They were lining up for gas masks in Israel.
Apparently, at the very time of year we are supposed to be full of simcha, Hashem wants us to be aware of the possibility of danger. Indeed, during the Yom Tov of Sukkos, we read cataclysmic haftaras dealing with the ultimate war, the Milchemes Gog Umagog. Where does that war take place? In the Holy Land, of course, where the eyes of the world are always focused.
Why are these events associated with Sukkos?
I spoke with two great rabbis about the threat of war. Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz discussed the devastating conflicts predicted for the end of history. Who can know whether he or she will live through these wars?
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl recently wrote the following: “We must internalize that [Hashem] runs the world. He decides what is happening today in the world, not Assad, not Obama, not Netanayahu…. Hashem determines. We emphasize this in the tefillah of Rosh Hashanah: ‘Regarding countries, it is said on this day which is destined for the sword, and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance….’ We need not fear any human being, for He is with us. When we do as we are supposed to then He will shower us with good things….”
Since Rosh Chodesh Elul we have been reading, twice a day, the words of King David (Psalm 27): “Hashem is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? Hashem is my life’s strength; whom shall I dread? When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army would besiege me, my heart would not fear; though war would arise against me, in this I trust.”
It seems illogical that wars are associated with Sukkos, the culmination of the entire Yom Tov cycle. This is “z’man simchaseinu…the time of our gladness,” when we sit in our sukkah enveloped in mitzvos, drinking in spirituality. The sukkah and the arba minim draw a circle of protection around us on every side. Why does the Torah associate this season with not just war, but the Ultimate War? Why, in general, is war associated with the end of history? Can Mashiach not come peacefully?
Of course he can – if we merit it.
* * * * *
Let’s look back on history. There is so much conflict. After Adam and Eve emerged from Gan Eden, when only four people existed in the entire world, one son killed his brother. Thus history began, and bloodshed has not abated in the intervening millennia.
There have been countless “peace movements” throughout history, but they have not altered the nature of life on this earth. World War One was called “the war to end all wars.” I need not tell you how woefully inaccurate that characterization turned out to be.
Am Yisrael says, “Achas shoalti…one thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek. Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of Hashem and to contemplate in His Sanctuary” (Psalm 27).
When are we going to see that “sweetness” and why are we having so much trouble getting there? Why is “z’man simchaseinu” associated with war?
Actually, it all makes so much sense.
Just picture it. The entire world is focused on Israel. What else concerns the world? There are countless hot spots, but everyone is on Israel’s case. There are countless instances of land being conquered in war but only Israel is being asked to give up its own – and biblically bequeathed – land to its enemies.
Maniacs abound, but why are they focused on Israel? Why was the dictator of the Third Reich, may his name be ground to dust, obsessed with Jews? Were there no other problems, no other peoples to hate? Why do the madmen and haters all agree on one target?
The nations of the world sense that the End is fast approaching. The prophets have told us that the civilizations that oppressed Israel for thousands of years – the nations that descend from Esau and the nations that descend from Ishmael – will disappear at the end of history, when Mashiach will rule and the Beis HaMikdash will cast its holy light over the entire world. The nations somehow know this time is close. They know the time of their rule is almost over and that the Age of Mashiach is about to begin.
They know, and are trying with their last burst of energy to stop it. As a man who is fighting for his life will muster superhuman strength to prevail over his opponent, so our enemies are using every ounce of strength they possess to try to put off the inevitable moment when their power will be stripped away. “Hear the word of Hashem, Oh nations, and relate it in distant islands, and say, ‘The One Who scattered Israel, He shall gather them in, and guard them as a shepherd does his flock” (haftarah, second day of Rosh Hashanah).
This scenario, of course, echoes the fate of biblical Mitzraim, which collapsed when confronted with the appearance of Moshe Rabbeinu, the Ten Plagues and the imminent revelation of the Torah on Har Sinai. Many great commentators, including the Chofetz Chaim, have told us that the Final Redemption will resemble the Redemption from Mitzraim, when all of Israel was saved from destruction.
“Gog and Magog add up to seventy [in gematria] which corresponds to the seventy nations. Gog will rule over seventy nations and all of them will join together against Israel…” (Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum, quoting the Arizal in Redemption Unfolding).
This scenario can also be understood from the battle of Yaakov Avinu with the malach of Esau (Genesis 32:23). At the “break of dawn,” the angel finally had to admit defeat. Yaakov was victorious, but not until the malach wounded him. Indeed, now at the end of our Exile, although “beaten and torn” (Selicha 42), we are close to victory.
I want to quote from a great rabbi of the present generation who speaks about precisely this scenario: “As the approach of Mashiach nears, the leaders of the world all sense some danger to their power. They are clueless, however, as to why, and don’t even realize the extent of the danger that their kingdoms will crumble entirely. In response to the threat they perceive and as a result of their apprehensiveness, the kings blame their neighbors or even wage war against their own people! That tension brings war to the world.
