Light in the Darkness
by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha of Masei, which begins with the words “Eileh masei Bnei Yisroel,” listing the many stops the Jews made as they traversed the desert on their way to the Promised Land, reflects the eternal ethos of our people. They traveled, set up camp, got comfortable and then packed up and moved on.
We would think that the names of the places, where Bnei Yisroel stopped, are of little consequence. Yet, the Torah lists every stop, to teach us that the masaos are essentially a definition of who we are. They collectively form our experience as a people as far back as anyone can remember. Each station and outpost in Klal Yisroel’s journey is mentioned, for each is significant. Every peak and valley we encounter plays a role in leading us to the ultimate geulah.
We have good days and not such good days. We had good stops and places that were totally inhospitable to us. They are all stations along the track that forms, molds and creates the eternal people, preparing us for our destiny.
The posuk in Shir Hashirim states, “Tashuri meirosh amanah” (4:8). Rashi explains the posuk to mean that a mountaintop known as Amanah is a summit we will encounter at the time of redemption as we are about to enter Eretz Yisroel. As the final act of golus, we will assemble at Amanah, gaze at Eretz Yisroel, and begin to sing a song of thanksgiving and praise.
One of the previous Belzer Rebbes explained that upon finally earning the redemption for which our people has waited so long, the euphoric nation will realize as they enter Eretz Yisroel that they have lost the ability of emunoscha baleilos, finding faith in times of darkness. Thus, they will gather at the peak of golus and offer one last expression of thanks from the darkness. A final song will rise from the bunkers of the exile. It will be an ode of thanks for all that transpired throughout the journey and a realization that the darkness led to light.
In essence, “Tashuri meirosh amanah” marks the culmination of “Eileh masei Bnei Yisroel” and the commencement of a new reality.
Faith calls for an ability to see when it is dark and to hear when there is silence. We exist in the darkness of golus, surrounded by ever-present issues and tragedies that test our belief. Throughout our history, we have endured so much, yet remained loyal. We have gone from masa to masa, each place of refuge ending more tragically than the one preceding it. But in darkness, we have seen light, and in tragedy, we have sensed glimmers of hope. We have always known that what we see and feel is only surface deep. We have known that there is incomprehensible depth to our experiences.
People of emunah peshutah understood throughout the ages that nothing happens in our world by happenstance. We don’t just happen to be here. We aren’t simply highly intelligent monkeys that have evolved into speaking actors. The world was Divinely created by the Mechadeish bechol yom tomid ma’aseh bereishis, and since every day is a new manifestation of the original creation, whatever transpires is for a higher purpose.
Any honest, casual observer of the world would conclude that it could not have come into existence by itself. Since it is wholly obvious that the world - and everything that comprises it - was formed by a Higher Being, it is apparent that it was created for a higher purpose.
This knowledge is what enabled us to survive all that we encountered in our masaos and to endure the golus.
As we study Parshas Masei this week, we are once again being tested. The nation that simply seeks to live in peace is portrayed as a people who derive special joy from murder. The entire world knows and can prove with pictures and facts that Jews see it as a religious duty to kill babies. Hundreds of millions of people who follow the news are told that Jews undertake massacres and engage in disproportionate military action.
All we want is to look to the sky and see fluttering birds instead of rockets, and to hear chirping sounds instead of sirens. We await the day when children can play safely in a park, without fear, in Israel and around the world. We pray for the sound of the shofar to emanate from the holy city, proclaiming a festival and not doom. Yet we are mocked, despised, and driven from place to place. Jews have been living in France since at least the fourth century, yet thousands feel threatened and are running for their lives.
