“In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanan, the high priest…when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from Your statutes…You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You 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 hands of the diligent students of Your Torah.” (Chanukah davening)
How is it possible that the strong could be delivered into the hands of the weak?
Sounds strange, but that is the exact pattern of Jewish history.
If we were like other nations, none of us would be here today. In fact, our history totally defies what the world considers logical. Neither our national nor our personal stories conform to the rules followed by the rest of the world.
The history of Am Yisrael is proof that everything is directed from Above. As the Chu-mash says, God “took [Avraham] outside” (Bereishis 15:5). Rashi explains that God took Avra-ham “out of the space of the world…. [He] raised him above the stars.” This special protection, which we refer to as Magen Avraham, the Shield of Avraham, is extended to the Patriarch’s chil-dren to this very day.
Let’s look at the history of the past two thousand years. It is terrible to contemplate the destruction of the Second Temple, but if we do, we will see a chain of miraculous events that will strengthen us.
First, everything was predicted. That in itself proves that an Outside Force directs the affairs of this world. The Torah hints through gematria the length of time the future Temples would stand. The word “kasiss,” which describes the oil used in the menorah, can be divided into the syllables “kas” and “iss.” “Kas” has the gematria 420 (the number of years the Second Tem-ple stood), and “iss” has the gematria 410 (the number of years the First Temple stood).
So the menorah itself hints at the future destruction and rebuilding of the Beis HaMik-dash (Shemos 27:20, Rabbi Yosef Levinson).
Even before we reached Eretz Yisrael, Hashem informed us we would be banished from that Land if we did not adhere to His Torah: “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” (Devarim 11:16ff, second paragraph of the Shema).
And “if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your God, to observe, to perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Devarim 28:15).
After the Churban, our future seemed hopeless.
The city that was great with people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations, the princess among provinces, has become a tributary…. Our in-heritance has been turned over to strangers; our houses to foreigners. We have be-come orphans, fatherless, our mothers are like widows…. [Eichah 1:1]
How could we survive? Scattered over the earth, our entire culture was uprooted; families were torn apart and carried to distant lands where we were abused and worse. It looked as if it was all over. But we are still here.
Is it logical that we have survived?
It may not be logical. It just happens to be true.
* * * * *
If you read my first book, From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, you know I am the product of genuine American assimilation. I come from distinguished Jewish lines on both the maternal and paternal sides, but after a few generations in America, our family had basically forgotten we were Jewish and certainly what it means to be Jewish.
I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a fancy neighborhood, and attended the Ethical Culture Schools.
What is Ethical Culture? In the late nineteenth century a German Jew named Felix Adler created a new “religion.” He reasoned like this: We Jews have been released from the ghetto and admitted into gentile society. Why should we be different from them? Why should we adhere to an outmoded Torah, useless mitzvos and an archaic belief in God? We have to be ethical, but you don’t need God or mitzvos to be ethical.
Adler immigrated to America and founded the Ethical Culture Society, which gave birth to the Ethical Culture Schools. Both institutions tried to practice his philosophy (or lack of it) and became havens for assimilated Jews looking for a place to soothe their conscience.
When I first arrived at the University of Michigan, a certain history professor was as-signed as my adviser. He was a religious Catholic from the Midwest. Looking over my tran-script, he exclaimed, “Oh, the Ethical Culture Society. That’s for Jews who are too embarrassed even to be Reform!”
Bullseye! And this from a Midwestern Catholic! How did he know all about us? The truth is, everyone knows about us. Jews are the most interesting people in the world.
I attended Ethical Culture from nursery through high school, as did my mother, her brothers and my siblings. The school was ninety-five percent Jewish, and one hundred percent of those Jews were running away from Hashem and His Torah. To this day (I recently attended a reunion), my classmates are completely divorced from any relationship with their holy ancestors and the Torah that has sustained us since the days of Avraham Avinu.
In this spider’s web I met the girl who was to become my wife. We were miraculously able to extricate ourselves from this quicksand into which so many of our brethren had been sucked. Drowning in meaninglessness, we knew we had to find reality, but we had no idea where to turn. Hashem heard our inner screams and rescued us.
And you think Jewish history goes by logic?
Have we not all had experiences that prove our lives are not controlled by nature, but rather by the Creator of nature?
Do the strong overpower the weak or is it the other way around?
Think about your week. What is the highlight? What gives it meaning? What gives your life meaning? On which day do angels visit your house?
The answer, of course, is Shabbos.
One day overpowers six days. No one needs to prove this; we all know it.
And you tell me it is impossible that Hashem “delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few”?
It’s not impossible at all. It happened on Chanukah. And throughout Jewish history. And in our own lives.
