Friday, December 31, 2004


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

If ever we are in danger of forgetting that placing our trust in the saving power of a mortal man is a dangerous investment in fantasy—we can count on world events for a daily reminder. The posuk’s warning—al tivtichu b’nedivim—is driven home again and again as we scan the news.

Unfortunately we forget the truth. We sit and shmooze about the virtues of one leader over the other and how this or that elected official would be the true salvation for our situation. To set ourselves straight, it is helpful to recall some very recent history.

It was not that long ago that people in Israel went to vote for prime minister. They had enough of Shimon Peres, they had enough of Ehud Barak and their Labor party, and they even had enough of Binyomin Netanyahu. They weren’t taking any chances and en masse they voted for Ariel Sharon.

Sharon’s reputation as a hard liner was such that when he was first elected, political pundits predicted it would drive Israel’s neighbors to war against them once again. In an act of provocation prior to his first election, he went up to the Har Habayis to proclaim that Israel would never relinquish its claims to Yerushalayim.

His action was the spark that Arafat needed to start the bloody Palestinian intifada, an uprising of mayhem that lasted until his belated death.

People would like to think that now that Arafat has finally been removed from the stage, peace is just a matter of time. Democratic elections for the Palestinians are just around the corner. Nice old Mahmoud Abbas in his western-looking attire will be elected and a new day will dawn for the people of Israel and Palestine.

Meanwhile, President Bush has been re-elected, to the delight of many who feel safer knowing that the tough guy who declared all-out war on terror trounced the weak-kneed Democrat and his liberal friends.

My intention is not to mock the President and his men but rather to make a point about our tendency to lose sight of reality.

President George W. Bush is rearranging his cabinet to have it conform better to the way he wants to manage his second term and establish his legacy. Colin Powel had to go because he was not considered tough enough. Homeland Security Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft were tough enough but had become the lightening rod for too much criticism, and it was decided that it was best to start anew with other people.


All seemed to be following the script until Bush hit upon his pick for Homeland Security. At first, he was praised for his choice. Bernard Kerik seemed to be the dream candidate for the job. He was tough. He was a policeman’s policeman and Bush likes policemen.

Kerik wasn’t just any policeman, he was top cop in New York when 9/11 hit. He stood aside Mayor Giuliani at Ground Zero on that infamous day. He was a leader in the post-terror world that was created post-September 11. Americans worried about their safety could never find a better person to stand at the helm of Homeland Security and keep the bad guys at bay.

But lo and behold—Kerik has crashed and burned, and the acrid smoke of his dirty little secrets rises from the debris. Imagine, Kerik was a step away from taking charge of all matters related to keeping America safe from terror. The security of an entire nation was about to rest in the hands of someone sullied with scandal and utterly unworthy of the position.

Had his nomination gone through, Kerik would have pranced about on the national and international stage issuing proclamations on terror and security. People would have slept better at night knowing that no less a stalwart figure than Bernard Kerik was looking out for them.

Now it all sounds so ridiculous. That is indeed frightening. We almost put our faith in a fraud—a carefully packaged lie.

We can count scores of so-called leaders in whom we have entrusted our safety and security yet they all turned out to be shameless mockeries of their positions. But we have weak memories and skewed visions of the past. We still look up trustingly to leaders who spin out the appropriate rhetoric. We think that a tough-sounding president and his quick-witted and savvy defense secretary won’t let anyone get away with anything.

As believing Jews we have to know that there is more to the story.

The reason no one can reach us and do us harm is not because the local cop on the beat is a tough law-and-order guy. The reason the plane we are flying on doesn’t blow up is not because everyone aboard the aircraft had to remove their shoes for inspection before approaching the boarding gate.

Just recently, baggage screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport spotted — and then lost — a fake bomb planted in luggage by a supervisor during a training exercise.

A couple of days before that, despite an hours-long search, a bag containing a fake bomb complete with wires, a detonator and a clock, made it onto an Amsterdam-bound flight. It was recovered by airport security officials in Amsterdam when the flight landed.

If that isn’t enough to rattle you consider this: Screeners missed one in four fake explosives and weapons in secret weekly tests conducted throughout the summer by TSA agents. The removal of shoes, the beeps and bells, whistles and alarms did absolutely nothing to stop the bomb from leaving Newark and flying with passengers and a crew over the Atlantic and on to Amsterdam.

Bombs on planes are not our only concerns. Just a few weeks ago, upon announcing that he would be leaving the administration, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommie Thomson said that it is so easy to poison the nation’s food delivery system he does not know why no one has done it yet.

