Saturday, May 25, 2024

What is Going On?

The Jewish world is still in a state of shock over the last week's Har Nof massacre of kedoshim utehorim. People wonder how such terrible events can transpire in our time. How has this happened in the modern day and age? How has a shul filled with people who woke up early to daven become a host of tragedy of historic proportions?

We are all familiar with pictures from the Holocaust period. As gruesome as they are, we are able to view them and they don’t really make a mark on us. The pictures of what transpired in Har Nof cause much more grief to us. Why? Because the pictures from decades ago we can explain away. We can say that it happened seventy years ago. Hitler was a once-in-history phenomenon. The Kishinev pogrom was so long ago that most people don’t know anything about it.

But that such things can happen today, to American people, in an American neighborhood, in a shul? That means it can happen to us, r”l. It is way too close. It causes us to fear for own safety. It punctures the bubble in which we have placed ourselves, deluding us into thinking that such things only happen to other people in other places. We feel the pain and the anguish. We see the blood and we become sick.

We live in really frightening times. If we think about it too much, we can become depressed, so we continue to go about our daily lives, worrying about inconsequential matters. We don’t read the news; we don’t want to know what is really going on. We rely on snippets of information. Anecdotes and sound-bites replace intelligent knowledge.

Jews are not slaughtered without reason. We neither know nor understand the Heavenly reasons, but we do know that the four kedoshim were taken as korbanos for Am Yisroel. We note that each one was an exceptional person. We note, as well, that the murderers stopped on their own after killing those four people. Nobody stopped them. No security forces entered the building to put an end to their act. Their shlichus was to bring four korbanos, and when they completed their mission, they ran out of the shul and were shot dead by police, who had taken a full seven minutes to arrive.

On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, we recite with great emotion the piyut of “Eileh Ezkerah,” which describes the death of the ten Tannoim who were killed by the evil Romans. In the famous stanza, we say, “Tiheir Rabi Yishmoel atzmo ve’alah lamarom.” There was a terrible gezeirah and Am Yisroel wanted to know how to deal with it. We recite the heavenly conversations preceding the ghastly acts.

While we are not privy to the conversations of last week, we can be sure that they took place. We aren’t blessed with paytonim of old who can powerfully express deep thoughts in a few timeless words. We don’t have among us people on the level of Rabi Yishmoel, who can rise to speak to the malach Gavriel and discuss a particular gezeirah. However, we must believe that what happened is not by circumstance and that the four kedoshim were carefully selected for their task of being mechaper for us.

Hashem sends us reminders to prod us to repent, but we forget them. How many of us remember the kidnapping this past summer of the three boys, enough to give it much thought? How about the attack on Yeshiva Merkaz Harav? How about the 12 bus on the way back from the Kosel? How about the beautiful baby, Chaya Zissel Braun a”h, who was killed a month ago?

Tragedy shakes us up a bit and then we get on with life. Perhaps that is the doing of the Soton, for he seeks to prevent us from engaging in teshuvah to prevent serious tragedies from occurring in the future. We are sent reminders, because we continuously forget the previous reminders.

We make small talk about what is going on in the world today and the cosmic significance of the events around us, but their affect on the ultimate geulah is lost upon us. We are oblivious, seeing things superficially and only with regard to how they pertain to our little world.

We have to know that to the extent that we recognize that all that happens is by Divine decree and plan, to that degree Hashem watches over and protects us. The sefer Chovos Halevavos states at the beginning of Shaar Habitachon that Hashem removes his protection from one who puts his faith in others and only protects those who place their faith in Him.

In Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh, the Chovos Halevavos states that one who puts his faith in Hashem is rewarded. Hashem “opens his gates of understanding, reveals to him secrets of His chochmah, places an eye on him to guide him, and will not abandon him only to his own powers and abilities.”

The Rambam in Hilchos Taanis writes that it is a mitzvas asei to cry out and blow shofros for every tzarah that befalls the Jewish community. This is one of the paths to teshuvah. When a tragedy befalls the community, everyone must acknowledge that it is due to their sins. However, if instead of crying out they ascribe the threat facing the community to “the way the world works,” such an attitude is an outgrowth of the middah of achzoriyus and ends up deepening and multiplying the tragedy.

The purpose of tragedy is to inspire us to do teshuvah.

The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo writes that the purpose of creation was for man to acknowledge that Hashem created the world and to serve Him wholeheartedly. This is also the purpose of raising our voice in prayer, the purpose of botei knesses, and the reason for the zechus of tefillah betzibbur – to enable people to publicly gather and acknowledge their Creator.

We must realize, says the Ramban, that the foundation of the Torah is that every occurrence in this world is a miracle brought about by Hashem. Nothing happens at random. Nothing can be attributed to the forces of nature or “the way the world works.”

