Tag Archives: Sifra DiTzniuta

The Last Oppression

As we tremble and mourn the senseless carnage in Israel over the last several days, we begin a new Torah reading cycle as well. Beresheet opens by telling us that the first thing God created was light. This was a special, divine light which was subsequently hidden away for the World to Come. It is therefore known as the or haganuz, the “hidden” or “concealed” light. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni II, 499) states that this light has the power to destroy all evil instantly. For now, it is stored away under God’s Throne, to be revealed only at the End of Days. Unfortunately this means that, at the moment, the world is more like it was before God brought forth this light, when the cosmos was “chaotic and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss” (Genesis 1:2). Indeed, the Midrash teaches that this verse is speaking of the future Four Exiles of the Jewish people: “chaotic” being an allusion to Babylon, “void” to Persia, “darkness” to the Greek, and the “abyss” to the Edomite (Beresheet Rabbah 2:4).

At the same time, our Sages taught that each exile actually has two parts, and is a partnership between two oppressors. (The term “oppression” or “persecution” is probably more accurate than “exile” since, for instance, the Greek oppression happened in the Holy Land and did not involve exile.) Babylon only finished what the Assyrians started in the decades before by destroying the northern Kingdom of Israel and banishing the Lost Tribes. Persia was allied with Media, and the Greek oppression began with Alexander, who was a Macedonian. Similarly, while Edom began the final exile, it is Ishmael who concludes it. This is alluded to in several places in the Torah, including when “Esau went to Ishmael and took for a wife, in addition to the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael.” (Genesis 28:9) The Vilna Gaon taught, in his commentary on Sifra diTzniuta, that in the End of Days, too, the world of Edom will “marry” the world of Ishmael to oppose Israel.

This is precisely what we see today, where Israel’s terrorist Ishmaelite oppressors—Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and their main financier, Iran, among others—are enabled and supported by Western countries. European nations are quick to condemn Israel and send “aid” to the terrorists. The Western mainstream media constantly paints Israel as the aggressor, and describes the real villains as the poor and oppressed victims. Russia pretends to have good relations with Israel, but keeps Iran as one of its closest allies, arms them, and props up the Iranian regime. It even invited Iran to join its CSTO military defense pact. (Though not currently a full member, Iran is the only non-Soviet nation to be part of the CSTO.) Nor is the United States off the hook since, despite its valuable aid, it has often thrown Israel under the bus. It was George W. Bush’s “roadmap to peace” that pressured Israel to give up Gaza for nothing, and create the huge disaster we are mired in. And it is no coincidence that this current war began just weeks after the Biden administration unfroze $6 billion in Iranian funds, supposedly for “humanitarian” purposes. (Internal memos reveal that the Biden administration was aware the money might go to terrorists, and they proceeded with the deal anyway.)

Make no mistake, nearly the whole world is complicit here in some way. Let’s not forget that the United Nations spends much of its time attacking Israel, and has passed more resolutions against Israel than any other country (than most other countries combined, in fact). Long ago, our Prophets predicted that God would “gather all the nations” against Israel (Zechariah 14:2), and “many nations” would join the wicked Gog against Israel at the End of Days, first among them Persia (Ezekiel 38:5-6). King David foresaw that those who “secretly conspire” against the Jewish people come from both “the tents of Edom and Ishmael” (Psalm 83:7). He goes on to list Moab and Ammon (today’s Jordan), Tyre (ie. Lebanon), Syria, the “Philistines” and, of course, Amalek.

The Torah presents us with 70 root nations in the world, from which all others branch out. These were divided up between “the tents of Edom and Ishmael”, which is why we often see reference not to 70 nations, but to 72 nations. The Vilna Gaon found further proof for this from Psalms 20:8, which says “These [call] on chariots and these [call] on horses, but we call in the name of the Lord, our God.” The word these, eleh (אלה), has a value of 36, alluding to the fact that 36 nations under the umbrella of Edom stand on one side, and 36 nations under the Ishmaelite umbrella stand on the other side. All of this reinforces the notion that the final exile and oppression is an Edom-Ishmael partnership.

Throughout ancient Jewish texts, it is Ishmael who is described as starting the final war in the End of Days. The Midrash (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 30) says they will launch a three-pronged attack to start the conflict, with an assault in the wilderness, an invasion by sea, and in a “big city”. This is highly reminscent of what we witnessed earlier this week, with terrorists slaughtering helpless young people at a nature party in the wild, landing at the Zikim Beach from the sea, and taking over the city of Sderot, and neighbouring kibbutzim.

