"This is the Lord's Doing ֠It is Wondrous in Our Eyes!"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

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Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

"This is the Lord's Doing – It is Wondrous in Our Eyes!"

 

Based on a sicha by Harav Yehuda Amital

Adapted by Shaul Barth; translated by David Silverberg

 

 

            Every year at the beginning of the month of Iyar, we experience Yom Ha-Zikaron (Memorial Day for fallen soldiers) and Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Independence Day) one right after the other.  It is usually quite difficult to celebrate joyous occasions so soon after commemorating mournful ones, but Rashi teaches us a profound lesson in this regard in his commentary to Bereishit (6:6): "In a time of joy – there shall be joy, and in a time of grief – there shall be grief."

 

When I read these comments of Rashi, I cannot help but recall the wedding of my eldest daughter, which took place in the yeshiva immediately after the Yom Kippur War.  After all the pain resulting from that war – both the pain of the nation and the pain of our yeshiva, which lost eight students – I found it very difficult to listen to the band, and I almost did not join in the dancing.  But then I was approached by Justice Zvi Tal, whose son's wedding I had performed on Rosh Chodesh Elul, right before the war.  His son went out to battle and never returned.  Justice Tal mentioned to me these words of Rashi – "In a time of joy – there shall be joy, and in a time of grief – there shall be grief." 

 

Rashi's comments also bring to mind the day of 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), when two very significant events transpired.  On that day, we received the tragic news of the fall of Gush Etzion and the massacre of its defenders, but on that same day Jewish statehood was declared.  It seems that ever since that day, the Jewish Nation has found it difficult to draw a complete separation between bereavement and celebration.

 

This pattern has repeated itself in recent years, as well, as we witnessed brutal terror attacks on an almost daily basis.  Nevertheless, we insist that "in a time of joy – there shall be joy, and in a time of grief – there shall be grief."  Indeed, there can be no doubt that despite the pain, there is something to celebrate.  In 1948, I learned the dreadful news of the fall of Gush Etzion, and today we see Gush Etzion flourishing and prospering; I simply have no words to describe how this stirs the heart, and we can declare wholeheartedly, "This is the day that the Lord has made – we shall exult and rejoice on it!"

           

The prophet relates in II Melakhim (14:23-27):

 

In the fifteenth year of Amatzya son of Yoash, Yarovam son of Yoash, king of Israel, ruled in Shomron for forty-one years.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not deviate from all the sins of Yarovam son of Nevat, who had led Israel to sin.  He restored Israel's border from Levo Chamat until the Arava Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken through His servant, the prophet Yona son of Amitai from Gat-Chefer.  For the Lord beheld Israel's very bitter suffering, that Israel had hardly a bound or free man, and the Lord did not declare that the name of Israel should be eradicated from under the heavens; and so He saved them through the hands of Yarovam son of Yoash.

 

A situation arose where there was "hardly a bound or free man," and the Almighty decided to intervene so that the name of Israel would not disappear.

           

I do not wish to compare the situation of Jewish People at the time of the State's founding with the situation during the time of Yarovam ben Yoash, but there has never been a state of near destruction comparable to the one following the Holocaust.  Had events unfolded according to their natural course, Heaven forbid, and had the well-arranged armies that invaded the Land of Israel on 5 Iyar and fought against untrained groups of Jews succeeded in overpowering us, we may have indeed reached the point of "the name of Israel would be eradicated from under the heavens," God forbid.

 

            We read at the end of Makkot:

 

Once [the Sages] were ascending to Jerusalem.  When they reached Mount Scopus, they rent their garments.  When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a jackal leaving from the site of the inner sanctum [of the Temple]; they began weeping, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. 

They said to him, "Why do you laugh?"  He said to them, "Why do you weep?" 

They said to him, "Jackals now tread on the site regarding which it is written, 'And the foreigner who approaches shall die' (Bamdibar 1:51) – shall we not weep?" 

He said to them, "For this very reason I laugh… In the context of [the prophecy of] Uriya it is written, 'Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field' (Yirmiyahu 26:18), and in [the prophecy of] Zekharya it is written, 'Elderly men and women shall once again sit along the streets of Jerusalem' (Zekharya 8:5).  Until Uriya's prophecy was realized, I feared that perhaps Zekharya's prophecy would not be realized; but now that Uriya's prophecy has been realized, it is certain that Zekharya's prophecy will be realized."

 

What unique promise did Zekharya's prophecy convey?  Did the Jews not know that the Almighty would rescue the nation?  There are so many stirring prophecies of redemption in Yeshayahu.  Why was it specifically Zekharya's prophecy that provided consolation for Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues?

