1973, fifty years ago, Israel was invaded by Syria and Egypt on Yom Kippur. Although Israel triumphed in that war, the surprise and shock of the invasion and the horrible loss of Israeli life engraved the war indelibly on Israeli consciousness as a pyrrhic victory of the worst sort. After the Yom Kippur War, Israel was no longer young, brash and innocent. The nation's confidence in the competence of its ruling class and the army was shaken. In many ways, Israel never really lived down the events of Tishrei, 5734. Another such event has occurred. On 22 Tishrei 5784, the State of Israel and its citizens were brutally attacked by an enemy who hates so much that they went in specifically to kill innocent civilians, including children. We have stared into the maw of evil. It changed us. The State of Israel and the Jewish people will never again be the same.
At such difficult times, it behoves us to examine the words of our teachers. How did people in the past cope with such traumas? Specifically, how did those active at the time understand the Yom Kippur war? I find myself too overcome to organise my thoughts about the violence we all read about in Israel this past weekend. As such, I felt that it was appropriate to excerpt the teachings of my Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yehuda Amital zt"l. Rav Amital lived through Auschwitz, through the founding of the state, and buried many students during the Yom Kippur War. As part of that experience, he gave a series of short reflections later written in the book "Ma'alot Mima'akim" (Steps from the Depths). I strongly recommend this book to anyone struggling with faith in these difficult times, struggling to contextualise the evil we witnessed in a coherent and Jewish worldview. *** Below is how Rav Amital started the book: It is natural for a Jew, who believes that all the events which impact the life of Am Yisrael are directed by Divine Providence, to explore the explanation and meaning of those events. The Torah and the prophets command us, without pause, to reflect; and it is also a natural, intellectual demand placed on one who positions himself upon a foundation of belief. The Sages define a person who does not attempt to penetrate the true meaning of the events which he encounters, and in which he is involved, as one who is dead: An evildoer is considered dead, even while alive, because he sees the sun rise and does not recite the blessing "Who creates light"; and he sees it set and does not recite the blessing "Who brings on the evening" (Tanhuma, Ve-Zot ha-Berakha 7).
On the other hand, it is clear that we lack the tools to know the "secrets of God" and to establish what the considerations, drivers, and intentions of Divine Providence were. However, this does not free us from our duty to delve [into these issues] and to reflect. "It is Torah and we need to learn it!"
Furthermore, sometimes a person, while viewing events through the perspective of faith, merits that the mist dissolves and things come into focus, and he reaches a sense of internal certainty; a certainty that cannot always be proved scientifically, but which does not detract from its validity. This is the power of faith, which is the birthright of those who serve God, believers, the children of believers. (copied with permission from https://etzion.org.il/en/publications/books-yeshiva-faculty/publications-philosophy-and-current-affairs/meaning-yomkippur-war; please visit that site for the rest of the book). ***
Rav Amital approached life as a continuing witness to the majesty of G-d, starting with the light we see in the morning and extending throughout the day. In the week that we read, again, of the world's creation, this seems particularly relevant. Why does the Torah tell us of these things? Why give us the story of G-d creating the world? Because appreciating G-d's wondrous creation is essential and does us good.
This does not explain how we should approach evil, but it does help contextualise it. The world is fundamentally good, even when the most heinous acts are seen to occur. G-d has made it so, and we must appreciate that fact. I would never be so arrogant as to say such a thing, were not it first said by my teacher, a holocaust survivor. I place this short note here, hoping that others find it as helpful