Dei'ah veDibur - Information & 

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7 Cheshvan 5762 - October 24, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
How Should We React to Current Events?

by Nosson Zeev Grossman

Since the terror attacks on Washington and New York and the ensuing international tension, the whole world is in dread of what may happen to the entire world in the near future. The American government has already acted on its "declaration of war" with everything this entails. Wars, by their very nature, are events with a clear beginning, but nobody can foresee how events will unfold and how much carnage will take place.

Any thinking person cannot help but be frightened by this situation. It is in times such as these that the glaring difference between the real believers and the irreligious becomes obvious. Those who have yet to internalize the fact that only the First Cause is the cause of all events past, present and future, feel as if the ground is disappearing from under their feet; they have nothing to hold on to except some delusions about the restoration of "world order" by means of military might, even though it has been proved very publicly that a handful of terrorists can make a mockery of the greatest power in the world and wreak such utter destruction in it.

Observant Jews, on the other hand, know that all world events are supervised by a Divine Hand, and that there are no coincidences. However, even someone with pure emunoh cannot be sure of reaching conclusions appropriate to each individual and the nation as a whole. As we shall see, our rabbonim have taught us that a Jew can be strong in his faith that everything is from above, but still -- with the best of intentions -- use his free choice to err in interpreting the meaning of events using holy concepts.

What are we referring to?

Ever since the earthshaking events in America during the last week of the year all sorts of "hints" and "proofs" have been circulating to the effect that the redemption is imminent and that these terrible events are only part of chevlei moshiach. These rumors have a welcoming audience, since every Jew is brought up with the expectation of the geuloh and yearns for it throughout his life. When depressing events are interpreted as being part of the "redemption program" he relaxes in the knowledge that there is a "solution" and "explanation" for such terrible events.

This is especially the case when these rumors are backed by various "proofs" consisting of quotations from Tanach and from Chazal (such as "Ben Dovid will come at the end of the shmittah year"), hints, gimatriyos, kabbalistic concepts and so on.

We shall not discuss the substance of these arguments, but only the attitude underlying such interpretations.

It is very tempting to interpret events in such a manner. The listener is comforted by the thought that he is looking at events as a believing Jew; unlike our straying brethren he sees the hand of Hashem guiding our affairs.

The trouble with this interpretation is that it does not require a person to do anything. If events are part of a "redemption program" of ikvesa demeshicho then they have no relevance to us who simply witness these events as passive onlookers. We watch as predetermined events unfold, which have no connection to our deeds.

The Rosh Yeshiva shlita has in the past pointed out the dangers inherent in interpretations of this nature, which actually distance a person from an accurate analysis of his real duties during difficult times.

He was speaking in 5734 (1973) after the terrible events of the Yom Kippur War, in which thousands were killed and injured. This war dented the false feeling of security, which reigned in Israel after the Six Day War. Many people wondered why Hashem had made this happen, and the religious public started talking about the "process of redemption" and certain dates and hints were discussed (that war also broke out at the end of a shmittah year). As a bochur in Yeshiva ketanoh I remember the strong impression made by these rumors which predicted future events, and how everybody was discussing them during Succos that year.

The Rosh Yeshiva said then that although every Jew is obliged to believe in the coming of Moshiach and await his coming every day, nevertheless anyone interpreting events in such a light takes attention away from our real duties and the necessary stock-taking that both the pubic and the individual have to make.

He gave a penetrating shmuess (published in Digleinu in Cheshvan 5734) on our duties during that difficult time. He warned against saying that everything happened by chance chas vesholom, stressing that we had to know what was expected of us: an improvement in our Torah studies and tefilloh.

At the beginning of that shmuess he made a point which, unfortunately, remains topical to this day. The war took the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel by surprise. Following the success of the Six Day War the population was complacent and arrogant. Zahal was "unbeatable" and the Arabs "stupid and primitive cowards."

The Israeli public then was no less amazed by the Arab intelligence services and the precise planning of its armies than the Americans were now by the destruction wrought by a handful of fanatical Muslims who made a mockery of the biggest security system in the world. The Rosh Yeshiva talked about the Israeli public's reaction and called on everybody to internalize the Rambam's words that every calamity is the result of our evil actions: "We are certainly not free of evil deeds, but the worst of them is the idolatrous faith in `the might of my hands.' The nation has been accustomed to believe in Zahal, in the assistance of the United States and in the power of effective weapons, as if the Arabs have no power or weapons. Are they really so powerless? This current war has uprooted the foundations of this attitude. The arrogant illusion of an invincible Zahal has been smashed to smithereens.

"The whole country was in terrible danger. We must realize that it was only our prayers that helped and only Hashem saved us. If we witnessed open miracles on Yom Kippur and the days afterwards, this was only by virtue of our supplications and prayers, because according to the natural course of events there was no reason for the Arabs to have failed in their endeavors. There can be no doubt that this war has come in order to debunk the avoda zora of kochi ve'otzem yodi. It is middoh keneged middoh. This is Hashem's way of treating people.

"They thought that `we have the might' and therefore, because of our great sins, we were dealt a mighty blow, to teach us that we do not have the might. It has been proved that there were failures and mistakes were made by various parties. We have been shown that humans are ordinary mortals, that victory is not guaranteed, and victory is still not yet in sight, the war is not over yet. Who knows what will happen in the future? Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu knows, and may He put a stop to all our troubles!"

