This past Elul, the entire world quaked and trembled, not
only the fish in the sea. Every thinking human being was
terror-stricken at the sight of the carnage and the mass
destruction that was wrought in the space of a few minutes,
at the instigation of a single man.
We in the Holy Land have been living now for some time in
constant fear and anxiety, weighing the necessity of every
outdoor trip against the knowledge that such excursions can,
and have, cost lives R'l, and agonizing over the
welfare of family members and friends who have chosen to
dwell in dangerous areas and navigate dangerous routes. This
past Elul, we were joined by the rest of a shocked and
Granted, had we been worthy, we would have quaked and
trembled at the approaching Yom Hadin without any of
the recent horrifying events, that have caused the deaths of
so many human beings, and so many of our brethren among them.
Had we been worthy, we would not have needed the sight of the
billowing flames and the dense clouds of smoke to smite us
with fear and dread. Yet, since what has happened has
happened, we must fulfill the Torah's injunction to,
"Comprehend each generation's time span" (Devorim
32:7), to reflect upon events and try, as far as we can,
to understand why Hashem has wrought such events and what He
wants from us in consequence.
Rashi defines chavlei Moshiach -- the "birth pangs"
that herald the arrival of moshiach -- as, "the fright
and the tribulations, that will exist in his time, from the
armies of the gentile nations." In other words, there will be
fear and pain together, as in childbirth.
These pangs were expected to be so fearsome that some of our
chachomim z'l, prayed, "Let him come but let me not
see him." They expressed this wish even though they both knew
and followed the recommendation for being spared from these
troubles -- to occupy oneself with Torah and gemilus
chassodim. They still feared chavlei Moshiach,
lest their merits be reduced by sin and their sharing the
terrible suffering as a result.
"If suffering comes upon a person, he should examine his
deeds," Chazal tell us. The story is told of one of the
gedolei Yisroel who visited the doctor and complained
of the yissurim, the suffering, that he was
experiencing in his foot. The doctor asked why he didn't
simply refer to the pain in his foot, to which the
godol responded that while it was indeed possible to
use either word, using the word yissurim, which
literally means reproofs or admonitions, served as a reminder
of the One who was visiting the suffering on him.
"For Hashem rebukes those whom He loves," leading a person to
examine his deeds, take spiritual stock and return to Hashem
in repentance. It has very fittingly been pointed out that
the letters of the word machaloh, meaning sickness,
are the same letters that spell, chemloh, meaning
pity, because in His mercy, Hashem visits illness on a person
to make him stop and think about why He has brought this upon
him. If a driver ignores the red warning light reminding him
that there is no oil left in his engine and shrugs it off as
an electrical fault, he will lose the engine and possibly the
Those events are characterized by the extent to which the
identity of the One causing the suffering is apparent. There
are simply too many questions about how such a thing could
happen and how it was not prevented, for it to be dismissed
as a chance or random occurrence.
One very prominent feature of recent events has been their
global impact, which brings to mind the words of the
oleinu prayer: "All the world's inhabitants will
recognize and will know . . . "
A message about Hashem's rule and control was broadcast to
the entire world. Everyone senses that the warning light is
flashing, though unfortunately not everyone knows why it is
These misfortunes do not follow the natural pattern of things
at all. This is no ordinary war, like others that can be seen
around the world. The tactics of these terrorists, the
suicide bombers, are unnatural. They pursue us "like the bees
do" (Devorim 1:44), which Rashi explains as meaning,
"just as a bee dies immediately after stinging a person, they
also died as soon as they touched them [bnei
Yisroel]." What we are witnessing does not follow the
usual pattern of concealment through which Hashem directs the
world, and which allows people, if they wish, to attribute
untoward events to "chance." Here was an utterly unnatural
event, one which shook the world into acknowledging Hashem's
HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, writes in Lev
Eliyohu that occurrences such as these ought to fill our
hearts with joy. The situation can be compared to that of a
child who finds himself being beaten and who turns around and
sees that it is his father who is beating him. His father
looks him in the eye and with every blow, tells him, "This is
because you did such and such; this is for doing that . . . "
The father's actions show his great love for his son; he
guides and trains him and ensures that he will not stumble
and be punished again.
