This past week, hundreds of rockets have rained on Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip. Despite the fear felt within Israel and in the Jewish community, there has also been an amazing display of unity and resilience among our worldwide community. While casualties on both sides are regrettable and awful, the ability for a free nation to provide safety and normalcy to its people when attacked is a necessary and fundamental right. Make no mistake, it is Islamic terror groups in Gaza (and now Lebanon) who are forcing Israel into action, not vice versa.
Years ago, I met a French man who had immigrated to Israel in the late 1980’s. In 1991, while living in Tel Aviv, Saddam Hussein rained 39 scud missiles on his city. When the dust had settled, not one Israeli had been killed by the rocket fire. To give us an idea of how incredible this was, one scud missile in February of that year struck a U.S. army base in Saudi Arabia, killing 28 and wounding 98. This man was so moved by the miracles in front of his eyes, that he renewed a stronger bond to Judaism and God in his life.
Does Judaism emphasize practicality and safety, or pure faith and trust in God’s assistance? One of the earliest examples of dealing with threat of conflict in the Torah is seen with our forefather Jacob’s meeting with his brother Esau and his army. First, Jacob sent messengers of good will and peace to his brother. He asked that he forget the old grievances of the past. Jacob had experienced great hardship during the past twenty years under the conniving Laban, whereas Esau was now a great chieftain. The messengers returned with disappointment. They had failed in their mission, and reported that Esau and his army seemed in the mood for a fight.
Jacob had no choice but to prepare for battle against his brother. He wisely divided his camp into two, so that one could escape if the other were defeated. Only then, feeling that safety and deliverance were in the hands of G-d alone, he prayed that He be with him in this fight against the superior troops of Esau.
Even though he had prepared for war, Jacob did not abandon hope for a friendly settlement with Esau. He sent servants bearing rich presents for Esau, to try and arouse his compassion. At the same time, he fervently prayed to G-d to turn Esau’s anger into a feeling of brotherhood.
Peace talks have failed time and again. The prospect of a lasting and practical peace for both sides must be pursued, but in the meantime Israel must deal with the reality of the situation, preparing for war as Jacob did, all the while praying to G-d for protection and a successful outcome. Just as the rockets of the Gulf war in 1991 couldn’t kill any Jews, the hundreds of rockets in 2014 have failed as well. G-d’s protection in the times of Jacob apply now more than ever. The Iron Dome has proven a true gift from G-d, through the incredible intelligence and ingenuity of Israel’s Technicians at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.
But what can we can do to help? Just as Jacob placed his faith in Divine protection, while doing everything he could practically to achieve success, so can we. Together with advocating for Israel’s right to self defense in our newspapers, on social media and on radio, our prayers and good deeds can serve as a spiritual boost of energy to our Israeli family. We have the right to bare arms with the Mitzvah of Tefillin, and light up the darkness of the world with Shabbat candles Friday evening. May our prayers and increase in goodness lead G-d to finally end conflict and pain for our people and the world, once and for all, speedily in our days.
Rabbi Daniel Bortz
Director at JTEEN of San Diego