I hope you are coping as well as you can in these trying times.
I am writing to you today from Yerushalayim, where since arriving on Wednesday evening and spending time with people it has been so apparent that Israel today is filled with pain and love, regret and determination, faith and hope.
The pain could be seen in the family members at a double shiva house who gathered to see a newly discovered flash of security camera footage providing a barely recognizable view of their loved ones rushing into harm’s way in their determination to save others. It is there in the eyes of the displaced who are struggling with the unspeakable trauma of the hours they lay in fear during the terrorist attack, their harrowing escape while so many dear to them were lost, and their current state of demoralizing homelessness. It is visible in the “before and after” pictures shared by inspiring but suffering pioneers, builders of beautiful communities that now lie in ruins. And it is palpable in the exhaustion of the parents living in torturous limbo, awaiting news of the fate of their children.
The love is everywhere, as everyone seems to just want to do and to demonstrate care for each other. While the large systems of government and the army understandably struggle to meet a sudden and steep rise in needs of services and supplies, individuals and organizations rush to do anything they can possibly think of to benefit those directly affected. This is also visible in America as the Jewish community’s desire to give is totally and beautifully out of control. It is even more out of control here, without any boundaries between communities.
Regret – charata – is everywhere, but in the best spirit of teshuva, it is accompanied by determination, – kabala al ha’atid. To the army and intelligence, what happened on Shemini Atzeres was an epic failure that has led those same institutions to a steely-eyed commitment to reclaim their superiority and to defeat Hamas decisively. To many in the broader society, the newfound unity in crisis has crystallized the tragic folly of a year spent on the brink of civil war over internal squabbles, what they see now as little things that they will never allow to divide them again. And to others, observant and non-observant, it has led to a reconsideration of our reliance on our power and strength – kochi v’otzem yadi – in place of the Almighty.
Most inspiring is how faith and hope prevail. Our capacity for resilience draws on feeling supported by God and man and by living with mission and purpose. These are the strengths of the Jewish people, especially in Israel. No one is running away from their land or even from their border community. They may have to be out of harm’s way until the situation is resolved, but they are determined to be back and they are confident that they will be. And while confidence can sometimes be unnervingly arrogant, here it seems to draw from a strong sense of destiny, of netzach Yisrael.
In considering all this, many have invoked Noach and the destruction of the flood. While there are many angles of comparison, allow me to share one.
While the Torah praises Noach effusively, our Sages read between the lines and were somewhat critical of him, comparing Noach unfavorably to both Avraham and Moshe. They went so far as to blame Noach for the flood, classifying this disaster – using the words of Yeshayahu (54:6) – as the mei Noach, the Waters of Noach (see Zohar I:106a), because he had not worked or prayed to avert it. This stands in contrast to Avraham’s response to the impending destruction of Sodom and to Moshe’s reaction to Hashem’s anger at the Jewish people after the Golden Calf. Noach, by contrast, when told of the impending destruction of the world simply accepted it and built himself the teivah.
But Noach does not remain that way. By the time the flood waters subside, what is left is ach Noach, a diminished Noach, coughing and spitting blood (Bereishis 7:23). He had just spent a year worrying about everyone but himself, running himself ragged literally 24/7 to make sure each of the world’s animals got what it needed to eat when it needed it.
As the world was to come from Noach, God needed him to shift from a focus on himself to a focus on others. Olam chesed yibaneh. The world is built upon kindness (Tehillim 89:3); it cannot come from someone who is self-centered. But because Noach was pressured into this service by the circumstances of the flood and did not embrace that outward focus willingly, he experienced it in a way that weakened him and made him less of himself, ach Noach.
The past two weeks have seen Klal Yisrael running themselves ragged 24/7, not because of anything that threatened them personally but only because they have an unquenchable desire to help others who are struggling and in pain and danger. They – like Noach – are exhausted. But they, as children of Avraham and students of Moshe, are not diminished. Quite the opposite. When Klal Yisrael was activated by the tragedy of Shemini Atzeres, they were waiting as they always are for the opportunity to give and to help. Especially after the experience of this past year of division, that desire to give and to love and to heal was overwhelming. As we have watch this powerful response of giving, we are seeing the Jewish people grow in stature rather than shrink as the kindness of Avraham has granted them his descriptive as well, ha’adam hagadol ba’anakim, a giant in humanity.
Worlds have been destroyed, but they will be rebuilt by the powerful drive for kindness, the clear-eyed determination born of regret for all the divisions within us, and by a firm faith and hope in netzach Yisrael, the eternal Jewish people.
Have a wonderful Shabbos, and may we merit to hear besorot tovot,
Rabbi Moshe Hauer