Guest Columnist: Question of placing out faith

You may annihilate us, but we will annihilate you too (or, actually, a small portion of you). How encouraging.

Sea of Haredim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sea of Haredim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… where you will lack nothing…. Take care, lest you forget the Lord your God… and lest your heart become conceited… and you say in your heart, “It is my own strength and the might of my hand that have made me all this success.” But you shall remember the Lord your God, that it is He who gives you the strength to succeed, in order [that He] fulfill His covenant, which He swore unto your forefathers, as this very day. Deuteronomy 8:7-18)
If God will not guard a city, in vain does the watchman toil. (Psalms 127:1)
 I have put my trust in You, hence my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation; I shall sing unto God when he has granted me [His salvation]. (Psalms 13:6)
In a recent column in this magazine (“The gathering storm,” August 24), Naomi Ragen wrote all too realistically about the threat of utter annihilation that faces us in the Land of Israel. She told us where her faith lies: “Some have faith in our army. Some in our government. Some in God. Some, like myself, in all three.”
Her message to our enemies followed: “[They] would do well to remember this: They are not facing the unarmed Jews of Europe 70 years ago. This time, they will be at the center of any hell they unleash.”
Great comfort. You may annihilate us, but we will annihilate you too (or, actually, a small portion of you). How encouraging.
But, in fact, this is not the monotheistic faith taught us by our millennial tradition and experience. And make no mistake: The question of where we place our faith is neither theoretical nor semantic. It is absolutely existential, for God looks out for those who put their trust in Him (see, for example, Psalms 33:18-22). The very essence of the peculiar belief that we inherit from Abraham, from Moses, from King David and from all of the prophets and sages, and which has gripped the fascination of all monotheistic religions, is that we put our trust in God alone. True, indeed, God empowers us and summons us to act humanly within His world with all our ingenuity and dedication, but we are emphatically enjoined to remember – with humility – that the primary force is His alone and that He retains overall control.
Hence, in times of trouble, we have always turned, above all else, to Him. Indeed, as His people, we have an eternal, mutual covenant with Him, by dint of which we have survived all the treacherous vicissitudes of 4,000 years of history.
Let us consider this: Within living memory, the Jews in the Land of Israel have been astoundingly spared time after time from the threat of imminent destruction by murderous enemies. Sometimes it was through dazzling military victories, defying the usual norms of warfare, with God’s hand perhaps concealed behind inspired human action. At least twice – when Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel swept across North Africa in the course of World War II, engendering “200 days of dread” in this land in 1942; and, most dramatically, when Saddam Hussein actually attacked our cities with 39 massive Scud missiles in the Gulf War of 1991 – there was nothing at all we could humanly do, but God’s protection was stunningly complete.
This, then, must be the source of our encouragement, as the terrifying specter of conventional and non-conventional warfare is raised against us as never before: faith in the God of Israel and in the extraordinary providence He has consistently evidenced toward us in the Land of Israel in our times. Only He can! Clearly, we must pray with utmost fervor that the government and the army be granted at this time the highest degrees of wisdom and integrity, strength and success.
But at the same time, we must make sure that our spiritual fortifications are of the highest order. And if we can muster the national will to project to our enemies that this is the faith we bring to the field, then maybe we will need no miracle to protect us. Maybe, just maybe, they will tremble before attempting to attack us again. For this is a language they can understand.
FROM THE perspective of the Torah world, the defining challenge of our momentous era is that we, the Jewish People, must not be misled into believing in the supremacy and independence of man generally, or in the insolent ethos of the New Jews that “now we are the masters of our own destiny.”
The sheer immensity of the present existential danger, with no one truly confident that this time we can overcome through human means, must shake us free of these illusions and back to our core belief.
Let us appraise the historical record with a little more scrutiny.
I was but 16 years old and still living in New York at the time of the Six Day War. Yet I vividly remember the fantastic euphoria which swept the entire Jewish world at the outcome of that war, a euphoria which was still intact here when I arrived on these shores a few months later. Something powerfully transcendent had occurred. And indeed, for a long time our enemies trembled; an “intifada” was totally unthinkable. Some, of course, continued to think of that astounding victory as miraculous. But, as time went on, the inclination to conceitedness set in and many preferred to speak in terms of “our own strength and the might of our hand.”
Then came the shock of the Yom Kippur War – as though verily designed from Above to teach us the lesson of humility before the God of Israel. In the Gulf War, the lesson was dramatically sharpened. One Scud claimed 28 victims in Saudi Arabia but 39 Scuds, many of them falling in the thick of Israeli cities, killed no more than one – while the IDF was restrained by the US from doing anything at all to protect our people.
As it were, God played solo, and the performance was absolutely stunning.
But there was no euphoria. It was as though the frustration of not being allowed to demonstrate “our strength and the might of our hand” had nullified any desire to celebrate. If one does not place one’s faith in God beforehand, one does not rejoice in His salvation afterwards. In fact, it was painful, even chilling, to note that even in religious circles, no one was dancing in the streets in response to God’s wondrous salvation. And then came the sobering Second Lebanon War, in which we were again not beaten, but were badly bruised.
Such has been the contest to date, unleashed by the creation of the Jewish state, over the fundamental question of where we place our faith. Now that we are facing the threat of all threats, is it unrealistic to call out to our people everywhere, observant and non-observant alike, to join together in recapturing the essence of our faith? This time, we must get it right! And then, when we once again witness God’s salvation, whether through the agency of the government and the army or otherwise, we will indeed dance in the streets and sing His praises for all the world to hear.

The writer is dean of The Harav Lord Jakobovits Torah Institute of Contemporary Issues (JICI) in Jerusalem and author of Jewish Solidarity –
Antidote to Assimilation. [email protected]