One who doesn’t believe this has no share in Toras Moshe, the Ramban affirms. People who observe the mitzvos will succeed, and those who don’t will be punished with destruction.

He also teaches that the daily hidden miracles are more evident when you examine the actions that affect the entire community. As the posuk says (Devorim 29:23-24), “And the nations of the world will say, ‘Why did Hashem do this to the Holy Land?’ And they will answer, ‘Because the Jews let go of the covenant that was made with Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers.’”

The Ramban explains this is the foretelling of the destruction of Eretz Yisroel, which will be understood by the nations as a punishment for the Jewish forsaking of the Torah.

However, if we think about what is happening now in Eretz Yisroel and examine the sources, what we find is a much deeper perception of the news and maybe even more frightening than it appears superficially.

We have been in several goluyos since sinas chinom destroyed the Bais Hamikdosh, but the golus of Yishmoel is totally different. The Maharal writes in his sefer Ner Mitzvah that Yishmoel is the only one of the subjugating nations whose malchus and strength are his own. Yishmoel derives his koach from Avrohom Avinu and from milah; he doesn’t depend on Am Yisroel to falter in order for him to rise. [See also the Ramban in Parshas Bolok, 24:21, and the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel, perek 21.]

In last week’s parsha, we read that Yitzchok told Eisov, “Ve’al charbecha tichyeh ve’es achicha taavod vehoyo kaasher torid uforakta alo mei’al tzavorecha” (27:40). Eisov is only strong when we are weak.

This idea also appears in Rashi at the beginning of the parsha on the posuk of “ule’om mile’om ye’emotz verav ya’avod tzo’ir” (25:23). When one falls, the other rises.

Thus, when we are oppressed by Eisov’s offspring, we know that the way to overcome them is by engaging in teshuvah and maasim tovim. However, in addition to teshuvah and Torah, which is “magana umatzila,” to overcome Yishmoel we need bitachon and tefillah.

Rav Chaim Vital, the prime talmid of the Ari Hakadosh, writes in his Sefer Eitz Hadaas Tov (Tehillim 124), “There are four exiles, Bovel, Modai, Yovon and Edom, but at the End of Days, Yisroel will be in golus Yishmoel, as stated in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (32) and in Medroshim and in the Sefer HaZohar at the end of Parshas Lech Lecha… This exile will be more difficult than the others. This is why his name is Yishmoel, because ‘yishma Keil veya’aneim,’ Yisroel will cry out during that golus and Hashem will listen and respond to them.

“Yishmoel will rule over the world and over Yisroel… and attempt to wipe out the name of Yisroel from under the sky as if it never existed… They will cause Yisroel great tzaros, the likes of which have never before been seen.”

The posuk in Tehillim in which Dovid Hamelech says, “Lulei Hashem shehoyah lonu bekum aleinu adam azai chaim bela’unu,” alludes to this era. “If Hashem had not been with us when men rose against us, we would have been swallowed up alive.”

B’Acharis Hayomim, during the period of the End of Days leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, the Jews will realize that they have no way to save themselves and have no choice other than to cry out to Hashem. And He will answer them. Rav Chaim Vital writes, “We will have no hope or recourse other than our trust in Hakadosh Boruch Hu that He will save us from their evil hands.”

His words resonate with the immediacy of today’s news. We indeed have nowhere and no one to turn to other than Avinu Shebashomayim. Yishma Keil. The nation rises, never resting, focused on its goal throughout the millennia.

In his peirush on Sefer Tehillim, Rav Chaim Vital writes that the final golus, that of Yishmoel, will be worse than any previous golus. The Yishmoelim will go from being tent-dwelling desert nomads to ruling over the entire world and Israel, and they will cause us unprecedented grief. They will seek to kill us. Without Divine intervention, they would be able to implement their plans to murder us all, r”l.

What is happening now with the offspring of Yishmoel is preordained. In order for us to prevail over Yishmoel, we must raise our voices in tefillah. His name does not hint that if we are strong and battle him with chivalry, we will defeat him. His name does not hint that if we engage him in diplomacy, we will outwit him. His name proclaims that the only way to defeat him is through tefillah.

In his kuntrus Kol Dodi Dofeik, Rav Aharon Dovid Goldberg, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telshe in Cleveland, compares this power of Yishmoel to that of Mitzrayim during the period of the Jewish enslavement there. The Medrash Tanchumah (Shoftim 14) states that Hashem wanted the Bnei Yisroel to daven for redemption, and therefore He allowed the Mitzriyim to torture them. When they cried out to Hashem, He redeemed them.

We must place our faith in Hashem and daven not be subjected to further attacks, and quickly merit the geulah. In truth, we have no other choice. The prime minister of Israel declares after each successive terror act that he will respond with a “yad kashah.” But he neither does nor can. The security officials admit there is nothing they can do to stop the current wave of terror.

Only we can stop it.