Well, where is the poison? Where are the bombs? Why do we still fly? Why do we still shop in the supermarkets?

As maaminim bnei maaminim, we have to realize that we live in very dangerous times and there is no one to rely on for protection from the dangers which lurk out there whose sole aim is our destruction.

And talking about poison, would the group of would-be Ukrainian assassins who put lethal dioxin poison in presidential candidate Yushchenko’s food ever have imagined that he would win the election? They surely intended to eliminate him permanently, but the One Above had different ideas. Certain people put their faith in the secret police and/or live in dreaded fear of them and their abilities to rid the world of people they consider threats to their masters.

We can lull ourselves into a false sense of security by putting our faith in Presidents, in Prime Ministers, in airport security supervisors and in Homeland security chiefs. You can be on an American Army base inside a tent with dozens of guards in front and in back of a mess hall, and still not be protected from suicide bombers intent on destroying as many Americans as possible.

The settlers and supporters of Yisroel Hashelaimah found out the hard way that Ariel Sharon is not their champion. He is merely a politician who originally rode the wave of settlements and settlers to power but now with the shifting wind, he is embracing the anti-settlement wave. His equally unprincipled friend Shimon Peres fights for a grander title before permitting his Labor party into the government.

It is a lot easier for us to go through life without thinking. It is a lot simpler to believe that we are safe because the State looks out for us and our interests. But the rude awakening we get from time to time reminds us to think about the reality of life and that it is folly to place one’s hope in “ben adam she’ain lo s’shuah!”

We must not lose sight of what the Ribbono Shel Olam can do “b’ruach Apav” with the slightest breath of His will.

On Sunday the whole world shook—literally. The world’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years hit in Southeast Asia. It triggered massive tidal waves and as of this writing, killed up to 60,000 people in several countries. Thousands more were injured and over a million were left homeless. It is alleged that the quake was so powerful it may have changed the earth’s rotation and shortened the day by three microseconds.

Italy’s National Geophysics Institute exclaimed that “the entire planet is vibrating” from the quake. Witnesses recounted that it was an act “of biblical proportions.” These quotes bring to mind the Chazal which teaches that the thunder was created to break our haughty spirit. If thunder is supposed to remind man of his puniness compared to the power of the Omnipotent, what should the deadliest earthquake in the last half century say to us?

Such occurrences must impress upon us how little control we have over the events of our lives. They remind us that what happens to countries is all Divinely ordained. We play a role through our actions. When we behave properly and follow the Torah and Mitzvos we are protected from both man-made evil and natural catastrophe.

Over the next few weeks we read the parshiyos that teach how our nation was forged through emunah in Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The parshiyos are packed with lessons of faith—reminders that we are not to tremble at the threats of evil leaders, nor glory in our own illusions of power.

We have to be as blind and deaf as Paroh not to heed the messages sent though the cataclysms of nature. Despite the plagues of blood, lice, frogs and pestilence, he had the arrogance to say, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?”

He exemplified the self-deluded tyrant who is so convinced of his power that he won’t budge until his own life is hanging by a thread.

When the Bnei Yisroel raised their voices in Tefilla, Hakadosh Boruch Hu decided that the time had come to release them from their bondage. He turned to Moshe, a man who was not blessed with oratorical gifts, and sent him to Paroh with the message to let the Bnei Yisroel go free.

For it is not the politician with the gifted tongue who secures a nation’s redemption, but the man who hears the voice of G-d. The man who can lead a people to true emancipation is the one who is Divinely inspired and stands at the helm of a nation that has earned G-d’s mercy.

But the lesson of emunah is so difficult to ingrain, it must be repeated again and again.

Even Moshe Rabeinu is taught a lesson when he asked the Ribbono Shel Olam, “Why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Paroh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.”

The Ribbono Shel Olam exhorts Moshe with the lessons of faith that we must learn from our experience in Mitzrayim. He tells him to learn from the Avos who realized that even when world events appeared to contradict everything they believed in, they held strong in their faith. Nothing, no event, no leader, no tsunami and no terror threat should shake our faith in Hashem’s total control.

As we learn the parshiyos of Golus and Geulah it is time for us to raise our voices in Tefillah instead of seeking false messiahs to protect us. Let us internalize the lesson that it is only the One above who determines our fate, and that in the Divine scheme, the destiny of nations hangs on the tefillos, tzedaka, limud haTorah and maasim tovim of the Jewish people. These alone ensure His mercy and protection.


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