Eis Tzara L’Yaakov

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One of the world’s leading Torah thinkers began a shiur last week by reminding his audience that while there is no mitzvah from the Torah of fixed daily davening, there is a Torah mitzvah to beseech Hashem in times of trouble. How foolish, he said, are those who do not recognize that we are today living in an eis tzara.

I was not in Eretz Yisrael at the time of the shiur, and only heard about it second hand, so I’m not sure to which of the many afflictions confronting our nation he was referring – external threats to the security of nearly five million Jews in Israel, internal threats to the kedushah of Klal Yisrael, or even to the bitter machlokes in one of the Torah world’s most venerated yeshivos, which is regular fodder for the bemused secular press in Israel.

Let us start with the first of these possibilities – the security threat to the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. The first casualty of the Democratic takeover of Congress appears to be any chance that President Bush will act to remove the Iranian nuclear threat before it materializes. A president widely perceived as a lame duck and already bogged down in an unpopular war in Iraq lacks the political capital necessary for such an audacious step, given that the negative consequences of any such attack are far more certain than success.

Furthermore, the fact that the “realists” of the Bush ’41 administration are returning to seats of power – Robert Gates at Defense, James Baker as head of the Iraq Study Commission – strongly suggests that the President is backpedaling from his previous denunciation of Iran as a leading member of the Axis of Evil, or from any other form of confrontation. Baker, who once famously offered Prime Minister Shamir the number of the White House switchboard to call when he was serious about peace, is on record as believing in the possibility of constructive engagement with Iran.

More than three years of the Europeans being jerked around on a string by Iran without a single sanction being imposed makes it clear that there is no hope coming from that direction. The Russians, Chinese, and likely the French would almost certainly veto any sanctions regime involving more than the merest slap on the wrist.

The West might secretly hope that Israel will save its lunch by rendering a serious blow to the Iranian nuclear program, just as it did when it destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in 1981. But whether Israel has the capability to seriously damage the Iranian nuclear program is very much in doubt, despite the muscular threats emanating from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prior to his recent trip to Washington to meet with President Bush. Iran is well aware of the Osirak precedent, and has spread its nuclear facilities across the country and buried them deap underground.

Even if Israel possesses the capability to set back Iran’s nuclear program by several years, it is by no means certain that she would risk the inevitable backlash that would accompany such a strike. Any attack upon Iran will almost certainly result in Iran closing the Straits of Hormuz, through which a large percentage of the world’s daily oil supply flows, by sinking one or more warships at the narrow entrance to the Straits. The result would almost certainly be an immediate sharp spike in world oil prices, which would in turn deal a body blow to Western economies.

Such an Israeli strike would play directly into European hands. If the strike were successful, well and good, a serious threat to the West is averted for the time being. But whether or not the strike is successful, the West would feel free to condemn Israel’s reckless, preemptive action (which, as we have pointed out, would certainly trigger severe negative economic consequences that will be felt by every citizen of the West), as it condemned Israel’s attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981. Indeed an Israeli preemptive strike could provide many Western states the pretext they have long sought to confer upon Israel official pariah status as an offering to the Arab states whom they never tire of appeasing (even as those same Western and Sunni Moslem states secretly breathed a sigh of relief at the removal of the Iranian threat).

So it appears likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons in the next few years without encountering any substantial Western resistance. That is bad news for the conservative Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, it is bad news for the entire world because of the potential control over world oil supplies it will give to an expansionist Iranian regime eager to export its brand of Islam, and it is particularly bad news for Israel, which will live under an Iranian nuclear cloud.

The fear factor in Israel will only be heightened by the likelihood that the next Grand Ayatollah in Iran will be none other than Ahmadinejad’s clerical mentor Ayatollah Mohammed Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, someone far to the right even of the current Iranian ruler, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed last week the possible consequences of that fear factor, with remarkable candor, if not necessarily great wisdom:

“The danger is not so much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack, but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. I’m afraid that under such a threat, most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. . . . I’m afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button.”

THINGS HARDLY LOOK BETTER ON THE GAZA FRONT. In the wake of last week’s U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, with only three nations of any international stature – the U.S., Australia, and Canada – voting against or abstaining, everyone from the Prime Minister to the Chief of Staff has suddenly declared that Israel has no current answer to Kassam fire on Sderot and other Negev communities, or at least one that would not come at an intolerable diplomatic cost. One wishes that they had given a little more thought to this particular problem before lending their enthusiastic support to the Gaza withdrawal.

By voting to condemn Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, taken in response to ongoing missile fire on Israeli civilians from Gaza, the world has effectively denied Israel the right to defend itself from lethal attacks. The question addressed by Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Gillerman to the French, during the General Assembly debate, “If France were shelled from across the border, what would France do?” is not only just but unavoidable.