Within the wider world of Ishmael—the whole house of Islam—who is it in particular that is the main culprit? Not surprisingly, the Midrash identifies Paras, Iran, as the one that’s really behind the war that “destroys the world” (Yalkut Shimoni II, 499). This is tremendously prescient, since Paras back then was not Muslim, and not yet Ishmaelite. It was only in the 7th and 8th centuries that the Islamization of Persia occurred. And today, Iran is the undisputed leader of Ishmaelite extremism.

Amazingly, the Midrash here says that Iran will do this precisely at a time when the “king of Arabia” will head west for council and diplomacy. Indeed, in recent weeks we saw how Israel and Saudi Arabia were getting closer and closer to a long-awaited peace deal. Iran could not let this happen, and made sure to use their terrorist proxies to attack Israel and axe any such deal. Iranian weapons, training, and funds are behind the deadly massacres we witnessed. Nearly two millennia ago, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that “when you see the Persian horse tied to the graves of the land of Israel, expect the footsteps of Mashiach.” (Shir haShirim Rabbah 8:9) In other words, when Iranian armaments are causing graves in Israel, the coming of Mashiach is imminent.

The multitude of graves we see today in Israel are beyond tragic, and there are no words to describe the unspeakable crimes committed by the Ishmaelites. While it is no consolation whatsoever, this terror was foreseen, and the Midrash even states that God deeply “regrets” having created four things, foremost among them is Ishmael (Yalkut Shimoni II, 424). The Talmud describes some of these Ishmaelites as se’irim shel beit hakis’e, like “demons of an outhouse” (Kiddushin 72a). We certainly saw such demonic beings in the grotesque crimes committed against innocent civilians, helpless youths, and little children—may Hashem avenge their blood.

Foreseeing these tragedies, the Sages declared: “Let [Mashiach] come but let me not see him!” They would rather not be alive to witness such things. The same Midrash cited above (Yalkut Shimoni II, 499) says the Jewish people will be so confounded at the End of Days that they will repeat over and over again l’eikhan navo v’nelekh? “Where do we go from here?” But God will reveal Himself soon after, and restore the primordial light of Creation—that hidden or ha’ganuz first mentioned at the start of this week’s parasha. We will bask in this light, glow with it, illuminate the whole world, and finally enjoy the era of peace and prosperity we’ve been awaiting for so long.

May we merit to see it very soon.

Russia, Iran, and Gog u’Magog

What will happen in the final war of “Gog and Magog” at the End of Days? Who are “Gog” and “Magog” and do they have any connection to Russia and Iran? Did the ancient prophets predict a nuclear war? And what does it all have to do with the holiday of Sukkot?

In this long-awaited sequel to ‘Third Rome: Russia, Ukraine, and Mashiach‘, we explore the events of Gog u’Magog from the perspective of three prophets: Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Bilaam (in the Zohar), together with the surprisingly accurate predictions of the Vilna Gaon. Also discussed are the angelic “Heavenly princes” of the nations, the little-known intertwined histories of Russia and Iran, and the possible connection to 9/11.

Did Bilaam Prophesize 9/11?

Parashat Balak describes how the Moabite king Balak hired the (non-Jewish) prophet Bilaam to curse the Israelites. Balak saw what the Israelites had done to neighbouring kingdoms, and feared that he would lose his own as well. He therefore sought to reverse their fortunes through a curse. The Sages state that Bilaam could sense the precise moment when – just once a day, for precisely 1/58,888th of an hour (or about 61 milliseconds) – God was in his “strictest” mode, and Bilaam could take advantage of this moment to kindle God’s wrath against His chosen people (Berakhot 7a).

The plan ultimately failed, of course, and instead of cursing the Israelites, Bilaam’s mouth uttered blessings and praises. Perhaps most interesting, Bilaam also spoke a series of prophecies about the End of Days. They begin like this:

I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel which will smite the Moabite princes and uproot the sons of Seth. Edom shall be inherited, and Seir will become the inheritance of its enemies, and Israel shall do valiantly. And out of Jacob shall one have dominion, and will destroy the remnant of the city… (Numbers 24:17-19)

1558 Mantua Publication of the Zohar

1558 Mantua Publication of the Zohar

Bilaam describes a time in the very distant future, and the Sages agree that the “star of Jacob” refers to Mashiach. The Zohar (III, 212b) further elaborates on Bilaam’s prophecies, and describes what precisely is supposed to happen, and when that star of Jacob will be seen. Within this lengthy passage are a few verses that describe a scene quite familiar to the modern reader, and have therefore been used to suggest that the Zohar predicted the events of September 11, 2001:

… And [the star] will be seen on the sixth day, on the 25th day of the sixth month. It will be gathered on the seventh day, at the end of seventy days. On the first day it will be seen in a city of Rome. On that same day, three high structures of that city of Rome will fall and a great edifice will fall…

