When the Tests are Miracles – Part I
Divine Providence or coincidence? The choice – and challenge – is yours.
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).