Ever since I was a little girl, oh, six or seven years old, I knew immediately if people were talking about me behind my back. Back then, only recently released from various polio-related hospitalizations, I prided myself on my ability to detect the slightest hint of a whisper within an 80-foot radius of my immobile position.
Unquestionably, honing my hearing acuity to razor-sharp proportions began when doctors would gather to discuss my case, sotto voce, in the hospital corridor. It reached new heights when aunts and uncles gathered to discuss my case, sotto voce, around my parents’ kitchen table, the occasional “Oy!” tipping me off that I was the subject of conversation.
It was then that my battle cry (some may have called it a whine) became embedded in our family lore: “I have very good ears!”
Nearly half a century later, my sensory hearing may have lost some of its prowess but, I am grateful to report, my spiritual hearing is getting sharper every day. Not that I’m trying to boast; the credit for this talent rests squarely with the Master of the Universe.
The events of this summer offer many a case in point.
On Saturday night, June 24 (as we ushered in the 29th of Sivan), my siblings gathered in my home to commemorate the second anniversary of my father’s passing. When we mentioned that Tisha b’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, was rapidly approaching, my brother referred to a well-known Talmudic teaching (Taanis 29a): God chose the ninth day of the month of Av as the date on which so much sorrow would befall the Jewish people because on that day the twelve spies appointed by Moses returned from Canaan and reported that the Promised Land was unconquerable. Relinquishing their faith in God, the Jews accepted the spies’ report and wept bitterly. God told them, “You cried now for naught. I will make this date one of crying for all generations.”
My brother then added that the chain of events leading to this disaster in the desert actually commenced on the day the spies’ journey to Canaan began. Our Sages comment that the spies already intended to deliver a negative report on the day of their departure. That day was the 29th of Sivan (Sotah 35a).
As we heard this, we nodded somberly because it all made perfect sense. We didn’t have to be rocket scientists to realize that just as the ninth of Av portended sorrow for many generations, the 29th of Sivan – the day we lost my saintly father – had been destined for a similar fate.
The next morning, Sunday, June 25 (still the 29th of Sivan), we learned that eight Palestinian terrorists in Gaza emerged from a secret tunnel dug 300 yards into Israel, killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped another: 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit. Hours later (still the 29th of Sivan) came the ominous report that an Israeli yeshiva student, 18-year-old Eliyahu Asheri, was missing and possibly had been kidnapped. We later learned that Eliyahu had in fact been executed by Palestinian terrorists on Sunday, the 29th of Sivan, immediately after his abduction.
This cascade of calamities got my attention. God was talking not only to my immediate family; He was talking to my extended family. No hearing aid was required.
I need not tell you that this was just the beginning. On Wednesday, July 12, Hezbollah terrorists crossed the border separating Lebanon and Israel, murdered eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others: 31-year-old Sergeant Ehud Goldwasser and 26-year-old Sergeant Eldad Regev. A mere eight hours later, with the arrival of the 17th of Tammuz, Jews throughout Israel ushered in the three weeks of mourning that culminate with Tisha b’Av.
It will come as no surprise that August 3rd handed Israel its worst day of casualties since the start of its unexpected war against Hezbollah. August 3rd coincided this year with Tisha b’Av.
Not that the New York Times reported – or ever will report – this “coincidence.” But who needs the New York Times when the Master of the Universe is reporting directly to us? The only question is: Do we or do we not have very good ears?
And, it seems to me, this summer’s messages from on high were not exclusively of the sobering variety. Consider, for example, that:
- Time and again, Israeli towns were hit with barrages of up to 250 Katyusha rockets a day, yet the Jerusalem Post’s headlines almost always ended with two miraculous words: “No Casualties.”
- In total, Hezbollah fired over 4,000 deadly rockets into Israel, each one capable of murdering scores of innocent people, yet only 41 civilians lost their lives.
- Of those 41 innocent civilians, 18 (44%) were Israeli Arabs. Their murder is an obscenity. The loss of those 18 innocent men, women and children fills my heart with anguish. Yet I wonder if God wants us to take note of, to listen to, that extraordinary statistic. Surely, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s diabolical leader, never intended to murder his fellow Muslims; he even implored them to get out of harm’s way. Nevertheless, nearly half of the civilians whose lives were tragically snuffed out by Nasrallah’s missiles were his own brothers and sisters.
Now, in the midst of an uneasy quiet, we have said goodbye to Av and have ushered in Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the month in which we prepare to converse more intimately than ever before with our Creator. Our Sages tell us that in the month of Elul, God leaves what for us seems like His distant abode and walks among His creatures, like a king strolling in the field. He is not talking about us behind our backs; He is talking to us, standing by our side.
I pray that, just as so many of us could detect God’s fearsome presence during Tammuz and Av, we will be able to detect His loving presence in Elul as we beseech Him for very good ears – and a new year of joy, health and peace.
Chava Willig Levy is a New York-based writer, editor and lecturer. Her web site (http://www.chavawilliglevy.com) showcases her lectures, articles and editorial services; her blog, accessed via her web site’s “Talking to Myself” link, chronicles her latest adventures. Chava can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2006 Chava Willig Levy. All rights reserved.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.