Friday, August 04, 2006

Serious Times, Serious Vision

Shallowness and complacency are dangerous for the human spirit even in peacetime, but in times of combat they are even more perilous. No matter where we are and what we are engaged in, we must be wary of allowing superficial considerations to guide us.

Not that we shouldn’t be lighthearted or enjoy ourselves, or that everything we do must be analyzed to death. But given the precarious times we live in, our responses ought to reflect more discernment and intelligent assessment.

Let me give some examples:

Last week saw a lot of commotion over a Latin book of Psalms found by a bog farmer in Ireland. The one thousand year-old manuscript was said to be lying in the dirt the farmer excavated, with no explanation of how it managed to survive so long. What astounded people was that it was reported to be found open to Chapter 83.

People saw this sign as some sort of message from on high - though precisely what the message was escapes me.

I marveled at the inanity of it. Are we so lost that we grasp at such flimsy straws for support? Are we so lacking in spiritual leadership that we seek out a wire story about a translated sefer Tehillim being found on a farm open to a certain kapitel as a Divine sign? What is becoming of us?

The truth is that we are not leaderless or lost. We are blessed with an untold number of tzaddikim and talmidei chachomim who can inspire us, lead us and provide us with Torah inspiration. We just don’t seek them out, or we choose to ignore what they tell us.

There are so many seforim available to us in a variety of languages and levels of profundity that can guide us in these turbulent times, but many of us choose to read other material. No wonder we are so lost.

A yeshiva in Chaifa was unsure of whether to relocate as the city came under attack in the current war. They turned to Rav Aron Leib Shteinman for guidance. He responded by writing them a letter assuring them that anyone who stays in the yeshiva and learns will not be harmed, even as rockets continue falling in Chaifa.

What an inspiring example of leadership in a time of crisis! Here is someone with the courage to give advice and the certainty that future events will confirm the wisdom of that advice. And people claim that we lack responsible Torah leadership?

We live in such frightening times. There is a war going on. Iran may have a nuclear weapon aimed at us. Al Qaeda can strike at any time. We have to be more serious about what is going on around us.

If all we can focus on is shallow trivia, then, of course, we end up feeling lost and adrift.

We have to resist shallow thinking and living. We have to fight the complacency that drugs us into coasting along peacefully as our brethren in Eretz Yisroel are fighting for their very survival. As we worry about animal crackers, a proxy war is being fought which, if lost, may lead to future wars and calamities, not just for Eretz Yisroel, but also for America and the entire western civilization. All the warning signs have been posted, all the alarms have gone off, yet we fail to absorb their implications.

The Yeitzer Hara clouds our psyche and causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without cogent perspective, one can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing his entire mission. Additionally, losing focus is the undoing of every important project and vision. When one makes the trivial important, the important becomes trivial.

An example culled from today’s headlines that illustrates how being out of sync with the messages can lead to defeat, is the electoral battle being waged by Senator Joseph Lieberman from Connecticut. Not that long ago, he was a hero of the Democratic Party.

Yet today he is fighting for his political survival. He failed to recognize the power inherent in modern media. Today, those who are adept at modern methods of communications shape public opinion. People who regard themselves as invincible can be easily toppled if they ignore the power of those equipped to win the public relations war. To his great disadvantage, Lieberman did not recognize the new power centers and minimized their ability to do him in.

Joe Lieberman, who ran a national electoral campaign against President Bush, is now viewed by many of Connecticut’s Democrats as a Bush puppet, thanks to an image cultivated by a spoiled rich guy who may soon topple the former Democratic icon.

His opponent, Ted Lamont, initially had only the support of some leftwing bloggers, but has come so far that this week the New York Times endorsed him for the Senate. This is despite the fact that he has never accomplished anything in the political arena and has no real platform.

We live in age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win and those who don’t get it lose. The warnings from his opponent’s supporters were ignored by Lieberman, who thought that he could easily defeat them, but times change and those who don’t keep abreast of the sifting sands, are doomed.

Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations will topple without a vision and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes skewed.

Similarly, our brothers in the Israeli army now find themselves somewhere they have never been before. They have always denigrated their Arab enemies and proudly patted themselves on the back as being intellectually and militarily superior in the series of wars with their enemies.

Going back to the war of liberation in 1948, though the lone sheep was surrounded by a pack of wolves, with all the odds stacked against survival, Israel has successfully beaten back enemy armies and emerged triumphant. Religious people recognized the hand of G-d in each of Israel’s victories; countless soldiers had miraculous tales to retell when they returned home. The Six Day War of 1967 had such an obviously miraculous outcome that it spawned a teshuva revolution whose repercussions are still felt today.

