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by Rabbi Avi Shafran

Gaza will soon be empty of Jews. Whether the decision to render it so was wisdom or folly, whether it marked the beginning of a more stable Middle East or a more volatile one, whether it served to empower Palestinians considered moderate or to encourage those proven to be murderous, are questions now being addressed with passion. History will one day address them with hindsight.

But the human tragedy of the withdrawal is undeniable. Those of us who have never been compelled to leave our homes, the fields we planted and harvested, the synagogues in which we prayed and studied, the cemeteries in which our loved ones are buried, cannot claim to truly appreciate the agony of those who lived in Gaza, and now no longer do. Those displaced families, noble and loving of the land, deserve our deepest sympathy and concern.

Concern for the future, though, is called for, too. Relinquishing territory to at best an unproven entity trying to govern a populace that embraces wild-eyed killers is not an obviously healthy thing, to put it delicately. Yet, despite it all, what no believing Jew may feel in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal is despair. Traumas like that of the past weeks should never be permitted to obscure a larger picture, the true one. It is a picture well framed by its timing.

Events in Gaza reached their crescendo and denouement at an appropriate season of the Jewish year: the mournful days leading up to Tisha B'Av, and then, that sorrowful day itself. Equally apt, though, was - and is - the assurance of Jewish tradition that, in the dark damp of Tisha B'Av's tragedy, the seeds of Jewish redemption quietly sprout.

A believing Jew recognizes that unfortunate things, even tragic things, happen, that many are the prayers denied. Moses, as Jews the world over recently read in the Sabbath portion, was not granted his yearning to walk on the soil of the Holy Land; the "generation of the desert" was fated the same. Jewish history, even after the Temples' destructions and the Jewish exile from the Holy Land, has been replete with deep disappointments, and worse - crusades, pogroms, blood libels and expulsions. And here we sit, just over a half-century removed from the annihilation of Eastern European Jewry.

And yet where we sit, too, is amid an abundance of spiritual resurgence. Whatever problems may plague the contemporary Jewish world, the reestablishment, in Israel and worldwide, of the Jewish learning and life that once epitomized European Jewry is astounding - and a vital lesson about the permanence of G-d's love for His people.

Beating with that lesson, the hearts of believing Jews discern things beyond the nonce; here, beyond the the Gaza withdrawal. True, the State of Israel may be smaller than it was last month, but Eretz Yisrael, the land bequeathed the Jewish people, has not shrunk in the least. Part of it may be lonelier now, but it will be patient; its rightful residents will return one day. Yes, sworn enemies of the Jewish people are now closer to Jewish cities, but Jewish lives remain, as always, in the hands of our Protector; if we merit His protection, the only victims of suicide bombers will be themselves.

And while members of Hamas may chant and fire weapons to mark what they perceive as a victory, and recommit themselves to their gleeful blood-lust, a believing Jew knows that one day there will be another festivity, infinitely greater, a celebration of the utter downfall of those barbarians and all their supporters. And it then will be the Jewish people and the righteous among the nations who will exult, singing praises, not firing guns.

What will bring about that ultimate rejoicing, the return of all of the Holy Land to its rightful heirs and the banishment of evil from humanity, will not be, in the sardonic words of the prophet, "my strength and the power of my hand" - neither geopolitical machinations nor advanced weaponry. What will bring it about will be something else entirely, something that was ironically evident - the seeds in the darkness - amid the turmoil of the withdrawal itself.

The media were filled with the predictable images of confrontation - the ugliest, products of radical youths who arrived in Gaza from elsewhere. There were even some Jews, elsewhere, who, tragically, seemed to adopt the methods and madness of our enemies.

More telling, though, were many other scenes, poignant ones of soldiers and residents in heartfelt conversations, embracing each other, comforting one another, crying together. A local family offering a hot soldier a drink, a soldier kissing the Torah that a rabbi was evacuating from a synagogue. The images were of siblings on opposite ends of a difficult situation not of their making, not in their control.

Those images hold the keys to the Jewish future, to the redemption that believing Jews know will in time arrive. We cannot hasten it with some Jewish jihad, nor with trust in political or military leaders or tactics. We hurry it only with Jewish observance, Jewish study, Jewish tears, Jewish love.

The seven weeks that follow Tisha B'Av are known in Jewish tradition as the "Seven of Comforting." They are a time for remembering G-d's promise that although Jewish tragedy may seem overwhelming, redemption will in time arrive. And when it does, the Jewish land, all of it, will rejoice beyond imagining with its rightful inhabitants.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]




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