My column for this week’s Jewish Press was ready to go when, at the last minute, I decided to replace it.
How could I submit my normal column when three of our sons are lost in a dangerous jungle where decapitation and other forms of bestial behavior are daily occurrences?
Tragically, too many people shrug off horrors like this. “What can you do?” they ask. “It’s not the first and it’s not the last time things like this happen.” With a shrug of their shoulders they move on and it’s back to business as usual.
I want to cry out, “Wait a minute. This is not just a newspaper report – this is the story of my sons and your sons!”
Anxiously we await the news of our boys but the networks and newspapers are busy with other things. The story of three yeshiva boys kidnapped in Israel is low priority, it seems. As a matter of fact, I am ashamed to say that many of our own people are hardly losing sleep over it. Such is the painful reality of our generation. We are on the move! We are so busy! We have no time to stop! We have pressures, important business to attend to!
As my regular readers know, whenever I tackle questions I turn to our Torah for clarification.
When Pharaoh was scheming to annihilate our people he called in his three most important ministers and held a cabinet meeting. He was obsessed with exterminating our people and wanted to have input from his cabinet.
Bilam, the satanic prophet, volunteered without even batting an eye, “Kill them!” It was a simple solution Pharaoh was more than happy to embrace.
Yisro vehemently protested. “You cannot kill the Jews,” he said.
The third minister, Job, remained silent.
Consequently Yisro had to run for his life. Pharaoh in his rage wanted to kill him. Quickly he disappeared from the Egyptian scene.
Years later Yisro became Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law. Bilam was killed by the sword. And Job became the wealthiest man of his time, blessed with a magnificent family. His home was always open to the poor. And then, suddenly, he lost his beautiful wife and children, his wealth, his home, even his own health. He was left devastated and alone. In anguish he cried out, “G-d, why? Why?!”
Soon the answer came from Above. “Job, did you cry out even once when Pharaoh schemed to exterminate My people?”
“Almighty G-d,” Job protested, “it wouldn’t have done any good. I saw what happened to Yisro. He had to run for his life. So to what end would I have spoken out? What would it have accomplished?”
What is the inner meaning of this Midrash?
If something really hurts you, your instinct is to howl from the pain. Say the dentist extracts your tooth without giving you Novocain. Of course you cry out in pain. You can’t help it; it’s a knee-jerk reaction. You could try to rationalize like Job – “Why should I cry out? It won’t help anyway.” But all the rationalizing in the world won’t help; the pain is so all-consuming that you have to scream. If you don’t react like that your nerves are dead.
By remaining silent while Pharaoh laid his plans for the extermination of the Jewish people, G-d told Job, you indicated that the nerves in your heart were dead. How could you have remained silent? Job had no answer to G-d’s challenge.
If we were similarly challenged, what would our answer be? How would we explain our silence? Do we feel the pain of the three yeshiva boys? Do we identify even for a second with their nightmare or with the anguish of their parents?