The governments in Syria and Iraq have collapsed. A radical group has taken hold of much of the former. Yet, none of the world’s policemen seem to be concerned. Tens of thousands of men, women and children, including babies, have been killed. Not a serious word of complaint emerges from any direction. Millions have become refugees, overwhelming neighboring countries. Has anyone in a position of power in the West done anything to help the plight of so many people? ISIS just gave Christian residents of an Iraqi city it captured an ultimatum: convert or die. Have any of the Christian nations and groups that counsel restraint to the Jewish state done anything to stem the drive of ISIS? We have serious differences with Israel’s prime minister, but, without a doubt, he is the most eloquent statesman on the world stage, yet his message fails to resonate.
A citizen army comprised of sons, brothers, fathers and neighbors goes to battle to protect fellow citizens. They are well-trained and focused on the common goal of acting as morally as possible in a war aimed at eradicating immoral enemies bent on their destruction. The world’s players admonish them for defending their right to live in peace.
The recent ground invasion was brought on by an attempt of 13 Hamas terrorists to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel dug under the Gaza-Israel border. Thankfully, they were stopped before they were able to realize their goal of killing innocent Jews. Yet, the world paints the war as one being waged between an evil Jewish Goliath and a poor Arab David. There is little or no reporting on the humanitarian cease-fire by Israel imposed the day the ground invasion began. There is no mention that it was ignored by Hamas and that their very actions led to the necessity of Israel ramping up their action against those dedicated to their destruction.
War is awful, but in the world in which we live, war is sometimes necessary. If evil is permitted to fester and become strengthened and emboldened, good people will suffer and be killed. Liberty and democracy are threatened by the growth of radical terror groups.
Around the world, anti-Israel demonstrations are held. The United Nations’ diplomatic mouthpiece hurried to the microphone to decry Israel’s advancement and to call upon Israel to exercise more caution so as not to cause civilian deaths. He didn’t issue the same call to Hamas. The ISIS operates with impunity. Dozens are ripped to shreds by bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, yet no one knows or cares about it. Hundreds of girls are kidnapped in Africa. Initially, the world responds with a hash tag and press conferences. Just as quickly, the tragedy is forgotten and removed from the public’s conscience. After all, Israel is at war, fighting once again for its life. Who has time to examine what is transpiring anywhere else in the world?
Thousands of targets were hit by Israel. These include tunnels, rocket factories and storehouses, infrastructure built by wicked people who live to kill. When presented with a plan to end the hostilities, Hamas spurned it. In their eyes, every rocket sent to Israel is a victory and every attempt at infiltration proves their virility. It makes no sense to us, but it does to them.
When Israel finally began its ground invasion, it was with the stated goal of simply destroying the many fortified tunnels Hamas built in order to infiltrate Israel. Israel’s spokesmen specifically said that they would not destroy Hamas.
The terror group that rules Gaza, thanks to former President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in the wake of Arik Sharon’s misguided unilateral abandonment of Gaza for peace, will be permitted to inculcate hatred and jihadism, and rearm, to torment Israel in the future.
The entire goal of Hamas, like Yassir Arafat and his followers, is to bring about the destruction of Israel. Their essence is dedicated to reach that result. Unlike so-called “moderate” groups, they make no secret of it. Yet, it is this group that won the election in Gaza and would win on the West Bank if free elections were held there. This band of murderers was delivered a state on a silver platter nine years ago and set about destroying its infrastructure. They returned the favor of the gift they were handed for the sake of peace, by turning the Judenrein land into a base for terror.
While the Jews made the desert bloom, they destroyed a flourishing oasis. While the Jews sacrificed to defend their citizens, they spent whatever they had on offense and not a dime on defense. They utilized any building material they smuggled to build rockets, acquire weapons and construct tunnels from which to attack Israeli villages and nothing to create a viable state.
The Arabs who refer to themselves as Palestinians and live in the area the world has decided should become a state named Palestine have demonstrated repeatedly that their desire is not to live in peace with the Jews, but to eradicate their existence.
How can anyone fail to recognize the obvious?
We think we will remember the period we are currently experiencing, but, in truth, we will quickly forget. Who remembers the Sbarro bombing or the Café Hillel bombing, when Dr. David Applebaum and his daughter, a kallah, were killed the day before her wedding?
