Israel in Turmoil: Unity, Self-Examination, and Lessons from Challenging Times

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Israel is going through difficult times, and since Shabbat Simchat Torah, we have been witnessing the horrors that haunted our fellow Jews in the South, along with the continued casualties and atrocities of war. Many thoughts about what was and what could be trouble us, coupled with the persistent question of ‘why did this happen to us?’ weigh on the minds of almost every person in Israel.

Some people like to think they understand the calculations or reasons behind the Almighty’s actions, and they believe they know the will of Hashem. They blame the terrible war on some individual or group of people who didn’t keep a specific commandment. Others claim they are safe and protected, that nothing bad will happen to them because they are righteous and sinless.

However, genuine righteousness understands that “Vehachai yiten el libo”, ‘the living will take it to heart’ (Koheles 7:2). The Midrash explains: ‘The living will take it to heart—these are the righteous who take their death to heart. And why do they strike the heart? To say that the desires that come from there cause man to sin.’

When we come to confess, we are not beating the heart of our neighbor but our own heart. When Joseph’s brothers found themselves in trouble in front of Joseph, they asked themselves, ‘What has God done to us?’ (Bereshis 42). They didn’t blame others in Canaan or Egypt.

Blaming others for their sins is a significant issue. The search for blame in the sins of others is a serious problem and is reprehensible. The war here is against the people of Israel as a whole, and is a war to ‘help Israel from the hand of the enemy’ (Rambam, Laws of Kings 5:1), and our perspective also needs to be general.

As practicing Jews, Shomrei Mitzvos, have we conscientiously conveyed the wisdom of the Torah we have acquired? Have we vividly portrayed the beauty of Shabbat to our children, ensuring they understand its significance? Has our behavior and conduct as Observant Jews radiated as a guiding light to others? To what extent have we influenced the community through our steadfast commitment to the Mitzvos and our traditions? Have we consistently served as positive role models for our colleagues in business, our social connections, and our companions, all while upholding the principles of Torah and Mitzvos?

We should always be aware that the casualties in this war are on the level of ‘Harugei Malchus,’ those slain by the wicked kingdom, above whom there is no higher level. Concerning them, [Psalms 44:23] states: ‘For Your sake, we have been slain all day, we are viewed as sheep for slaughter’ (Psalms 44:23), (Rambam Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:4). They were killed because they were Jews; their sin was being Jewish.

The sage Rabbi Zilberstein was questioned about whether this calamity is a consequence of non-observance. He replied with the following story: ‘I used to live near Balfour Street and Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv. Every Friday, an elderly Jew drove down Allenby Street with his car, sounding the shofar and proclaiming ‘Shabbat.’ Miracles occurred in Tel Aviv. The observance of Shabbat saved us. I don’t want to blame anyone. I am the main one who didn’t do what that Jew did, proclaiming ‘Shabbat’ in the streets of the city. Rabbi Zilberstein said clearly, ‘I am the one who didn’t do….’ and he would not assign blame to others.

Rather than pointing out others’ faults, we should focus on self-improvement and follow the example of Avrohom Avinu to reach out to others and bring them closer to Hashem.

The Torah should illuminate the path for everyone, regardless of their background, from left to right, secular to traditional. After the Yom Kippur War, there is a lot of documentation about the repentance of the people of Israel. Especially now, we need to be prepared to show the pleasantness of the Torah to all of Israel. Let us pray devoutly for the safe return of the hostages and soldiers, the healing of the wounded, comfort for the families, and consolation for the mourners. May we sustain the families and help all to advance spiritually until the coming of the Messiah in our time.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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