“The practical instruction that flows from all this is that if we see nations fighting each other, we should anticipate Mashiach…. The leaders of the world cannot rest or sleep and they feel pressured, all because of the impending malchus of Hashem. They take it out on each other and fight wars, but only because they can’t read the real message.”
Here is another statement on the subject (from Redemption Unfolding): “All the nations of the world will participate in the War of Gog and Magog…to fight against Hashem’s people, who will be led by the Mashiach….
“ ‘In every generation they rose up against us to destroy us’ (Haggadah). [But] in every [previous] generation Hashem always arranged that a few nations do not join those who are against us, so that those very nations can serve as a refuge for us in times of persecution. However, in this Final War…all of the nations of the world will simultaneously rise up against us. It will be clear to all that there is no possibility of our survival by any natural means.”
* * * * *
Not only do other nations panic because they feel an imminent threat to their power, but even Jews who are unwilling to acknowledge Hashem’s Kingship also panic and try desperately to marginalize or undermine Torah.
Before my wife and I became observant, I hated Torah and was embarrassed to be Jewish. I thought I could run away from the truth. In those distant days, my wife and I were walking down the streets of Rome when a stranger approached, and said, “landsman!” I was in shock. How did he know we were Jewish? (Come to think of it, how did I know what “landsman” meant?)
When my wife and I first got married (eleven years before our frum wedding), I refused to have a rabbi officiate. But my wife’s grandfather gave me an ultimatum: “A rabbi must officiate!” So we searched for the most liberal Reform rabbi we could find, and I added a condition: “No Hebrew in the ceremony!” Insane, no? What is a Hebrew word going to do to me? Will I break out in boils? But that’s how much I hated being Jewish.
The same phenomenon can be observed today among some of our brethren who are trying to stamp out every vestige of Torah from themselves and from the rest of the world. They can’t stand it.
Why? Because they know they are not living according to the truth that is in their own hearts. They want to dig so deep in the sand that not only their head but their entire body is buried. We’ve all heard the objections: “No ‘Higher Being’ is going to tell me how to live my life!” “Are you telling me I can’t go to the movies on Saturday?” “I can’t give up shrimp!” “Religion just divides people.” “I believe in science, not a bunch of supernatural tales.”
That’s how I felt too, before I broke down and admitted the truth that was in my heart.
The hair-trigger hatred of God and Torah stems from an overwhelming knowledge of how wrong they are. They are running from the truth as fast as their legs can carry them, but they can never run away from God. In the meantime, they are bringing about punishment for themselves and suffering for their brothers and sisters. And so the nations of the world imitate us, attacking us and trying to deny that we represent God’s Truth.
* * * * *
In a few weeks we will read Hashem’s words to Avraham Avinu, “I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse, and the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you” (Genesis 12:3). Jews who observe the Torah are the means by which the world survives. They are the ones who are bringing us all back from Exile, ushering the Shechinah and Beis HaMikdash to the Temple Mount and Mashiach ben Dovid to his throne. They are the ones bringing peace to the world and, in fact, to the very nations fighting Israel.
Thus Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky says, “Avreichem should continue their limud Torah and not concern themselves with the ongoing events.” Why? Because this is what paves the way for personal survival, national survival, and world survival.
We have endured now almost two thousand years of Exile, not just ceaseless wandering and torture but a determined attempt on the part of our enemies to wipe out every remnant of our people and even the memory of our existence.
But we are nearing the end.
Today’s anti-Israel and anti-Torah madness clearly demonstrate the closeness of the Geulah Sheleimah. “If you see a generation upon which numerous troubles come like a river, expect [Mashiach]” (Sanhedrin 98a).
Our daughter Yaffa related a beautiful drasha concerning the pasuk “When Hashem returned the captivity of Zion, we were like dreamers” (Psalm 126). We all have dreams. But often the reality doesn’t turn out like the dream. We dream about a beautiful vacation but sometimes our plans get rained on. We dream about a beautiful marriage but it doesn’t always work out that way. Our dreams often end up going awry.
But when Hashem returns us to Zion, the reality will be exactly like the dream. It will be a perfect world, a world of peace and justice, a world of brotherhood and friendship, a world in which Torah will rule and we will be free to immerse ourselves in the holy existence that is our heritage, free to disseminate the knowledge of God throughout the world.
“Those who tearfully sow will reap in glad song. He who … walks along weeping … will return in exultation” (ibid.).
For millennia we have sown with tears. Soon Hashem will wipe those tears away.
Every year, we weave a shield of berachah, of blessing, around us with the arba minim. Every year, we sit in the sukkah completely ensconced in ruchnius, spirituality. This year, let us anticipate the imminent arrival of the day that will be completely “z’man simchaseinu…the day of our gladness, a holy convocation,” when the entire world will acknowledge that “Hashem is One and His Name One.”
About the Author: Roy Neuberger's latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim) is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Russian, and Georgian. An e-edition is available at www.feldheim.com. Roy is also the author of "From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul” (available in English, Hebrew and Russian, and Georgian) and “Worldstorm.” Roy and Leah Neuberger speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at email@example.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.
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