By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The battle for the Republican presidential nomination and other such soon-to-be-forgotten news dominate the headlines. Even in the Jewish world, the current AIPAC conference in Washington and Binyomin Netanyahu’s meeting with Barack Obama are the stuff of headlines, fodder for pontificating pundits, and focus for page one.
The media and talking heads are abuzz about the various speeches and meetings which took place this week in Washington. However so much of it appears to be superficial and mostly about posturing. We are so wrapped up in our small problems that the magnitude of the real threat hanging over the world is not given much serious thought. We all but ignore the threat from Iran and its dire implications for Eretz Yisroel and beyond.
As we have just studied the Megillah and once again immersed ourselves in the story of Haman, his modern-day incarnate sits at the helm of the murderous Persian/Iranian regime and threatens to annihilate Israel with a nuclear arsenal he will soon control. Amazingly, though, it is just another news article that we glance at and forget as we turn the page. Why?
My friend, Rav Yossi Karmel, told me about a particular Motzoei Shabbos Chumash shiur of the Brisker rosh yeshiva, Rav Berel Soloveitchik zt”l. It was a cold Yerushalmi winter night, thirty-two years ago, and the talmidim were packed tightly around the table in Rav Berel’s small dining room, when a faraway look came upon the rosh yeshiva’s face and he remembered an episode from his youth in Brisk.
“It was immediately after the Shabbos day seudah and we had just stepped outside to get some fresh air. Suddenly, in the distance, I spotted a fellow emerging from his home with his hand held up near his face. He was holding something between his thumb and forefinger and was putting it in his mouth. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A Yid smoking on Shabbos in Brisk? On my block?! And then all went black.
“I awoke to find myself on the sofa just inside the door of our home. Around me, looking duly concerned, were my family members. Just behind them stood the fellow I had just seen… smoking. He noticed that I had regained consciousness and sprang forward to show me what he had in his hand. ‘It’s just a toothpick,’ he declared. ‘I was just cleaning my teeth!’
“No one had needed to explain to the man why I had fainted. Even at a distance, the man could tell from the horror on my face what I must have thought.”
Of course, in Brisk, stories, retold with great exactitude and precision, are used to drive home the truth, and this one was no different.
“Once upon a time,” Rav Berel continued, “I was pure of heart. Even the thought of chillul Shabbos could take my breath away. But today, after living here for so many years in the land the Zionists have infected with chillul Shabbos and so much more, I have developed immunity. Today, they can come and smoke by my front window and it won’t affect me! That is what Zionism has done. It has crept into each and every one of us and has desensitized us to breaches in kedushah, to chillul Shabbos, to chillul Hashem.”
In June 1967, Jews everywhere were terrified of the millions of Arabs massed on the borders of tiny Israel. With the memory still fresh of what had taken place barely a generation earlier, when the Jewish people had suffered the loss of six million souls, Arabs were now poised to, chalilah, push the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.
People recited Tehillim that day as they never had before. The feeling of utter helplessness and despair was palpable, and it was so crystal clear that “ain lonu al mi lehisha’ein elah al Avinu shebashomayim.”
We will never know what that Tehillim and the combined prayers of the entire Jewish world contributed to the miraculous salvation and victory that ensued. What we do know is that the despair was soon forgotten amidst the celebration. The euphoria was contagious, and complete strangers embraced each other in the street, happily declaring, “Am Yisroel chai!”
The near disaster of the Yom Kippur War a few years later and various military setbacks, such as the Lebanon adventure in the early ’80s, the northern war of recent memory and the intifada, didn’t put much of a damper on the air of invincibility surrounding the IDF.
What happened was that we all became Zionists, just as the Brisker rosh yeshiva described it, and today we harbor certain beliefs that are truly the opposite of emunah in Hashem. Even those of us who consider themselves anti-Zionist are impressed with the strength, determination and intelligence of the Israeli army and secret service.
And therein lies the explanation behind our current state of apathy.
We fully believe that the vaunted Mossad has agents lurking in the heart of every Iranian nuclear installation. We fervently believe that Israel has bombs already targeted at Iranian locations, to be activated at just the right moment to accomplish the goal of obliterating the Iranian threat for all time.
That is why we are unable to get ourselves worked up. That is why there is no anguish or despair. We know that, when it comes down to it, all Israel has to do is press a couple of buttons, send up a few skilled pilots to fly to Iran, and the problem will be solved.