Who cries for Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz?
Who recalls the war two years ago and the one before that?
Who mourns the bombing of the number-two bus and the intifada when there were bombs blowing up Jews on busses, in restaurants and simply walking the street almost every day?
Who remembers the many rockets that were shot at Israel during the ceasefire that was in effect prior to Mivtza Tzuk Eitan? How many of us ever bothered to travel to Sderot during our visits to Eretz Yisroel to see for ourselves what it is like to live in a border town?
We are permitting Palestinian lies to gain credence. Yes, it’s true that the world hates us, but why should their media be permitted to present themselves as being balanced as they report on the murder by Israel of “innocent Arab children,” as if they were targeted?
Why are we silent when the secretary of state’s reaction to Israel’s ground invasion to battle terrorists was to admonish Prime Minister Netanyahu to do more to prevent civilian casualties? When he is caught expressing his true feelings in between parroting talking points designed to lull us into thinking the administration has changed its approach toward Israel, the matter is barely pursued. He takes off once again to the Mideast to pressure Israel into taking action that is contrary to its interests.
When you recognize the task facing Israel in battling terrorists who surround themselves, in a crowded urban setting, with women and children for protection, storing their weaponry in schools and holding their meetings in hospitals, the fact that more people have not been killed is a testament to Israel’s commitment to the protection of human life - even of their enemies.
When we hear of Hamas fighters in Gaza, we think of primitive Arabs on donkeys. We think of Gaza as a refugee camp, teeming with families living in temporary shelter. When they speak of subterranean passageways under the border, we think of the tunnels we tried to dig as children. In fact, Gaza is a built-up urban center, much more akin to a city than a Bedouin encampment. The dozens of tunnels present a serious threat to Israel. They are deep, high, wide and long, with electricity, light and air. As Hamas realized that Israel’s air superiority would doom them in a war and the Iron Dome basically neutralizes the rockets they use to terrorize the Israeli civilian population, they began to seriously expand their tunnel operations.
Financed by Qatar, the American ally, and home of the rabid propaganda media group Al-Jazeera, Hamas evolved into a serious military threat and is no longer simply a suicidal guerilla gang. After investing tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, they now have the ability to hold the vaunted Israeli army at bay, while popping out of the ground in Israeli villages to cause serious loss of life. Hashem yishmor.
Israel feels that it is winning the war, but even if that is true, they are losing the battle. The world focuses on photographs and, regrettably, Hamas has proved its proficiency in supplying them and crafting the story. Most people, and the media, do not focus on what is really transpiring; they simply glance at the optics and form quick opinions. While Netanyahu articulates Israel’s position quite well, he is basically the country’s entire PR operation. In a shallow, unfriendly world we cannot be faulted for expecting that Israel would be presenting its case more comprehensively.
While it is obvious that the war was caused by Hamas rockets falling on cities across Israel, world leaders unanimously call upon Israel to exercise restraint.
Restraint in what? In rooting out the terror force which threatens its very existence? Restraint in battling its Al Qaeida?
Hamas is quite adept at playing victim. Hashem has protected us, ensuring relatively few casualties, but that is not for a lack of attempt by Hamas, which has steadily increased its firepower and fighting ability. Under heavy fire, Hamas has managed to send rockets all across the country. The reports of Arab casualties are distributed by Hamas and gleefully accepted by all. They warn their fighters to dress as civilians and to refer to all casualties as “civilian.” Israel gets no credit for its yeoman’s efforts to prevent innocent deaths. After all, if they wanted to end the problem without regard to human life, they could easily bomb at will, as America recently did in Iraq and Afghanistan and has done in countries that had the temerity to bomb American targets. Japan learned that lesson after it bombed American ships in Pearl Harbor.
We ponder these facts and wonder why we are judged differently. Why does the world look at us with a jaundiced eye? How can everyone ignore the obvious? Why?
