Let’s face it: this is not going to be an ordinary year.
We are praying very seriously this year because we are praying for our lives. Yes, I know: every year we pray for our lives. But how many feel it? This year, whether we want to or not, I think we are beginning to feel it.
Let’s examine the world picture. When you consider history, you can see that the events of the past several thousand years are leading toward a climax. This is even more obvious when you look at history from a biblical perspective. It makes perfect sense to consider world history from a biblical perspective because the Torah is written by the Author of history and the Creator of the world. So the Torah’s perspective is, by definition, accurate.
Let’s go to the very beginning of our national existence.
Avraham Avinu and Sarah are about to found the Nation of Israel. Sarah is unable to have children and so she temporarily gives over her conjugal rights to Hagar, whose son Yishmael is also Avraham’s son. Later, Sarah gives birth to Yitzchak, and Hashem says the famous words to Avraham, “Through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours” (Bereishis 21:12).
Right here the seeds are sown for dissension over who is the legitimate heir to Avraham. The Torah is very clear on this point, but those who don’t want to listen to the Torah have a vested interest in distorting its words. The dissension has lasted to this very day, with hatred on the part of Yishmael’s descendants undiminished in strength and viciousness. Yishmael raises his children in every generation not just to hate us but to make their lifework the attempt to redress the alleged wrong that was committed so many centuries ago.
“Sarah saw [Yishmael]…mocking [Yitzchak]” (Bereishis 21:9).
As I wrote in my book Worldstorm, citing Bereishis Rabbah 53:11,
Our sages tell us that “mocking” means violence and bloodshed. “Yishmael said to Yitzchak, ‘Let us go and see our portions in the field.’ Then Yishmael would take a bow and arrow and shoot them in Yitzchak’s direction, while pretending to be playing. Yishmael pretended to play, but his game was murder.”
In the following generation, a similar situation occurred, although this time the conflict arose not between half brothers but rather twins with diametrically opposite personalities. Eisav was born “ready-made” while Yaakov, on the contrary, would spend his entire life trying to perfect his personality. Their rivalry began, as we know, in the womb and reached a crescendo when “Eisav cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry” (Bereishis 27:34) at the moment he discovered that Yaakov had received their father’s blessing.
There is a fascinating insight into the hatred of Yishmael and Eisav. After Yitzchak blesses Yaakov, we find this pasuk: “So Eisav went to Yishmael and took Mahalath, the daughter of Yishmael son of Avraham…as a wife for himself” (Bereishis 28:9). Immediately after this, the Torah tells us that “Yaakov departed from Beer-Sheva” (Bereishis 28:10).
What does Eisav marrying Yishmael’s daughter have to do with Yaakov Avinu leaving Beer-Sheva? It seems that when our two primeval enemies team up, we are in very great danger. The origin of this is shown in the Chumash. When Eisav marries into the family of Yishmael, Yaakov Avinuleaves Israel! It is bad enough when we have to contend with Yishmael or Eisav separately; when they get together it is extremely difficult for us to deal with.
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And so it is in our times. Today the world is lining up against us, whether shells are flying from Gaza or bris milah is being attacked in Germany. When we try to defend ourselves against Arab terrorists, the descendants of Eisav spring to their defense. As we say in Tachanun, “Look from heaven and see that we have become an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we are regarded as sheep led to slaughter, to be killed and to be destroyed, for beating and for humiliating….” Yishmael and Eisav have linked hands against us. As the Prophet says, “Behold a day is coming for Hashem…. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem for the war…” (Zechariah 14:1; haftara for the First Day of Sukkos). So the age-old crusade against Am Yisrael is reaching a climax; Yishmael and Eisav have grasped hands. But do you think they love each other? Their friendship is only a temporary expedient. Before long their true nature will emerge.
I take the liberty of quoting from the amazing Malbim at the beginning of my book 2020 Vision: “In the end of days, after the Children of Israel have returned to their land, the children of Yishmael and the children of Eisav will unite to attack Yerushalayim. They will form a world coalition against the tiny nation of Israel” (Malbim on Yechezkel 32:17).
This is exactly what we have been discussing: Yishmael and Eisav are uniting to attack Yerushalayim. But look what the Malbim says now: “Something will go wrong with their plan. The religious beliefs of the children of Yishmael and the children of Eisav will clash, and the two nations will collide and destroy each other. This is what is referred to as the War of Gog and Magog. Following this cataclysmic conflict, the Final Redemption of the Jewish People will occur with the coming of Mashiach ben David.”
Here is Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, all alone, apparently unable to oppose the mighty coalition forming against us. But that coalition itself is about to explode. Look at the world right now. Does the “mighty” culture of Eisav look so imposing? Is the United States the unified, mighty power it once was? Is the economy vibrant? Is the moral fiber strong?
Consider a recent Associated Press news story: The owners of an orchard in Colorado decided to give away their peaches because the fruit was too small to sell commercially, so they “offered it free to those willing to pick it. The peaches were gone within days, but people kept coming, even though the [owners] posted signs saying the orchard was closed and trespassing was prohibited…. People still knocked on their door. One person threw rocks and others drove into the orchard, hitting a tree and breaking pipes. Some helped themselves to apples that hadn’t been offered, while others took from a neighbor’s orchard too.”
