What do They Know that I Don’t Know?

I was holding up fairly well under the pressures of this war until four things occurred. First: e-mails and calls from family and friends in the US who wanted to know how we were holding up.

Having been through Israel’s wars while living both here and in America, I know from experience that the worries and concerns from far away are far more intense than they are here in Israel, even when we are under fire.

In any case, I was doing fine until those calls began coming in. Then I began to worry, to take my pulse and ask myself: How am I doing under all this tension?

Then something else happened. On the fourth day of the war our apartment building’s house committee chairman knocked on my door wanting to know if we had anything of value in the air-raid shelter, since they were cleaning it up and installing plumbing.

“Installing plumbing?” I asked. “Why do we suddenly need plumbing?” We never had it in other wars. He smiled. “It never hurts to be fully ready.”

I began to wonder: Does he know something I don’t know?

A FEW DAYS later the prime minister addressed the nation. He mentioned the name of G-d twice, and cited the prophet Jeremiah at length. It was a well-crafted speech, beautifully delivered.

But our secular PM mentioning G-d in public and citing the Bible? Ehud Olmert? I began to worry: Why has Olmert suddenly got religion?

Then came another blow to my serenity. Since the war began, morning davening in synagogues around the country has concluded with communal recitation of three special Psalms: 83, 130, and 142, in which King David asks G-d to rescue him from his enemies.

David lived 3,000 years ago, and even then he and the Jewish people had no lack of enemies. In Psalm 83 alone, he lists 11 enemy nations! Our Sages’ comment that Esau will eternally hate Jacob was as true in his day as in ours; nothing, it seems, has really changed.

Since the beginning of this war, then, specially printed sheets with these Psalms have been distributed daily in my shul, and they have been a source of strength and comfort as we ask G-d to render our enemies “like stubble before the wind” (83:14).

These Psalms have kept us going through the ups and downs of the war: G-d will surely not forget us, just as he did not forget King David, and as he preserved our people 3,000 years ago, and 1,000 years ago, and 500 years ago, and 100 years ago, and 50 years ago.

Until yesterday, when those same Psalms were handed out, but in a different form: laminated.
“Laminated?” I said to the gabbai, in a feeble attempt at humor. “Does it mean the war is going to last so long that paper alone will not do?

“I don’t want laminated,” I protested. “I want plain disposable, temporary, old-fashioned paper.” He ignored me.

It was the crowning blow. Instead of giving me strength and comfort, those laminated Psalms have created new concerns.

Does the gabbai know something I don’t know?

I WILL STILL read those special Psalms every day. But not from the laminated sheets.

Why? Firstly, the Psalms are eternal, even on ordinary paper. More importantly, a laminated beseeching of God implies something that is not true: that the Gates of Prayer are closed, and will take a very long time to open.

I believe those gates are always open, and that we need only give them a firmer push so the One Above heeds our petition.

I will have my Psalms on plain paper, thank you. For I know that by the time that paper wears thin our prayers will have been answered, and (a) we will all be doing fine so our American friends can stop fretting; (b) our air raid shelter with its spanking new plumbing and supplies will be totally unused and will gather dust; and (d) laminated special Psalms will be buried in the cemetery along with other unusable holy texts.

OH, YES: Ehud Olmert and the Name of G-d. May it be G-d’s will that all our prime ministers use His holy Name and cite the Jewish Bible not only when things look grave, but when they look up as well.

That way, G-d will surely look down upon them and upon His holy land with divine mercy, and grant us the age of peace we so long for — an age when utilizing His divine Name will be a sign of recognition that, after all is said and done, we are His people and this is His land, and no power in the world can dislodge us from it.

And this last prayer can definitely be laminated.

Also published in the Jerusalem Post.

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7 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    I can see how laminated Tehillim could/should make one uneasy. But:

    We also have many nicely hardbound editions of Kinot. Are there any Gedolim (belonging to any group) who now recommend softcover only?

    In the Amidah and other formal prayers, we beseech HaShem for the restoration of the Torah system of justice, the Davidic dynasty, the Temple and its sacrifices, real peace…

    While we fervently hope these will arrive today, we, nevertheless, use hardcover siddurim.

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    “our secular PM”

    we are all a mix of holy and secular

  3. HILLEL says:


  4. Sarah Elias says:

    Bob Miller: There are many people who leave their Kinos in shul every Tisha B’Av morning, not expecting to need it again next year. I myself wouldn’t buy a hard-cover edition of Kinos for the same reason.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Israelis are setting in for a long war. That’s the correct behavior.

    If you expect that everything will be OK next week, and then the war goes on, you’re disappointed and you might get desparate. If you expect it to go on and on and on, you’ll be happy whenever it ends.

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Interesting discussion.

    Rabban Yochanan ben Zaki, who lived at the time of the Churban, instituted Takanos which were built into Halacha which reflect our hope and belief that the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt(Rosh Hashana 30A).

    Regarding Kinnos, it is certainly worthwhile to invest in one with a good translation –hard or soft cover–, as this could help one daven, which in turn, helps one merit to see the Geulah. Regarding discarding it, I also have heard a story of a Tzadik who buried kinnos from year to year.

    However, similar to what Bob has pointed out, buying a hard cover text, or not discarding whatever type one buys, is no less a lack of bitachon than buying leather-bound siddurim with our current tefillah texts, or I would add, making permanent revisions in one’s home(however, I don’t think anyone will order a leather-bound kinnos as a gift–this can be seen as a bad omen!).

    Furthermore, one can theoretically study the Kinnos the entire year in preparation for next Tisha B’aav(which would be a positive thing), or for the value inherent in understanding the works of the great paytanim.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    My point was that we hope and pray for the best while actually preparing for the “normal” course of events. Do we consider being at war to be less normal than being without our Temple or being in exile? Maybe that makes sense, but, until our redemption (may it come soon!), we also shouldn’t view our everyday situation as normal.

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