This article was first published on Aish.com in Feb,, 2007.
If you were a Jew in Europe in 1941, and you actually knew that Hitler was developing the means to carry out his threat to exterminate the Jews, what would you do? Dismiss the danger as overstated? Try to arouse the nations of the world to stop him? Or take upon yourself to employ every means possible -- both physically and spiritually -- to avert the catastrophe?
If you are a Jew in 2007, and you actually know that Ahmadinejad is developing the means to carry out his threat to exterminate the Jews of Israel, what will you do?
This is the most pressing question of our times.
The Jewish people today faces the greatest threat since the Holocaust. Islamofascism, which up to now has satisfied its murderous zeal with bus bombings in Israel and synagogue bombings in France, with beating up hapless Jews in London and New York, is soon to acquire a nuclear bomb.
"When someone says he is going to exterminate you, believe him."
Would it really use it to destroy Israel and its people? Despite the wishful thinking of those pundits who assure us that Iran would never push the button, every thinking Jew should take seriously the statement quoted by Benyamin Netanyahu in a recent CNN documentary on the threat of Islamofascism. Mr. Netanyahu had asked a survivor what he had learned from the Holocaust. His reply: "When someone says he is going to exterminate you, believe him."
THE THREE-PRONGED APPROACH
In Caroline Glick's article "Wake Up, Jews!" Ms. Glick eloquently described the threat from Iran and argued that Israel should take radical measures, including planning a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, toppling the Iranian regime, and Israelis taking to the streets to force our government into action. "In a few months," Ms. Glick writes, "Iran may well be in possession of nuclear weapons which it will use to destroy the Jewish state. With the US withdrawing from the war and Israel in the hands of incompetents, the time has come for the Jewish people to rise up."
Ms. Glick is correct in everything she said, but I was troubled by what she didn't say. A Jewish response to the threat of nuclear extinction that includes only physical (political and military) solutions but omits spiritual solutions is doomed to failure, just as a test with 50% correct answers merits a failing grade.
When the Patriarch Jacob and his family faced the danger of being slaughtered by Esau, who was rapidly approaching with 400 armed men, Jacob responded in three ways: he sent gifts to Esau; he employed strategy by dividing his camp into two; and he prayed.
Nachmonides, the 12th century Spanish sage, wrote that Jews must employ this triple approach throughout the ages whenever danger looms:
2. Military strategy
3. Spiritual response
According to Rabbi Asher Weiss, Jacob's "prayer" includes both prayer and teshuva, which he defines as changing one's actions in order to come closer to God.
Many Jews equate spiritual response with "doing nothing." They fail to realize two of the most important principles underlying existence: 1) that the spiritual dimension is real and 2) that the spiritual dimension is causal.
The spiritual dimension includes God, souls, and spiritual forces. The materialistic approach to reality, which co-opted the Western mind over the last three centuries, believes that only the physical dimension is real; if something can't be seen, touched, or detected by scientific instruments, it doesn't exist.
Everyone who loves knows that this is untrue. We know that, even if neurobiologists can locate the site in the brain associated with feelings of love, love is a spiritual force that overrides the most basic physical instinct of self-preservation. And we recognize other attributes of the soul -- courage, devotion to truth, and the search for meaning -- as real, despite science's inability to measure them.
Yet even many people who believe in the existence of God fail to understand that the spiritual dimension is causal. The universe, like any well-run corporation, operates by a chain of command from above to below.
A survivor of Katrina standing on a rooftop in New Orleans waiting for hours to be rescued may blame the rescue workers manning the boats. Later investigation, however, would reveal that the failures of the rescue teams stemmed from the lack of preparedness in the pertinent municipal and state agencies. Further investigation would reveal that the source of the failure went even higher -- to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Similarly, whatever happens anywhere in the cosmos is ultimately regulated by the highest cosmic authority: God. If you want to change what happens here in the lowest of all worlds, the physical world, you would do well to address yourself to the top, to God.
Once we acknowledge God as the ultimate source of everything that happens, the next step is to recognize that human beings in this lowest world have the power to influence Divine edicts. Rabbi Yaacov Haber likens the chain of cosmic causality to rain. Rain obviously comes from above to below, yet rain production is a cycle. The evaporation of water here below creates clouds, which in turn empty their moisture as rain.
Just as polluted water causes acid rain, so "polluted" actions in this world cycle up and cause harmful edicts to descend upon human beings. The converse is also true. Acts of teshuva -- of coming closer to God -- can reverse even the most severe Divine decree.
The Talmud poses a seemingly rhetorical question: What caused the destruction of the Second Temple? The Talmudic sages, who still lived under Roman domination, must have known the obvious answer. The Roman Empire, which controlled the entire known world, dominated Judea. The Jews rebelled against Rome, inciting the Great Revolt. Three Roman legions were dispatched to Judea to quell the rebellion. They encircled Jerusalem, put a siege on the city, and finally broke through the walls, decimated the city, and destroyed the Temple.
