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After darkness of massacre, a night of miracles



As Pesach approaches, our minds and hearts are flooded with a range of conflicting emotions. The date 7 October was the darkest day in modern Jewish history. Our people were savagely attacked in their homeland. We incorrectly assumed that rape, murder, and the torture of innocent and defenceless Jews were scenes from our painful exile and couldn’t occur in Israel. That day left us with so many questions, chief among them: how could Hashem allow this to happen?

For the past six months, as we’ve battled to defend our land and our people, Hashem’s presence hasn’t always been evident. In a world of pure evil, rabid hatred, and fabricated truths, it was sometimes difficult to detect the presence of Hashem. We’ve lived through an agonising period of hester panim in which the face of Hashem is concealed. The Pesach haggadah phrase which best typifies this period is the lament of “V’hi she’amda” (In every generation, they rise up against us to annihilate us). So many whom we thought were enlightened and possessed a moral conscience have risen up against us in fanatical hatred. The world has felt dark and broken.

A week ago, on motzei Shabbat, this reality partially shifted. On one remarkable evening, Hashem’s presence became more apparent. We were savagely attacked by an Iranian missile blitz aimed at inflicting enormous casualties upon innocent civilians. Astonishingly, almost none of these death warheads penetrated Israeli airspace, and no lives were lost. Hashem enabled our military scientists and engineers to develop a system to protect us from lethal weapons which literally fall from the sky.

The Talmud Yerushalmi reports that on the first Saturday night after creation, Hashem gave Adam fire, signalling his desire that man’s divinely endowed creativity be employed to perfect Hashem’s deliberately imperfect world. This past motzei Shabbat, we deployed Hashem’s gift of creativity to preserve human life. In the wake of this extraordinary evening, Hashem’s hand has become more easily visible.

We also felt His love and caring. The Gemara in Megillah comments that during dark periods, Hashem’s presence is manifested when a cure appears prior to an illness or the refuah (complete healing) prior to the makkah (blow). A few years ago, the world suffered an unforeseen pandemic which disrupted every aspect of our reality. The outbreak of the coronavirus launched a frenzied worldwide campaign to develop a vaccine. Though a vaccine solution was ultimately developed, it arrived too late to save those who had already succumbed to the disease. In this instance, the world didn’t receive the cure before the illness struck.

This past motzei Shabbat was different. We had been developing anti-missile defence systems for years. Yet, in spite of its importance, this project went relatively unappreciated, save for those directly involved – until this past motzei Shabbat. Facing a massive and unprecedented attack from a range of different missiles, we discovered that, in our case, the remedy was delivered prior to the threat. Through human agents, Hashem delivered a solution even before the peril surfaced.

The evening wasn’t just miraculous, it was also historically resonant. As I sat in my safe area waiting for the danger to pass, I recalled the Jews of Egypt on the night of yetziat Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt), trapped in their own homes, waiting for the danger overhead to pass. Just as they awoke the next morning to safety, Israelis awoke feeling sheltered and protected. Death had literally passed over us. It was a night of protection, similar to an earlier original night of protection at the dawn of Jewish history.

Though the similarities of this miracle to the plague of the first born were obvious, I was more intrigued by the similarities to the plague of barad (hailstones). This loud and fiery hailstorm was initiated by Moshe Rabbeinu lifting his hands to the heavens. All the previous plagues occurred at ground level. The Nile was converted to blood; reptiles swarmed over the country; Egypt teemed with vermin; and dead animal carcasses dotted the land. The initial series of plagues unfolded beneath the feet of the Egyptians.

Barad, however, redirected Egyptian eyes heavenward. Once their eyes were lifted to heaven, they never returned to earth, as the ensuing plagues of locusts and darkness, and the massacre of the first born were all centred in heaven.

Directing their attention skyward gave the Egyptians a lesson about a G-d who inhabited the heavens. Hashem lies beyond human imagination and cannot be captured by human thought or terminology. This hierarchy between man and Hashem is exemplified by the distance and altitude between them. While humans inhabit earth, Hashem resides in heaven. The loud and crackling thunder of barad, coupled with the fiery hailstorm, stressed the awesome might of a G-d who exists beyond human imagination. Shifting the Egyptians’ attention toward heaven visually underscored the difference between man and Hashem.

This past Saturday night was an extremely loud battle waged entirely in heaven. Unlike the ground invasion of 7 October, the entire war was waged above. Ballistic missiles leave our atmosphere and reach the edge of space. Wars in heaven have a divine feel to them. It was deeply symbolic that, with Hashem’s assistance, we defeated our enemies on His turf and in His realm. Hashem delivered us the technology to triumph in His realm.

It was also significant that the defence of our land was achieved through international co-operation. For the past 75 years, we’ve stood alone, facing a consortium of hostile enemies as we defended our rights to our ancient homeland. This past Saturday night, a collation of our allies helped to defend Israel. Jewish history is cyclical. What happened before will happen again. But it also changes and advances. Just as we recall and celebrate the past, we must also appreciate when history evolves.

This Pesach, we juggle mixed, even contradictory feelings. The long road of Jewish history reminds us that sometimes we see Hashem’s presence and sometimes we don’t. Faith should steady us, enabling us to weather difficult periods and to celebrate our success. Hashem is always present supervising human affairs. Sometimes we understand His ways, and sometimes we don’t. Faith should help smooth out the differences between periods of clarity and periods of confusion.

We must also thank Hashem for the minor miracles even if our larger victory isn’t complete. In spite of the joy and triumph of this past Saturday night, we’re still entangled in a delicate and fragile predicament. The Iranian threat is far from neutralised, and we still face a complex situation in Azza. Our hostages are still suffering, and families across Israel face a heartbreaking first Pesach without their loved ones. It’s naïve and insensitive to celebrate the past week’s miracle while ignoring the continuing danger and the larger tragedy.

Yet we thank Hashem for mini-victories even if we can’t yet see the fuller picture. Dayenu! Step by step. We appreciate all we’ve been given while we yearn for much that’s missing. Even if we don’t achieve everything, we thank Hashem.

Life isn’t binary and doesn’t easily break down into moments of darkness and moments of light. Darkness and light overlap. Joy and sadness go hand in hand. This Pesach, celebrate Jewish triumphs of the past and the present without whitewashing suffering of simplifying struggle.

In every generation, they rise against us. Yet we thank You. Dayenu!

  • Moshe Taragin is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a Bachelor of Arts in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a Master’s degree in English literature from the City University of New York.

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