Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Answer Is In The Posuk

The Chofetz Chaim taught that disasters which take place in far away lands carry a message even for those of us who are not directly affected by them. We are meant to impress upon ourselves that Hakadosh Boruch Hu runs the world and that we should do teshuva. Certainly if the disasters are occurring daily in Eretz Yisroel, we must understand that Hashem is communicating to all of us.

In this week’s parsha of Eikev, the posuk (11-12) tells us that Hashem focuses unremittingly on Eretz Yisroel. What takes place there has implications and lessons for us as well.

While the media plays up the tragedy of all the Hezbollah sympathizers who have fled their homes to get out of the war zone, no mention is made of the million plus Jews in Israel who have also been driven from their homes—due to being deliberately targeted. Many have fled like refugees and seek shelter in the homes of compassionate baalei chesed in the lower part of the country.

Many others spend their days and nights in dingy, sweltering bomb shelters, with dwindling supplies of food, no privacy and no means of occupying or distracting the kids. Imagine enduring this situation day after day, week after week—and not losing your mind.

Knowing people are suffering so terribly, we should be all the more grateful for our own homes and neighborhoods and the blessings of living in safety. Thank Hashem that we have a comfortable place to rest our head at the end of a long hard day without fear of being bombed to death as we sleep. The room may need a painting, the bed may creak, the mattress may be old, but we do have plenty to be thankful for. Admit it.

We should also think about the tremendous amount of chesed taking place as people welcome whole families of strangers into their cramped apartments and treat them as they would brothers and sisters. Imagine how chesed of this magnitude stretches the budget of a typical Israeli family that is already struggling—and who in Israel, especially in b’nei Torah circles, is not struggling today?

As we tune in to the news reports, anxious about how Israel is faring in its fourth week of battling Hezbollah, other messages filter down to us.

It appears as if the myth of Israeli power will emerge seriously damaged by the time the fighting ends. It does not matter anymore who will win on the battlefield; Hezbollah has punctured the deterrent factor. Hezbollah chief Nasrallah has achieved an almost unprecedented status among the Arabs for facing down Israel. For them, bombing Israel for three weeks is victory, no matter how many Arabs died in the effort.

Perhaps it is premature to decide what went wrong on the Israeli side, but certain indications can’t be ignored. The army’s chief of staff told the prime minister that Israel could destroy Hezbollah with an air war exclusively. Obviously, he was very wrong. Israel’s vaunted intelligence is not all it is cracked up to be. For six years, they watched Hezbollah’s military stockpiling and did nothing. Perhaps they believed in their own invincible power. Maybe they believed that Arabs simply could not put together an effective fighting force.

Hezbollah has faced Israel before and won. Ehud Barak pulled Israeli forces out of the buffer zone in Lebanon due to the unrelenting terror battle waged against them by Hezbollah. At the time, Barak covered up the act of retreating under fire, insisting he was not handing the terrorists a victory. Israel simply decided that it was time to leave, he protested, fooling no one.

Ehud Olmert said after a few days of war that Hezbollah had been irreparably damaged and their fighting ability had been cut in half. He didn’t get it, and four weeks later he still doesn’t get it. The rockets continue raining in from Lebanon and Israel has been unable to stop or even slow them. Olmert also seems to not understand that to Israel’s enemies who are bent on her destruction, any act of withdrawal emboldens the enemy to demand further withdrawals.

Last Wednesday, he proudly boasted that as soon as all this is over, he will return to his unilateral plan to vacate large portions of the West Bank. He seemed oblivious to the uproar and divisiveness such comments would cause in Israel and the jubilation they would bring to Palestinians and their sympathizers.

He just doesn’t get it. But just like he is entrapped by his mindset, we are also captives to preconceived notions. Examining others and following the news should prompt us to turn the microscope inward and focus on ourselves and on our own behavior.

There are no atheists in foxholes, the saying goes. Wartime should force us to reflect on some fundamental truths, so that we can attain victory over the forces that weaken us spiritually.

For example, we seem to be unable to shake an inflated image of ourselves. Do we think the oft-quoted posuk in this week’s parsha about people who say “kochi veotzem yodi asah li as hachayil hazeh” refers only to the State of Israel or to other people—never to ourselves? We ought to remind ourselves that we must be thankful for everything that we have and realize that it is a Divine gift.

This week saw a big tumult about doctored photos which were sent out by a respected news organization to newspapers around the world. Media everywhere replicated the staged photos from Kana and many others, and used them to invent a massacre of innocent Lebanese civilians by Israel.

