Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

What Went Wrong and How to Fix It



There is a famous adage that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.

In Israel, everyone took credit for the Six Day War, but no one accepted responsibility for the Yom Kippur War just six years later. Torah Jews, all of us who recite Mipnei Chato’einu, are accustomed to making a reckoning and cheshbon hanefesh. At this point, we are still very much at war, many hostages are still in captivity, and the world at large is at our throat for simply defending ourselves.

In a way, the situation is even worse than the aftermath of Churban Europa, the Holocaust. In 1945, there was a wave of sympathy for the almost decimated Jewish people. It seemed to result in the rapid acceptance of a Jewish state and revulsion toward anything to do with Nazism and anti-Semitism. Now, universities, as discussed in this column last week, and ostensibly objective people are condemning Israel for “excessive force,” civilian casualties and other results of the Hamas pogrom upon the Jewish people.

So where, if anywhere, did we go wrong? Should we only blame everyone else or should we also look inward, as has been the way of Klal Yisroel since its beginning?

We just completed Sefer Bereishis and began reviewing our historical roots in golus. Clearly, Chazal and all meforshim have pointed out the origins of all exiles, beginning with Mitzrayim, in the Bris Bein Habesorim and other covenants that Hashem has made with His people. It therefore behooves us to look honestly at what has happened, even as events unfold before our eyes. We sadly no longer have nevi’im to reveal Hashem’s signals to us, but our gedolim over the centuries have granted us certain tools that can help us react properly and productively.

Of course, let us be clear: As the Ramban (Parshas Lech Lecha) teaches, even when Hashem has plans that include yissurim – suffering – for Klal Yisroel, that does not absolve our enemies from anything. In fact, the Bris Bein Habesorim is the proof-text for this statement. Mitzrayim (Egypt) is not mentioned in the promise and covenant, so Paroh has no right to claim innocence. He and his people had the free will to be kind to Klal Yisroel and not be identified as the eretz lo lohem. They chose to implement the divine plan and so became culpable. Yet, we, as believers and Torah Jews, continue to analyze and seek meaning in our pain and anguish.

The Medrash (Tanna Devei Eliyohu 21) uses the language, “Where is our strength, our power, when the wise have no wisdom and those with understanding are lacking in judgment?” We recite these words during Shacharis to remind ourselves that sometimes even the experts seem completely lost in their own fields and this is a result of Hashem’s decree.

The novi Yeshayah, too, reminds us of this when our leaders fail us: “Ponder it and be astonished – they have been utterly blinded; they were drunk, but not from wine; they staggered, but not from liquor. For Hashem has poured upon you a spirit of deep sleep and He has closed your eyes” (29:9-10). A bit further he adds, “The wisdom of its wise men will be lost and the understanding of its sages will become concealed.” Many of us also just learned in Daf Yomi (Bava Kamma 52a), “A certain Galilean expounded before Rav Chisda, ‘When the Shepherd is angry with His flock, He blinds the leading goat.’” Rashi explains this to mean that “when Hashem wishes to punish His flock, He causes the appointment of unqualified leaders who make catastrophic decisions for the people.”

We begin to see that one of the methods Hashem uses in His Hashgocha arsenal is to cause a failure in the leadership of the Jewish people. They may be otherwise qualified and even adept at what they do, but when Hashem so decides, r”li, the results can be devastating and tragic.

A famous story with the Chazon Ish indicates that this concept can include even the greatest of Torah leaders. The Chazon Ish admitted to a confidant that Hashem withheld knowledge of Churban Europa from him because “otherwise I would have stormed the heavens to prevent the colossal tragedy.”

But of course, that just sends the questions back to us. Why, in fact, did Hashem blind the leaders and withhold their accumulated wisdom from them? Besides being the Torah way to turn inwardly, this seems to be a logical forensic approach to our current situation. The vaunted Israel security machine, the powers of the Mosad, the collective military and intelligence services are respected by the entire world, even our sworn enemies. A failure of this magnitude, whatever the fallout will be for any individuals, had to be a dire decree from Heaven.

Of course, amidst the tears for the victims and their bereaved families, we must take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous nissim that have occurred as well. For each story of tragedy and loss, there have been concomitant reports of open miracles. We in our shul were davening for a certain soldier who had such severe injuries that all the doctors had given up hope for his life. He is now boruch Hashem recovering and will, G-d willing, soon be back with his family. While this refreshes our faith and rekindles our spirits, there are irretrievable losses that cannot be forgotten. Our thoughts are with their families and we return to our own responsibilities and options for future spiritual intervention.

These hopes are not idle dreams or empty mutterings. Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler writes (Michtov M’Eliyohu 1:203-205) that “if a person would feel in his heart, recognizing the presence of Hashem in the midst of his pain, that what happened was actually miraculous, and he would change completely, doing a complete teshuvah, Hashem would immediately change the ‘bad miracles’ into good ones.”

Rav Dessler is teaching us an amazing lesson. We generally think of miracles as only being for our benefit, resulting in Hallel and gratitude. But sometimes – and I believe that now is such a time – the pain itself is so obviously from Hashem that it, too, must be considered a neis. As Rav Dessler says so eloquently, it is then up to us to react with our own personal changes. Perhaps his word legamri – complete – is too strong a term for us and our generation. But if I may be so bold, even if we reacted with some change because of this open divine revelation, Hashem would surely be happy with the fact that we had actually reacted at all.

Let us listen once again to the novi of consolation, Yeshayahu: “From the edge of the earth we have heard razi li razi li – My lot is to waste away. My lot is to waste away.” Rashi explains that the miracle of the suffering is bound up together with the miracle of the salvation.” We must now remember the words of Chazal (Megillah 13b) that “Hashem does not smite Klal Yisroel unless He first creates the cure.” Indeed, the Medrash (Tanchuma, Mikeitz) teaches that “out of the darkness will come light.” Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 2:5) adds that “the darkness will even be the source of the light.”

We have all heard and perhaps even contributed toward the wave of chozrei teshuvah – returnees to Torah – amongst the soldiers and even the greater Israeli populace. If they are beginning to put on tefillin and wear tztitzis, light Shabbos candles and eat kosher, we ourselves must change as well. However, our nekudas habechirah – threshold of willful change – is higher and therefore more difficult. But we should expect no more of them than we do of ourselves.

We all know the story of the Israeli soldier who experienced a miracle when he recited Shema Yisroel as a boa constrictor wrapped itself around his body. The giant serpent released its death grip and slithered away, bringing the soldier to a life-changing decision. When his friend who witnessed the entire miraculous event related the story, he was asked, “Well, what about you?” His answer was, “It didn’t happen to me.”

Hamas, Gaza and all of this has indeed happened to us all. Let us attempt to make the changes as if we were there and perhaps, just perhaps, that is what Hashem had in mind all along, on the path to Moshiach, im yirtzeh Hashem.



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