I don’t know about you, but to me this looks very much like a society on the verge of chaos, a society whose moral and social fabric is coming apart.
And look at Europe. Need I mention the problems?
Western culture, which aspired to mastery over nature and the creation of a technological paradise, now seems totally unable to control its own present and future. When you combine this with mushrooming fanaticism and chaos in the Muslim world, you get a very volatile brew, which seems on the point of combustion. When nations are in trouble, they frequently go to war in order to aim people’s frustration at an outside source. The Children of Israel are the world’s most popular target.
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This is the world we face on the Eve of Yom Kippur, a world of powerful enemies and explosive conflict, a world of violent hatreds and growing chaos. How are we supposed to deal with this boiling world situation? I write these words from the holy city of Yerushalayim, the place that, we are warned, the madman in Iran is targeting for his missiles of destruction, God forbid. I am thinking intensely about this subject because those missiles seem to be pointing right where I stand. Not that I think any place is safe in the world these days; I don’t. But we all know the eyes of the world are upon Israel because of the hatred of Yishmael and Eisav, the jealousy that has bubbled for thousands of years in the subterranean depths of the souls of these brothers and half-brothers and cousins, who scheme without end to wrench away from us the treasure that has been bequeathed to us by the Creator of the universe. How do we deal with this?
We have only one place to turn – to the words of Torah that have sustained us through every crisis since the days of Avraham Avinu. It is particularly amazing that the prophecies we read at this exact time of year are the prophecies that seem to deal with the exact situation we face in the world at this time.
Is there any other way to deal with this? I spent decades as a young man trying to escape from Torah, and no matter the direction I turned, I failed. There is no other Place. If we didn’t believe in the reality of Torah before, we must know that now there is nowhere else to turn.
How is it that the Prophets foretold the exact situation we are in at this very moment? Did they not write for us?
Did they not have, in their fathomless chesed when they wrote thousands of years ago, thoughts of this orphaned generation?
Did they not know that we would need their words to sustain ourselves as we face the final moments of our seemingly endless Galus?
“Behold, God’s awaited day is coming…. I shall gather all the nations to Jerusalem to wage war. The city will be conquered…. Then Hashem will go out and wage war against those nations as on the day He warred, the day of battle [which, our commentators say, refers to the day Hashem battled for us at the Red Sea]. On that day, His feet will stand astride the Mount of Olives…. On that day fresh water will flow from Yerushalayim…. on that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One…” (Zechariah 14:1 ff).
I would like to know how we are going to survive the coming days unless we believe the words of the Prophets “with all our heart and all our soul and all our resources.”
I would like to know how we are going to survive unless we take with absolute seriousness the words of Torah.
I would like to know how we are going to survive unless we realize that there is simply nothing but Torah.
“The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: fear God and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty” (the final pasuk of Koheles, which we read on Chol Hamoed Sukkos).
When the ground shakes and the sky lights up, what will sustain us?
“It shall be on that day, on the day that Gog comes on the soil of Israel, the words of my Lord Hashem Elokim, My raging anger shall flare up. For in My indignation and in My blazing wrath I have spoken. I take an oath that on that day a great earthquake shall come upon the soil of Israel.… And there shall quake before Me…every human being on the face of the earth. Mountains shall be overthrown, cliffs shall topple and every wall shall topple to the ground” (Yechezkel 38:18ff, haftarah for Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos).
No one other than Hashem knows exactly what these words mean, but surely world events are building up to a moment of unparalleled finality. It seems our Long Exile will not end without every person on the face of the earth knowing that an era is closing and a new one is beginning.
And that is our job on this Yom Kippur: to hang on to these words of prophecy and to know that, whatever our Father in Heaven does, He does for our good. If and when mountains are overthrown and walls topple to the ground, we will have absolutely nothing to hang on to but the words of Hashem and His Prophets.
But we have those words, and that is all we need.
“Hashem is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? Hashem is the strength of my life. Whom shall I dread? When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes…it is they who will stumble and fall. Even if there would encamp against me an army, my heart would not fear. Even if there would arise against me a war, in this I trust. One thing I asked of Hashem, that I shall seek. Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life to behold the delight of Hashem and to contemplate in His sanctuary. Indeed He will hide me in His sukkah on the day of evil. He will conceal me in the concealment of His tent…” (Psalm 27).
Why do we say this psalm at this season? Don’t you think our beloved King David knew his children would face a day exactly like this at exactly this time? Don’t you think he knew we would need emunah and bitachon to get through the challenges that lie ahead?
This is the beginning of a new year and possibly the beginning of a new era in the world. Our prayers and burning tears will ascend to heaven on the day Hashem will determine “who will live and who will die.”
If we pour out our hearts and beseech Avinu Malkeinu for mercy, then we can hope this will be the day we can truly say, “Let the year and its curses conclude. Let the year and its blessings begin.”
Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew and Spanish, with French, Russian and Portuguese editions in preparation. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul” (available in English, Hebrew and Russian) and “Worldstorm.”Roy S. Neuberger
About the Author: Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “Working Toward Moshiach,” is now available in Israel and the U. S. His book “2020 Vision” is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Russian, and Georgian. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul,” available in English, Hebrew, Russian, and Georgian, and “Worldstorm: Finding Meaning and Direction Amidst Today’s World Crisis.” Roy and his wife, Leah, speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.2020vision.co.il.
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