When the Tests are Mir­a­cles – Part I

Di­vine Prov­i­dence or co­in­ci­dence? The choice – and chal­lenge – is yours.

The Jewish Voice - - JEWISH FEATURES - By: Reb­bet­zin Es­ther Jun­greis, a’h (TO BE CON­TIN­UED NEXT WEEK)

The Tal­mud re­lates that af­ter the de­struc­tion of our Holy Tem­ple, Rabbi Akiva and the Sages of Is­rael were walk­ing on the streets of Jerusalem. As they came to the Tem­ple Mount, they be­held a dev­as­tat­ing sight. There, where the Sanc­tu­ary had once stood in majesty and splen­dor, where the Holy of Holies had been, were only ru­ins, and wild foxes were roam­ing about.

The Sages broke down and wept.

"Woe is us," they wailed, "that we have seen this with our own eyes."

But Rabbi Akiva did not weep. In­stead, he smiled.

"How can you smile at such a time?" his col­leagues asked, shocked.

"I smile," Rabbi Akiva an­swered, "be­cause to­day I have seen the ful­fill­ment of prophecy, for the same prophet who fore­told the de­struc­tion also fore­told that the Tem­ple shall be re­built. The same prophet who proph­e­sied our ex­ile, also proph­e­sied that we shall re­turn to Jerusalem in joy. And so I smile, for now that the first part of our prophecy has come to pass, the sec­ond part will surely come to be."

"Akiva," the Sages de­clared, "you have com­forted us."

That smile of Rabbi Akiva kept our peo­ple go­ing through­out the cen­turies, and even in the dark­est mo­ments, we knew that God did not for­get us.

From the ashes of Auschwitz we rose like a phoenix, and, by the grace of God, rein­vented our­selves as a na­tion. We re­built the To­rah academies that were once the pride and glory of Euro­pean Jewry and raised a new gen­er­a­tion of sons and daugh­ters to live by the Law of God.

Af­ter al­most 2,000 years, we re­turned to our an­cient land, and we, the dry bones of the Holo­caust, were joined by Jews from the four cor­ners of the world. They came from the most re­mote places – places where we were un­aware that Jews even ex­isted – the sick, the lame, the bat­tered, the down­trod­den, the poor, and the broken-hearted – they all came. And also the strong, the wise, the learned, the successful, the ide­al­is­tic. To­gether, we formed a mighty com­pany and were wit­ness to the be­gin­ning of the ful­fill­ment of the prophetic in­gath­er­ing of the ex­iles.

"Fear not, My peo­ple, Is­rael, for I am with you.

"I will bring your seed from the east and gather them from the west, and I will say to the north, 'give up,' and to the south, 'Keep not back, bring My sons from afar and My daugh­ters from the ends of the earth" (Isa­iah 43:5-6).

At the gen­e­sis of our his­tory, the Land of Is­rael was a par­adise on earth, and we lov­ingly tilled her soil. When we were taken into ex­ile, God made a prom­ise that the land would re­vert to a waste­land and await our home­com­ing. Many na­tions tried to set­tle her, to re­build her ru­ins, and bring forth her fruit, but the land would not yield to any of them and stub­bornly re­mained a desert of this­tles and stones. Through­out the long, painful cen­turies of our ex­ile, we were de­nied the right to own land and all but for­got how to work the soil, and yet, when we re­turned, overnight, we con­verted that desert into a gar­den; planted or­chards, vine­yards, and forests; built high­ways and cities; and were wit­ness to the mir­a­cle of a dor­mant land come to life again.

"I will re­store the for­tune of My peo­ple, Is­rael, and they shall re­build the ru­ined cities and in­habit them. They shall plant vine­yards and drink the wine and they shall plant gar­dens and eat the fruit" (Amos 9:14).

Dur­ing our in­fancy as a na­tion we de­feated mighty king­doms and were led in bat­tle by val­or­ous men like Joshua and David, but dur­ing our long tor­tur­ous ex­ile, we be­came fair game, to be re­viled, at­tacked, and killed, and were de­nied the right to de­fend our­selves. And yet overnight, we, the bat­tered rem­nant of the Holo­caust, who had long for­got­ten how to fight, en­listed a pow­er­ful army and tri­umphed over more than one hun­dred mil­lion Arabs who had sworn to drive us into the sea. The awe­some­ness of it all should have given us pause, should have made us re­al­ize that God did not for­get us, but even as we were blind to the wake-up calls of suf­fer­ing, we were even more blind to the wake-up calls of bless­ings and vic­tory.