With the background of this shock and confusion, there were an abundance of "prophets" calculating the date on which the geuloh would take place. They cited gimatriyos, statements from the Zohar and so on. The masses swallowed all of this and in the weeks following the outbreak of war, tension increased as the date drew near on which Milchemes Gog Umogog was to commence, or the sound of the shofar heralding Moshiach was to be heard.

The gedolim warned about this dangerous tendency, and many expressed the fear that these rumors would affect the faith of the innocent masses, who were eagerly awaiting the advent of a certain date. Once it passed, it was feared that these people would stop believing altogether in Moshiach because of their dashed hopes.

HaRav Shach made another point at the time: the very attempt to explain events as a "planned process" instead of a heavenly decree resulting from our deeds and a warning sign requiring us to repent was flawed at the outset.

"People are talking a lot about matters to do with the end of days, they cite midreshei Zohar, signs from the stars. Another tells us about his dreams. All these people create an atmosphere conveying the message that all the sufferings and misfortunes the Jewish nation is currently experiencing are because we are living in a certain `period,' as if calamities were predestined to occur at a certain date.

"But we are forgetting our main task. We are suppressing the fundamental principle outlined by the Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis that misfortunes happen to the Jewish nation only because of our sins in order to wake us up into repenting. We must realize that according to the Torah the only thing we have is teshuvoh and all the calculations about ikvesa demeshicho and chevlei moshiach are totally irrelevant. All those who connect the events of our time with all sorts of calculations divert the public's attention away from the main thing, which is teshuvoh. Chas vesholom, they attribute events to chance by connecting them to a certain historical period, instead of to our many sins.

"The Rambam, Shulchan Oruch and poskim do not talk at all about secrets of the geuloh, only about repentance. The holy Chofetz Chaim zt"l was very involved in these matters, but his speeches to bnei Torah and to the masses were dedicated only to repentance, and he did not talk about calculations. He only taught us that we had to wait expectantly for the Melech Hamoshiach who could come literally at any minute, even right at this moment we are standing here."

HaRav Shach said that we commit the sin of attributing everything to chance, which the Rambam talks about, not only by lacking emunoh, but also by explaining misfortunes as part of a predetermined "process" that we can do nothing about:

"When we do not hear the correct messages, the opposite of the intended happens. Instead of repenting, as we are required to do according to the ruling of the Rambam, we neglect teshuvoh and rely on symbols. We want to make it easy for ourselves, but that is not what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants. If we do not awaken, we will be transgressing the posuk, `If you will walk contrary to me [bekeri, attributing things to chance].' Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei, `Even if you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle, his foolishness will still not depart from him' (27:22), because he still does not realize clearly that he is being pounded. He is still uncertain whether the blows are for the sake of being pounded.

"Let us not resemble that fool. Let us understand what is required of us. The world tends to concentrate on insignificant matters. We have just experienced a war. A person living according to the Torah has to know the simple truth: it was a punishment for our sins. Those who are far removed from Torah instead of looking for the shortcomings, which caused this downfall, grab the snake by its tail. We, on the other hand, are fully versed in the Rambam's statement that misfortunes are a direct result of `And you shall not listen to Me,' but we still have some people trying to draw conclusions leading to other avenues. They have already found `explicit' references that the war is the last stage in the coming of Moshiach and that there is no more need to do teshuvoh, since it is not our sins, which are the cause of our suffering, but ikvesa demeshicho."

In that same shmuess HaRav Shach also said that the entire method of the people making these calculations goes contrary to our whole tradition: "We believe with a complete faith in the coming of Moshiach. He can come tomorrow, today and also now. But who can rely on statements from the Zohar, whose esoteric secrets are only understood by the initiated? Even if we could understand statements according to their plain meaning, we should still not rely on a sole ma'amar Chazal. Otherwise, we could reach the conclusion that the tzoras habas is permitted. Our only guideline for halachic rulings are the books of the poskim. The Rambam mentions only one sign (see Hilchos Teshuvoh and Hilchos Melochim): `They all commanded us to repent, and the Torah has already promised that the Jewish nation will repent in the end at the time of the redemption and then they will be redeemed immediately, as it says, "And it shall come to pass when all these things shall happen to you -- that you shall return unto Hashem your G-d." '

"The Chofetz Chaim also spoke a lot about the geuloh, and we can see from his books that he was very fluent in the Zohar, but nevertheless we do not find him making any hints about these signs. A ben yeshiva has to know from which sources to derive halachic rulings. From any other sources, however holy, we cannot derive anything; even if the angel Gavriel should come and make a ruling contrary to the Rambam, the halocho will not change, because that is how we make rulings, and not by using other signs or hints."

These thoughts apply very much to our current situation too. Any attempt to explain grim events as "part of the redemption process," as part of a divinely directed course of events not affecting us, diverts attention from our real duty.

As HaRav Shach said then in the middle of the war: "What is our duty? In what lies our strength? What is our weapon? Every Jew is obligated not to have his attention diverted from his duties. There are Jews losing their lives, and with every minute of Torah learning we can protect and save them. In addition, we must adopt our ancestors' practice regarding appeasement and prayer. This is our great obligation at this time, to believe and know that it is within our power and that we have to tip the scales for merit, and that if, chas vesholom, we do not do so, we will be responsible for the blood of our brethren who are risking their lives every minute."

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