We find that Dovid Hamelech sang to Hashem over such
afflictions. When he was informed that the prophecy, "Behold
I will set up evil against you from your household"
(Shmuel II 12:11), would be fulfilled through his son
Avsholom and not through one of his servants, he rejoiced and
said, "Mizmor LeDovid, when he fled from Avsholom his
son . . . " (Tehillim perek 3).
When he saw that it was his own son who was seeking to take
his life -- a son rising up against his father and rebelling
against him being as unnatural a thing as could be -- he
realized that he had not been banished from his position of
closeness to Hashem and had not been subjected to
concealment. This was cause for rejoicing and it was over
this that he sang to Hashem.
A similar event took place at the time of the destruction of
the Second Beis Hamikdosh (Gittin), when Rabbon
Yochonon ben Zakkai encountered the daughter of one of the
wealthiest men in Yerushalayim, Nakdimon ben Gurion, whose
kesuvoh -- that had been written for a fantastically
large sum of money -- he had signed as a witness. He saw her
reduced to terrible poverty, picking barley grains from the
dung of the Arabs' animals. Although Rabbon Yochonon shed
bitter tears over this sight, he also declared, "Happy are
you Yisroel . . . " because even amid such distress, it was
clear that HaKodosh Boruch Hu leads Klal
Yisroel on a supernatural plane. The very severity of the
suffering shows that we have not been banished from His
proximity and placed in concealment.
"Your staff and your support; they will comfort me"
(Tehillim 23:4). The knowledge that the same staff
that beats also lends support, that both of them are wielded
by HaKodosh Boruch Hu, is itself comfort.
One of the gedolei Yisroel once asked why it is that
if someone has to undergo even the smallest operation
R'l, he makes extensive inquiries as to which surgeon
to take, finding no peace of mind until he is quite sure that
he has engaged the most competent expert. On the other hand,
when booking a transatlantic flight, nobody is interested in
finding out who the pilot will be, who will be bearing
responsibility for the safety of hundreds of lives as they
are suspended between heaven and earth.
The godol answered that in the first case, the patient
undergoing the surgery is in danger while the surgeon doing
the operation is not. In the second case however, the pilot
himself is in exactly the same amount of danger as all of the
The comfort conveyed by this idea is expressed beautifully by
Chazal in the reading of the posuk (Yeshayoh 63:9),
where the lo in the words bechol tzorosom lo
tzor is written with an alef, meaning "In their
every misfortune, there is no [actual] misfortune," but is
understood by Chazal as being lo with a vov,
meaning, "In their every misfortune, He is [also] in a
strait," meaning that even when HaKodosh Boruch Hu
visits judgment upon us and punishes us He, as it were,
suffers too. This reading explains the meaning of the
posuk as it is written, for if Hashem Himself is
sharing our misfortune, it greatly minimizes our own
We have been promised, "Hashem will not desert His people and
will not forsake His inheritance" (Tehillim 94:14). We
know that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is with us in every
situation: "I am with them in distress" (Tehillim
91:15), and " Hashem's eyes are directed towards those
who fear Him . . . to save their souls from death"
(Tehillim 33:18- 19).
We must cleave to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and firmly
believe that everything that happens comes from Him,
yisborach. While the whole world watches as idols
crumble and sees that power and might do not guarantee
victory, we must realize and heighten our awareness that
"Rule is Hashem's." We must make Him our King and do all we
can to ensure that we remain close to Him.
At a time when Hashem's control is revealed in the world,
when fear and dread grip everyone, when "the fright and the
tribulations . . . from the armies of the gentile nations"
overcome us, we must fill our hearts with hope and with joy
at our nation's privileged status, while at the same time
making every effort to cleave to HaKodosh Boruch Hu,
occupying ourselves with Torah and with good deeds, and
increasing our prayers and saying of Tehillim.
We must also realize that the time is approaching when we
ought to ensure that we will not be ashamed or disgraced when
"the Redeemer arrives in Tzion." We ought to think
about how we will appear at the time of the redemption, when,
as the last posuk in Koheles tells us, "In the
end, everything will be heard," which the Targum
explains to mean, "everything that was done in private will
ultimately become public and will be known to everyone in the
How will we look at that time, when the masks are removed and
everything is revealed? "Therefore," concludes the
posuk, "Fear Hashem and keep His mitzvos," for this
future revelation alone is enough reason for us to make the
change and repent, returning to Hashem and serving Him