‘In All the Right Places’ Parashat Vayetze 5775

Here is part of an article that appeared on the Israel Today website on August 3, 2014:

An Iron Dome operator whose battery failed three times to down an incoming missile headed toward Tel Aviv last week… recalled:

“A missile was fired from Gaza. Iron Dome precisely calculated [its trajectory]. We know where these missiles are going to land down to a radius of 200 meters. This particular missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel’s equivalent of the Pentagon) or [a central Tel Aviv railway station]. Hundreds could have died.

We fired the first [interceptor]. It missed. Second [interceptor]. It missed. This is very rare. I was in shock. At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and had warned of a mass-casualty incident.

Suddenly, Iron Dome (which calculates wind speeds, among other things) shows a major wind coming from the east, a strong wind that…sends the missile into the sea. We were all stunned. I stood up and shouted, ‘There is a G-d!’

I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of G-d send that missile into the sea.

Sorry, folks, but this story never happened, nor could it have ever happened. Other than the inaccuracies in the descriptions of the capabilities of Iron Dome[1], the story is physically impossible. A quick look at a map shows that the Azrieli Towers are about four kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. In order to blow the incoming rocket four kilometres in four seconds, the wind would have to have blown at the rate of one kilometre per second, or 3600 kilometres per hour. Wind blowing at this velocity would not only have blown the enemy rocket into the sea, it would have blown the Azrieli Towers into the sea[2], as well.

What I find most troubling is that the people who promulgated the story were looking for Hashem in all the wrong places. Consider: According to open sources Iron Dome intercepted about 90% of about 800 rockets it was tasked to intercept in Operation Defensive Edge[3]. The Hamas counted on their ability to influence the war by attacking the “soft underbelly” of the Home Front, but they were thwarted by Iron Dome. The fact that the system performed so successfully, both operationally and politically, was not a given. No other anti-missile system has ever performed nearly as well, in combat or in test. Iron Dome’s stellar performance was the Hand of Hashem. But because the system was designed, developed and operated by humans, people assume that its success should be attributed to humans. We can’t see the forest because of the trees.

We, as a nation, come by this ability to “miss the forest because of the trees” honestly. It’s in our genes. Yaakov Avinu is sent away from home. While the official reason is to find a wife from among his relatives, the real reason is that his brother, Esav, wants to kill him because he has stolen his blessing. At the end of Yaakov’s first day on the road, he falls asleep. The Torah tells us that Yaakov dreams of a ladder that leads from the earth all the way to the heavens, a ladder with angels going up and down. At the top of the ladder is Hashem, who tells Yaakov not to worry, and that everything will eventually turn out for the best. Yaakov awakens, and exclaims [Bereishit 28:16] “Indeed, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know [it]” Yaakov is suddenly overcome by fear, saying [Bereishit 28:17] “How awesome is this place!”

Which “place” is Yaakov talking about? And why did he not know that Hashem was there? Isn’t Hashem everywhere? Most schoolchildren can answer these questions and most adults who ever learned in cheder will offer similar answers: Yaakov had fallen asleep on Mount Moriah, at the same spot where the future Beit HaMikdash would reside. Most of the medieval commentators take this path. For instance, the Sforno writes that Yaakov’s realization that “Hashem was in this place” meant that he realized that Hashem’s Divine Presence resides at this particular spot, a unique spot that bridges heaven and earth. Yaakov was “overcome by fear” because he had fallen asleep in such a holy place. The reason we all “know” that Yaakov fell asleep on Mount Moriah is because we have been hijacked by the Midrash. The Torah says nothing about where Yaakov stopped to rest[4]. Further, imagine the infinitesimally small odds of Yaakov stopping for the night precisely at the place that will one day be the site of the Holy of Holies, the one place in the entire world where he cannot sleep. Had Yaakov walked another three minutes in any direction, he would have slept with a clear conscience. Yes, Rashi teaches that Hashem caused the sun to set early so that Yaakov would spend the evening at Mount Moriah, but Rashi is being consistent in “toeing the Midrash line”.

With these questions in mind, I’d like to offer another take on Yaakov’s realization that “Hashem is in this place”. Until the moment that he appropriated Esav’s blessings, Yaakov had led a very quiet life. The Torah describes him as [Bereishit 25:27] “an innocent man, dwelling in tents”. According to the Midrash, he dwelled in the “Tents of Shem and Ever” who ran a sort of Yeshiva for monotheists. When Rivka, his mother, overhears Yitzchak telling Esav to prepare himself to be blessed, she commands Yaakov to take the blessings for himself. To facilitate this, Rivka covers his arms with goatskin, in an attempt to replicate Esav’s hairy arms. Yitzchak recognizes Yaakov’s voice but the goatskin on Yaakov’s arms allows him to be duped, and he blesses Yaakov with Esav’s blessing. Yaakov runs out of Yitzchak’s tent at the same time Esav walks in. When Yitzchak discovers that he has been tricked, what does he do? Does he call Yaakov back and reprimand him? After all, Yaakov must have been “in the next room”. And yet Yitzchak’s response is [Bereishit 28:33] “he will also be blessed”. In order for this plan to work, everything had to fall into place: Rivka had to overhear Yitzchak. Yitzchak had to fall for “the old goat’s-hair-on-the-arms” trick. And Yitzchak had to not retract his blessing when he discovered he was duped. Lo and behold, everything goes according to plan, and Yaakov is sent to safety with Esav’s blessing firmly implanted in his future.

How does Yaakov thank Hashem for all this? He doesn’t, or if he does, the Torah doesn’t tell us about it. And why should he thank Hashem? Hashem has no place in Yaakov’s struggle with Esav. Hashem’s place is in the “Tent of Shem and Ever”. Yaakov’s dream shakes him out of this reverie. He sees Hashem standing right over his head. He sees that Hashem has been holding the steering wheel the entire time. Hashem is in this place – right here in this mundane world – and I didn’t even know it! I didn’t recognize the Hand of Hashem. Had I known it I would have offered thanks and perhaps a prayer. The natural response to such a blatant oversight is to be overcome by fear.

A place does not become holy merely because it houses Hashem’s presence. A place becomes holy when man realizes that it is a home to Hashem’s presence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzipora Hadara

[1] Which I can obviously not discuss.

[2] Further, a 3600 kph wind gust would have been about ten times more powerful than the world record: In 1996 an automatic weather station on Barrow Island, Australia, registered a wind gust of 408 kph.

[3] The system will only intercept those rockets which are predicted to fall in populated areas.

[4] The Midrash links the words [Bereishit 28:11] “He arrived at the place”, meaning some particular place, with the description of the Beit HaMikdash as [Devarim 12:5] “The place that Hashem will choose”. See the Ibn Ezra for an explanation as to why the “heh ha’yedia” is used in “the place”.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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