The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah (2b) states that at the end of time, when Moshiach comes, the nations of the world will protest the punishment they are about to receive for their treatment of the Jews. They will all proclaim that everything they did was only to benefit the Jews and their service of G-d and Torah.

The Gemara says that Poras, Persia, will cry out that everything they did was to help the Jews. “We built many bridges, conquered many towns and waged war,” they will say, “to enable the Jews to learn Torah.”

We understand the grounds for claiming that they built bridges and other infrastructure to enable the study of Torah, but how does waging war help the Jews learn Torah?

Perhaps this can be understood to mean that they waged war in order to scare the Jews into doing teshuvah and engaging in Torah study.

Poras, Persia, is the present day state of Iran. When the ruler of that country rises up and repeatedly proclaims, publicly, to the entire world, that he intends to destroy Israel, we can believe him that he intends to do so. When he continues his maniacally feverish race to arm himself with nuclear weapons to carry out his bloody intentions, the world stands by and pretends to engage in a process to curtail his ambitions. Yet, he continues on, every day getting closer to attaining his goal. In the current round of meetings over their weapons, the US has all but conceded that Iran will be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.

We must raise our voices in passionate prayer that Hashem spare us from the evil intents of the anshei Poras, Yishmoel and Edom.

We should use every opportunity to study more Torah, better ourselves, and do more for the downtrodden to create more zechuyos for our people. And we must continue to build and support Torah.

Learning the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis, we find the world’s antipathy toward Jews began when Avrohom Avinu determined that the world had a Creator. The loathing of Jews has continued throughout the generations ever since.

Avrohom’s own father wanted him dead. Nimrod tried to burn Avrohom alive. That pariah status was transferred to his descendants, beginning with Yitzchok Avinu, who was treated as an outcast by his neighbors.

Wherever Yitzchok went, as related in last week’s parsha, his wells were filled. In those days, without wells, one could not live. Yitzchok was therefore constantly on the move, encountering a hostile reception wherever he went. Though blessed with wealth and was an unquestionably kind, peaceful and spiritual man, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. They drove him away by plugging up the sources of his water supply.

In this week’s parsha, we learn how Yaakov Avinu was repeatedly lied to and tricked out of what was deservedly his. After working for Lavan for two decades, Yaakov is finally instructed by Hashem to return home. He gathered his wives, his children and his flocks and departed for home.

Lavan caught up with him and accused him of stealing his property and running off like a thief. Yaakov responded by confronting Lavan, the paradigm con-artist, with the history of his subterfuge and dishonest dealings. Yaakov listed everything he had done for Lavan during his years of servitude to him. He enumerated all the ways that Lavan had robbed him, reminding him of how he altered the terms of Yaakov’s employment one hundred times in order to shortchange him.

The Brisker Rov would point out that none of Yaakov’s arguments had any impact on Lavan. As if he hadn’t heard a word, Lavan insisted on his right of ownership over all that Yaakov had. The posuk (31:43) quotes him as saying, “Habanos benosai vehabonim bonai vehatzon tzoni vechol asher atoh ro’eh li hu.”

The posuk doesn’t record Yaakov’s response to Lavan’s claims. The Torah, however, recounts that when Lavan finished his tirade, Yaakov took a stone and held it up as a matzeivah. He sent his children to gather stones, and they took the stones and fashioned a “gal,” a mound, and had a meal there (31:44-45).

Our avos demonstrated for us how we are to respond to those who plot our downfall, seeking to destroy us and accusing us of the very crimes they themselves have perpetrated against us.

Despite the enmity and harassment, Avrohom continued to gain more adherents to the concept of One Creator to whom man owes an accounting for all his deeds. Yitzchok moved on and dug new wells. Yaakov carried on with his mission of raising twelve Shivtei Kah.

Yaakov set out to build. When Lavan chased Yaakov and refused his entreaties, Yaakov told his children to gather stones and construct a gal. He was demonstrating for us that had Avrohom allowed himself to be cowed by the people of his day, he would have relinquished the role of progenitor of Am Yisroel. Had Yitzchok permitted the Pelishtim to deter him by blocking his water supply, he would not have merited being part of the glorious chain begun by his father. Had Yaakov succumbed to Lavan’s abuse, he never would have left his father-in-law’s home and wouldn’t have raised the twelve sons who formed the nucleus of our people.

Our strength is Torah. Our goal is Torah. Our life is Torah. No one can take that from us, as hard as they try. As long as we remember that lesson, we will be strong, safe and victorious, and the path we have forged will lead to the ultimate redemption, may it be soon, in our days.

Now, more than ever, we must arm ourselves with the weapons of the spirit bequeathed to us by Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov of proper tefillah, emunah and bitachon.

May the day soon arrive when we will all sing together, “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos,” beviyas haMoshiach Tzidkeinu bekarov.



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