And then we remember that we are in golus in chodesh Tammuz, heading to Av. We think about all that has befallen our people during these months and we are shocked back to the reality of our existence.
Shivah Assar B’Tammuz is the dark day on which the Luchos were shattered, smashing our hopes and dreams. It is the fast day declared by Chazal to mark five serious blows our nation experienced. The five include the end of the korban tomid era, the posting of a tzeilem in the Heichal, and the burning of our Torah by Apostomos Harosha. However, the days of Tammuz and Av are dotted with many other tragedies as well.
During these months, the attacks on the Jews of Seville transpired, as did the pogrom against the Jews of Yashi, Romania. The pogrom in Kielce, Poland, where the last few surviving Jews returning home from the concentration camps were brutally attacked and murdered, also took place during this period.
Throughout the generations, wars began in these days. Our hearts and souls were attacked. The Gemara was burnt by haters and the whisper of sinas Yisroel heard throughout the year always seemed to get louder during these months.
So, really, this latest war and the accompanying chorus of condemnation and downright discrimination is nothing new for us.
In botei knesses around the world, when the reading of this week’s parsha is concluded, a resounding cry will rise, proclaiming, “Chazak, chazak, venischazeik - Be strong and may we all be strengthened.”
We read of the travels from one place to the next, we think about all that transpires in exile on the way to Eretz Yisroel, and our reaction is not one of dejection and gloom. Rather, we accept it with the understanding that these are all necessary passages on the path to redemption. We proclaim that our belief is strong, our resolution is unwavering, and we are tough, stubborn and persistent.
We encourage each other to be chazak. And as we tell each other to be strong, a unified roar of strength emanates from the congregation.
Some ten years ago, an Israeli soldier, Nachshon Wachsman Hy”d, was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. A country and nation united in faith and prayer, hoping for a miracle. Nachshon’s parents, Yehuda and Esther, were fountains of emunah. Jews everywhere hoped along with them. After six anxious days, he was murdered. There were inevitable questions.
Yehuda Wachsman addressed the media and famously commented, “If people wonder why our prayers didn’t merit a response, the answer is that we did get an answer. Sometimes a Father can answer, ‘No.’”
Months later, when Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l was asked to write a letter of support for Beit Nachshon, a center founded in memory of the soldier, he described his great appreciation for the Wachsmans.
“In the depth of their pain, these parents made a public pronouncement that Hakadosh Boruch Hu does indeed hear and heed the tefillos of the Bnei Yisroel, but a Father is also allowed to sometimes say, ‘No.’ This was a great, great Kiddush Hashem…”
It’s a decade later. The storyline hasn’t changed.
Our memories are fresh. We’ve seen a nation pray together as one. We’ve heard our Father’s “No” and we lowered our heads in submissive acceptance.
Last week, as Friday was turning into Shabbos and the neshomah yeseirah was joining millions of Israelis across the country, the sirens went off again, signaling that cities from Sderot to Bnei Brak were under attack. The yom menuchah would begin with a rush into the shelter instead of shul.
We know so little. We are in golus and the mitzvah of emunah envelops us, with opportunities to grasp faith everywhere.
In a shmuess to talmidim, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel commented on the recent eighteen days of prayer on behalf of the three boys kidnapped by Hamas. While it may appear that the prayers were rebuffed, the rosh yeshiva noted that the eighteen days of unity and prayer were followed by a war in which open miracles are being witnessed regularly across the Land.
Deadly missiles fall harmlessly. Stories abound of families vacating premises in the nick of time. A relatively new invention, the Iron Dome, acts as Hashem’s messenger, picking rockets out of the sky. Rav Elya Ber said that the eighteen days of intense prayer and growth created an account of zechuyos, creating Divine favor in advance of the sudden war.
During this tekufah of Tammuz and Av, we focus on - and long for - Yerushalayim. We wait to stand on the peak of Amanah and sing our song one last time.
Until then, we say together and aloud, “Chazak! Chazak! Be strong!”
Venischazeik. Indeed, we will be.