavery to the culture of Edom.
"Then saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Esau's mountain, and the kingdom will be G-d's." (Ovadia 1:21)