We seem to forget that while there is teva, Am Yisroel operates on a different plane. Yes, Israel’s past military successes have been the product of intelligence, strength, determination and training. That, too. But they were mostly the results of a clearly apparent Yad Hashem. A rag-tag ill-equipped refugee army held off regular armies of surrounding countries in 1948, and then later in 1956, 1967 and 1973. Those victories are the stuff of legend, because they were nothing short of miraculous.
Miraculous means that at that time in history, we merited to be saved. What makes us so sure that we will merit miracles this time around as well? There is no guarantee. Many of us are cheering on the Israelis and wondering what is taking them so long to remove the Iranian threat. We ought to pause and ponder the realities of the situation and recognize that the circumstances are quite serious. And in serious times, we ought to be getting serious ourselves.
If the Israelis really thought that attacking Iran and ending their nuclear ambitions would be within their reach, they would have taken action long ago. Well aware of the logistical and political problems of such a mission, they have held off.
Few remember that prior to the Six Day War, Israel’s president addressed the nation live. He was so nervous about what would happen that he stammered and stepped on his lines, worrying a frightened people even more. The general tasked with leading the campaign was so overwhelmed by the challenge that he had a nervous breakdown. The mission he had been handed was impossible. By now, all of that is forgotten, as Jews the world over revel in the amazing victory.
Following that war, Rav Yaakov Galinsky was invited by Rav Yaakov Edelstein to address a seudas hodaah for a group of career soldiers. This is what he said: “Essentially, this was not the first lightning-quick war fought by the Jewish people. Shimon and Levi, thirteen- and fourteen-year-old teenagers, invaded Shechem, killed all its men, and captured the women, the children and all their belongings.
“Twenty years later, when Yaakov Avinu handed Shechem over to his son, Yosef, he told him that the city of Shechem was his because “I took it from the Emori ‘becharbi ubekashti – with my sword and arrow’ (Bereishis 48:22).”
Targum Onkelos on this posuk states that these two weapons are referring to “bitzlosi ubeva’usi – my prayers and supplications” to Hashem.
Said Rav Galinsky: “In other words, Yaakov was telling Yosef, ‘Do you think that Shimon and Levi captured the town? I captured it with my tefillos on their behalf!'”
We say it every day, and we also say it in time of war. Every morning, when I recite lamnatzeiach, I hear echoes of the way we said it berabim during Israel’s wars. “Eileh vorechev, ve’eileh vasusim, vaanachnu beSheim Hashem Elokeinu nazkir.” It is not with armies and not with might that we win wars. “Heimah koru venafalu, vaanachnu kamnu vanisodad.” The powerful legions from whom the world trembled went down to defeat, and the Jews who placed their faith in the One Above emerged victorious.
Imagine the bleak and gloomy mood in Shushan as Haman’s campaign picked up steam. The feeling of impending doom was almost tangible, when, finally, word filtered out that Esther Hamalkah, the ultimate friend in the halls of power, would use her connection to help them.
She said that she will do the job if all the Jews – men, women and children – fast for her and fervently pray that her meeting with the king succeeds.
A nation turned its lonely eyes to her and wondered whether she would be successful in convincing Achashveirosh to save the Jews. They speculated whether he would rescind the decree. They prayed that the evil Haman be terminated.
And then they were stabbed in the back. Their sister, who finally agreed to come to their aid, was seemingly co-opted by the enemy. After all, she invited the king and Haman to a party.
“She has betrayed the Jewish people,” the Jews said. “The queen has chosen to save herself and has abandoned us. We have no more hope.”
Their last chance at salvation was a traitor, and she went to the enemy’s side.
Parenthetically, seforim mention that her reward for her bravery was magnified by the fact that the Yidden‘s misinterpretation of her invitation to Haman as an attempt to flatter him to save her own life, and being labeled a selfish traitor, did not deter her from being moser nefesh for Klal Yisroel.
Rabi Nechemiah says in the Gemara (Megillah 15b) that Esther specifically invited Haman to a party because she feared that the Jews would place their faith in her and stop davening for Hashem to save them.
In fact, that is how the Jews of that day reacted. They continued to daven, cry and plead for Divine mercy. They now placed their faith totally in Hashem and not in any “secret weapon.” They gave up their dream of having some clout or connections in the king’s court.
