Gaza massacre, its aftermath and our relationship to G-d

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I need some inspiration. The level of subhuman, barbarian behavior shown to our people on Oct. 7 was unprecedented, at least in recent history. This, coupled with the worldwide reaction, with millions marching in support of horrific terrorism and against the Jews (not just Israelis), from streets throughout the world’s capitals to the world’s elite universities has revealed the ugliest antisemitism in our times. I feel surrounded, directionless and that God has turned his head away from us and forsaken us, like he just doesn’t care about us anymore. Perhaps you have a different way to approach these times that may show me another way to look at the world we’re living in now?

In Need of Inspiration

Dear In Need,

I think that many are feeling like you are, so let’s try to take a new look at this truly horrific situation through the lens of our Sages. Perhaps it will help us shift our paradigm on how we should relate to our situation vis-à-vis our relationship with G-d.

The Talmud relates the story of a debate which took place between a leading rabbinic sage and a scoffer in the presence of the Roman Caesar of that time. In those times they would debate with riddles. The scoffer looked at the rabbi, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, and turned his face away from him. The rabbi replied by reaching out his hand, turning his hand palm downwards. The scoffer was sent out and the Caesar asked the rabbi, what did the other man mean by turning his face away? He replied, “The man meant to say, why do we Jews still serve our G-d if he has forsaken us, turned his face away from us, no longer caring about us as we see by all the painful things which happen to the Jews?”

The Caesar asked, and what did you reply with your hand motion? The rabbi answered that he was alluding to a verse in Isaiah which states, “…His Hand is still upon us” (Isaiah 9:11, 17, 20). Meaning to say, G-d is still with us. (Talmud Chagigah, 5b)

The commentaries raise an obvious question. The verses in Isaiah which state “His Hand is still upon us” are speaking about a very negative situation. Isaiah is warning the Jews that, due to their idol worship and forsaking G-d’s Torah, calamity after calamity has befallen them. Despite that, His wrath, “His Hand is still upon them” to bring even further calamities since they have not repented and listened to the message. That verse is quite the negative with relation to us and our relationship with G-d. How did the rabbi purport to answer the scoffer by citing that verse? (See Maharsh’a ibid.)

The answer offered by a leading Sage is that meting out punishment is the opposite of turning away. If one lays money on a public sidewalk and walks away, he doesn’t care about that money and Jewish law renders it ownerless; anyone who wants can take it. But if one throws his vessel off the roof to break it and another person breaks it on the way down, he may be liable to pay for it although it was on the way to being broken. The owner did not relinquish his ownership; his use is to break it.

G-d’s “Hand upon us” even for the bad is an answer for the scoffer turning his face. G-d has not turned His Face away from us. On the contrary, it’s quite clear that He remains very involved with us.

We can remember this especially when G-d brings upon us things which make no sense in the normal course of human events. The horrific events of Oct. 7 almost defy comprehension. Hardened combatants who have “seen it all” have broken down when seeing the bodycam recordings of what transpired that day or had to run out because it is too much to bear. The explosive, unprecedented, hateful reactions worldwide further defy comprehension and far transcend any demonstration for almost anything the world has seen. This is a type of miracle which is not far behind the splitting of the sea or other supernatural miracles recorded in the Torah when mankind goes completely berserk over the Jews.

This shows us clearly that “His Hand is still upon us” and that He is waiting for us to show Him our hand is still with Him. Let’s utilize this time as a wake-up call to enhance our Judaism and embrace His outstretched Hand and that will bring about a loving embrace which will be eternal, leading to the end of our pain for all time.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA-Dallas Area Torah Association.

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