Since the terror attacks on Washington and New York and the
ensuing international tension, the whole world is in dread of
what may happen to the entire world in the near future. The
American government has already acted on its "declaration of war"
with everything this entails. Wars, by their very nature, are
events with a clear beginning, but nobody can foresee how
events will unfold and how much carnage will take place.
Any thinking person cannot help but be frightened by this
situation. It is in times such as these that the glaring
difference between the real believers and the irreligious
becomes obvious. Those who have yet to internalize the fact
that only the First Cause is the cause of all events past,
present and future, feel as if the ground is disappearing
from under their feet; they have nothing to hold on to except
some delusions about the restoration of "world order" by
means of military might, even though it has been proved very
publicly that a handful of terrorists can make a mockery of
the greatest power in the world and wreak such utter
destruction in it.
Observant Jews, on the other hand, know that all world events
are supervised by a Divine Hand, and that there are no
coincidences. However, even someone with pure emunoh
cannot be sure of reaching conclusions appropriate to each
individual and the nation as a whole. As we shall see, our
rabbonim have taught us that a Jew can be strong in his faith
that everything is from above, but still -- with the best of
intentions -- use his free choice to err in interpreting the
meaning of events using holy concepts.
What are we referring to?
Ever since the earthshaking events in America during the last
week of the year all sorts of "hints" and "proofs" have been
circulating to the effect that the redemption is imminent and
that these terrible events are only part of chevlei
moshiach. These rumors have a welcoming audience, since
every Jew is brought up with the expectation of the
geuloh and yearns for it throughout his life. When
depressing events are interpreted as being part of the
"redemption program" he relaxes in the knowledge that there
is a "solution" and "explanation" for such terrible
This is especially the case when these rumors are backed by
various "proofs" consisting of quotations from Tanach
and from Chazal (such as "Ben Dovid will come at the end
of the shmittah year"), hints, gimatriyos,
kabbalistic concepts and so on.
We shall not discuss the substance of these arguments, but
only the attitude underlying such interpretations.
It is very tempting to interpret events in such a manner. The
listener is comforted by the thought that he is looking at
events as a believing Jew; unlike our straying brethren he
sees the hand of Hashem guiding our affairs.
The trouble with this interpretation is that it does not
require a person to do anything. If events are part of a
"redemption program" of ikvesa demeshicho then they
have no relevance to us who simply witness these events as
passive onlookers. We watch as predetermined events unfold,
which have no connection to our deeds.
The Rosh Yeshiva shlita has in the past pointed out
the dangers inherent in interpretations of this nature, which
actually distance a person from an accurate analysis of his
real duties during difficult times.
He was speaking in 5734 (1973) after the terrible events of
the Yom Kippur War, in which thousands were killed and
injured. This war dented the false feeling of security, which
reigned in Israel after the Six Day War. Many people wondered
why Hashem had made this happen, and the religious public
started talking about the "process of redemption" and certain
dates and hints were discussed (that war also broke out at
the end of a shmittah year). As a bochur in
Yeshiva ketanoh I remember the strong impression made
by these rumors which predicted future events, and how
everybody was discussing them during Succos that year.
The Rosh Yeshiva said then that although every Jew is obliged
to believe in the coming of Moshiach and await his
coming every day, nevertheless anyone interpreting events in
such a light takes attention away from our real duties and
the necessary stock-taking that both the pubic and the
individual have to make.
He gave a penetrating shmuess (published in
Digleinu in Cheshvan 5734) on our duties during that
difficult time. He warned against saying that everything
happened by chance chas vesholom, stressing that we
had to know what was expected of us: an improvement in our
Torah studies and tefilloh.
At the beginning of that shmuess he made a point
which, unfortunately, remains topical to this day. The war
took the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel by surprise.
Following the success of the Six Day War the population was
complacent and arrogant. Zahal was "unbeatable" and the Arabs
"stupid and primitive cowards."
The Israeli public then was no less amazed by the Arab
intelligence services and the precise planning of its armies
than the Americans were now by the destruction wrought by a
handful of fanatical Muslims who made a mockery of the
biggest security system in the world. The Rosh Yeshiva talked
about the Israeli public's reaction and called on everybody
to internalize the Rambam's words that every calamity is the
result of our evil actions: "We are certainly not free of
evil deeds, but the worst of them is the idolatrous faith in
`the might of my hands.' The nation has been accustomed to
believe in Zahal, in the assistance of the United States and
in the power of effective weapons, as if the Arabs have no
power or weapons. Are they really so powerless? This current
war has uprooted the foundations of this attitude. The
arrogant illusion of an invincible Zahal has been smashed to
"The whole country was in terrible danger. We must realize
that it was only our prayers that helped and only Hashem
saved us. If we witnessed open miracles on Yom Kippur and the
days afterwards, this was only by virtue of our supplications
and prayers, because according to the natural course of
events there was no reason for the Arabs to have failed in
their endeavors. There can be no doubt that this war has come
in order to debunk the avoda zora of kochi ve'otzem
yodi. It is middoh keneged middoh. This is
Hashem's way of treating people.
"They thought that `we have the might' and therefore, because
of our great sins, we were dealt a mighty blow, to teach us
that we do not have the might. It has been proved that there
were failures and mistakes were made by various parties. We
have been shown that humans are ordinary mortals, that
victory is not guaranteed, and victory is still not yet in
sight, the war is not over yet. Who knows what will happen in
the future? Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu knows, and may He
put a stop to all our troubles!"