Unfortunately, the Europeans are perfectly capable of ignoring that question in their eagerness to scapegoat Israel for every single problem in the world. That latter tendency was on ample display last week, when embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair, usually the staunchest of European leaders, declared that the resolution of all the West’s conflicts with politicized Islam depends on upon solving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and Israel’s willingness to make further territorial concessions. About the futility of such negotiations with a partner that has yet to take its first step to thwart terrorism or to stop educating its children to kill Jews, fifteen years after the start of the Oslo process, Blair had nothing to say.

Last Independence Day, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz declared that he had no need of a Higher Power to assist him in his endeavors, and that he was perfectly happy relying on his own intelligence and determination. Since then, Halutz’s fate has been no happier than another Jewish warrior who made similar declarations of his lack of need for Divine assistance: Bar Kochba. Halutz presided over last summer’s disastrous war in Lebanon, and seems a fair bet to be one of the few Chiefs of Staff ever dismissed in the middle of his term.

Halutz was chosen for his current position primarily on the basis of his eagerness to execute the withdrawal from Gaza. Now he admits that neither the government nor the IDF have “come to terms” with Kassam fire from Gaza.

Perhaps it is about time to recognize that we have no choice but to rely on Hashem to protect us, and to call out to Him in this eis tzara.

Appeared in Yated Ne’eman USA edition, November 22.

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19 Responses

  1. Ahron says:

    >“But what they lack is a knowledge that some people are evil and eveil persists among identifiable groups of people for some time…they also lack perhaps a correct understanding of right and wrong…[they] lack seichel because they lack Torah.”

    The inimitable GK Chesterton is famously said to have noted: “When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing–they’ll believe anything.” The vacuity and foolishness of Israel’s rulers is likely not unrelated to their secularism. As to which causes which…I’m mindful of the fact that it was the religiously-based West that gave rise to modern science. Secularism and atheism have implications and consequences, just as belief in God has implications and consequences.

  2. Sammy Finkelman says:

    Comment 9> Is is sort of interesting that Israel is ruled by “secularists” but these secularists are somehow not able to act secular; they are Jews in their bones and act like it, but (what seems to me as) without the seichel that would be the result if we were led by real G’dolim. Weds Night/Thursday was the Yarzeit of both Rav Aharon Kotler ztz’l and Rav Noson Wachtfogel ztz’l. What we would give to have their clear thinking leadership.

    Comment by YM — November 23, 2006 @ 6:45 pm

    Comment 14 > YM, in what way do Israel’s leaders (Olmert, Peretz, Halutz, etc.) not act secular? By the fact they have blind faith in Israel’s survival, despite whatever they do?

    Comment by Ori Pomerantz — November 24, 2006 @ 7:49 am

    the thought that comes to mind is that they are so interested in avoiding douing anything wrong – committing a sin. And they love peace. But what they lack is a knowledge that some people are evil and eveil persists among identifiable groups of people for some time, and that there can be sinas Chinam – hatred for nothing – and bilbuls. they also lack perhaps a correct understanding of right and wrong. So that;s what he meant – they are Jews in their bones – but lack seichel because they lack Torah. If they knew more history that also would help.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Jacob Haller said, “If the Israeli government would gradually wean themselves off US monetary aid then there would be a lot more independence to make their own decisions and not wait with bated breath over election results and other less than dignified activity.”

    Foreign interference is only one problem the government has. Alienation from Torah is the main problem.

  4. Jacob Haller says:

    I would’ve preferred that the Repubs retained their majorities but the reactions from like-minded types and the accompanying interpretations leave me somewhat puzzled.

    Is George W Bush really the silver bullet, the panacea for all problems affecting Eretz Israel and Torah-minded Jews?

    He preached democracy for the Mid East with the help of the might of the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq. Then Hamas won in PA territories, Hizbollah gained ground in Lebanon and should Egypt take this direction it’s likely that the Muslim Brotherhood would clean up. Was this a step in the right direction?

    If the Israeli government would gradually wean themselves off US monetary aid then there would be a lot more independence to make their own decisions and not wait with bated breath over election results and other less than dignified activity.

    If we blindly support “pro-Israel” politicians then they can expect us to turn a blind eye towards the corruption and fiscal improprieties that the Repubs started practicing when they got too comfortable after 12 years controlling the House.

