Songs of Praise – A War Diary
“Why, Hashem, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises…He sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”…
He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover, he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.”
Arise, Hashem! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless…
You, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.
You, Hashem, hear the desire of the afflicted…defending the orphan and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.”
Did you dial in the right frequency, David? It definitely feels like it on this one. Our enemies came, sneering, hopped up on captagon: “His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover, he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse.”
These days, though, you might be accused of spurning humanitarianism. You seem uninterested in proportionality, in the balancing of off different moral claims. In the halls of the UN, in the endless dark tunnels of social media, your ethics would be called out as crudely binary. Don’t you understand, David, nobody believes any longer in something as simpleminded as right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness. And here you are, as though looking for God to enter a street fight: ”Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out.”
We found them out, definitively, on October 7, the whole world found them out, and yet not everybody cares for them to remain found. The endless prevarications, the justifications, the yes…but, oh the yes…but. Evil does not merge from a vacuum, David, did you know that? Rape and decapitation and burning people alive always has a context, a subtext, a history.
“He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.”
Perhaps the difference between you and us, David, at least in part, is that we no longer wait around for God to “see the trouble of the afflicted.” Your plaintive cry is our bewildered question: “Why, Hashem, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” You had an army, it’s true, but nothing like the IDF. But what you did have was unquestioned authority; the only one you had to answer to was Far Above. You probably also did not have to contend with ever present Jewish guilt, the suspicion that some Jews have that not only are we committing war crimes in Gaza, but do we have the right to be in Israel in the first place, if it means having to fight others to stay here.
I know everyone would like tidy wars with dignified conclusions, but I have the sense that is not the way it works. There is the “Gandhi option,”–which I know you would dislike–as he wrote in 1938 when the prior incarnation of Nazis were upon us: “If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war…The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for a voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror.”
I admit it, I am not as God fearing as all that. So if that is your position, then God bless. We’ll agree to disagree.
Almost three thousand years after you rose and conquered, loved and lost, there lived a man in a small pocket of the universe called the Ukraine, which is now being blitzed by an enemy which, somehow, does not provoke global marches for justice. No flags in the streets saying Free Ukraine. No #Gays for Ukraine. No matter.
The man was known as Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, and he believed he had an answer to your pleas. When the Israelites approached Mt. Sinai, virtually all of them quickly calculated that they would like to be anywhere but there. Except for one: “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.”
Rebbe Nachman wrote that our hindrances in life, the obstacles that block us at every turn, are that thick cloud. But if we can persevere, it turns out that God hides in that very cloud, in the obstacles, in the darkness, there to support us if we only realized. This country must be bursting with divinity at this moment, David, because we all feel absolutely enveloped in darkness.