“Israel has bad public relations.”
This is the perennial cry. “Israel must improve its image to convince the world of the justness of its cause.”
As I write, a cease-fire is holding around Gaza, but let’s consider the whole story. In the past few weeks, hundreds of rockets rained down on millions of Israelis. I was there. My wife and I heard the sirens in Yerushalayim. We entered the shelter and waited for the explosions. Lives of millions in Israel became torture and a nightmare.
Israel reacted with surgical strikes against known terrorist leaders. The air force dropped thousands of leaflets and even took over Arab television, warning Gazans to keep away from military sites that, as we know, are planted intentionally in the middle of heavily populated civilian areas. Israel also mounted an expensive, brilliant defensive system called Iron Dome that knocked out hundreds of incoming missiles.
What was the result?
Granted, Israel received support from some Western governments. At the same time, the secular media lamented the pathos of the “tragic deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza.” In midtown Manhattan, a man with a yarmulke was called “dirty Jew” as he walked past an anti-Israel demonstration.
It is a very old story. Consider (Rashi on Bereishis 21:9 and Bereishis Rabbah 53:11 with ArtScroll commentary):
“Sarah saw [Yishmael], the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, mocking,” on which Rashi says, “[mocking] connotes…murder…. [Yishmael is associated with murder] because he would contend with Yitzchak over the inheritance and say, ‘I am [my father’s] firstborn son, and [am entitled to] take a double share [of the inheritance].’ They would go out into the field, and [Yishmael] would take his bow and shoot arrows at [Yitzchak]…like one who tires himself shooting fireballs and says ‘Am I not merely jesting….’ ”
Yishmael is still playing the game some 3,700 years later, sending “fireballs” and “arrows” at Yitzchak, this time from Gaza, and the game is still murder. Rocks and firebombs are also thrown at drivers near other Arab areas. Deadly missiles fall like poison rain. And those who shoot these fireballs and throw these rocks are termed “innocent civilians.”
“Why,” they ask, “is Israel massing war equipment on the border of Gaza? Why is Yitzchak so upset? Are we not brothers? Yitzchak always overreacts to our little games. Why is he so sensitive?”
And the world sheds tears for the “innocent civilians” in Gaza who are being subjected to such “suffering.”
* * * * *
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, legendary mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, stated (as quoted in the book Redemption Unfolding): “In the final war before the coming of Mashiach, all the Jews who fear Hashem will survive. Hashem will say to them: ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture, you are Mine….’ ”
It is easy to be carried along by the powerful societal currents that have enveloped us since the beginning of our Exile almost two thousand years ago. I too am a victim of this weakness. I too worry about what “world opinion” says about Israel. It is in fact difficult to imagine how Israel would survive without support from the rest of the world. We tell ourselves, “We need all the friends we can get.”
But are we correct?
No, we most certainly are not.
“Return, O Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled through your iniquity. Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive every sin and accept goodness and let our lips substitute for bulls. Assyria cannot help us; we will not ride the horse nor will we ever again call our handiwork our god. Only in You will the orphan find compassion’ ” (Hoshea 14:2-4; haftara Parshas Vayeitzei). Or hear the words of King David: “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man. It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles…” (Tehillim 118) We lean on a broken reed when we rely on the other nations, even when billions of people are on the “other side.”
Avraham Avinu’s name comes from the word “ivri” because he stood on one “eiver,” one bank of the river, with the entire rest of the world on the other side. This has characterized his children to this day. We are a nation apart – “a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).
The secret of our existence is that we are separated from all other nations. This essential characteristic of the Jewish people was derived from our earliest progenitor, Avraham. Those who become attached to the culture and lifestyle of other nations, God forbid, lose the unique characteristic that distinguishes the Jews from all other nations.
As David HaMelech put it, “Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear; they have a nose but cannot smell. Their hand: they cannot feel; their feet: they cannot walk; they cannot utter a sound from their throat. Those who make them should become like them; whoever trusts in them” (Tehillim 115).
We learn this unique quality of Avraham from the pasuk “and the fugitive came and told Avram, the Ivri, who dwelt in the Plains of Mamre…” (Bereishis 14:13). Rashi explains that “the Ivri” means Avram “came from across the river.” ArtScroll comments, based on Bereishis Rabbah 42:8, “Avram has been mentioned several times above, but it is only here that he is called ‘the Ivri,’ because it explains how he had the courage to attack a mighty army. It is because ‘he came from across the river,’ he had demonstrated his faith in God’s promise to him by abandoning his birthplace and going to an unknown land. It was upon this faith in God that he relied when he went to rescue Lot….
