Earlier today two of our staff people who were called to active duty during the recent war with Hamas returned to the office after their release from the army. To say that we were happy to see them unharmed would be an understatement. In the case of David, he and two of his brothers were on active duty simultaneously so our happiness was nothing when compared with that of his parents who saw their three sons return home safely.
To mark their return we had a celebratory lunch during which time I expressed our gratitude to them, to the Israel Defense Forces of which they are a part and to the Lord above for delivering them safely back to their homes. This all seemed very natural to me but there are those here in Israel whose secular bent is so strong as to make it impossible for them to even acknowledge the possibility that God had a hand in minimizing our losses over the past month.
For example, in an op-ed in Friday’s Ha’aretz Uri Misgav in a piece entitled “Israel Should Get God Out of the Army” castigated Col. Ofer Winter, Commander of the Givati Brigade, for invoking the name of God before taking his troops into battle. Misgav then raises the question “Is this the Jewish Jihad Brigade?” Really? Is he serious? Does a religious officer in the army of the State of Israel have to make sure he avoids any religious references when commanding his troops? Is this why we have a State of Israel? Is this what we are fighting for?
I am not one who easily attributes miracles to God every time someone reports an out of the ordinary event. Last week, for example, there was a story that a Gazan rocket was headed for the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv and it was not being intercepted by an Iron Dome battery. Yet, at the last minute a strong unexplained wind from the east caused the rocket to veer off course and land in the sea saving Israel from much death and destruction.
In another story this same Col. Winter said that in a battle for a village east of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip there was a heavy fog protecting his troops so that they were not seen as they approached the village. As they entered the village the fog lifted and they were able to handle their mission successfully. He compared this to the ananai kavod, the cloud that accompanied our ancestors as they journeyed in the desert after the exodus from Egypt.
Were these miracles or natural occurrences? There is no way of knowing but there is also no doubt that when you look at the casualty figures on both sides of the battles, when you see how Israel emerged with relatively few, although definitely painful, losses, it is not wrong in this Jewish state to give credit to God for, once again, saving his people.The concept is critical but the details are less important.
And the reason it is so important to express our gratitude to the One above, is because doing so puts our battles into historic perspective and gives us the logic to answer the question: Why should we continue sending our children, siblings, fathers, grandchildren, et al to war?
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo said it best last week when he wrote:
“We must convince our children that the reason why we are here and why we need to fight war after war is not for our phenomenal high-tech, our military power, or our capability to build a modern state out of barren desert. All those accomplishments are means, not ends. We are here to fulfill an extraordinary mission that is deeply rooted in Jewish religious and moral values.”
“We don’t fight wars just to survive; we don’t event fight to merely overcome evil. We fight wars because we believe that man must surpass himself so as to become holy, and that is possible only if the great evil that surrounds us has been eliminated. Israel needs to be a power house of moral audacity, defying the world’s mediocrity and hypocrisy.”
This small country of ours has been blessed multiple times with intelligence, creativity, dedicated citizens, a military prepared to fight for the survival of our people and the continuation of the Zionist enterprise. But in all of that effort we have been assisted by a higher power whose contribution we dare not minimize.
Ernie Pyle, among others, often said “There are no atheists in foxholes.” To be sure over the last month great swathes of Israeli society, secular as well as religious, was engaged in imploring God for help in engaging the enemy. Not everyone has to believe that our prayers were answered, or that there is a supreme being whose hand was present at our backs. But just as surely no one should dare accuse an officer in the Israel Defense Forces of leading a Jewish Jihad Brigade because that officer invokes the name of God.