Difficult times are upon
us. Yet another war in Israel in the seemingly endless cycle of violence
that continues to plague that region.
Beyond the innocent blood
spilled, tragic loss of life and shattered families – perhaps our greatest
collective challenge is: Fear and resignation. What will be? Can we overcome
this latest attack? And even when we do, what will happen next in this volatile
However, we must always
remember that we have been here before. Many times. And we have not only survived
As sad as this period
may be – we are now in the nine most distressing days of the year, mourning
over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy
Temples – these days also carry within its folds the secret to the
greatest success story in history: The mysterious eternity of the Jewish people.
Despite all odds – millennia of relentless persecutions, genocides, expulsions,
which have elicited many dire predictions of the ultimate demise of the Jew
– we are still here!
What lessons can we learn
from this time period about strength, faith and dedication to a cause even
when all seems dark?
THE BOILING POT IN THE NORTH
-- Samach-Vav Part 18 --
What do you see? I replied: ‘I see
a boiling pot facing from the north.’ Then G-d said to me: ‘Evil will come
from the north upon all the inhabitants from the land… Do not be dismayed
by them, lest I dismay you before them. For, behold I have made you today
a fortified city, and iron pillar and bronze walls…They will fight against
you, but they will not prevail, for I am with you to deliver you.’
Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem: Thus says G-d: ‘I remember the devotedness
of your youth...how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land that was
not sown. Israel is holy to G-d, the first fruits of His
yield. All that devour him will be held guilty; evil will come upon them,’
(Jeremiah 1:13-2:3 – from the first haftorah of the Three
The secret of life – as
experienced in these sad Nine Days – is contained in a cryptic verse in the
And I looked, and behold,
a hand was put forth toward me; and behold, a roll of a book therein. And
he spread it out before me; and it was written within and without (on the
front and on the back); in it were written lamentations, mourning and woe
– the classic series of mystical Chassidic discourses delivered a centennial
ago – offers an in-depth explanation in Ezekiel’s “front/back” vision.
Ezekiel was shown the
scroll of life – a scroll that consists of a front and back, which chronicles
the story of every life.
Every life – individual
and collective – experiences two stages, which in truth are just two sides
of one document: The front and the back; a stage within and a stage without.
We have times of closeness,
love and intimacy (the “front”). But then we also have our moments of distance,
detachment and dissonance (the “back”). We dance and celebrate our joys. But
then we also mourn and grieve our losses. We feel in touch with our inside
– we live within. But then there are times too often when we live “without”
– and feel out of touch with our inner selves.
and elaborate discussion about the “front” and the “back” of life begins in
the discourse of the Shabbat before Shavuot and spans over 10 discourses all
the way to the Three Weeks.
What happened during this
period in history? Moses ascends Sinai on Shavuot to receive the Torah – the
highest point of Divine revelation (the ultimate “frontal” experience). He
returns 40 days later – on the 17th of Tammuz - only to witness
the Golden Calf built by the Jewish people. Moses subsequently shatters the
tablets, and that day marks the beginning of the descent into the “back” of
the scroll, the low point.
Mirroring this chronology,
Samach-Vav first discusses the “face” – the revelatory experiences of life,
when we feel in touch and connected with the Divine. In mystical terms this
refers to the souls of Atzilut, the level of the child, who has intimate access
to the “innermost chambers and secrets of his fathers’ home.” Like a “child”
who is a biological extension of his father, the souls of Atzilut are a reflection
and revelation of higher spiritual levels (as opposed to the servant, who
refers to the souls of Biy”a, detached from the Divine).
As we approach the darker
days of the Three Weeks, Samach-Vav moves from the “front-end” to the “back-end”
addressing the second dimension of life, when things seem bleak.
