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









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Opinion & Comment
In Face of the Danger -- A Perspective on Emunah

by HaRav Abba Grossbard zt"l, Menahel Ruchani, Yeshivas Lomza -- Ponevezh

The following talk was delivered in Yeshivas Lomza, Petach Tikva, during the Second World War, in the midst of the battle at El Alamein, in Egypt. Its relevance to these times makes it a fitting subject, particularly now.

We do not rightly appreciate or understand the times in which we are living in. We all know that only an outright miracle and great mercy make it possible for us to gather here today in the yeshiva and to continue to study in relative tranquility. A mere hairsbreadth separated us from devastation and destruction, G-d forbid. Had the Germans ym'sh succeeded in forging ahead just a little more, they would have broken the front lines at the Egyptian border, and then our entire situation would have been destroyed and we would have shared the same fate as our unfortunate brethren in Europe.

How terrified were we a mere week ago, and how quickly were we able to revert to our complacency without experiencing the threat of the situation in its full measure! The gemora in Taanis, perek beis teaches that if there are three fatalities in a city with five hundred men, it is necessary to rouse that city and its environs by blowing the shofar to mourn the loss. Yet here, a honed sword is poised at the jugular of the entire yishuv and the danger of total annihilation looms in front of our noses; how then can we be such fools as not to feel the prickle of the sword's point?

And even if things seem to have quieted down, somewhat, still, we cannot know how things will eventually turn out.

Our situation hangs upon a precarious balance. True, even a soldier at the battlefront can become accustomed to dangerous situations and even feel apathetic to the imminent threats surrounding him, but it is not human to be totally insensitive to one's condition. This is especially true for one who believes in Hashem. Not for a moment can we blind our eyes to what is liable to happen, even if our ears do not register the cannon thunder.

In normal times, a person is incapable of grasping heavenly retribution, G-d forbid, but when it looms upon our immediate horizon in all of its dreadful magnitude, one cannot retain his equanimity. At such a time, we are obligated to submit before Hashem; we must display the natural fear that is evoked at such a time, even while placing our full trust in the A- mighty.

Some fools attempt to downplay the danger and lull public fears. They find this an opportune time to play up national pride. All of their interest is focused on creating armed Jewish brigades which they feel is the pinnacle of Jewish success. This, "surely," will save and protect the millions of Jews all over the world. Their perverted imagination conjures up the image of a Jew armed to the hilt as the only solution to the German threat. A ridiculous notion, similar to the Lithuanian generals who so proudly declared that their minuscule army was invincible, at the very time that they were threatened by the mighty, massive military armaments of Russia and Germany.

Woe unto us if Jewish leadership reaches such a myopic state that we mirror-mimic the aspirations and attitudes of the gentiles, as the prophet stated it, "Like unto the nations is the House of Israel."

This is a direct result of the gross materialism which such a large portion of our people has embraced in this period. It is so foreign to the true spirit of Judaism. The notion that Jewish might is the concretization of Jewish hope is completely strange. It is the height of alienation, because it plugs up ears from ever hearing the message of emunah and bitochon. At that point, all senses are desensitized; the antennae of faith have become atrophied, and even imminent danger no longer speaks to them.

Is the only solution to ingest the bitter pill of suicide or to go join them at the front lines and fight?

Such attitudes infiltrate our camp, too, in various forms. People talk about the necessity of self defense as a Torah- mandated mitzvah, an indispensable aspect of hishtadlus. Before allowing such notions to gain sway, we must delve into the true ways of the Torah and test ourselves to see if we are really removed from the influence of the outer world.

So here we are. Let us think for a moment: What does it behoove us to do at this juncture, according to the dictates of emunah? What follows may seem perhaps a sublime madreigoh. Still in all, it constitutes the alef- beis which every Jew should aim for.

Ramban writes in his commentary on Iyov, referring to the verse, "He does not lift His eye from the righteous one," that those tzaddikim who focus their hearts and eyes always upon Hashem are paid back by Hashem's focusing His eyes upon them, as it were, from the beginning of the year until the end of year. One who wholeheartedly cleaves always unto Hashem, will not wrest his very thoughts from Him to consider worldly matters. Such a person is always guarded from the vicissitudes of his times, even those resulting from causes in nature. He will be protected even by miracle, and it will be as if he is invulnerable to any normal occurrences or disasters that surface with time. His closeness and adherence to Hashem will verily preserve and protect him completely.