Thanks to observers outside the mainstream media, the subterfuge has been exposed and laid bare for people who are interested in the truth. The incident offers a profound lesson.

So often we seek to portray ourselves dishonestly and think we get away with it. We use makeup to cover our blemishes and offer the world a picture-perfect image. Isn’t it time to make an attempt to be less artificial, more sincere in our dialogue with ourselves and others?

How about our tendency to delude ourselves with wishful thinking?

Israel went into battle believing that the more they would bomb Lebanon, the more the Lebanese people would rise up against the murderous terrorists of Hezbollah. That hasn’t happened and it appears as if every bomb Israel drops on Lebanese targets brings more respect and adherents to Hezbollah.

As a terror group, it operates by using civilians as human shields, and hides its rocket batteries in residential areas. Hezbollah uses hospitals and mosques as bases of operation. The populace quietly acquiesced to this arrangement and is now paying the price. For six years the Shiites sat quietly by and let the arsenal grow in their backyards. Now they are paying the price.

Perhaps that ought to be an extreme reminder to us that when we see wrongs being perpetrated, we have a responsibility to do what we can to halt them. We can not sit by and say, “It is not my problem; let someone else worry about it.” Evil is evil and wrong is wrong and it is our duty to oppose it. Looking the other way is not the answer. We can not permit people who harm others to operate in impunity, certain that no one will have the guts to stop them.

We live in a time when we are under a microscope, when there are no secrets. We have to be cognizant of that and be especially careful in all we do to ensure that nothing we do will cause a Chillul Hashem. We have to go the extra mile to ensure that all we do is proper and not try to hide behind facades and improper excuses. When people speak falsehoods in our name, engage in flagrantly improper behavior, and commit destructive actions, we have to exhibit the courage to speak out publicly and make it clear that they do not represent us. Regardless of whether they happen to be powerful and influential, or hapless Neturai Karta kooks, our duty is the same.

This week’s parsha of Eikev is filled with lessons we can incorporate into our daily lives. It is summer and we have more time for learning. We should set aside time and go through the parsha slowly, analyzing and studying it posuk by posuk, inculcating into our moral fibers its many lessons.

Let us take the time to learn the parsha with Rashi and other meforshim so that we find out what G-d wants from us. Perek 10, posuk 12, asks the immortal question: “And now, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you? Only to fear Hashem, to follow in His ways and to love Him and to serve Hashem with all your heart and all your soul.”

The Gemorah in Berachos (32b) asks whether it is such a small thing to fear Hashem that the posuk singles it out as the only thing we have to do. The Gemorah answers that for Moshe Rabbeinu it was a small thing. But that doesn’t really answer the question. If it is no big feat for Moshe Rabbeinu to have the proper Yiras Shomayim, it is still quite difficult for us to do so.

The Vilna Gaon answers that if we attach ourselves to a great tzaddik, such as Moshe, then it would be much easier for us to have the proper Yiras Shomayim. In fact, in this week’s parsha (10:20) it states, “You shall fear Hashem your G-d; you shall worship Him and cling to him.” Also in this week’s parsha (11:22), it says again, “You should go in the path of Hashem and cling to him.” Chazal explain that the way to “cling” to Hashem is by becoming close to tzaddikim and talmidei chachomim.

The Vilna Gaon in Mishlei (28:12), writes that though there are few tzaddikim among us in this world, and often they are hidden, we are obligated to find them.

This is but one example of a practical thing we can do and to which learning the parsha will direct us. And even in this one posuk there are myriad explanations. Chazal also teach that a fulfillment of bo sidbuk and uleduvkah bo is to try to act the way Hashem acts. Just as He is merciful, we should be merciful; just as He is gracious, so should we be.

So this Shabbos, when you are sitting on the couch in your bungalow and your neighbor comes in to shmooze and asks what you think this is all about and what Hashem really wants, open the chumash and show him the posuk.

Tell him the poshuter p’shat and then also explain to him that it means to be kind and merciful, to stick with talmidei chachomim, learn from them, support them and marry your daughters to them. Don’t be embarrassed to tell him that we live in serious times and we have to make a cheshbon hanefesh. We have to look at our choices and our actions through the prism of the Torah, of Chazal and tzaddikim.

Maybe you can even get him to sit with you and learn the parsha that way. Though you may not solve the world’s problems, you will certainly attain a better understanding of what Hashem wants from you, him, and from all of Klal Yisroel in these critical days.

Thank you for your continued contributions to our campaign for our needy brethren in Tzefas (You can contribute by sending your donation to NNMC 53 Olympia Lane Monsey NY 10952).


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