Friday, March 7, 2008

in the wake of the terrorist attack on Yeshivat Merkaz haRav

So here I am, Thursday night in Jerusalem, Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet 5768. I’m at a meeting for “chesed united” a project undertaken by organizations including the Orthodox Union, Ohr Olam, and Shir Hadash to help the traumatized children of Sderot this Purim. We hear speakers from the Sderot Media Center. The videos offer us but a glimpse into the ongoing suffering and daily trauma the people of Sderot and the western negev cope with every single day.

Sirens sound, a faraway ambulance.

Sirens in Jerusalem. I think to myself: “It’s amazing how only a few years ago Jerusalem was constantly under terrorist attack and now it’s our job to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Aderot.”

Except that those sirens tonight weren’t just regular ambulance sirens. Those ambulances were headed to Merkaz HaRav Kook where terrorists had walked into the yeshiva and were indiscriminately shooting innocent students. Eight have been murdered. Several others injured.

My first week in Jerusalem saw the infamous Cafe Hillel bombing on Emek Refaim. Nearly five years later and I call Emek Refaim home. Five years ago the word “disengagement” meant nothing. Later that year when Prime Minister Sharon announced his plans for Gaza at the Hertzeliya conference the National-Zionist community was up in arms. Mass protests were organized, the country was electric with defiance. People were passionate, they were fighting. I can personally attest that people honestly did not think the plan would go through, that thousands would be kicked out of their homes. I remember the feeling. We cried and screamed and warned “today Gush Katif, tomorrow Ashkelon and then Tel Aviv,” and we were just brushed off “this is the price for peace.”

The government did nothing to help the Israeli citizens it so callously uprooted from Gush Katif. The reports of mental health problems, attempted suicide and divorce rates among former residents of Gush Katif are staggering and the government does nothing. Rockets rain down on Sderot at the rate of 6 to 8 per day and the government (aside from the obvious of STOPPING the launch of kassams) does nothing for the terrorized citizen of Israel. Ashkelon is under attack. Nothing. Students are murdered at Sapir College. Nothing. With the government so completely inept, somehow the responsibility of helping the citizens of Israel lies on the shoulders of the citizens of Israel on the Jewish people themselves. We have no leadership. The current Israeli government is the most corrupt the modern Jewish state has ever seen. Putting aside whatever lawsuits and indictments members of keneset face, including the Prime Minister himself, the government is allowing it’s own citizens to be terrorized and murdered and doing nothing to help in the fallout. Sderot residents who have seen direct hits on their homes deeming them unlivable wander from the homes of family members and friends as the government has provided no compensation to fix the damage.

Post disengagement there is a shift in the Israeli consciousness. At the most basic level we were simply shocked. And of course, launching from areas formerly inhabited by the Jews of Gush Katif, the rocket attacks intensify against Sderot. Mass protests do not materialize. The Prime Minister is suspect in several scandals. No response. The President is suspect of sexual harassment and rape. It gets some people moving. Israeli citizens, former residents of Gush Katif still have not received compensation and live in caravans near the Gazan border and the public is all but silent. Something changed. People are more reflective it seems as though many rather than fighting publicly are re-evaluating their relationship with G-d. They’re fighting by intensifying their torah study, increasing their concentration during prayer. On the one hand we are tired of fighting and running against a brick wall and are outwardly apathetic and yet there is a revolution bubbling beneath the surface.

We look around and see we really have no central figure to lead us. There are no words that are printable to describe Prime Minister Olmert and even within the “religious” camp there is no single leader or gadol that everyone agrees to follow. With no human leader to guide us we begin to see that we have nobody to rely on, there is nobody to guide us but G-d himself. The psalms in our daily prayers are replete with verses reminding us so and they never rang so true: “ אַל-תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים-- בְּבֶן-אָדָם, שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה.” “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” (Psalms, 146) “לֹא בִגְבוּרַת הַסּוּס יֶחְפָּץ; לֹא-בְשׁוֹקֵי הָאִישׁ יִרְצֶה. רוֹצֶה יְהוָה, אֶת-יְרֵאָיו-- אֶת-הַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ.” “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse; He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that wait for His mercy.” (Psalms, 147) G-d desires those who fight for Him. When it seems as though no human measure can bring relief for our suffering we have no choice but to turn to G-d.

