OpinionTorah Portion

Is God protecting us?

Is it only sometimes? Why not all the time?

Haredi Jews examining the remains of a rocket fired from Iran, near the southern Israeli city of Arad, April 28, 2024. Photo by Oren Ziv/Flash90.
Haredi Jews examining the remains of a rocket fired from Iran, near the southern Israeli city of Arad, April 28, 2024. Photo by Oren Ziv/Flash90.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

It’s been a tumultuous, emotional rollercoaster of a week in Israel and around the Jewish world: Memorials, moments of silence and then celebrations, albeit muted and rather subdued under our current difficult circumstances.

In this week’s parsha, Emor, we read about the required standards of behavior of the Kohanim, the Priestly tribe. They are not permitted to come into contact with the dead and their marriage choices are more limited than the average Israelite.

We also find the commandment of Kiddush Hashem. Every Jew, not only a Kohen, is expected to sanctify the name of God. Sometimes, this means actually giving up one’s life for the faith, as millions of our brethren have done throughout the ages. For most of us, however, it means behaving in a way that will bring praise to the God of Israel. When we act morally, ethically and righteously, people generally respect us, and this brings credit to our God and our faith.

Way back at this very first revelation at the Burning Bush, Moses was told by God that we were expected to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” When we have lived up to that calling, we have indeed been a “light unto the nations.”

Today, Israel is confronted with a world in which hypocrisy has reached proportions unheard of in the annals of history. The whole planet seems to have lost its moral bearings, and frankly, its senses. Even our friends are pressuring us, and now threatening and extorting us, too.

Yet we must do what we must do. Will all the hundreds of precious, young lives snuffed out be in vain if we don’t finish the job in Gaza?

Things seem very confusing. On the one hand, we recently witnessed the incredibly miraculous hand of God protecting us from a 300-plus missile and drone attack by Iran. The 99.9% success rate of our defenses simply cannot be explained militarily or scientifically. On the other hand, we have lost hundreds of our best brave defenders. Where was God there? Is there a contradiction here?

This is shaping up to be nothing less than an existential war for our very survival. The question is: Are we safe or not? Is God protecting us or not?

My mind goes back to 1991 and the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein of unblessed memory was threatening Israel with his lethal Scud missiles and even chemical weapons. Israel was distributing gas masks to every citizen in case of a chemical attack by the vicious dictator.

Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The United States warned Iraq to get out and gave it a deadline. It was not our battle. Israel has no border with Iraq and the war had nothing to do with Israel. Yet Saddam was threatening us and America provided Israel with the Patriot missile-defense system and asked us to stay out of it. The United States would deal with Iraq.

So they did, but not before Iraq had fired dozens of Scud missiles at Israel. Miraculously, there was not a single fatality.

I remember clearly how the whole Jewish world was petrified at the time. There were prayer meetings and emergency fundraisers for Israel in Jewish communities around the world, including ours.

There was one lone voice in the wilderness, however, who declared that Israel was safe and would be safe from any such attacks. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, went further and advised the Israeli government that gas masks would not be needed. How right he was.

Here in South Africa, the Zionist Federation was organizing a solidarity mission to Israel. The Rebbe encouraged us to join and several of my Chabad colleagues went with me, along with the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris. I even took along my 12-year-old daughter, Zeesy. She was the youngest member of the mission.  

It is my personal belief that Israel was miraculously protected by God from the Iraqi Scuds because Israel was simply minding its own business. It was attacked for no reason whatsoever. We had done nothing to compromise our security. The heavenly Guardian of Israel responded accordingly.

Similarly, in the recent Iranian attack, we were completely innocent targets. We have no border with Iran and they have zero justification for being involved. So, we suffered not one fatality. Again, God watched over us miraculously.

But when we make strategic mistakes in our approach to Hamas; when we allow international pressure and public opinion to endanger the lives of our valiant young soldiers; when we refrain from bombing and instead send them into booby-trapped buildings; then, tragically, we suffer fatalities.

It’s one thing to boast about being the most moral army in the world (and we are), but is it wise to tell our enemies in advance when and where we are coming for them? We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Our unprecedented noble gestures have been completely ignored by the world, and we are still being accused of genocide. So shouldn’t we be sparing our innocent, precious boys from harm instead?

I am fond of quoting Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who once said, “It doesn’t matter what the world says. It matters what the Jews do.” How true.

I believe that when we do what we must do, then God does what He must do. May we merit His Divine protection now and always and may our defenders be completely safe and successful.

Please God, we will practice Kiddush Hashem by behaving as noble examples of humanity rather than as martyrs in a war in which, sometimes, we seem to be fighting with our hands tied behind our backs. Six million was enough martyrs. Not one more, please God.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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