In days of dark­ness, there are al­ways those who turn to God, but in times of pros­per­ity and suc­cess, it is easy to take God's bless­ings for granted. It is easy to be­come ar­ro­gant, easy to de­clare God's mir­a­cles "or­di­nary events," easy to de­lude our­selves into be­liev­ing that "my strength and my might did all this" (Deuteron­omy 8:17).

Noth­ing that oc­curs in life is a ran­dom event, that which we would term co­in­ci­dence is also part of God's mas­ter plan. There are times, how­ever, when the hand of God is hid­den, but there are other mo­ments when it is eas­ier to dis­cern His prov­i­dence. Such was the time of the Six Day War. Not since Bi­b­li­cal times did we see mir­a­cles such as those we wit­nessed dur­ing that pe­riod. The com­bined forces of the Arab na­tions united to an­ni­hi­late Is­rael. But it wasn't only the Arabs – for­mer Nazi of­fi­cers who had fled Ger­many at the end of WW II were en­sconced in Cairo and Da­m­as­cus and only too will­ing to share their Holo­caust ex­per­tise. Rus­sia not only en­cour­aged and sup­ported the Arabs, but pro­vided them with the most so­phis­ti­cated weaponry, as well as "ad­vi­sors" to train them. Those were the days of the Cold War and the Com­mu­nist coun­tries ea­gerly sup­plied the Arabs with all the arms they needed. DeGaulle of France openly en­dorsed the Arabs and re­fused to de­liver planes that Is­rael had paid for; Eng­land mouthed empty plat­i­tudes (they had al­ready done their dam­age by train­ing and equip­ping the crack Jor­da­nian Arab Le­gion). The U.S. was mired in the war in Viet­nam and Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son told Abba Eban, the Is­raeli For­eign Min­is­ter, to prac­tice re­straint, while the State Depart­ment ad­vised that U.S. in­volve­ment be lim­ited to the frame­work of the UN. In short, the en­tire world was ar­rayed against Is­rael, and the Arabs were armed to the teeth.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom saw Is­rael's de­feat as a fore­gone con­clu­sion. How could tiny Is­rael, over­whelm­ingly out­num­bered, sur­rounded by en­e­mies, pre­vail when no na­tion in the en­tire world was will­ing to help her? Once again, there was si­lence as the world read­ied it­self for an­other Holo­caust. But we, the Jewish peo­ple, were not silent, and in an un­prece­dented mo­ment of unity turned to God in prayer and sup­pli­ca­tion.

I re­call those days vividly. I re­mem­ber how Jews who never went to syn­a­gogue, even on the High Holy Days, came to pray, and this held true not only for our com­mu­nity, but for Jews through­out the world. And more, we, the na­tion that had al­ways been splin­tered, po­lar­ized, and di­vided, put aside our dif­fer­ences and be­came one in our love for Is­rael. Lines formed in front of ev­ery Is­raeli em­bassy, vol­un­teers by the thou­sands of­fered their re­sources, their strength, their very lives.

In Is­rael it­self, the na­tion re­sponded above and beyond the call of duty. Debts were sus­pended and dis­putes were for­given. Most adults were at the front. Young­sters took over the run­ning of the so­cial ser­vices and those who were in dis­tant lands re­turned home to do bat­tle for their coun­try.

And then, the mir­a­cle oc­curred. In six light­ning days, Is­rael van­quished all her foes and saw her en­e­mies flee be­fore her. The sto­ries of the many mir­a­cles that took place in those days are le­gion and have yet to be recorded in the an­nals of his­tory.

When the war be­gan on June 5, 1967, the mir­a­cles quickly un­folded. The Is­raeli Air Force went forth on a haz­ardous mis­sion. The Egyp­tians had pre­pared

It is easy to be­come ar­ro­gant, easy to de­clare God's mir­a­cles "or­di­nary events," easy to de­lude our­selves into be­liev­ing that "my strength and my might did all this" (Deuteron­omy 8:17). And more, we, the na­tion that had al­ways been splin­tered, po­lar­ized, and di­vided, put aside our dif­fer­ences and be­came one in our love for Is­rael And more, we, the na­tion that had al­ways been splin­tered, po­lar­ized, and di­vided, put aside our dif­fer­ences and be­came one in our love for Is­rael

hun­dreds of mis­siles for their at­tack on Is­rael, but be­fore their planes could take off or their mis­siles could be launched, Is­rael de­stroyed the com­bined air power of Egypt, Jor­dan, Syria, and Iraq! Is­rael, with her out­dated French Su­per Mys­tere fight­ers, de­stroyed the most so­phis­ti­cated Rus­sian MIGs on the ground.