           

Moreover, once Rabbi Akiva chose – for whatever reason – to cite from Zekharya, why did he prefer this verse over the immediately preceding passage, which deals directly with the rebuilding of the Temple – "Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion and I shall reside in the midst of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem shall be called 'The City of Truth,' and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts, 'The Sacred Mountain'"?  The rabbis wept upon seeing a jackal scurrying about on the site of the Mikdash.  Why did Rabbi Akiva not draw their attention to a prophecy that foretells the rebuilding of the Temple ruins? 

 

It seems that Rabbi Akiva's colleagues would not have found consolation upon hearing the first prophecy, the promise of the Temple's restoration, just as they would not have drawn comfort from Yeshayahu's many prophecies relating to the same theme.  Only Zekharya's second prophecy – "Elderly men and women shall once again sit along the streets of Jerusalem" – provided a source of comfort.  What is unique about this prophecy?

 

            We find a debate among the Rishonim as to whether human nature will undergo a fundamental change in the Messianic era.  The Rambam writes in his Guide of the Perplexed (III:32):

 

Although in every one of the signs [miracles] the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by God by way of a miracle.  It is in accordance with this important principle that God said, "O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me…" (Devarim 5:26).

 

In other words, God will alter nature in performing miracles, but will never change the nature of man.  The Ramban, in contrast, presents a different approach in his commentary to Devarim:

 

"And the Lord shall circumcise your heart" (Devarim 30:6): The following concept that I present emerges from the Scriptures.  Namely, since the time of creation people have had the power to do as they wish – to be righteous or wicked – and this is so throughout the time of the Torah, so that they will earn merit by choosing good and punishment by preferring evil.  In the times of the Messiah, however, they will by nature choose good; their heart will not desire that which is inappropriate, and one will not crave it at all… At that time, man will return to his state before the sin of Adam, who would by nature do what was appropriate to do and did not wish for something and its opposite… This is the elimination of the evil inclination and the fashioning of the heart [to desire] appropriate conduct… At that time, there will be no need to train them; rather, their inclination will at that time be altogether eliminated.

 

According to the Ramban, in the time of Mashiach the Almighty will change the nature of man.

 

            In the 19th Century, R. Shmuel Mohliver suggested the possibility of rebuilding the Mikdash in his time, and he requested a letter of approbation from R. Yehoshua of Kutna.  R. Yehoshua, however, responded that rebuilding the Temple at that time would serve no purpose; in any event, the vast majority of the Jewish people had no interested in offering sacrifices.  R. Mohliver replied that a minority can bring the public sacrifices on behalf of the entire nation, and sacrifices could thus be offered even if the majority of Jews were uninterested.

 

            The Keli Chemda, a student of R. Yehoshua of Kutna, wrote that R. Mohliver's response did not address the Rav of Kutna's contention.  The Rav of Kutna meant that if most of the nation has no interest in offering sacrifices, then there is no possibility of offering on their behalf.  The sacrifices have no meaning or purpose if the people on whose behalf they are offered are not ready for it.  The Keli Chemda thus concluded by claiming that rebuilding the Mikdash would not solve anything if the people are not ready for it; the Mikdash has no significance until the people show an interest in it.

 

            We can now understand Rabbi Akiva's remarks to his colleagues.  Had Rabbi Akiva attempted to console them by citing prophecies about the restoration of the Mikdash, his attempts would have been to no avail.  After all, the Rambam maintains that human nature will not undergo any intrinsic change in the times of Mashiach, and the rabbis would not have believed that in the near future Am Yisrael would repent and earn the rebuilding of the Temple.  Rabbi Akiva therefore mentioned the promise that "elderly men and women shall once again sit along the streets of Jerusalem;" Zekharya conveys here a different prophecy, one which does not hinge on the previous prophecy of the Temple's restoration.  Upon hearing this prophecy, the rabbis felt consoled; they understood that this prophecy could, indeed, unfold already in their time, even before the repentance of the entire nation.

 

            At weddings and sheva berakhot, we recite a blessing which mentions five sounds: "May there again be heard in the cities of Judea and in the markets of Jerusalem the sound of jubilation, the sound of joy, the sound of a groom, the sound of a bride, the sound of the rejoicing of grooms from their canopies and young men from their feast of dancing."  The origin of this text is a prophecy of Yirmiyahu (33:11).  The first four sounds are identical in both texts.  However, whereas in the berakha we describe the fifth "sound" as the sound young men celebrating, Yirmiyahu speaks of a much different "sound:" "The sound of people saying: 'Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for His kindness is eternal' – and of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the House of the Lord."  What a beautiful sound – people expressing thanksgiving to God and bringing sacrifices in the Beit Ha-Mikdash!  Why did the Sages change the text in formulating this berakha?  Why did they not include the sound of people offering sacrifices among the "sounds" that we pray to God to restore?