In traditional Jewish texts, Rome is typically referred to as Edom, and represents the entire Western (or European/Christian) world. The “city of Rome” represents whatever place is the centre of the Western world at a particular period of time. After the city of Rome itself had fallen in 476 CE, the “new Rome” was Constantinople. When this new Rome collapsed as well (and became present-day Istanbul), a “Third Rome” was said to arise. In the past, we have written about the identity of the Third Rome. Most scholars – at least in Jewish circles – agree on two possibilities: the Third Rome is either Moscow (as we have written about before), or New York.*

World Trade Centers: North, South, and 7

World Trade Centers North, South, and 7

If it is indeed New York, then the Zoharic passage above makes a lot of sense. A great edifice of three high structures will fall? Yes, on September 11, three of the iconic World Trade Center buildings collapsed (WTC1, WTC2, and WTC7). And the dates match quite closely, too. The Zohar says the 25th of the sixth month, ie. the 25th of the month of Elul. September 11, 2001 happened to be the 23rd of Elul!

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a number of articles circulated online (for example, here) suggesting that the Zohar predicted this tragedy, and added an additional detail of great interest: These articles claimed that Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, better known as the Vilna Gaon – who lived in the 18th century – corrected the Zohar and wrote that the event will, in fact, take place on the 23rd of Elul. These articles claim that the Vilna Gaon’s correction is recorded in a mystical text called Sifra DiTzniuta.

Are these claims true, and did the Zohar really predict the September 11 attacks?

What Do The Prophecies Actually Say?

First of all, Sifra DiTzniuta was written and published long before the Vilna Gaon’s time, so suggesting that his correction of the Zohar was recorded there is already unlikely. The Vilna Gaon did write a commentary to the Sifra DiTzniuta. Having searched through both Sifra DiTzniuta and the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on it, I was unable to find any reference to the 23rd of Elul, or any correction of the Zohar’s prophecy. This doesn’t necessarily mean the claim is false, but it definitely looks like the source is incorrect.

Either way, we have to go back to the Zohar and read the entire passage, not only those few verses describing the fall of the buildings. It reads like this:

It is taught that in the future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will rebuild Jerusalem and reveal one firm star, glowing with seventy pillars of fire, and with seventy sparks flashing from it in the middle of the Firmament, and they will be reigned over by seventy other stars, and they will glow and burn for seventy days.

And [the star] will be seen on the sixth day, on the 25th day of the sixth month. It will be gathered on the seventh day, at the end of seventy days. On the first day it will be seen in a city of Rome. On that same day, three high structures of that city of Rome will fall and a great edifice will fall. The ruler of that city will die. Then the star will spread out to be seen in the rest of the world. In that time, great wars will stir all around the four corners of the world and no faith will be found among [its people].

In the middle of the world, when that star will shine in the middle of the Firmament, a great king will arise and rule the world, and his spirit will gain pride over all the kings, and he will awaken a war between both sides, and he will become strong against them.

On the day that the star will be hidden, the Holy Land will tremble forty-five miles around the place of the Holy Temple, revealing an underground cave. From this cave will come out a blazing fire to burn the world. And from this cave a great branch will grow out, and it will rule over the whole world, and to it will be given the kingdom. The Holy Beings will gather to it. Then Mashiach will be revealed to the entire world…

Clearly, there is a lot more going on! While Jerusalem has been rebuilt, we have yet to see the emergence of a star glowing with seventy pillars of fire, with seventy other stars glowing for seventy days. (These may be metaphors, of course, and may not be literally referring to celestial objects.) The Zohar says the edifice would fall at the end of seventy days (or at the beginning, depending on how one reads the passage). There was nothing particularly salient about the period of seventy days before or after 9/11. Moreover, “the ruler of that city” did not die on that day. The events of 9/11 did instigate “great wars” and it is true that we live in an increasingly faithless world. Ultimately, a “great king” to rule the entire world has not arisen (as far as we can tell), nor did the Holy Land tremble to reveal a cave from which Mashiach sprang forth.

Therefore, to suggest that this Zohar is speaking of the 9/11 attacks is perhaps a bit premature. While there are several parallels, the entire sequence of events has not occurred in the years since September 11, 2001. It appears that we have yet to witness the true fulfilment of Bilaam’s and the Zohar’s prophecies.

*While New York is the largest city in the United States, and by far its most important and famous, another candidate for the “Third Rome” is Washington, D.C. Washington has the plus of being a capitol city, the seat of “the ruler” as the Zohar says. It, too, was attacked on 9/11, and its major edifice – the Pentagon (the world’s largest office building) – damaged. Interestingly, long before Washington became America’s capital city, it was settled by a man who named it Rome!

The article above is adapted from Garments of Light – 70 Illuminating Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion and Holidays. Click here to get the book!