Many tried to ex­plain the Is­rael Air Force's suc­cess ra­tio­nally: "The Is­raelis flew be­low the Egyp­tian radar" – "Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence re­ports on the ad­vanc­ing Is­raeli air­craft never reached the Egyp­tian Com­man­der in Chief " – "The night be­fore Is­rael at­tacked, there was a big bash for the Egyp­tian brass, and early the next morn­ing, the Egyp­tians met with a dis­tin­guished Iraqi del­e­ga­tion, so when Is­rael struck, the Egyp­tian High Com­mand was not at its post," and so on.

But mir­a­cles do not mean that God has to over­turn the laws of na­ture or cre­ate some­thing that never be­fore ex­isted. On the con­trary, mir­a­cles are part of God's ar­chi­tec­tural plan. On the sixth day, as God was about to com­plete His cre­ation, He added su­per­nat­u­ral events, mak­ing mir­a­cles part of na­ture. Na­ture it­self is a mir­a­cle in which God's hand is con­stantly man­i­fest. The very fact that Egyp­tian radar did not de­tect the Is­raeli planes, that in­tel­li­gence re­ports failed to reach the proper ears, that com­mand­ing of­fi­cers were busy par­ty­ing on the night prior to the at­tack and were again di­verted the fol­low­ing morn­ing by a high level meet­ing with Iraqis, were all co­in­ci­dences that were not co­in­ci­dences, but mir­a­cles of God.

I have of­ten had dis­cus­sions with peo­ple who in­sisted that the mir­a­cle of the split­ting of the Reed Sea was not a mir­a­cle at all, but low tide. In­stead of ar­gu­ing, I would tell them that, if the tide was low at the pre­cise mo­ment that the Jewish peo­ple had to cross, and sud­denly rose again when the Egyp­tians en­tered the sea, that was mir­a­cle enough for me!

Call it what you will, but all the well-laid plans of the Arabs, the Rus­sians, and their hate-mon­ger­ing sup­port­ers, were foiled. As in days of yore, when Pharaoh and his host drowned in the sea while Is­rael went forth to the Promised Land, so too, Nasser, the mod­ern Pharaoh, and his co­horts drowned and the Jewish peo­ple went forth to re­claim their an­cient land.

When God's mir­a­cles are hid­den in nat­u­ral events, when we are far re­moved from spir­i­tu­al­ity, mir­a­cles can be dis­missed as "luck," "co­in­ci­dence," or just smart moves made by clever peo­ple.

As gen­er­a­tions move far­ther away from that awe­some spir­i­tual mo­ment when God spoke at Si­nai, they also be­come less spir­i­tual, less ca­pa­ble of be­liev­ing in His in­volve­ment in their daily lives. But na­ture it­self is no less mirac­u­lous than the su­per­nat­u­ral. This con­cept is re­in­forced through­out our To­rah and prayers. For ex­am­ple, in the sec­ond bless­ing of She­moneh Es­rei, the Silent Med­i­ta­tion, in which we praise God for bring­ing souls back to life, we also pro­nounce the bless­ing for rain, teach­ing us that one is no more dif­fi­cult for God than the other.

There is a fa­mous story in the Tal­mud about Rabbi Chan­ina's daugh­ter, who was heart­bro­ken when she dis­cov­ered that she had mis­tak­enly bought vine­gar rather than oil for the Sab­bath lamps.

"Don't worry, my daugh­ter," the Rabbi as­sured her. "The same God Who de­crees that oil should burn, can com­mand that vine­gar should do so as well." Hence the pop­u­lar Yid­dish say­ing, "If God wills it, a broom can shoot, but if not, even the most pow­er­ful weapon is of no avail."

A close study of the To­rah will re­veal that su­per­nat­u­ral mir­a­cles are al­ways couched in the nat­u­ral: God feeds us manna in the desert, but He sand­wiches the manna be­tween two lay­ers of dew so that their fresh­ness ap­pears nat­u­ral. Prior to his death, God tells Moses to as­cend to the moun­tain so that he may be­hold the en­tire land of Is­rael and the fu­ture his­tory of our peo­ple.

Re­call­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences while vis­it­ing Jerusalem af­ter the six day war of 1967, Reb­bet­zin Jun­greis tells us of the majesty and mu­nif­i­cence of G-d and the abun­dance of mir­a­cles that He brought for His peo­ple

Reb­bet­zin Es­ther Jun­greis, a’h, a holy tzadekes who walked with Hashem was the late founder and pres­i­dent of Hi­neni, the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned To­rah out­reach or­ga­ni­za­tion. In 2006, she au­thored the best­selling book, “Life Is A Test” (Artscroll).

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