The Wandering Jew

In the previous article we described the function of the Temple as the epicentre of God-clarity in the world.Nevertheless, to our sorrow, with the Temple the Jews did not completely fulfill their role of enlightening the world; the Temple was destroyed, and exile ensued.

Classically, we know exile means the physical state of being displaced from one's home. Similarly, Judaism puts forth that the concept of exile applies to one's state of consciousness as well.

Physically, a home is where you are based and where you come back to. If you leave on a business trip, it is only a "business trip," and not a "business life" or a "business relocation," because you have a home base you plan on returning to; the entire context within which you view and psychologically place your trip is based on your mindset of the Home Base. That is to say, when on this trip you understand where your Home Base is and that you are in a temporary exile for the purpose of fulfilling a particular task and eventually returning home. Hence, the term "business trip," a temporary exile ("trip") for the purpose of fulfilling a particular task ("business"). This is Exile of Body.

However, there is another level of exile. After all, what if one were to forget his Home Base? What if one were to forget the entire context in which his trip is occurring, to forget his home, his office building, his family? This is Exile of Mind. Exile of Mind means to lose sense of context, to lose the bigger picture within which all is happening.

The Wandering Jew
The difference between Exile of Body and Exile of Mind can be seen in the notion of the Wandering Jew. Our picture of the Wandering Jew is the Jew who is kicked from place to place and with each kick in the rear wails out an "Oy!" But take a closer look at the Wandering Jew—what is he wearing? What does he care about? What are his aspirations?

The truth is, our Wandering Jew got a bad rap. Wandering implies aimlessness. But our Wandering Jew does have an aim. And if he has an aim he is being kept from, that is not wandering, that is exile. You see, our Wandering Jew's Home Base is his Jewish identity. It is from this context, from this clarity of consciousness that his Exile of Body arises. Were it not for this Jew's identifying himself as a Jew, the exile he would be experiencing would be much deeper than the physical Exile of Body. The exile he would be experiencing would be an Exile of Mind, an exile in which he has lost his identity altogether. That is to say, more intense than the physical state of exile the Jews have experienced for centuries, is the loss of consciousness experienced by the Jew who has been wandering for so long that he forgets he is wandering altogether.

(Interestingly, such Jews wandering in exile are referred to in Hebrew as nidchei, which breaks down to the words nid and chei meaning wander and life respectively; the deeper exile experienced by the Jewish wanderer is the exile from his source of life [God].)

Similarly today, what makes our nation's present situation an exile, and not simply population relocation, is the fact that we do not lose sight of our Jewish identity and the vision of Israel as our homeland. After all, if we conclude that the Land of Israel has been replaced by the Diaspora and is no longer our home, can we really claim that we are in exile? Exile of Body implies we have a Home Base to which we are yearning to return. Without such a Home Base, we are wandering aimlessly in a state of Exile of Mind.