Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Sacred Garment

How many of you remember the Six Day War, with its startling Israeli military conquest? Even here in chutz la’aretz, there was a feeling of euphoria over the miraculous stunning victory. Four weeks before, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser announced his goal of destroying Israel and casting it into the sea, an idea he perhaps got from an earlier Egyptian…Paroh. The feeling in Eretz Yisroel was one of despair, and the elderly prime minister, Levi Eshkol, did little to inspire confidence in his people.

But on the morning of June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched a preemptive attack, effectively destroying the Arab air forces. Then the tank corps destroyed Egyptian forces in the Sinai. After that, they set out against Jordanian-controlled territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In the end, Chevron and the Meoras Hamachpeilah, Bais Lechem and Kever Rochel were back under Jewish control. And the most emotional conquest, the Old City of Yerushalayim and the Kosel Hamaarovi, were in Jewish hands once again.

It’s hard to recapture that feeling of elation so many years later. This writer was just past his bar mitzvah when these events took place. There was a sublime feeling in the air, as the Hand of Hashem guarding us was clearly felt. Even in the secular world, the publications were filled with praise for the Israeli supermen, at least for the moment. There was a great feeling of hisorerus and these events were a catalyst for the great baal teshuvah movement. On the other hand, there was an overconfidence brought about by a feeling of kochi ve’otzem yodi, the power of Tzahal, the Israeli armed forces.

Shortly after the war, amidst the celebrations, a religious officer approached the Yerushalmi maggid, Rav Shabsi Yudelevitz, and asked him to deliver a speech to the soldiers to be mechazeik them in yiras Shomayim. For reasons of his own, the maggid tried to decline the invitation, but to no avail. The soldier was persistent and sent him numerous messages until Rav Shabsi finally accepted. On the way to the army base, Rav Shabsi thought that he would probably be speaking to an audience of 20 or 30 men, but when he reached his destination, he was shocked to see that he would be addressing thousands of soldiers!

There they sat, all in their uniforms, an imposing sight. One could imagine that at the time, there was a feeling of arrogance amongst them. Tzahal was venerated by all as heroes and conquerors. The maggid was a bit intimidated, wanting to turn back home, but he had no choice, so he entered and took his assigned seat up front.

He sat there, engrossed in thought, preparing for his speech. With half an ear, he listened to the speaker who was at the podium. It was a senior army officer, who spoke about various military issues, giving the maggid precious time to think about what he would say. Then the speech came to an abrupt end. The officer stood there erect, with an air of haughtiness about him. He was silent for a few seconds and then turned towards the maggid and said: “Who doesn’t know that our Air Force played such a major role in our victory as they lead the way on all fronts? Our engineering corps worked with such devotion under trying circumstances and our infantrymen risked their lives to bring us success on the battlefield. In short, our massive victory was brought about through the contributions of our soldiers on land, and the sea, and in the air. And now esteemed soldiers, a rov came here from Yerushalayim, perhaps from Meah Shearim or from some yeshiva, to relate to you what the yeshiva bochurim contributed to the victory.”

Thousands applauded as the officer concluded with cynicism, “I hereby introduce the honorable rov.”

Rav Shabsi was furious inwardly, but he did not let it show. He approached the podium calmly and began: “Chevrah of honorable soldiers, the question was asked here: What did we do to contribute to the victory? What part did we play in this war?

“As is known to all of us, the general forecast of the military hierarchy at the outset of the war was a gloomy one. They spoke about 60,000 casualties, r”l, to the extent that it was decided to designate large gardens in numerous cities as temporary burial grounds for the dead. Who would have been involved in burying these soldiers? The bochurim of the yeshivos. They would have been drafted to perform this sacred mitzvah. Then, understandably, the honored officer who spoke before me would announce that we contributed handsomely to the cause.

“But, honored soldiers, Hakadosh Boruch Hu did not want us to be distracted from our Torah learning, so it was decreed in heaven that the lives of those 60,000 soldiers will be spared and the merit of limud haTorah will protect them. If so, I declare from this stage that we, the bnei hayeshivos, donated 60,000 people as well as the gardens of Tel Aviv, Yerushalayim, and other cities. Did you insist specifically on being buried? Why wouldn’t you be happy that Hashem granted life and in place of temporary graveyards there are lush green gardens? Get up on your feet and thank Hakadosh Boruch Hu!”

