It seemed like this long and cold winter would never end, but here we are! We have finally reached Parshas HaChodesh and the month of Nissan. Together with the anticipation of the upcoming chag of Pesach, we should be excited for another reason. Chazal revealed to us (Rosh Hashanah 11a) that just as the redemption from Egypt was during the month of Nissan, so too, the final redemption will be during this month!
Now, before we get too excited, let us not forget that not everyone will be worthy to be at that joyous moment. Chazal tell us that at the time of Moshiach there will be a great war, the war of Gog and Magog. There is a tradition from teacher to student back to the Vilna Gaon that this war will last only twelve minutes. In that short amount of time, one third of the world will be destroyed, one third severely wounded, and one third will survive without harm. Until the development of weapons of mass destruction this was hard to understand, but now we know how such destruction can happen so quickly. What can we do to ensure that we be among those who survive?
World War III Has Begun!
The truth is that the war of Gog and Magog has already begun, as Rav Sholom Schwadron would relate.
HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l once told a group of students that he heard from the Chafetz Chaim that after the First World War there will be another great war which will make the first one look like child’s play. Then there will be a third war, and it will make both of those look like child’s play!
The students began to shake. They had just seen and heard the horrors of the Second World War and did not want to even imagine how bad the third one would be. Rav Sholom respectfully asked Rav Chatzkel what the point was of scaring everyone. Rav Chatzkel became enwrapped in a fire of holiness and exclaimed: “You did not understand the Chafetz Chaim! He was not referring to the physical aspects of the war – he was referring to a war against emunah, of true faith in Hashem. In World War I there were great tests of faith, but World War II made those trials and tribulations look like child’s play. And in the third war, yes, there will be weapons, but the main horror will be the war of faith – and that will be much scarier than the previous ones.” Then he added: “And we are already deep in the midst of that war, as we see the tremendous tests of faith in our generation.”
This battle will be the final attempt of the forces of evil to conquer the world. The entire world will be thrown into turmoil and our faith in Hashem will be tested. Those who remain steadfast will merit seeing the coming of Moshiach. According to this it appears that the actual destruction will only take twelve minutes, but the test in faith will be a lot longer, as it has already begun.
Our generation is being tested like never before. The abundance of wealth, lives of comfort, and easy accessibility to the worst sins have shaken our very foundations. The Satan is attacking us with weapons that were never at his disposal. What can we do to strengthen our faith in Hashem so that we can survive this massive onslaught?
Tefillah = Thinking
Rav Avigdor Miller would say that Hashem gave us tefillah as a precious and important opportunity to help us grow. In earlier generations there were holy people who would literally prepare for an hour before they prayed, as they realized that davening is a treasure house where one can acquire true da’as – knowledge and awareness – and that takes preparation. The way to gain this knowledge is through thinking about the words of the tefillah. One of the explanations of the word tefillah is “thoughts” as Yaakov said (Bereishis 48:11), “le’ros panecha lo filalty.” Rashi explains that it means, “I did not think I would see your face.”
In other words, when we daven we are supposed to think about what we are saying and thus acquire true knowledge. Of course, one who davens without “spacing out” deserves much praise and has certainly fulfilled the basic obligation of prayer. But if all he had in mind was the exact translation of the words, he missed the main point, as he did not really connect to, or think about, what he was saying.
Now, there are numerous ideas for us to think about, but the first and foremost one is that we are totally dependent upon Hashem’s mercy and that on our own we have absolutely nothing! This thought must accompany us throughout our prayers and will serve as a great merit.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 101:1) rules that as long as one is able to have kavana for the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei he may daven. The Alter of Kelm explains that in this blessing we state that Hashem is the G-d of our forefathers, who discovered that He is the Master of the world. They lived with such a clear awareness of this truth that Hashem dwelled His Shechina upon them. We then delineate the knowledge of Hashem that they revealed: “The great, mighty, and awesome G-d, the supreme G-d who bestows beneficial kindnesses, etc.” By doing so we declare that we have no one else to turn to. Inculcating this knowledge is one of the main reasons we daven.
Let’s Get To The Nitty Gritty
But this is just the bare minimum. One who wants to acquire full knowledge should not just contemplate this in a general manner – he should think about it in detail. For example, when we say, “Atah chonen la’adam da’as – You favor man with knowledge” (i.e. consciousness and awareness), we must internalize that without Hashem giving us intelligence we wouldn’t be imbeciles – we would be mindless vegetables! And when we pray for parnassah it is with the knowledge that He is the sole source of our livelihood. By doing so during every bracha of Shemoneh Esrei we infuse ourselves with more and more knowledge of Hashem.
As a result, belief in Hashem’s existence becomes more real to us and we can truly feel His involvement in our lives. Acquiring emunah is not a one-time deal – it is a life-long endeavor which requires constant work. It is not enough to know the truth – it has to become as clear to us as knowing that if we will put our finger in fire it will get burnt.
In the olden days, even the non-Jews believed in the Creator and the after-life. But now, the very air we breathe has been contaminated with heresy and denial of Hashem, and it affects us. As mentioned, we are deep into the war of Gog and Magog, and many people are unfortunately falling. They succumb to their desires for pleasures and pursue nonsense without even realizing it. This is why it is so important for us to utilize every time we daven to strengthen our emunah. In this way, we will merit surviving this last battle and greeting Moshiach very soon!