There is a new Haman on the world scene – Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who unabashedly proclaims his determination to annihilate Israel, and he is preparing to do so. Some say he is a few months away from nuclear capability, others say it will be a year or so, and still others say he already has it in his hands.
And what are we doing about it? Shockingly, nothing; we go on with business as usual.
And should you be among those who take this threat to heart, you will quickly be assured that Ahmadinejad is a madman, not to be taken seriously.
Yes, I agree, he is a madman, and that is precisely why he should be taken seriously. Madmen are mad enough to carry out their satanic plots. Trust me. I saw Hitler in action and I also saw a cruel world accept and participate in the barbaric extermination of our people.
Prior to Hitler’s conflagration, Hashem sounded the alarm. He sent us many wakeup calls, but we went back to sleep until the inferno consumed six million of our people. One would have imagined we learned our lesson and would not allow this tragedy to be repeated. But Hashem’s wakeup calls have once again been sounded, and once again we have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. I have been speaking about this for some time, and there are those who advise me to focus on “happier subjects” – subjects that are “entertaining” and “light.”
But I dare not remain silent. I dare not ignore the wake-up calls and the catastrophe they portend. So I ask you to read my ensuing columns on the subject with open minds and receptive hearts. I will limit myself to the wake-up calls we have witnessed over the past couple of years, though they began considerably earlier.
The number of catastrophes has multiplied to such an extent that we have all but become immune to them. Natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes (even in New York City), global warming, dead birds falling from the skies, dead fish washing up on the shores; the world economic crisis, accompanied by crippling unemployment and high oil prices; hitherto unknown diseases; barbaric acts of terror; nuclear spill in Japan and today’s nuclear threat from Iran – all threaten the very survival of our civilization.
And we take it all in stride. “It is what it is,” we tell ourselves with resignation and go on with our lives as usual.
But can all this be attributed to mere coincidence? Shouldn’t these afflictions give us pause? Shouldn’t we stop and take stock of our lives?
There is a story about a chassidic rebbe who was walking with his disciples when he noticed a little boy behind a tree, crying bitterly.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“Because I’m hiding, and no one is looking for me.”
The words of the child were like a sharp knife in the heart of the rebbe. “Woe is us,” he said to his students. “G-d is waiting for us to find Him, but we have failed to search for Him. Woe is us!”
Maimonides taught that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to examine his or her life, and commit to greater adherence to Torah and mitzvos. Maimonides warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” or “natural occurrences” we will be guilty of achzarius – cruelty.
At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who view trials and tribulations as “natural occurrences.” Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty?
The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways and change. So, yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others.
It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss that which is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance. Great Torah luminaries of past generations such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman told us we were entering the final stages of history – a period of time called Ikvesa DiMeshicha, footsteps of the Messiah.
Our Torah foretells four exiles through which our people would suffer: Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome. (The latter exile is the one in which we presently find ourselves, for it was the Romans who exiled us when they destroyed the Second Temple.)
In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, an early midrashic work, it is written that before the coming of Messiah we will have to contend with a fifth source of tribulation that will come from Yishmael – the Arabs – who will inflict terrible suffering on the world and on our people. This teaching is reaffirmed by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the illustrious disciple of the Arizal, who wrote that before the final curtain falls upon the stage of history, Yishmael will inflict torture on our people in ways the world had never seen.