A momentous event took place last week: the largest gathering of rabbis in Warsaw
since World War II.
The Conference of European Rabbis convened in this
historic city, bringing together, among others, the chief rabbis of Israel,
France and the Ukraine, Rome and Moscow, Austria and Poland; and dayanim (judges)
from the Batei Din (rabbinical courts) of London, Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon and
Amsterdam. The conference generously invited me from faraway South Africa to
deliver a speech and participate in the discussions.
There was one moment
in particular during the conference that captured the awe and miracle of Jewish
destiny: the mincha prayers in the Nozyk Synagogue, the only synagogue not
destroyed by Germans, because they had turned it into a stable. As we began
mincha, I looked around the synagogue. Seeing 200 rabbis, representing almost
two million Jews in communities across Europe, the words from the Book of Psalms
came to mind: “Some come with chariots and some with horses but we call out in
the name of Hashem our G-d. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we
rise up and stand firm.”
Who would have thought, at the height of Nazi
power, when Jews were being murdered in gas chambers and when the Nozyk
Synagogue was desecrated, that one day rabbis representing Jewish communities
throughout Europe would return with strength and confidence to this very
synagogue? Who would have thought that in Germany, of all places, a yeshiva to
train a new cadre of young German rabbis would be established? The Third Reich
brought horrific destruction; but in the end, it lost the war against the Jews.
In defiance of any normal laws of history and human nature, through the awesome
miracles of G-d, the Jewish people have survived.
These are indeed days
of “miracle and wonder.” Some 250 years ago, long before these modern miracles,
Rav Yaakov Emdin wrote that the miracles performed by G-d to ensure the survival
of the Jewish people throughout the many years of exile are even greater than
the awe-inspiring miracles of the Exodus from Egypt – the ten plagues, the
splitting of the sea, the manna falling from heaven and the Clouds of Glory.
Jewish destiny defies the normal laws of history.
By any logical and
rational assessment, we should not exist as a separate, identifiable people
after almost 2,000 years of exile, dispersion and persecution. But Gd’s plan for
us rises above the limitations of the physical world.
At the heart of His
plan is His Torah.
The miracle of the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in
the land of Israel, which we have been privileged to witness in our time, is a
remarkable endorsement of the prescient words of Rav Yaakov Emdin.
is flourishing once more, with the great yeshivas of Europe re-established in
Israel, America and all over the world; Ponivezh, Mir and Gur are alive and
thriving once again.
Before the conference started, my son and I went to
see one of the last remaining walls of the Warsaw Ghetto. As we entered, a group
of Israeli soldiers left.
On their lapels was proudly emblazoned the
Magen David, now the emblem of the sovereign Jewish state. It struck me how
decades ago, when Jews wore the Star of David on their clothing, it was a badge
of dishonor, symbolizing their certain death. It has now become a badge of life,
strength and pride.
Yet this kind of miraculous rebirth can be
intoxicating. It is easy to forget that even now, when we have brave, strong
soldiers who can defend the Jewish people, our destiny is in Hashem’s
We learn this lesson from King David, one of our greatest military
and political leaders, who bravely led and defended the Jewish State. King David
was known not only for his political power and military genius but also as a
great spiritual leader, learned in Torah and imbued with deep devotion to G-d,
whose faith and connection to Hashem he expressed so eloquently in his Book of
Psalms, which contains the verse quoted above.
According to Rashi, these
words were composed by King David as a prayer for his soldiers going out to
battle under the command of his general, Yoav. Rashi quotes the Gemara
49a) which states that the military victory of Yoav and his troops
was in the merit of King David’s prayers. Rashi interprets the verse “some come
with chariots and some with horses” to mean that some of the nations of the
world place their trust in chariots and horses but we rely on Hashem because
ultimately all salvation and victory comes from Him. Our Sages teach us that we
are not allowed to rely on miracles. Thus, in order to defend Jewish life and
the Jewish state, it has been necessary for us to create a powerful army. But
King David reminds us that the success of our modern-day chariots and horses –
the tanks, fighter jets and missile defense systems – is completely in G-d’s
King David also reminds us of our destiny.
He of all people
knew the great necessity of a strong army, but he also knew that we cannot be
defined by it.
We are defined by our moral vision, which G-d gave to us
at Mount Sinai. It is through this Divine mission and destiny that G-d grants us
the power to rise above the normal laws of history. The future of the Jewish
people – and indeed of any society – does not depend on chariots and horses
alone. Throughout history, many civilizations and empires with mighty armies
have come and gone; yet the Jewish people have remained
Chariots and horses are of this earthly world and therefore
transient; our Torah and our Divine destiny are eternal. Physical things, no
matter how powerful, eventually, like the human body, turn to dust, whereas G-d,
His Torah and spiritual world are immortal. In the end, those who believe in
their chariots and horses “are brought to their knees and fall.”
who believe in G-d, His Torah, and our eternal destiny, “rise up and stand
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.