Recently my friend and I started learning Sefer Shoftim - the book of Judges. The last time I read its pages I was an eleven year old kid in LA and the events described were gory, ancient and unimportant as I gazed out the window and was distracted by the hum of traffic on Olympic blvd. Today I read the words and they are so relevant and resonate so strongly that I wonder if I’m indeed reading the bible or if I’ve accidentally picked up todays paper. The beginning of the book of Shoftim picks up where Joshua left off. In Sefer Yehoshua the tribes of Israel managed to conquer great parts of the Land of Israel and while most of it was under Jewish sovereignty the Jewish people still lived among the Cananites, Moabits and Jebusites. Much like today where the heart of biblical Israel was won back in the six day war in 1967 but 41 years later much of it remains to be properly settled, so to in the book of Shoftim, most of the Land remained to be settled with the building of communities, towns and cities. So, Sefer Shoftim begins. Joshua, has died leaving the Israelites leaderless with no one of his stature to replace him. The entire generation that wandered the desert has died and the new generation “knew not the LORD nor yet the work which he had wrought for Israel.” (Shoftim 2:10) and thus begins the cycle that any fifth grader in the yeshiva day school system can tell you: “Israel sins, serving other gods, adopting the ways of the surrounding cultures --> G-d delivers them to the hands of their enemies in battle --> Israel cries out to G-d --> G-d appoints a leader to save them --> the leader dies --> Israel returns to sin, repeat cycle.”

The opening chapters present the overall theme of the book:
"Because this nation have transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto My voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations that Joshua left when he died; that by them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.' So the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered He them into the hand of Joshua." (Shoftim, 2)

With the new generation not having had the experiences of their fathers in the desert and forging a new relationship with the G-d that redeemed their ancestors from Egypt they now had to learn how to fight their own wars. It was a new type of warfare that they did not experience in the time of Yehoshua when G-d easily delivered their enemies into their hands. What really struck me was the following verse: “ק, לְמַעַן דַּעַת דֹּרוֹת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְלַמְּדָם, מִלְחָמָה--רַק אֲשֶׁר-לְפָנִים, לֹא יְדָעוּם.” “only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as beforetime knew nothing thereof;” One would expect that if the point was to teach Israel about war the book would go into a lengthy discussion about the military, how to fight a war, and weaponry. There is no such discussion. What comes out is that these wars, more than gaining control over territory, spoke to the relationship between Israel and G-d. Essentially, Israel’s success on the battlefield had little to do with the weapons at their disposal and instead was contingent upon the strength of their relationship with the Creator. The wars were tests of Emunah - faith. When our faith in G-d was strong, we were worthy of success. When we transgressed on the covenant with G-d we suffered immeasurably.

As our government continues to prove its incompetence, anti semitism rises and world opinion intensifies against the Jewish state and our feelings of helplessness grows, it dawns on us: We have no one to rely on but G-d. There is no question that the “tshuva movement” has been sweeping across the Jewish nation for several decades. Outreach programs are available across the world and Jews everywhere are exploring their roots and returning to their people, the Torah of Israel, the G-d of Israel, the Land of Israel. The similarities between current events and the events in Shoftim are striking. We can’t rely on our leaders to lead us in our battle, we must wage it ourselves. Tonights terrorist attack has triggered a feeling among the people of Israel that has laid dormant for a long time. We must fight for our brothers and sisters in Sderot and throughout Israel. We must work on ourselves and strengthen our personal relationship with G-d. We must work on our relationships with our fellow Jew. We are waking up and realizing that the responsibility is ours. Now, as in the time of the Judges, G-d is testing our faith. Will we fight proudly for G-d or meekly bow to the cries of world opinion? May we merit to face the challenge and emerge with strong emunah so that Hashem finally avenges the blood of those murdered tonight and delivers our enemies as He did in those times.

With blessings that the promise of Adar of "increased joy" is realized and a peaceful Shabbat to all of Am Yisrael.

Shalom from Jerusalem.

ישראל ישראל
בטח ב-ה'
עזרם ומגינם הוא
ישראל ישראל
בטח ב-ה' עזרם ומגינם הוא

אנחנו מאמינים בני מאמינים
ואין לנו על מי להישען
אלא אלא על אבינו
אבינו שבשמיים

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