The abduction of three precious teens is a national emergency and has captured attention worldwide. Not surprisingly, diverse opinions on the role of a spiritual response to this crisis have been expressed, with some too easily dismissing the role of prayer and others too confidently asserting “the reason” G-d made this happen.
To give a perspective on the role of prayer and teshuva (spiritual improvement) as part of our overall response, I will pose a theological question. Was it G-d who decreed that these boys should be kidnapped, or was it the work of malicious terrorists? If the former, why send soldiers? If the latter, why should we pray?
Numerous Torah sources suggest it could have been both – they are not mutually exclusive. The terrorists are responsible for this crisis. G-d allows people to make free willed choices. And these free willed choices, along with other natural dangers that G-d wills to exist, can cause both benefit and harm. G-d created a world with inherent risk and G-d gave people the power to exert influence. Since the terrorists used this power destructively, we send soldiers to thwart their plans and we implement defensive tactics to prevent this from ever happening again.
But that does not in any way remove G-d from the picture. G-d oversees – deciding person by person and case by case when to intervene and when to let nature run its course. A belief in “hidden” miracles, that G-d intervenes in ways which are within the laws of nature and thus imperceptible, is a key part of Jewish theology. And this belief leads to the conclusion that G-d chose to allow the abduction to take place – and that G-d is ultimately in control of whether our efforts to free the boys will succeed.
We never specifically know why sometimes G-d intervenes to protect and at other times does not. It is distasteful when people assert they know G-d’s plan – particularly when they conclude that the fault lies with someone else or with some other group.
But our inability to fully ascertain G-d’s motives doesn’t preclude us from responding spiritually. We know that G-d’s providence is inextricably tied to our spiritual merits and our relationship to Him. By living spiritually and morally “better” lives, and by prayer – G-d is more protective. And therefore, adversity summons us to self-improvement. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: “The fundamental of providence is here transformed into a concrete commandment, an obligation incumbent upon man. Man is obliged to broaden the scope and strengthen the intensity of the individual providence that watches over him. Everything is dependent on him; it is all in his hands. When a person creates himself, ceases to be a mere species man, and becomes a man of G-d, then he has fulfilled that commandment which is implicit in the principle of providence.”
We must send soldiers and strategize pragmatically. And we must pray and seek to improve spiritually. And this perspective leads to another realization. The Jewish people, in a larger sense, must be active in both spiritual and pragmatic realms. At our best we are believers, we seek and teach Torah knowledge, and we live upright, even holy, lives. We contribute immeasurably to the spiritual fabric of the world. Yet we also aspire to be builders, planters, defenders, discoverers, and innovators. We make great practical contributions to the world – and when done with the proper intention, these achievements have spiritual value as well.
I would assert that we all need to value both realms. Without respecting both the spiritual and the practical contributions that different people and disparate segments make to our entire people’s wellbeing, we are a people divided.
There are no easy answers to healing the divisions which exist within our society – both within communities and between communities. But one place to start is to realize that people and groups who are different can each make important contributions. Perhaps doing this will create an important merit at this challenging time.
Yaakov Naftali Ben Rochel Devorah, Gil-Ad Michoel Ben Bat Galim, Ayal Ben Iris Teshura