    On the other hand regarding the reality of the Dems, it will be very upsetting for myself and no doubt others if activists in the U.S. lobby for Alcee Hastings to chair the Intelligence Board because he has a strong record for Israel. Hastings is an impeached Federal judge and was impeached by a Democratic Congress. For a Democratic congress to impeach a Black judge he must have been seriously corrupt to the core. The paradigm of “good for the Jews” oversimplified and translating into pro-Israel support could contribute to our undoing. It’s our Book that taught the world “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof”; avoid disgraced Federal justices.

    One more thing; “Ashur Lo Yoshianu” Who’s Ashur today?

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I don’t know if this has much bearing on this discussion, but I checked on another board that has more military expertise (Krat’s Keller on bar.baen.com). Consensus there seems to be that the straits of Hormuz won’t be so easy to block:

    1. Too wide for sinking warships. Only narros corridors are used now for reasons for traffic control, but that could be changed as needed.

    2. Can be blockaded by missiles, artillery or warships. It would be hard for a US government not to respond with military force, and it is unlikely the straits will stay closed very long. They tried it in 1988, and lost most of their fleet.

    3. Arguably can be blockades using mines. The cost to Iran is that those mines will stay long after the present crisis passes, hurting Iran’s oil exports too.

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    YM, in what way do Israel’s leaders (Olmert, Peretz, Halutz, etc.) not act secular? By the fact they have blind faith in Israel’s survival, despite whatever they do?

  7. Nachum Lamm says:

    “It is dangerous to our long term interests for all the “frum” Jews to be in the pockets of the right wing of the Republican Party.”

    You mean in the way that 90% of American Jews are in the pocket of the left wing of the Democratic Party?

    Regardless of your (overly, in my eyes) generous assessment of the Democrats, the fact remains that the enemies of the US and Israel took the victory of the Democrats as a victory for themselves. And such impressions matter.

  8. ilana says:

    My husband z”l recited the three chapters of Psalms prescribed during the 2000 war (83, 130, 142) every single day until he died just before the war this summer. Because he understood that this is indeed an eis tzara, he never accepted the approach of quietly stopping extra Psalms once there weren’t so many bombs any more.

  9. Aryeh says:

    When thinking about hishtadlus we have to weigh whether our efforts will actually bear fruits. R’ Rosenblum raises the problems of Iranian nuclear bomb and the rocket fire from Gaza. On the Iranian issue ther’es almost nothing we can do. Writing letters to the White House and the NY Times demanding that Preside3nt Bush will take action is not going to make too much of a difference. On the rocket fire from Gaza, those who live in Israel can demonstrate, try to visit and encourage the people of Sderot. But we who live in the US can’t really do too much (except moving to Israel). Therefore, the only thing we can do is say tehillim, even if we don’t perceive as much of an immediate threat as we did during the war in lebanon. Yasher Koach to R’ Rosenblum for pointing out that everything’s not back to normal.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Ahron (today 4:07 PM) made a plausible point. However, we may have arrived at the stage in Israel where the available forms of direct political action are useless or counterproductive, so prayer is not only a good thing but (along with real teshuvah of course!) the only option.

  11. YM says:

    Is is sort of interesting that Israel is ruled by “secularists” but these secularists are somehow not able to act secular; they are Jews in their bones and act like it, but (what seems to me as) without the seichel that would be the result if we were led by real G’dolim. Weds Night/Thursday was the Yarzeit of both Rav Aharon Kotler ztz’l and Rav Noson Wachtfogel ztz’l. What we would give to have their clear thinking leadership.

  12. Barzilai says:

    Harry and Ahron’s comments remind me of something that Reb Itzaleh Volozhiner is alleged to have said at a rabbinical conference in St. Petersberg in 1843. The gathered leaders were in despair, and could not agree on any plan to address the current crises. He said that the phrase“al mi lonu le’hishoein al ovinu shebashomayim” is used several times in the Mishneh at the end of Sotah. He explained that this repetition represents the dual nature of the phrase. When desperate times cause people to despair and abandon their hishtadlus, then the use of the phrase enervates, and deepens the curse of the diaspora. If, on the other hand, people would do their hishtadlus, all the while realizing that their efforts mean nothing without God’s immediate and direct assistance, then recognizing the idea of al mi lonu le’hishoein would be a blessing, not a curse.

    I think that Mr. Rosenblum’s reference to General Halutz makes it clear that he is not suggesting that we do nothing but pray. His point is, as was Reb Itzaleh’s, that desperate times wipe away the facade of kochi v’otzem yodi, and force us to recognize that what we need is a General Halutz that knows the Mishneh in the end of Sotah.