But even in the distance,
when the Divine is hidden – and it seems as G-d has forsaken and forgotten
us – we have the power to connect, and access hope and love. Invoking the
verse (from the first haftorah of the Three Weeks) “I remember the devotedness
of your youth...how you followed Me in the wilderness” Samach-Vav explains
that the dark journey through the wilderness of life is like a father who
hides from his child in order to evoke the child’s ingenuity to find the hidden
The foolish child misunderstands
the concealment and gets consumed with self-pity, fear and tears, which then
turns into resignation and denial, finally wandering off into a life thinking
that the father has disappeared forever (or never existed in the first place).
The wise child, however, is not disturbed or deceived by the concealment,
but recognizes that it is a challenge – the ultimate test of life. Thus, the
child exerts himself to find the father within the concealed layers of material
life. This extra, often super-human, devotion (“how you followed Me in the
wilderness”) in turn elicits an infinitely deeper expression of love and kisses
between father and child, precisely because it comes after utter concealment
and the hard work of discovering your hidden father. Samach-Vav explains that
this is the profound love and energy generated by our struggle in exile, when
the Divine is utterly concealed – a love that will be revealed in the final
Redemption when the “back” will be transformed to an even more powerful “front.”
As opposed to the child
who sees and feels his father’s presence (“face”), when the father is concealed
our works consists of being like a servant, who does not experience revelation
and nevertheless overcomes the distance of the “wilderness” through complete
devotion and dedication forging ahead in serving his purpose.
And now, as we stand at
the lowest point of Divine revelation, in the Nine Days, the week of Tisha
B’Av, the saddest day of the calendar – the day when the scouts returned with
their terrifying report about Israel and their perceived inability to conquer
the land, the day when both Temples were destroyed – Samach-Vav consoles us
that in its own strange way, our efforts and dedication in difficult times,
when we have no feelings and no inspiration, touches the deepest place of
all – the Ultimate Essence.
The path of the simple
servant is the most profound path of all.
Therein lies the ultimate
secret behind Jewish survival: G-d remembering their devotion – their complete
and absolute faith in G-d, following Him even “in the wilderness” of desolation
So now, when “evil will
come from the north upon all the inhabitants from the land” (from the abovementioned
haftorah of the first of the Three Weeks, corresponding to the beginning of
the current war to the north of Israel) – through a rain of terror and missiles
– G-d declares:
“Do not be dismayed
by them… They will fight against you, but they will not prevail, for I am
with you to deliver you.”
Hard to ignore the similarity
to the Midrash: The King of Persia
will bring destruction to the entire world, and all the nations will be outraged
and confused… and Jews will be outraged and confused, and they will say: where
shall we come and go, where shall we come and go? G-d will answer them: My
children, do not be afraid. Everything I have done, I have done for you. Why
are you afraid? Do not fear, the time of your Redemption has arrived… (Yalkut
Shemoni, Isaiah remez 499)
The most critical element
in any battle – beyond resources, strategy and tactics – is feeling a profound
sense of mission and confidence. Nothing is more crucial for success. You
can have the strongest army, the most advanced technology, state of the art
weaponry, but if you don’t believe that you are fighting for a just cause
you will not have the fortitude to fight and see it through.
Viet Nam is a case in point. The mighty American
war machine – the most powerful in all of history – did not have the stomach
to continue fighting against the inferior Viet Cong who fought with passion.
The US army lost (or never had)
its morale, never understood the purpose of the war and therefore never believed
that it can win.
The ultimate power of
the Israeli Defense Forces is its just cause: Defending the right of the Jewish
people to live in the land promised to them by G-d.
Our power is derived from
the unwavering belief in justice and truth – despite the mouthing-offs of
pundits, diplomats and politicians spending our endless time and money.
And even when things seem
dark and empty, and it’s hard to find anyone speaking any sense – we forge
ahead in the “wilderness” with deep devotion and the absolute faith, even
when we can’t see it, that G-d is watching and… remembering.
We have been doing it
for 1938 years. It’s about time for a change.
Much to think about, and even more to act upon, as we reflect on the young
soldiers fighting at the front in the North.
* * *
Question of the week: Is Hizballah’s
war of terrorism only against Israel or against the entire
free world? If the latter is true, why are the nations of
the free world not joining this war?
a question for future weeks.