Does God Speak Through the Headlines?
Regardless of what you may or may not believe about God; His relationship to the Jewish people, His involvement in the life of individuals, in human history, and in ongoing events impacting the nation of Israel, for the next few minutes I’m asking you to put all your doubts and skepticism aside, and consider the following question:
What if God really is involved?
What if He really “talks” to us through historical events?
What if we really are capable of discerning what He is saying?
A Shofar in the Summer Time
The Talmud teaches that as history approaches it’s final stage, Elijah the Prophet will sound a great shofar. In 1948, just weeks before the establishment of the State of Israel, one of Israel’s great scholars and teachers spoke to his yeshiva in Bnei Brak and said that the “voice of the shofar” comes in the guise of historical events. He said that the Great Depression, wars, the rise of Communism, and events in Palestine were “powerful shofar blasts that have been sounding around the world for decades.”
Rabbi Eliyahu E. Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu, Kol Shel Eliyahu
“Today, we no longer have prophets that enable us to understand events affecting the Jewish people, however, we do have newspapers and news broadcasts that serve as the word of God speaking to us every day, and every hour …”
Rabbi Avigdor Nevenzal, Senior Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, Sichot (collected essays) Yom Kippur
“Though we no longer have prophecy, God’s communication never stops, and he speaks to us through unfolding events; this is particularly true when it comes to events affecting the Jewish people as a whole …”
Rabbi Rabbi Chaim Ezra Hakohen, known as the Milkman, Talelei Chayim, Hikitzu V’ran’nu, Wake Up and Sing
From Our Boys, to Our Boys
Over the past five weeks, two events have completely consumed, riveted, moved, engulfed, touched, rocked, and inspired the Jews of Israel, and countless Jews around the world. First there was the eighteen days of our boys, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, eighteen days that in fact have not ended. Then there came the unremitting barrage of enemy missiles that have impacted everyone—everyone—living in Israel. Today, thousands of our boys are poised to defend us on the Gaza border.
I believe that these two events are actually one.
In this piece, I will focus on the current war, and only touch upon its relationship to the boys. In an upcoming piece, I will specifically address what happened with the Eyal, Gilad and Naftali and why I believe it carries a special message for Jewish women around the world: a message that is getting louder and louder with every passing day.
For now, the war.
Of Bread and War
Last Shabbat, we read about korbanot, offerings in the Temple in Jerusalem. There we found out that, from God’s perspective, these offerings are called lachmi, “my bread.” The root for the Hebrew word bread, lechem, and the root of the word war, milchama, are the same. And that got me thinking, is there a relationship between bread and war?
Let’s consider the following:
The blessing that we make before eating bread refers to God as, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, “He who brings bread out of the ground.” If you think about it, that’s a bit absurd. After all, when is the last time you saw bread emerging from the ground? Wheat comes from the ground. Bread? That comes from an oven. So what is this blessing really all about?
Well, in addition to the words of the blessing, there is another aspect of the blessing. While saying the blessing of Hamotzi, one is supposed to hold the bread with all ten fingers. Why? Because it takes all of our fingers, all of our effort, to produce bread. To produce bread we must till the soil, plant the seeds, water the ground, harvest the wheat, remove the kernels from the chaff, grind the kernels, add water and yeast, knead the dough and then place it into the oven. It takes a lot of effort to produce bread, a lot of human effort. Seems like a bit of a contradiction to “He who brings bread out of the ground,” doesn’t it? Perhaps not. When you think about it, despite all the hard work, skill and effort required to produce a delicious loaf of bread, none of that effort would amount to anything if God weren’t also involved. After all, if the soil doesn’t provide it’s nutrients, if the sun doesn’t shine and if the rains don’t fall—no bread. The Hamotzi is by far the most well known of all Jewish blessings, and what it represents is the partnership of God and man. In Jewish thought, the term for this is shutaf b’maaseh b’raishit. This term means that while God created the world, He didn’t quite finish the job. For that, He required a partner. And guess who that partner is?
Of War and Bread
Last week I had the privilege of visiting a small unit of Israeli soldiers stationed near the Gaza border. Their job is to protect us from infiltrators. Looking at these boys, I saw all sorts of protective equipment, an array of weaponry and ammunition, and incredible discipline, training, devotion, and effort. They are the ten fingers on the loaf of bread called war. Each of those ten fingers, every muscle and sinew, is absolutely necessary for the defense of the Jewish people. Yet, on their own they are not enough, God also needs to be involved. The two together are the essence of how Judaism understands life, and war; shutaf b’maaseh b’raishit, a deep, profound, intense partnership.
In Jewish law and life, there is someone known as a kohen mashuach milchama. This is a Temple Kohen whose role is to address Jewish troops before battle. His task is to lift the soldiers eyes to heaven, to their Partner. In the Torah, we are told of a battle between the Jewish people and our arch enemy, Amalek. During this battle, when Moses held his hands up, the Jews were successful. When he tired and lowered his arms, the battle didn’t go as well. Our tradition teaches us that the upreached arms of Moses inspired the Jewish people to connect with their heavenly Partner. Moses’ lowered arms represents the moments when the Jews lost sight of the partnership.
War, like bread, is partnership. It’s shutaf b’maaseh b’raishit.