If Israel is destroyed, it will be by an Iranian nuclear missile, but not because of an Iranian nuclear missile.
While these are the historical facts known to every child of that period, the Talmud ignores this chain of events as being causal. Instead, it answers its own question: The Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred among Jews. The sages thus made a distinction between the circumstances of the destruction and the cause of the destruction.
If Israel is destroyed, it will be by an Iranian nuclear missile, but not because of an Iranian nuclear missile. The cause of our annihilation will be our spiritual failures.
The present nuclear threat from Iran is not the first time that the specter of extermination of the Jews has issued from that country. How did the Jews of 2363 years ago respond to the contemporary Persian ruler's decree to exterminate every Jewish man, woman, and child?
They did mass teshuva. They fasted, repented, and cried out to God. The Divinely orchestrated salvation of Purim was the result.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the dean of Aish HaTorah, has pointed out that the Persian Jews' choice to respond spiritually to the looming physical danger is significant. When Haman, the Prime Minister of Persia, issued a ruling that everyone must bow down to him as he passed on the street, Mordechai the Jew refused. The Jewish leaders of the time remonstrated with Mordechai not to provide a pretext for Haman to vent his anti-Semitism: "If you don't bow, we'll all be killed."
Nevertheless, Mordechai refused to bow. Haman became enraged, and convinced the King to issue an edict of extermination against all the Jews in the Empire. At that point, the Jewish leaders, who had warned Mordechai not to resist Haman's authority, could have easily come back to Mordechai and blamed him for causing their collective doom.
Instead, they recognized that God runs the world, and that God would not wipe out the Jewish people because Mordechai refused to bow to Haman. They realized that the law of spiritual causality dictates that they must search their own souls for the spiritual cause of the edict of annihilation. They went to Mordechai and admitted: "You were right. This catastrophe has come upon us because we participated in the King's banquet [celebrating the destruction of the First Temple] nine years ago."
Of course we must respond militarily, but our first strike must be spiritual.
The spiritual response preceded the military response. The Jews' teshuva brought down Divine clemency that foiled Haman's plot and wrought his downfall. Nevertheless, the original royal edict could not be rescinded. Instead, Mordechai, the new Prime Minister of Persia who now possessed the royal seal, issued a second edict empowering the Jews to battle their enemies. Although most of the gentiles in the Empire understood that the tide had turned in favor of the Jews, many die-hard anti-Semites rose up to kill Jews on the appointed day. They were met with a valiant Jewish counter-attack, which, according to the Book of Esther, left 75,800 dead. The spiritual response did not preclude the military response, but it did precede it.
We are living out a modern-day Purim story. Iran's developing of a nuclear bomb, coupled with Ahmadinejad's vociferous threats to destroy Israel, are nothing less than an edict of extermination. Of course we must respond militarily, but our first strike must be spiritual.
Teshuva means changing course. It means doing something different than you've done before. It means coming closer to God by accepting on yourself to do God's will in some area of your life where previously you had resisted.
As in the events of Purim, our response to the looming holocaust from Iran must be mass teshuva. This means that all Jewish men and women, whether they define themselves as religious, secular, or somewhere in between, must undertake to do a mitzvah that they were previously not performing. The step must be big enough to constitute a real change, but not too daunting to successfully incorporate into one's life.
- To stop putting down groups of Jews, no matter how much you disagree with their ways. [mitzvah of not speaking lashon hara]
- For women: To light Shabbat candles before sunset Friday.
- For men: To put on tefillin once a week.
- To learn Torah one hour a week more than you presently do. This could mean signing up with Partners in Torah or attending a class at your local synagogue. [mitzvah of learning Torah]
- To honor your parents in a way you have not previously done. [Note: all mitzvah observance requires learning the relevant laws.]
- To stop eating dairy and meat products in the same meal.
- To incorporate prayer into your life on a daily basis. Buy a Jewish prayer book and learn how to use it.
- To make peace with a relative or friend from whom you are estranged. [mitzvah of loving your neighbor]
And to do whatever you choose to do with the intention of drawing closer to the Divine will and becoming a better Jew.
This is Europe, 1941. The Final Solution is being readied. I plead with you not to exit this article without committing yourself to some kind of specific spiritual response to ward off the looming genocide. Please use the comment section below to write in the specific commitment you will undertake.
As a Jew in Israel, I feel the encroaching doom from Iran. My life and the lives of my children are at stake. Indeed, because we are truly one people with one destiny, all of our lives are at stake. Let us not be caught unawares this time.
Take a moment to write your specific commitment to change in the comment section below.