But many military planners chose to close their eyes to the obvious and now face a new reality. Once again, their delusions about their omnipotence have been shattered. It has been shown for all who care to notice that without Divine assistance Israel cannot win.

Israel’s intelligence seriously misjudged Nassralah and his Hezbollah fighters. The Israeli air force pounded Lebanese targets with awesome force and yet the number of rockets slamming into Israeli population centers spiraled daily.

Hezbollah cannot be as easily defeated as the planners thought. It appears as if air power will not be enough to do the job, yet the government does not approve army plans to go in and really fight them the way you have to when you don’t have obvious Divine assistance.

Early on, Israel claimed to have destroyed fifty percent of Hezbollah’s firepower, something which has been shown to be untrue.

Last week, they claimed to have captured a major Hezbollah town, but the next day 9 soldiers were killed there and by the end of the week, the Israelis pulled out of the town.

The world ignored Hezbollah’s build-up over the past two decades. A ruthless, cruel group of murderers with no regard for human life is defended by spokesmen of civilized countries who play into the hands of these barbarians. Armed to the hilt by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah maintained a well-trained, well-oiled fighting machine way above anything Israel thought it was capable of building.

Hezbollah has proven very adept at creating a war of pictures which capture international support. Through cynical use of women and children as human shields, they taunt the IDF to hit civilian targets, presenting Israel with a losing proposition. The army cannot undertake the necessary military moves because the resulting pictures of carnage flashed all over the world will incite world opinion against them.

Finally, on Sunday, Israel was forced to do what Ehud Olmert swore that very same morning he wouldn’t do. He called for an aerial cease-fire in response to the bombing of a residential home in Kana.

We dare not delude ourselves into thinking that this is just another war, with only the north of Eretz Yisroel being targeted. We may actually be witnessing the beginnings of a World War. The world cares little that Hezbollah is a front for Iran in this proxy war. No one is interested in hearing that Israel is carrying out its obligation to defend its citizens from wanton acts of terror.

As the world condemns Israel for its “disproportionate” and “excessive” response, it cares not a wit that Israel was attacked by a group bent on destroying the free world. The civilized world seems to be in total denial about Iran’s plans for Islamic world dominance as are Jews who demonstrate together with enemies of Israel, especially at times like these. They are guilty of much more than callous disregard of innocent Jewish life. Those individuals should be severely castigated and expunged.

In Africa, millions of all ages are massacred as the world sits by and does absolutely nothing. Yet when Israel fights acknowledged forces of evil, everyone rises up in righteous indignation.

We must daven that Hashem continues to bless President Bush and his assistants so that they can continue to alert the nations of the world to the dangers we face.

As much as we would like to ignore the deadliness of these dangers, we have to realize that we live at a pivotal time in history and our actions can have lasting impact. We have to recognize that problems that aren’t taken care of when they are small, fester and grow, turning more threatening with time. We have to understand that no part of Olam Hazeh is constant; everything is subject to steady change.

Most of all, we have to remember that without siyata diShmaya, we will not be successful. We have to do everything in our power to secure Divine merit.

Focus on what counts. Study more Torah; engage in more acts of tzedaka and chesed. Assist those who need our help and to pay attention to issues which are really important. Tough times demand that we act tenderly. Remember that the book of Tehillim is as relevant today as it was when Dovid Hamelech wrote it over 2,800 years ago. Cling to it; don’t just say its words, but comprehend them and let them sink into your soul. When we say Kinnos and pine for the days of the Bais Hamikdosh, let us understand what we are saying as we mourn for what we lost and pray for its return.

Superficiality and small-mindedness breed sinas chinam which caused the churban. Myopically focusing on our own interests without seeing the big picture can be catastrophic. The story of Kamtza, who was more concerned with his own petty grievances than about what he was doing to another Jew, is a classic illustration of this failing. Too often we get locked into a negative mindset and ignore the feelings and interests of others. By fighting this tendency, we can bring about the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Last week was Shabbos Chazon and this week is Shabbos Nachamu. That’s the recurring cycle of our existence. We never sink into yiush, despair. We never give up hope. We know G-d is all merciful and that everything that happens is part of His master plan. History has shown that pain and tragedy often give birth to nechamos.

May we merit to see sustained peace and the fulfillment of the comforting words of Yeshayahu speedily in our days.

• • •

On behalf of the grateful recipients of your generosity, I thank all who have contributed to our emergency fund on behalf of the beleaguered Jews of Tzefas. Your kind response has been most gratifying. If you are interested in contributing and have not yet done so, please see the advertisement in this week's Yated on page 49.


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