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 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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