Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Miracles and Mourning



The juxtaposition of miracles and mourning R"l in the war against Hamas is, primo facie, religiously confusing. The benevolent yad Hashem has been evident in all quarters - on the battlefield, by those operating the Iron Dome, and, indeed, throughout the country. Eyewitness accounts of miraculous stories abound. On the one hand,"חסדי ה' כי לא תמנו כי לא כלו רחמיו - The kindnesses of Hashem are limitless; His mercy is never exhausted"[1]. And yet sixty four soldiers and three citizens have lost their lives. Klal Yisrael mourns sixty seven incalculable, tragic losses. השביעני במרורים; He has filled me with bitterness[2]. Religiously, the juxtaposition of miracles and mourning does not seem to paint a coherent picture.

HKBH's ways are hidden. This dvar Torah does not aim to explain. Instead it seeks to provide a coherent, meta-historical, conceptual framework for experiencing miracles and mourning simultaneously.


The Gift of Eretz Yisrael

At the dawn of our history, HKBH appeared to Avraham Avinu and gave him and his descendants Eretz Yisrael. At the beginning of that prophetic vision, dread and intense darkness enveloped Avraham Avinu.

והנה אימה חשכה גדלה נפלת עליו
And behold, a dread, great darkness fell upon him[3]

Ramban[4], quoting Chazal, explains the prefigurative significance of the dread and darkness.

The Sages expound on this, saying that it is an allusion to the subjugation of Israel by the Four Kingdoms.
For the prophet [Abraham] experienced a dread in his soul; after this he entered into a sensation of darkness; then that darkness became greater; and after this he felt as if [the darkness] was falling upon him like a heavy load that was too weighty for him to bear
The Sages said: a dread - this refers to Babylonia. Darkness - this refers to Media, who caused the eyes of Israel to be darkened from fasting and self-affliction in prayer as a response to their oppression. Great - this refers to Greece. Fell upon him - this refers to Edom.
The relevance of all this to Avraham was that when the Holy One, Blessed is He forged the covenant with him to give the land to his offspring as an everlasting inheritance, He said to him, as one who retains certain rights for himself when giving a gift, that the four kingdoms would subjugate his descendants and rule over their land. The stipulated subjugations would occur only if [Avraham's descendants] would sin before Him.

Eretz Yisrael is eternally ours. When, however, Rachmana litzlan, we sin, we suffer at the hand of the world's "kingdoms." The dread and darkness which enveloped Avraham Avinu foretold that suffering.


Punishment and Compassion

"His left hand is under my head, while His right hand embraces me"[5]

In the Torah and words of Chazal, left often represents strict justice, while right represents kindness[6]. With this symbolism in mind, Alshich HaKadosh interprets the above verse:

וזהו שמאלו תחת לראשי שמאל דוחה ואעפ'כ ימינו תחבקני כי בכמה דברים הוא ית' מטיב אותנו בתוך הצרות
"His left hand is under my head" refers to the left hand that pushes aside [i.e. punishes], and nevertheless, his right hand hugs me because in many respects He, may He be blessed, bestows goodness upon us in the midst of suffering[7].

Even when Hakadosh Baruch Hu is "forced" by our shortcomings to allow suffering (שמאלו תחת לראשי), he simultaneously bestows kindness (וימינו תחבקני).


Suffering and Providence

Klal Yisrael's suffering should never be dismissively, solely attributed to geopolitics and vicious anti-Semitism. These are real factors. But there is always a metaphysical reason as well which allows these evil forces to surface[8].

Rambam articulates this philosophy of Jewish history in his comments on the mitzvah of sounding the trumpets and crying out in prayer in times of trouble.

שבזמן שתבוא צרה ויזעקו עליה ויריעו וידעו הכל שבגלל מעשיהם הרעים הורע להן ככתוב (ירמיהו ה) 'עונותיכם הטו וגו' וזה הוא שיגרום להם להסיר הצרה מעליהם. אבל אם לא יזעקו ולא יריעו אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו וצרה זו נקרה נקרית, הרי זו דרך אכזריות וגורמת להם להדבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה צרות אחרות.
...for when the community cries out in prayer and sounds the trumpets when overtaken by trouble, everyone will realize that evil has come upon them as a consequence of their own evil deeds, as it is written, "Your iniquities have turned away." This realization [and consequent repentance] will cause the trouble to be removed.
If, on the other hand, the people do not cry out in prayer and do not blow the trumpets, but merely say that it is the way of the world for such a thing to happen to them, and their trouble is a matter of pure chance, this is a path of cruelty and will cause them to persevere in their evil deeds, thus bringing additional troubles upon them[9]

It is understandably difficult for us to admit that we have sinned. It is, however, intolerably cruel for us not to do so. Collectively, we have sinned; collectively, we suffer. I am not Rachmana litzlan suggesting any individual correlation between sin and the death of the sixty seven kedoshim Hy"d. Hakadosh Baruch Hu's ways are hidden; we do not know why these sixty seven were chosen to die al kiddush Hashem.

Avraham Avinu's prophecy has once again materialized. Yishmael (Islam), part of the fourth Kingdom[10], launches missiles and has inflicted the tragic casualties of war. We mourn sixty seven priceless, precious neshamos.

These past few weeks have been a time of relative darkness and left-handed treatment. Nevertheless remarkably b'chasdei Hashem, even now, we unambiguously see HaKadosh Baruch Hu's loving right-handed embrace in the form of numerous miracles.

[1] Eichah 3:22

[2] Ibid 3:16. Artscroll translation.

[3] Breishis 15:12. Artscroll translation.

[4] בפי' עה'ת . Artscroll translation.

[5] Shir HaShirim 2:6

[6] For example, see Rashi Shemos 15:6 (based on the Mechilta) and Sotah 47a.

[7] See Alshich's commentary to Shir HaShirim, ibid. See also Meshech Chochmo, parshas Eikev, regarding the beracha of Hatov V'hameitiv.

[8] Regarding the symbiosis of natural and providential causes, see Free Will and Divine Providence, TorahWeb.org, 1999.

[9] Rambam Hilchos Ta"aniyos 1:2-3. Translation adapted from my father's zt"l A Maimonides Reader, P. 114

[10] This represents the view of Rav Sadiah Gaon (see, e.g., his commentary to Sefer Daniel 7:7-8), Rambam (see Igeres Teiman), and others. In the opinion of Ibn Ezra (see his commentary, ibid 2:39), contra Chazal, Yishmael is the fourth kingdom. Ramban (see, e.g., Sefer Hageulah, Shaar 2, chapter 3) and other opine that Yishmael is not included in the scheme of the four kingdoms. Daniel's vision includes only those kingdoms which successivelly conquered Eretz Yisrael, propelling us into and prolonging our exile. Yishmael has not played that historical role. Nonetheless the principle of the four kingdoms applies to Yishmael. When we sin, R"l, they do not allow us to dwell peacefully in Eretz Yisrael. According to Pirkei D'rabi Eliezer, chapter 27, bris bein habesarim with its foretelling of suffering alludes to the four kingdoms and, separately, Yishmael.
Rav M.M. Pomerantz shlit"a discusses these and many other relevant, fascinating sources in his book, Achishena

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