With the background of this shock and confusion, there were
an abundance of "prophets" calculating the date on which the
geuloh would take place. They cited gimatriyos,
statements from the Zohar and so on. The masses
swallowed all of this and in the weeks following the outbreak
of war, tension increased as the date drew near on which
Milchemes Gog Umogog was to commence, or the sound of
the shofar heralding Moshiach was to be
The gedolim warned about this dangerous tendency, and
many expressed the fear that these rumors would affect the
faith of the innocent masses, who were eagerly awaiting the
advent of a certain date. Once it passed, it was feared that
these people would stop believing altogether in
Moshiach because of their dashed hopes.
HaRav Shach made another point at the time: the very attempt
to explain events as a "planned process" instead of a
heavenly decree resulting from our deeds and a warning sign
requiring us to repent was flawed at the outset.
"People are talking a lot about matters to do with the end of
days, they cite midreshei Zohar, signs from the stars.
Another tells us about his dreams. All these people create an
atmosphere conveying the message that all the sufferings and
misfortunes the Jewish nation is currently experiencing are
because we are living in a certain `period,' as if calamities
were predestined to occur at a certain date.
"But we are forgetting our main task. We are suppressing the
fundamental principle outlined by the Rambam at the beginning
of Hilchos Taanis that misfortunes happen to the
Jewish nation only because of our sins in order to wake us up
into repenting. We must realize that according to the Torah
the only thing we have is teshuvoh and all the
calculations about ikvesa demeshicho and chevlei
moshiach are totally irrelevant. All those who connect
the events of our time with all sorts of calculations divert
the public's attention away from the main thing, which is
teshuvoh. Chas vesholom, they attribute events to
chance by connecting them to a certain historical period,
instead of to our many sins.
"The Rambam, Shulchan Oruch and poskim do not
talk at all about secrets of the geuloh, only about
repentance. The holy Chofetz Chaim zt"l was very
involved in these matters, but his speeches to bnei
Torah and to the masses were dedicated only to
repentance, and he did not talk about calculations. He only
taught us that we had to wait expectantly for the Melech
Hamoshiach who could come literally at any minute, even
right at this moment we are standing here."
HaRav Shach said that we commit the sin of attributing
everything to chance, which the Rambam talks about, not only
by lacking emunoh, but also by explaining misfortunes
as part of a predetermined "process" that we can do nothing
"When we do not hear the correct messages, the opposite of
the intended happens. Instead of repenting, as we are
required to do according to the ruling of the Rambam, we
neglect teshuvoh and rely on symbols. We want to make
it easy for ourselves, but that is not what Hakodosh
Boruch Hu wants. If we do not awaken, we will be
transgressing the posuk, `If you will walk contrary to
me [bekeri, attributing things to chance].' Shlomo
Hamelech says in Mishlei, `Even if you pound a fool in
a mortar with a pestle, his foolishness will still not depart
from him' (27:22), because he still does not realize clearly
that he is being pounded. He is still uncertain whether the
blows are for the sake of being pounded.
"Let us not resemble that fool. Let us understand what is
required of us. The world tends to concentrate on
insignificant matters. We have just experienced a war. A
person living according to the Torah has to know the simple
truth: it was a punishment for our sins. Those who are far
removed from Torah instead of looking for the shortcomings,
which caused this downfall, grab the snake by its tail. We,
on the other hand, are fully versed in the Rambam's statement
that misfortunes are a direct result of `And you shall not
listen to Me,' but we still have some people trying to draw
conclusions leading to other avenues. They have already found
`explicit' references that the war is the last stage in the
coming of Moshiach and that there is no more need to
do teshuvoh, since it is not our sins, which are the
cause of our suffering, but ikvesa demeshicho."
In that same shmuess HaRav Shach also said that the
entire method of the people making these calculations goes
contrary to our whole tradition: "We believe with a complete
faith in the coming of Moshiach. He can come tomorrow,
today and also now. But who can rely on statements from the
Zohar, whose esoteric secrets are only understood by
the initiated? Even if we could understand statements
according to their plain meaning, we should still not rely on
a sole ma'amar Chazal. Otherwise, we could reach the
conclusion that the tzoras habas is permitted. Our
only guideline for halachic rulings are the books of the
poskim. The Rambam mentions only one sign (see
Hilchos Teshuvoh and Hilchos Melochim): `They
all commanded us to repent, and the Torah has already
promised that the Jewish nation will repent in the end at the
time of the redemption and then they will be redeemed
immediately, as it says, "And it shall come to pass when all
these things shall happen to you -- that you shall return
unto Hashem your G-d." '
"The Chofetz Chaim also spoke a lot about the geuloh,
and we can see from his books that he was very fluent in the
Zohar, but nevertheless we do not find him making any
hints about these signs. A ben yeshiva has to know
from which sources to derive halachic rulings. From any other
sources, however holy, we cannot derive anything; even if the
angel Gavriel should come and make a ruling contrary to the
Rambam, the halocho will not change, because that is
how we make rulings, and not by using other signs or
These thoughts apply very much to our current situation too.
Any attempt to explain grim events as "part of the redemption
process," as part of a divinely directed course of events not
affecting us, diverts attention from our real duty.
As HaRav Shach said then in the middle of the war: "What is
our duty? In what lies our strength? What is our weapon?
Every Jew is obligated not to have his attention diverted
from his duties. There are Jews losing their lives, and with
every minute of Torah learning we can protect and save them.
In addition, we must adopt our ancestors' practice regarding
appeasement and prayer. This is our great obligation at this
time, to believe and know that it is within our power and
that we have to tip the scales for merit, and that if,
chas vesholom, we do not do so, we will be responsible
for the blood of our brethren who are risking their lives