‘Last night, he was hated before God, disgusting, distant and abominable [in His sight]. And today, he is beloved, a delight, intimate, a close friend’ (Hilchot Teshuva 7:3). Thus does Maimonides describe the feeling of closeness to God achieved by a penitent through the scorching self-examination and repentance of Yom Kippur.
On Succot, we take the emotional high experienced at the end of Yom Kippur, and incorporate that feeling of closeness into our every day life, by living in the succa. The succa recalls the clouds of glory that surrounded the children of Israel throughout their 40 years in a barren, howling desert.
Those clouds of glory departed after the sin of the Golden Calf, and only returned on 15 Tishrei, the first day of Succot, as a sign that God had fully accepted our repentance.
The clouds enveloped our ancestors, as it were, in God’s loving protection. And when we exit our fixed dwellings and live for seven days in temporary dwellings, we attempt to recreate that same feeling of being directly under divine protection. Our vulnerability to the elements makes us more aware of our dependence on God and forces us to work on our bitahon (trust in God).
BITAHON IS a quality we will all need as we confront the uncertain and
ominous future facing us. The 17-nation eurozone is melting down before
our eyes, and the impact will be felt far beyond Europe, including in
Israel for whom Europe is the biggest trading partner. Thus far markets
have turned a firm thumbs down to every measure taken by European
leaders. CNBC’s headline, “Global Meltdown: Investors Are Dumping Nearly
Everything,” sums up the mood.
Even as European parliaments debate the second bailout to avoid Greek
bankruptcy, the Greeks have already announced that they will not meet
the prescribed debt targets.
And the Greek economy is, by virtue of its relatively small size, the
least of Europe’s problems. Countries many times larger, like Spain and
Italy, face a situation where they will soon be unable to borrow to
cover their debts. Faced with the wreck, European leaders have adopted
the look of deer caught in the headlights. Every move has been too
little and too late.
George Soros’s billions attest to his acumen as a student of financial markets.
When he says that European authorities “have lost control of the
situation” and “financial markets are driving the world towards another
Great Depression,” he cannot be ignored. Mohammed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO
Investments, which manages a trillion dollars in assets, including the
world’s largest mutual fund, says that an institutional run on French
banks has already begun, and may soon be followed by the flight of
“Investors seem to doubt the stability and even the survival of the French banking system as we know it,” writes Prof. Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations.
A worldwide crash of 2011 would be far worse than that of 2008, as
virtually every country in the world has far few resources to deal with
the consequences today than it did three years ago.
FOR THE six million Jews of Israel, the peril is even greater, if slightly less immediate.
Former Jerusalem Post
editor Bret Stephens recently summarized a month’s worth of ominous events in The Wall Street Journal.
On August 18, eight Israelis were killed just north of Eilat, by
terrorists who crossed the border from Sinai. The Egyptian army has lost
control of the Sinai to c tribes affiliated with al-Qaida. From
August 18 to 24, 200 large-caliber rockets and mortars were fired from
Gaza at Israel, a reflection of the higher caliber weaponry that has
flooded Gaza since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. And on September 9,
thousands stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, eager to lynch any Jew
they could get their hands on. That mob was primarily drawn from the
ranks of democratic reformers, not the Muslim Brotherhood, a
demonstration of the endemic anti-Semitism of Egyptian society.
On September 1, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel, and a week
later Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish
warships would escort future Gaza flotillas, thus threatening direct
military confrontation with Israel. Most ominous of all, Iran announced
that it was moving its nuclear enrichment facilities to an impregnable
mountain fortress. Various credible reports also announced that Iran had
achieved nuclear weapons capacity.
From elsewhere, there was more unhappy news. ABC News reports that up to
20,000 heat-seeking missiles have gone missing from Libyan weapons
depots. No commercial airliner in the world is safe from attack from
such missiles. No wonder Victor Davis Hanson, one of Israel’s most
ardent and articulate defenders, was prompted to publish in the National
Review a piece entitled “Can Israel Survive?: The country has never
been in more danger.”
WHAT IS striking about both the security threats facing Israel and the
developing worldwide financial crisis are how poorly our best minds have
fared with respect to anticipating the threats, much less controlling
them. Since the onset of the so-called “Arab Spring,” at least half a
dozen Arab countries have experienced popular revolts, and some form of
regime change has taken place in three of them. Not one expert predicted
anything like what has taken place.
The somewhat incoherent responses of the Obama administration – i.e., a
quick call for long-time allies like Mubarak to step down versus a much
more timid response to the brutal suppression and deliberate targeting
of unarmed civilians in Syria by long-time nemesis Bashar Assad – is but
one manifestation of how badly surprised were policymakers around the
The factors rendering Middle East regimes unstable have long been in
place, but the immediate trigger for the Middle East popular revolts –
the doubling of global wheat prices – was pulled far from the purview of
Middle East experts. The riots in Tunisia, followed by those in Egypt,
were initially about bread prices, and high commodity prices limited the
ability of Syria’s dictator Assad to pacify his population with price
subsidies. Those rising prices were themselves the result of a
confluence of factors thousands of miles removed from the Middle East –
drought in Russia, growing affluence in China and Asia leading to a
newfound taste for grain-fed beef and pork, and the diversion of immense
swaths of American farmland from wheat to corn in order to reap the
subsidies for ethanol.
With respect to the worldwide debt crisis, the best and the brightest
are guilty not only of sins of omission – e.g., a failure to foresee –
but also of commission. In The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes
Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It, The Wall Street Journal’s
Scott Patterson describes how young hotshots, relying on theoretical
models, convinced the most sophisticated investment bankers that it was
possible to bundle and trade vast numbers of mortgages, knowing little
about the underlying value of the individual mortgages.
Rather than allocating risk, as they were designed to do, the complex
instruments they created served to link financial institutions around
the world in one death grip – like a drowning swimmer pulling down
Keynesian economic models showing how many jobs would be created per x
billions of increased government spending helped President Barack Obama
sell an $847 billion economic stimulus plan as necessary to prevent
unemployment from reaching 8%. Unemployment, however, soon passed 9% and
has remain there. The plan to link 17 diverse national economies
together through one common currency – the euro – was an attempt by
European elites to create an economic colossus to rival the United
States. Today, the eurozone looks more like something designed by Dr.
FEAR IS NOT necessarily a bad thing during this month of repentance,
especially if it reminds us of the limits of our knowledge of the
complex interactions of world events and warns of the hubris of
imagining that we are perfectly capable of controlling our fates. But
despair that turns us into passive bystanders at a train crash is no
answer either. A closer embrace of God, as our ultimate protector, saves
us from that despair and provides us the means of dealing with
calamitous events if they take place. That is the message of Succot,
zman simhateinu – the time of our rejoicing.The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in
The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.