  13. Ahron says:

    We have to recognize that we should be calling out to Hashem……. OK. Does that make this time any different from any other time? Are there times when it would not be appropriate to call out to Hashem? If there are, what are they? And what then is special about this time that puts it into the ‘call out to Hashem’ category? We need to call out to Hashem…. yes, we do. But is that all we need to do? (Is it all the Yated readership needs to do?) It seems to me that Hashem might require things from us in life in addition to calling out to Him. Working to stop the advance of evil might be one of those things.

    This was a good article whose ending feels like a platitude. It is, in any event, a truism whose plain reassertion does not advance my understanding of the picture.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    Has a democracy’s political leadership ever been less interested in its own nation’s well-being than the current ruling clique in Israel?

    In a very French kind of way, they combine the ideas of “I am the state” and “let them eat cake”.

    These “leaders” act as if they’ve been bought and paid for. They may be preparing for a cozy retirement far away from Israel.

  15. L.Oberstein says:

    Although everything Jonathan writes is true, I take exception to the beginning premise.”The first casualty of the Democratic takeover of Congress appears to be any chance that President Bush will act to remove the Iranian nuclear threat before it materializes.” The Democratic Party is not a “boogeyman”. Foreign policy in the US should always be bi-partisan. The US and Israel have strategic interests that solidify their relationship. I am sure that Israel is a major ally to the US in the War on Terror with assets (spies) in places the US only wishes it could penetrate.
    Although I personally supported the invasion of Iraq at the time and believed that it helped Israel, I see how mistaken we all were. Regardless of the possibilities, the reality today is that the US and its allies are in a mess in Iraq with no clear idea of how to achieve even the appearance of victory. It is not because the idea was wrong, but because the Republican neo-cons along with Cheney and Rumsfeld got the US into a war without a plan , with insufficient means to achieve long term success. Their hearts were in the right place but they proved incompetent.
    One more point, ultra orthodox Jews should become more Americanized and stop being so fanatic in their support of only one of the two major parties.It is dangerous to our long term interests for all the “frum” Jews to be in the pockets of the right wing of the Republican Party. The social conservatives may have many points of agreement but we will be boxed into a corner and marginalized if we cast lot with them. America is a country where religion is a private matter and we can’t legislate morality. By all means be a Republican if you must, but don’t deligitimize those who see our freedoms worth defending and care about the overall interests of our country as a whole.

  16. Harry Maryles says:

    Perhaps it is about time to recognize that we have no choice but to rely on Hashem to protect us, and to call out to Him in this eis tzara.

    Since when was this not our first line of defense? Of course! …we are to beseech God in times of trouble. But that in no way means we give up on our Hishtadlus. And to that extent we must do everything we can to convince our political leaders, both here in the US and in Israel to stand up to evil and not capitulate to it, the way the “realists” wish us to. The last “realist” who tried to do that was Chamberlain. No, not “Wilt” the “Stilt”, but Neville. We all know what that realism brought us!

    Today’s realists say, “Let’s see what they want?” “Maybe there is room for compromise…?”We need to talk with them.”

    Well. We don’t! We know exactly what they want. And they won’t stop until they get it. Who is the “they”? The “they” is perhaps the biggest Sonei Yisroel in the Middle East, Syria, and more importantly Iran and their surrogates in Lebanon Hezbollah (and their spiritually kindred spirits in Gaza, Hamas). What do “they” want? Us dead!

    It behooves us to continue our Hishtadlus in every way we can. First, by beseeching God, and second by petitioning our leaders to do the right thing and continue to stand up to evil and to never compromise with it.

  17. YM says:

    The only problem with my comment above is that the Israeli government already has a reputation for empty threats; no one would believe them.

  18. YM says:

    Israel should threaten to nuke Europe and the USA unless the all of the Arab countries recongize Israel, establish diplomatic relations and agree to resettle the Palestinian populations. Then the world will of course compromise with Israel, right? Isn’t this what we learn from Iran, threaten the USA and Europe and they will give in to the desires of the threateners? Obviously, being the good guy doesn’t work; if they are going to paint Israel as the bad guy, can’t Israel act the part?

  19. Joel Rich says:

    Perhaps it is about time to recognize that we have no choice but to rely on Hashem to protect us, and to call out to Him in this eis tzara.
    =======================================

    There is a famous difference of opinion between the Rambam and Ramban (alluded to in your 1st sentence) as to whether daily prayer (albeit not fixed) is commanded by the Torah. IIRC R’ Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt”l posited that the difference between the Rambam (who held it was) and the Ramban (who said not) flowed from the definition of eit tzara with the Rambam positing that existentially every day is an eit tzara requiring our crying out to Hashem.

    AIUI this does not exempt us from making our best efforts (hishtadlut) to deal with the threats that face us in the natural way of the world (bderech hateva).

    KT