My previous Yated column was written, as planned, before Yom Tov and so did not react to the horrific pogrom against our people in Eretz Yisroel. Although this paper, like most, published the word “war,” the slaughter of innocent children and maniacal murder of entire families in their homes, in addition to other unspeakable and unprintable crimes, should not be equated with the usual definition of a battle between enemies and antagonists. The word “war” must be used, but it must come with asterisks indicating that the word does not do justice to what is happening. At least initially, the reaction of most of the civilized world was recognition of this distinction and therefore sympathy toward Israel and the victims of Hamas barbarism.
However, this morning, upon return from a shul chasunah in Chicago, I personally felt the coming danger from what I have been told is a cynical Hamas campaign to once again claim victimhood. My fellow travelers and I took an Uber to the airport, the driver being a seemingly decent Catholic Mexican. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather, Chicago vs. New York traffic, and other small talk. Suddenly, he favored us with the information that “You know, my best friend is a Palestinian, who explained to me that the media has been lying about this war.
“You know,” he continued, his voice rising with assurance and sympathy for the murderers, “the Israelis started all this and deserve what they are getting.”
I tried pointlessly to disabuse him of this mendacity, but we got out of the car realizing that the world has not changed. In fact, after the media lies about the ostensible attack on a Gaza hospital, which has now been proven to be a self-inflicted wound by Hamas, the world anti-Semitism has returned with a bitter vengeance.
I have heard that a number of mashgichim and baalei machshavah have said that this, like many other events in our history, must be seen in light of Hashem’s reminders to us that we are alone in the world with only the Ribono Shel Olam to rely upon. I am sure that this and many other lessons will emerge from these tragic and earth-shaking happenings. However, I would like to share my first reaction, when I spoke in shul on Shemini Atzeres, upon hearing even the first news of the massacres. Of course, later on, we saw and heard much more, Rachmana litzlan. Although my first reaction and words in shul were tentative, I have since felt that they are worth sharing and considering.
On Sukkos, we all heard two haftaros, one from Yechezkel and one from Zechariah, about Milchemes Gog Umagog. The Shevet Sofer quotes a Medrash Talpiyos that this war will begin on Sukkos and will be part of the process leading to the coming of Moshiach. The Mishnah in Ediyos (2:10) teaches that this conflict will last for twelve months and will involve many countries. Perhaps it is a partial comfort to know that the Sefas Emes (Pesach 5654) predicts that unlike previous wars, during Gog Umagog we will triumph completely and wipe out their evil forever. This may resonate with Israel’s current commitment to finally annihilate Hamas because of its horrific barbarism against innocent women and children. This despite the anti-Semites of the world already condemning us for this plan.
The Yom Kippur War (see Rav Menachem Kasher’s sefer, Yerushalayim 5734, linking the Yom Kippur War to Gog Umagog) did not begin on Sukkos, but it continued through that Yom Tov, and this last conflagration began at the end of the simchas hachag. Can there be a connection?
Chazal (Shabbos 118b) reveal that the three Shabbos meals each protect us from various calamities associated with the coming of Moshiach and the End of Days. The final one is that the third meal, commonly called Shalosh Seudos, will be a shield against the war of Gog and Magog. I found it instructive that this past Sukkos there were two Shabbosos when it was difficult to have Shalosh Seudos because Shabbos led right into Yom Tov, yet Yidden were moser nefesh and managed to have that third meal with all the trappings of zemiros and feelings of rava deravin. Perhaps Hashem was presenting us, as He does so often, with at least some refuah before the makkah, so that we would be somewhat protected. I say that carefully, with full empathy for the victims and their grieving families, but also hearing of all the miraculous rescues in the midst of the carnage.
This approach derives from a seemingly incomprehensible term used about Gog and Magog. The novi Zechariah begins the saga of this prophesy with the word vehayah, which Chazal (Pesikta Zutra, Va’eschanon) define as introducing something positive. This is as opposed to vayehi (such as the beginning of Megillas Esther), where it is the harbinger of tragedy. But how could a war, especially one with many casualties, have anything positive about it?
Actually, the posuk (Yeshayahu 61:10), as elucidated by Chazal, already refers to this war as generating gladness. It is certainly hard to imagine the phrase tagel nafshi at the moment as referencing Gog and Magog, since there have already been thousands of deaths and even more casualties. However, we must note that in the Abarbanel’s commentary to these pesukim, he warns us that the perpetrators of Gog and Magog will be “achzarim me’od – extremely cruel,” certainly a fair description of the savages who committed the crimes of the past two weeks against us.
We know that a number of the classic meforshim (Metzudas Dovid Yoel 4:21; Malbim 4:19) interpret the prophesies of Yoel as being about the war of Gog and Magog. They understand Yoel to be reassuring us that as horrific as this war will be, the net result will be the coming of the geulah sheleimah. We also have the word of the Chofetz Chaim, as quoted by Rav Eliyahu Lopian (Lev Eliyahu, page 172) that Gog Umagog will come in stages. The Chofetz Chaim indicated that World War I was the first stage, World War II would be the second (the Chofetz Chaim passed away between the two wars), and that the third would come thereafter.
It is always dangerous to attempt to apply various prophesies and even more recent pronouncements by tzaddikim to current events. However, even a cursory look at these sources should alert us to the fact that something truly significant may be happening at the moment. The great mekubal and expert on the writings of the Gra, Rav Yisroel Eliyahu Weintraub (Tekufas Ikvesa D’Meshicha Al Pi HaGra, page 14) warned us that just as the geulah of Moshiach is depicted as a birth, so will the last birth pangs of this redemption be the most painful and dangerous.
Right now, all we can do is continue to do what many have already been attempting. Mi ke’amcha Yisroel. There has already been much chesed and mesirus nefesh for our beloved brethren in Eretz Yisroel and a tremendous sense of achdus and caring for all. Another positive phenomenon, reported by many who have traveled back and forth to Eretz Yisroel, is the wave of interest in religion. I hesitate to call it a true teshuvah movement, although it may turn into that with time. However, there are numerous reports of secular Jews asking for yarmulkas, making brachos, going to shul, lighting Shabbos candles, and other unthreatening religious connections.
One explanation for all this may be that we, as a nation, spent about two years fighting bitterly over differences, which interest no one at the moment. We must remember that, politics and secularism aside, Hashem runs the world and may be slowly steering us toward redemption. The apparent vayehi can become a vehayah if we help to make it so through our tefillos, chesed and ahavas Yisroel. Clearly, the best antidote to divisions and sinas chinom is ahavas Yisroel and achdus. At least at the present time, those sentiments are blissfully returning to a sobering nation. Let us continue to daven with much kavanah, help our searching brethren connect with their true selves, and help this be the end of wars and the beginning of geulos v’yeshuos.