Iron Changed Everything
Though few of us today realize this, man’s ability to refine iron had an impact on life and history that is similar to, and perhaps even more far reaching, than the Internet in our time. The refinement of iron represents a great leap forward in the application of human skill and ingenuity. Shields, guns, missiles, and tanks; railroad tracks, locamotives, subways, and cars; factories, aircraft carriers, airplanes, and paper clips—and all of the impact they have had on the lives of people and humanity—are all a result of refined iron.
Here in Israel, the most prominent element of this war is the Iron Dome anti-missile system. If it weren’t for the Iron Dome, there could easily be hundreds or thousands of Jews killed from the rain of missiles being fired at us. In Hebrew, Iron Dome is Kippat Ha’barzel, literally, the Iron Kippah. It’s as if the entire country is wearing one big kippah, a kippah made of iron.
Iron, like bread, represents the fantastic potential and ability that God has placed in the hands of Man. And then we have the kippah.
Frequently, when living in the States, a curious non-Jew would say, “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?” I always knew what was coming next, an inquiry as to the meaning of the beanie on my head. My response was always the same. “Thank you so much for asking. We wear this because it constantly reminds us that God is above us.”
The iron part of the Iron Dome, developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is testimony to remarkable human intelligence, ingenuity, and determination in developing whatever weapon is necessary to safeguard the people of Israel. However, weapon systems, and the talented soldiers that deploy them, on their own, are not enough. God also needs to be involved. We need the barzel, the iron, and the kippah. The two together are the essence of how Judaism understands life, and war; shutaf b’maaseh b’raishit, a deep, profound, intense partnership.
All Eyes to Heaven
Last week, my son and I were out shopping for Shabbat when the siren sounded. We quickly took cover in a nearby store, making our way with others to the back of the store, as far from potential shattering glass as we could get. When we went back outside, we did what everyone else was doing, we looked up. Sure enough, we could see the trail of smoke that indicated that the Iron Dome had been working on our behalf. For two weeks now, with the sound of every siren, all eyes look to heaven, and the refrain on countless lips is, “Thank God for the Iron Dome.”
And the Parents Led the Way
Before this recent battle in our ongoing war with Hamas began, everyone in Israel was completely immersed in the kidnapping and murder of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. For three weeks, there were three women who had the rapt attention of every one of us; they were our teachers, our guides, our leaders. When they asked for prayers, we prayed. When they asked us to gather in Tel Aviv and sing, we sang. And when they asked us to accept whatever happened, regardless of the outcome, we strove to rise to the great task they called us to.
On numerous occasions over those three weeks, whenever the parents of the boys spoke to us, they always had three messages: One, was that we pray. Another was their expression of deep gratitude to the IDF, to every soldier and to every branch of the security services that was doing everything it could to find their sons. The other message was one of Jewish unity. They constantly spoke of how deeply they felt the achdut, the unity of the Jewish people and how they were strengthened by a great collective, loving hug they were receiving from Am Yisrael, from the unified Jewish people. They called us the Am Ha’niflah, the awesome and wondrous nation.
Achdut, Jewish unity.
Miklat: Could It Be?
A quick story:
This past Sunday morning, my son-in-law said, “Abba, let’s go to Beersheva.” So we did. He contacted the social services office in Beersheva and we spent a couple of hours calling homebound people to see if they were okay. Later, while walking through a neighborhood, we saw an open bomb shelter and decided to go in. It turned out that there were about ten elderly Russians who had been spending days and nights inside the shelter. There was also an Israeli couple and their two young children. The father was in a wheel chair. This family was doing their best to help the elderly Russians.
Do you know why these elderly people weren’t leaving that shelter, why they were sleeping on makeshift beds with thin mattresses? Because they don’t move fast enough to make it from their homes to the shelter when the siren sounds. In Beersheva, it’s maybe thirty seconds from siren to potential impact.
These people spoke Russian but very little Hebrew. Thankfully, my son-in-law speaks Yiddish! He engaged them in conversation and then began singing Yiddish songs with them. He literally had them singing and dancing.
They hadn’t eaten since the morning, and there was only water in the shelter. So my son-in-law said, “let’s go buy them lunch.” We got bread, tuna, milk, cheese, coffee, and cookies. When we returned, they pushed some tables together and invited us to their feast that soon featured my son-in-law leading the singing of Yiddish songs. After a couple of hours, he had transformed a depressed room into a glowing celebration.
Over the last couple weeks, we have all become well acquainted with our mamad, our safe rooms, and our miklat, our bomb shelters. Those are the places where we gather together—parents and children, neighbors and strangers—when the missiles start to fly.
It is there, in those cramped spaces, that we know that we are all family, regardless of religious affiliation, political persuasion, social status, ethnic background, or the color of our skin. It is there that we realize and express our deep gratitude to the iron, and the kippah. And perhaps most of all, it is there that we encounter and feel our gratitude for being part of what everyone these days is calling, the Am Ha’niflah, the wondrous Jewish nation.
Nah, Couldn’t Be
The word for bomb shelter, miklat, is also the word for “absorbtion,” as in the absorbtion of new immigrants, like our family, to Israel.
The family of Am Yisrael.
Awareness of God.
The strength of the Jewish army.
Could it be?
Could events be speaking to us?
Nah, couldn’t be.