Messages From the War – Oct 16
Yerushalayim has been uneventful for the last few days. Services are pretty much at normal levels, except for the public schools, which are still closed. Still hard to find bottled water, after the stupid and irresponsible announcement by the government that people should have 3 liters of water per person, for three days, in their safe room. People took the announcement to mean that they should expect immediate intense bombardment. That, coupled with people buying large quantities to send to soldiers, led to a depletion of stock. (A second announcement then walked back the first. They weren’t predicting immediately spending three days in shelters because they had special information. The three-day supply was what they always have told people to have on hand.)
That fashla only adds to the complete lack of trust that has developed between the people and their leaders, be they those of the IDF, or of Knesset. It is as if the people had decided to chuck the government, and take things into their own hands. They couldn’t possibly do a worse job.
This is true particularly about the IDF. No one wants to hear anything from its leaders. The soldiers, on the other hand, show incredible spirit, unimaginable in any other country. The videos they send buoy up the rest of the country, even as the country continues to shower them with love and care through innumerable projects to compensate for what they don’t have. (IDF brass claims they have what it takes to outfit everyone. No one I know believes them for a moment. Individual units compile lists of what they need, bypassing leadership, and the country – the world, really – responds.) Entertainers have joined the troops, and add even more spirit. (After watching a clip of Ishai Ribo singing with the soldiers, I realized that I should do the same. I’m sure that if it could be arranged for me to sing for Hamas troops, they would wave a white flag after a half an hour and surrender.)
The lack of leadership is more than apparent in the charedi community. There, too, many, many, projects have been started for people to join in and contribute to the war effort beyond the crucial learning and tefillos. Again, however, it is the people acting on their own. You don’t hear of major figures speaking to large swaths of the community with words of chizuk, or instructions about changes in tefillah, or ways to keep the kids whose schools have not opened occupied. (The Belzer Rebbe, always with a mind of his own, did instruct his chassidim to add the tefillah for Tzahal on Shabbos.)
The one stand-out exception is (no surprise) Rav Asher Weiss. Besides going from place to place delivering shiurim and words of chizuk, he does frequent YouTubes directed at the community as a whole, at least those with internet access. (According to a recent poll, that means 60% of the charedi population.) He has been a voice of sanity, reason, and inspiration to all who listen. He has also tackled the halachic problems. For instance, he conducted a Q and A about issues that might arise on Shabbos, and shared it with the nation. He is in a class by himself.
Everyone undoubtedly has seen the strong messages of support from many political leaders in the US, as well as the growing groundswell of support for the Palestinians and Hamas, even before the ground invasion begins. Lest people think that all of the support will evaporate, I can testify that the messages of support that I am constantly getting from bright non-Jews shows that they understand the issues, and will place blame on collateral damage to Gazans exactly where it belongs – on the shoulders of Hamas. By the way, the support comes not only from evangelical Christians, but from unexpected sources. A large donation from a Mormon charity. A pledge to stand with Israel from a life-long progressive Democrat (who claims that there is a real split in the extreme left over the issue.) A large donation from the CFO of one of my sons’ client companies, who is Indian and thoroughly gets it.
For umpteen years, I have serialized a sefer a year on Chumash. Each week, I adapt some selection from that sefer on the parshah. I scout out the material a year in advance, i.e. I’m doing Ksav Sofer this year, but simultaneously finding material from Be’er Moshe/the Ozhorover Rebbe that I will write up next year. (You can subscribe to the current series here, or view the older ones here.) Stumbling upon a theme he develops in a few pieces in parshas Noach, I felt that he provided a point of view that many people were looking for.
“Hashem smelled the pleasing aroma, and Hashem said in His heart, ‘I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man…’” Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 34:9) state that the pleasing aroma was contributed by the Doro she shmad/the generation that bore the brunt of the sustained Hadrianic persecutions. This is puzzling, says the rebbe. That generation somehow deserved the trials and tribulations they experienced. How could they be seen as a pleasing aroma, that moved HKBH to special rachamim?
The rebbe’s explanation is that the pain of Klal Yisrael stirs divine rachamim, whether they deserve it or not! Similarly, Tikunei Zohar (23a) describes Noach breaking down and crying when he contemplated the devastation after the Flood. “Ribbono Shel Olam! You are called Compassionate! You should have had compassion on your creatures!” Why did he not utter the same plaintive words before the mabul? Says the rebbe: before the mabul Noach spent decades admonishing and warning the world. They mocked him for it, and persisted in their evil ways. Noach despaired of arguing for divine compassion. After the mabul, however, Noach reasoned that the immense suffering visited upon the world would itself open Hashem to rachamim, so he poured out his heart in tefillah. In other words, he applied the doro shel shmad principle to all of human society.
You needn’t speculate as to how far to take this principle. The rebbe makes it explicit. “Two paths lead to the redemption of Israel: [One is] merits and good deeds; the second is experiencing pain.”
We are all trying to multiply our merits. We are sometimes discouraged, however, by how far the nation as a whole is from where it should be. But a week ago, we all found ourselves living through Auschwitz 2.0, opening a huge hole in all our hearts. We are still far from grasping the enormity of the massacre. We’re now sharing the pain with families of captives, and all those who perished. We are beyond anxious for what might happen when the ground offensive begins. Pain is everywhere. It is sustained, relentless.
According to the rebbe, however, the national pain of Klal Yisrael will itself mean that Hashem will react with compassion, substituting our pain for the merits we lack.