“Although he and Sarah cultivated many disciples, they were essentially alone; they would never blend into – or compromise with – the surrounding culture. Abraham was on one side of a moral and spiritual divide and the rest of the world was on the other…. Every Jew…must have within himself the ability to be an ‘ivri,’ to stand alone. God does not need multitudes; He needs those who are ready to remain loyal to His principles and precepts. Even if there is only one couple ready to do so, as in the time of Avraham, that is enough.”
* * * * *
Magen Avraham, the shield of Avraham, protects his children. What is Magen Avraham? Hashem Himself is Avraham’s shield. Do we not say, many times every day, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Avraham”? As long as we look elsewhere for support and protection, we are saying in effect that we are not relying on Magen Avraham. But that is how we begin every Shemoneh Esrei, with the berachah “Magen Avraham.”
Does it matter what the world thinks? Our fate is not influenced one iota by public opinion or news coverage on CNN or the BBC or anywhere else. Do these media have power over us?
Avraham Avinu asked his Father in Heaven for guidance on every move, and he followed the direction from Above to the exclusion of all other influences. That is how he became who he was and that is how we, his children, have survived. “Some [rely on] chariots and some [on] horses, but we call out in the Name of Hashem, our God. They slumped and fell, but we arose and were invigorated” (Tehillim 20).
Yes, we have some friends in the world, but that is not the point. We cannot rely on these friends – not because they are not real, but because of the principle on which the Nation of Israel was founded, which is complete reliance on the Master of the World.
Even our non-Jewish friends, if they are sincere, want us to rely on Hashem and not on them. That is why they respect us. As Moshe Rabbeinu says, “See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances…. You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation’ ” (Devarim 4:6).
Our honor and dignity in the world arises not because we belong to a country club or university that previously did not admit Jews, but because we are servants of God.
* * * * *
And so we come to Chanukah, which occurs in the darkest season of the year and commemorates the intense emunah and bitachon of a tiny band of kohanim who defied all rules of statistical probability, prudence and world opinion. These kohanim trained themselves to become totally oblivious to the “logic” by which the rest of the world conducts its existence.
During the recent bombing of Israel and only a few weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeastern United States, I was davening at a very respected shul in an area that had been devastated by the storm. A boy just over bar mitzvah was texting on his cell phone between Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. At the risk of breaching halacha – but I felt it was a matter of pikuach nefesh – I walked over and asked him whether he thinks Hashem is real. He put the phone in his pocket, but I don’t know if he absorbed my words.
We had better be trembling right about now. We stand at the threshold of a new world. Civilizations that are now strong may well become as dust and powder, and a tiny, beleaguered, ridiculed and surrounded nation may become the pillar of God in the very near future.
If we want to survive the coming cataclysmic events, we would do well to remember the epic words of Rabbi Levenstein cited above: “In the final war before the coming of Mashiach, all the Jews who fear Hashem will survive.” The implication is that only the Jews who fear Hashem will survive. As noted, Rabbi Levenstein amplified this with the words, “Hashem will say to them: ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture, you are Mine….’ ”
The silly grin I got from that kid when I spoke to him about his cell phone may well be replaced by terror on all our parts as we realize the only thing that will save us in the coming days is yiras shamayim – fear of heaven.
You can theorize about a lot of things, but there is nothing abstract about a wall of water coming at your house or a missile exploding in front of your eyes. And who says this is the end?
Yiras shamayim must be worked on and worked on and worked on…and then worked on some more.
Let’s remember the Chashmonayim.
“You [Hashem] delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hand of the diligent students of Your Torah” (Al Hanissim, Chanukah).
And so it is today. Our fate is decided not by the results of public opinion polls, television broadcasts or newspaper columns. Our fate is decided – lehavdil – by the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak and the God of Yaakov. He rewards righteous behavior and supports those who trust in Him.
“Do not rely on nobles, nor on a human being, for he holds no salvation” (Tehillim 146).
The Torah is the One Place to look for confirmation of the correctness of our actions. “I raise my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come? My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to falter; your Guardian will not slumber. Behold: The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Tehillim 121).
May we soon see the Geulah Sheleimah with the coming of Mashiach ben David and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, and may the kohanim soon light the Holy Menorah in its place on Har HaBayis, never to be extinguished until the end of time.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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.2020vision.co.il.
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