That, then, has to become our focus.
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The surrounding culture lives with such an overpowering misconception not because it really believes that man has power, but for exactly the opposite reason: because it desperately seeks a rationale to rebel against Hashem, and if we claim to control the world, then we can tell ourselves that Hashem is not real. Yes, the world is running from Hashem. Only Am Yisrael calls out to recognize His Existence, and that is why the world hates us. We stand for Truth, and the world is trying to flee from Truth.
When Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen went before Pharaoh and demanded the release of Am Yisrael from slavery, they were able to do so only because they understood with complete clarity that an earthly ruler was nothing. How else would they have had the courage? Just imagine standing before Hitler, yimach shemo, and demanding that he free the Jews. No person would have had the courage to do such a thing, unless he understood with complete clarity that “everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.”
This is not theory; this is the actual working knowledge we need in order to do our job in the world. Our history would have been drastically different had our ancestors not embodied this understanding in their lives. Nachshon ben Aminadav could not have entered the Yam Suf without that understanding. Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen could not have killed Zimri and Cosbi without that understanding.
And we cannot meet the challenges of this incredibly dangerous world without that understanding. Yes, we are on a vastly lower madreigah than our illustrious ancestors, but Hashem does not present us with a challenge we cannot overcome.
* * * * *
So how should we view the events in Egypt, Syria and other countries surrounding Israel? How do we view the daily events challenging our very existence? How are we supposed to react?
How did Mordechai and Esther react to the dangerous events taking place in Shushan haBira? Was a descendant of Amalek not taking power, one “who sought to destroy, to slay and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women”? Esther said, “Fast for me: do not eat or drink for three days, night or day, and I with my maids will fast also…and if I perish, I perish.” The only answer was teshuvah.
Troubles come upon us because there is a deficiency in our behavior. As we say in the Shema prayer, “Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you… and you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which Hashem gives you.”
Do punishments not reflect deficiencies in our behavior? Amalek does not originate destruction; it is we who allow the threat to develop. Amalek’s power is a response to our deviation from Torah. As we say on Tisha B’Av (Kinah 14), “It was because of my guilt that…ruination was inscribed.”
There is a very clear way to determine the exact problem we need to solve. If we examine the behavior of the nations who threaten us, we will see the mirror image of our own deficiencies. In the words of Rabbi A. A. Mandelbaum, “The [behavior of] the nation that is afflicting us at a particular time is rooted in the very trait which we are lacking, and for which we are being punished” (Redemption Unfolding, page 17). Rabbi Mandelbaum goes on to say, quoting Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav Me’Eliyahu, that “our exile…parallels the type of transgressions to which Yisrael has fallen prey.” In other words, the characteristics of those who hate us are the mirror by which we can see our own faults.
The nations surrounding Israel today are descendants of Yishmael (not literally in the case of Egypt, though that country is certainly a key part of the Arab/Muslim axis). The Ramban describes Yishmael as “a man [like] a wild ass accustomed to the wilderness…searching for prey to tear apart…. His hand against everyone [means] he would first conquer all the nations, but after that…he would be defeated in the end” (Bereishis 16:12).