So often, we think we know the solution to our problems. We are comfortable and calm, trusting in this politician, that person or a certain methodology.
The posuk in Tehillim (146:3) states, “Al tivtechu benedivim beven odom she’ein lo seshuah.“ Don’t put your faith in this or that person, in someone with connections, or in wealth, Dovid Hamelech tells us, for you will fail. Depend solely on Hashem and you will not falter.
A high-ranking general visited a town in pre-war Hungary. The powerful and accomplished fellow went to the meet the Jewish community at the town shul and made an immediate impression. Tall and stately, with military bearing and comportment, his swelled chest was covered in medals.
He began to speak to the Jewish askonim, and he seemed to have them under a spell. It was as if his assurances were all they needed to live in peace and tranquility.
As the assembled crowd sat in awe of the general, the thin voice of the Satmar Rebbe was heard.
In an instant, the hold that the general had on his audience dissipated. They continued the meeting with respect and decorum, but, suddenly, they saw past the medals and military regalia, realizing that it was just a facade. With one utterance, the Rebbe reminded them that no one – no generals, politicians or lobbyists, and not even Esther Hamalkah – controlled their destiny.
It was the lesson that revach vehatzolah will come from “makom acher,” a different place than you imagined and a different source than the one you believed in.
The story is told of a chassidic rebbe who was asked for a bracha by a poor almanah who lacked the necessary funds for kvittel gelt. She begged the gabbai to grant her entry to the rebbe, as she was so desperate for a yeshuah, but the rebbe remained unyielding, stating that without the money, she couldn’t be admitted.
Despite her persistence, he refused to be swayed. Finally, she accepted the fact that she wasn’t getting in to the tzaddik. She threw herself on the floor and began to weep, “Tatte in himmel, who will help me now? Only You care about me…”
The rebbe opened his door and smiled. “Now you can come in with the kvittel,” he said. “Until now, you had put your faith in my brachos and forgotten the truth. It’s only Tatte in himmel Who can help, not me.”
Are we, perhaps, a bit like the woman in the story, certain that our yeshuah will come from this government and that army, relying on assurances and guarantees?
Following the Six day War, Rav Meir Chodosh, the legendary mashgiach of Yeshivas Chevron, wrote concerning the war to a friend in Belgium, “We are thankful and full of praise to the Ribono Shel Olam for the nissim and niflaos that he performed for us, mamesh like the day when we left Mitzrayim. He showed us miracles and Yado hagedolah vehachazakah, His strong and mighty arm.”
They didn’t win because they were better armed, stronger or smarter. They won because Hakadosh Boruch Hu extended Yado hagedolah vehachazakah to save the Jewish people as He did at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim and many times since.
It is the season of “lo yikolmu lonetzach kol hachosim bo.” Taking shelter in Him, and only in Him, will protect us.
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz spoke about bitachon at the sheva brachos of his niece, a daughter of Rav Beinish Finkel. He described the tangible faith with which Yidden lived back in Lita, and he spoke of his own brother-in-law, a tzaddik named Rav Yitzchok Valshin, who had perished in Siberia. In Europe, Rav Chaim explained, most little children didn’t wear shoes. They went barefoot. When a child reached a certain age, they would receive their first pair of shoes and it was a major milestone. In addition to the fact that they would now be comfortable and warm, the children also felt like they were being initiated into adulthood. The experience became a rite of passage.
Rav Chaim related how his brother-in-law had taken his young son by the hand to purchase the child’s first pair of shoes, but he had no money in his pocket with which to pay for them. Together, they walked, father and son, the son skipping with eager anticipation towards the store, his excitement evident on his shining face. Rav Chaim described how the hearts of father and son beat as one, and how the joy and expectancy ebbed from the son’s little hand into his father’s big one. Even as the little boy sang a song, the father knew that without money, the child would be very disappointed, yet he marched on.
“Imagine how much bitachon a father has to have to do that to his son,” the rosh yeshiva finished his narrative. “He sees no solutions, yet he doesn’t worry. He will not disappoint his son, and he is confident that his Father won’t disappoint him.”
We walk onto this new road, the nisyonos and challenges of life all around us, grasping our Father’s Hand, happy to be amongst the chosim bo.
We won’t disappoint our Father and He won’t disappoint us.