 

            The Sages instituted this berakha in the aftermath of the Temple's destruction.  They sought to console the people by telling them that although the ideal state of a rebuilt Mikdash will not likely be achieved in the near future, there is another prophecy that can be fulfilled in the near future – the promise of joy and security.  Rabbi Akiva similarly consoled his colleagues in this fashion, insisting that even if the Temple's return does not appear on the horizon, there is still something to anticipate and to give thanks for.  Even if the supreme ideal has yet to materialize, we still owe a debt of gratitude to the Almighty for the blessings He has bestowed upon us.

           

During the Hallel service, we say, "This is the Lord's doing – it is wondrous in our eyes."  Indeed, everything that takes place around us is "wondrous in our eyes."  Everything that has taken place in the State of Israel since its founding until today has unfolded in a miraculous fashion.  The United Nations' decision to establish a Jewish state occurred before East and West had united on any other issue.  The War of Independence was also a miracle; it is difficult to describe to you what it was like when organized armies with modern weaponry fought against a nation whose weapons were obtained from secret caches.  After the war came the great miracle of immigration, the result of which is today's population of over five million Jews in Israel.  The most anti-Israel countries opened their doors and allowed their Jews to emigrate to Israel – an unfathomable irony.  The Arabs had fought relentlessly against Jewish immigration to Israel – how did they suddenly allow their Jewish citizens to move to Israel?  Each time, a window of opportunity miraculously opened and the Jews were quickly taken to Israel.  The Jewish immigration from the Communist nations and the immigrants' absorption in Israel is likewise a remarkable phenomenon.  And we have not even begun to discuss the Six Day War and the economic, military and scientific strength of the State of Israel today. 

 

            Herzl is always spoken of as the founder of Zionism, but I would argue that his vision was a romantic one, which had no grounding in reality.  There was no chance that the Jewish people would leave the Diaspora in order to come to the Land of Israel.  Rashi, commenting on the verse, "with a mighty hand he [Pharaoh] shall chase them from his land" (Shemot 6:1), explains that Pharaoh's "mighty hand" was necessary because Bnei Yisrael would otherwise not have agreed to leave.  From that time until today, every wave of mass immigration of Jews to Israel resulted from crisis or life-threatening danger.  Even the vision of the State's founders, the men of the second aliya such as Ben Gurion and his colleagues, collapsed on the day statehood was declared and thousands of Jewish refugees came to Israel from internment camps on Cyprus.  These leaders had a different vision, a vision of a new people, a strong, powerful country, rather than a religious, exilic people.  They scorned the "golus Jew," claiming that he had simply walked like sheep to the slaughter.

 

Natan Alterman once wrote a poem that tells of a ship bringing refugees to the recently-established State, and he describes the alienation felt by the "sabras" in Israel towards those immigrants and the fundamentally different mentalities of these two populations.  He goes on to describe how the immigrants' culture "strangled" the healthy culture of the Israelis, and depicts the struggle that ensued between the immigrants and the natives over the character of the State.  This poem was written when this struggle still was being fought, before the mass immigration.  Once the thousands of refugees arrived, it became clear that the entire Zionist dream to establish a "new people" had completely collapsed.  It is hard to describe what the situation in Israel would be like had events unfolded differently, and we cannot explain in natural terms how this vision crumbled and the State assumed a distinctly Jewish character, a place of refuge for every Jew.  "This is the Lord's doing – it is wondrous in our eyes!"

 

In conclusion, I would remark that "independence" implies acting upon the stage of history and reaching decisions responsibly.  Along with the State, God gave us several options, and we now face one main concern.  Although the State of Israel is strong and will survive, the question remains whether it will be a Jewish state, or simply the State of Israel, in a number of years.  We must work to guarantee the Jewish character of the State, as well as the Jewish majority of its population.  The "solution" of bringing people of questionable Jewish status here in order to make us the majority does not help - it adds to the problem.  I never believed in religious coercion, but I have always believed in a State with a distinctly Jewish character, and right now that character is fading.  We cannot fulfill our obligation by simply saying, "God will help;" we have to stand up and act!

 

Let us conclude with the David's stirring words in Tehillim (144:9, 15): "God, I shall sing to You a new song; I shall sing praises to You with a ten-stringed harp… Fortunate is the nation who has it so – fortunate is the nation for whom God is Lord!"

 

 

(This sicha was delivered on Yom Ha-Atzmaut 5763 [2003].)