But one who is distanced from Hashem in thought and deed, even if he is not deserving of punishment by dint of his sins, will be subject to happenstance and circumstance, that is, to natural causes that will affect him.

There are many sources to uphold this premise. It is written, "The feet of His adherents does He guard, and the wicked ones shall be silenced in darkness." Those who are close to Hashem are perfectly protected, while those who are distanced from Hashem are prone and prey to happenings from whose harm nothing will save them.

Simply stated, one who walks in the dark is liable to fall if he is not watchful and does not walk slowly. But this is not the rule with the righteous, for "He does not remove His eyes from the righteous one." And thus, he will not, can not, stumble. "Hashem's eye is upon those who fear Him."

This is a novel concept, completely different from what we are used to thinking: It is not, as we might assume, that when a person cleaves unto Hashem, Hashem will surely save him, even if it requires a miracle; that Hashem will go out of His way, so to speak, and change the course of nature in that instance to protect His follower. This is not to say that this is false. Hashem will save him, but that is not how we are supposed to look at it.

Rather, when a person cleaves wholly unto Hashem, he generates a new and different nature of superior protection which supersedes normal physical protection. A person who is severed from Hashem is really prone to the rule of natural law and all that entails. Whereas one who cleaves unto Hashem allies himself to a higher governing power, a superior law, a supernatural law that is altogether not subject to the normal vicissitudes and ravages of natural law.

This is no miracle. It is a different course of natural law that is beyond the normal physical world; it is metaphysical and supernatural. A man of this caliber is more like a celestial being who is certainly not subject to the normal laws of nature and time.

This is a steadfast tenet of faith from which follows the corollary that the very reality and substance of our faith should be a striving to become closer to Hashem. The highest degree of our faith is not only expressed through a greater understanding but through an actual closeness to Hashem -- with all this entails. Included in this is the initiation into a new reality of (super)natural law of divine protection from all kinds of harm that man is heir to in normal life.

There is no doubt that if this were our goal in our daily G- dly service in getting closer to Hashem, that we would not be frightened in the least of the threats that the future holds. Our second nature, which we would have assumed through our total devotion to Hashem, would grant us immense serenity and equanimity. We would feel a total trust that creates pure peace.

A person who wholly believes in Hashem does not need to be told, "You must not fear. Remain calm and collected." He is serene, no matter what. He feels in his very bones, in the very inner recesses of his soul, that no harm will come to him. He feels secure.

"Sinners in Zion are afraid." Fear can only exist where there is sin. The righteous are fearful only when they feel they are growing apart from Hashem. But when they feel close to Him, they are living in a different world.

And so it is. Their reality is different, the governing laws of "nature" are such that are invulnerable to natural disasters or other causes of harm. Only one who imagines that his safety and defense is dependent upon his own powers is afraid of a confrontation, a clash of power. But a person who considers his physical might of no consequence and relies purely on Hashem, will go through the motions of self protection, since this is an obligation from the Torah, but his trust will rest only in Hashem.

Hashem established the world to run according to natural law, and so, a person is not permitted to rely on miracles, but he will surely not ascribe his safety or success to the means and measures he took to protect himself. He will acknowledge only that it was the will of Hashem.

As adherents to Torah, it is our duty to try with all our might to approach Hashem. We must firmly believe that "He will not remove His sight from the righteous." We must strengthen ourselves in emunah. We must become absorbed in Him, so to speak.

Such dreadful times are propitious for us to discount worldly matters for we see how ultimately, they simply don't count. Everything can go up in smoke or come tumbling down in a twinkling. What possible content can human life have if it is not consecrated to Hashem? And if it is, it assumes new meaning and purpose, a new dimension, a supranatural level of existence which bequeaths serenity of spirit.

Today it is easier to realize that this world is a passing shadow, like that made by a bird in flight, as Chazal noted. Hashem's world, the one of the spirit, stands firm and secure, giving no legitimacy to fear and anxiety. Would that we felt the signs of proximity to Hashem, that we more fully realized our obligation in serving Hashem. Let us not allow external difficulties to deter us from toiling in Torah and yiras Shomayim. From such knowledge we will derive advantage even from this difficult state of things.

"Seek Hashem when He is accessible." For the Jewish people, there is no such thing as hard times. Even the Days of Judgment are times of drawing closer to Him. There is no difference between "When I came out of Egypt" and "When I went out of Jerusalem." Precisely now, we can gain ready access to our hearts, for they have become tenderized and are more receptive. These times are geared for spiritual ascent.

Let us utilize them!

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