There was a thunderous round of applause in the massive auditorium, but the maggid did not stop there, as he decided to teach them another lesson: that with arrogance and a feeling of “my strength and the might of my hand” bringing success, they were bound to lose these miracles. “Was it the armed forces that were victorious? In the Six Day War, there were miracles beyond what anyone could have imagined. What is there to gloat about? Hashem is the General of all the wars. ‘Hashem is the Master of war’ (Shemos 15:3). He alone wages war and He alone is responsible for victory.”

Rav Shabsi concluded his speech with other words of chizuk and stepped down to another round of applause.

Unfortunately, his words were prophetic. The pride and the hubris were short-lived, as soon after, the country faced many hardships. There was the war it had to wage against the PLO, a war of attrition with Egypt, terrorist attacks, hijackings, and world public opinion turning against Israel. Their overconfidence cost them dearly, as they were caught off guard when Egypt launched a surprise attack against them, starting the Yom Kippur War of 1973. And while miraculously they were eventually able to beat back the invading armies and even encircle them, the initial defeats stunned the country. It was a moral victory for the Arabs and gave them a diplomatic advantage. To this day, with all of our military might, we face difficulties with the Palestinians and our Arab neighbors.

When Dovid Hamelech was forced to run away from Shaul Hamelech, he came to the city of Nov. He was dying of starvation and asked Achimelech, the kohein, for food. After receiving bread from him, Dovid asked if he could supply him with a spear or a sword, as he had no weapons with him. Achimelech answered: “The sword of Golyas the Pelishti whom you smote in Emek Haeilah is here wrapped up in cloth” (Shmuel I 21:10).

What was the sword of Golyas doing in the Mishkon in Nov? Presumably, it was there to remind the Yidden of the great miracle they experienced with the killing of Golyas, just as the Mishkon contained other artifacts involved in nissim: the monn, the staff of Aharon, and the golden rats sent by the Pelishtim. But if the purpose of the sword was to remember the miracle, why was it wrapped in cloth? It should have been kept out in the open for all to see.

The Maaseh Rokeach, Rav Eliezer Rokeach of Amsterdam, answers that we find in Chazal (Shabbos 119b) that the Torah is compared to a garment, because the Torah and mitzvos form a spiritual covering for our neshamah that protects a person from evil and misfortune. It is well-known that all of the military victories that Klal Yisroel enjoyed throughout its history came in the merit of its tzaddikim and their tefillos. As Dovid Hamelech declared as he stood courageously face-to-face opposite Golyas the Pelishti, “You came to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I came to you with the Name of Hashem, Master of Legions, the G-d of the battalions of Yisroel who you have ridiculed” (Shmuel I 17:45).

This is why the sword of Golyas the Pelishti was wrapped in a garment. At the same time that they wanted to publicize the miracle, they also wanted to teach Klal Yisroel a lesson that the garment, the Torah that clothes us with merits and with kedusha, is what overpowers the strength of our enemies. It arouses Hashem to fight the wars on our behalf.

The Medrash tells us that when Hashem began the Aseres Hadibros with “Anochi Hashem,” the entire world was silent. The birds did not chirp or fly, the animals didn’t sound off, the planets did not rotate, the angels did not say “kadosh,” and all the seas rested, their waves calm. All humans were quiet. There was a still, thin sound like there never was before and there never will be…

What is the underlying message of this Medrash? That the entire briah, all of the creatures of this world and all of its forces, is subjugated to the word of Hashem. Even the animals and the inanimate creations know that their entire existence depends upon Hashem’s will. And so, when Hashem spoke, they were silent in deference to the Source of their existence.

In the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed something remarkable. China had become a world superpower, both militarily and financially. It has made great advances in technology, in no small part due to stealing ideas from other countries. It has been spreading its influence and power to other regions and expanding its military capabilities. It is a repressive regime without a tolerance for freedom of expression, and it seemed as if there were no impediments to its continued success.

Suddenly, a mysterious virus spreads and the country is gripped by fear. Other countries put restrictions on travel to China and its own people are afraid to go out in public places and to work. There is panic, the Chinese stock market plunges, and many events are canceled, undoubtedly hurting the country financially. Its leaders, who seemed so brazen and confident just a short while ago, are now at a loss of how to control this menace and return the country to normalcy. Presently, this proud country has been brought down on its hands and knees by a microscopic germ known as the coronavirus. And because of their dishonesty in reporting statistics, it is believed that the situation is a lot worse and more widespread than publicized.

All is in the Hands of Hashem. Even the most talented and successful person and the most powerful country is merely under the control of Hashem, like clay in the hands of a potter and like a stone in the hands of a cutter who, at will, holds it and, at will, smashes it. Our only hope for survival and success is to cloak ourselves in the holy Torah, the only true guide for living.



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