I would like to call your attention to the following passage from my second book, World-storm: Finding Meaning and Direction Amidst Today’s World Crisis. It begins with a remarkable Gemara (Taanis 8b): “Rabbi Isaac further said, ‘Blessing is only possible in things hidden from sight…. Blessing is only possible in things not under the direct control of the eye…. Blessing is not to be found in anything that has been already weighed or measured or numbered, but only in a thing hidden from sight.’ ”
Worldstorm goes on to discuss this passage.
In our contemporary world everything is counted, numbered and weighed, which is why we cannot perceive the spiritual. Comfort is measured by counting money. The value of men and ideas is determined by public opinion polls. The system of government and those who administer it are determined by counting votes. Wall Street is obsessed with counting the value of stocks. Corporations are obsessed with counting everything from paper clips to how many pennies per share they will earn four quarters from now. Sports fans are obsessed with count-ing home runs or baskets, and how much each player is paid. Health is measured in calories and cholesterol. Beauty is determined by the readout on the scale. China enforces a population quota, but a Jewish mother will not tell you the num-ber of her children nor will her husband count men for the minyan.
This discussion is crucial to our existence, and it deserves thought. Why is it that “bless-ing is not to be found in anything that has been already weighed or measured or numbered”?
What is blessing?
Blessing, berachah, comes from Above. It is God’s shemirah over us, His love expressed by the guidance of events in our life. God is exercising His direct influence by giving us what we need. When we live without berachah, God forbid, we are living a hefker existence, subject to arbitrary forces, like a leaf tossed around in the wind. We don’t want to be like the snake in Gan Eden, whose punishment really was that it always has what it needs. Hashem, so to speak, told the snake “I don’t ever want to hear from you. You are on your own.”
If we are under Hashem’s direct scrutiny and care and He directs internal and external forces in our favor, our life will be good in every way. This is what every person who has Yiras Shamayim wants: to live in such a way that Hashem will directly watch over him and take his fate in His Hands in order that he prosper spiritually and materially.
We want Hashem to be involved in our life. He is by definition in complete control. As the Rambam put it in his Thirteen Principles, “I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, creates and guides all creatures and that He alone made, makes and will make everything.” All nature, including time and space and everything within them, belongs to and was created by Him.
* * * * *
We use weights, measures and numbers to classify objects in this world.
Do blessings come from objects in this world?
“Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see. The have ears, but cannot hear; they have a nose, but can-not smell…. Those who make them should become like them” (Psalm 115).
Material objects have no power whatsoever, certainly no power to impart blessing to us. But these material objects are weighed, measured and counted. Can you weigh, measure or count God? The idea is ludicrous. Hashem is not material; rather He creates that which is material. How can Hashem be weighed, measured or counted?
When you compare the sizes of two armies, one will be larger, but when you contemplate Hashem, lehavdil, size or number is irrelevant. Hashem is beyond the realm of measurement. But blessings flow only from Hashem. The very idea of blessing flowing from that which can be weighed, measured or counted is impossible.
Hashem is above all creation. If you could count every object in creation, every material object in the universe, would you “outweigh” God? The generation of the Tower of Babel at-tempted to ascend to the highest point imaginable in order to battle God. Obviously, they had to fail. One cannot “reach” God physically, because God is outside the physical realm.
So it is clear why “blessing is not to be found in anything that has been weighed or meas-ured or numbered.”
The unique existence of Am Yisrael has been possible only because we have a direct con-nection with the Creator of the Universe. We do not worship idols, not only because they are nothing, but because they have no power to save. They are useless. Our entire way of life is fo-cused on reaching beyond nature to the Source of Life Itself, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. So Am Yisrael exists forever because Hashem exists forever and we hold on to Him.
Am Yisrael is able to live in a miraculous way because the Source of our existence is be-yond this world.
Yosef haTzaddik could emerge from slavery to become viceroy of Egypt.
Am Yisrael could survive forty years in the desert.
Dovid haMelech could defeat Golius.
The Maccabeans could defeat a vastly more powerful army.
And we, with God’s help, can survive an entire world arrayed against us. Israel can sur-vive all its enemies. We can survive our sojourn in exile.
“If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in My ways. In an instant I would subdue their foes and turn My hand against their tormentors” (Psalm 81).
May we soon see the day when “there is a menorah made entirely of gold with its bowl on its top and its seven lamps…upon it and…seven tubes to each of the lamps that are on its top…and two olive trees…near it, one to the right of the bowl and one to its left.” (Zechariah 4:2-3, Haftara Shabbos Chanukah).
On that day, “a new light [will shine] on Zion” and the strong will be delivered into the hands of the weak.
About the Author: Roy Neuberger's latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew and Spanish, with French and Russian 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 Rus-sian) and "Worldstorm.” Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.
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