Dr. Warren Goldstein
The following article is based on a moving speech given by South Africa’s
Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, which can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eVMfNQskWc.
People often wish they could live in times of miracles, a time when you could see the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the manna falling from heaven, G-d’s voice on Mount Sinai. And yet, R. Yaakov Emden, one of our great sages who lived in Germany about 250 years ago (in the introduction to his Siddur “Bet Yaakov”), says that we today live in a time of greater miracles than all of those described in the Torah. For him, the very existence of the Jewish people is a bigger miracle than all of the miracles described in the Torah.
R. Emden directs us to that famous passage in the Pesach Haggadah, which reads: ve-Hi she-amda la-avoteinu ve-lanu. The very existence of the Jewish people is the hand of G-d, because as a people the Jews really shouldn’t be here anymore. By any of the normal laws of history and sociology, we should have been long gone. What’s left of the ancient Babylonian, Greek, Roman or Persian Empires that oppressed us? Where is the mighty Roman Empire that controlled the world? Nothing. And yet we are here today.
She-Lo ehad bilvad amad aleinu le-khaloteinu, ela she-bekhol dor va-dor omdim aleinu le-khaloteinu,-“for not only one nation has stood against us, but in every generation they rise against us”. These words of the Haggadah are a remarkable prophecy. Look how they have been fulfilled: there has been a relentless, savage pursuit by enemy after enemy to eradicate the Jewish people. Forget not the savagery of Europe, the Spanish Inquisition, the Khmelnitsky massacres, the pogroms, and culminating with the horrors of the Holocaust. And after all that, here we are; and that is why R. Yaakov Emden said that to see the Jewish people alive and well and thriving is to witness a greater miracle than even the splitting of the sea. ve-haKadosh Barukh Hu matsileinu mi-yadam: G-d has looked after us, protected us and ensured that we have survived, outlived and outlasted every single one of our enemies.
In our own lifetime we have witnessed some of the most remarkable miracles of Jewish history. After the devastation of the Holocaust, any rational observer could have said it was a death-blow to the Jewish people, that they are finished; what sort of future can there be? And yet within three years after the Holocaust, Jewish sovereignty was re-established in the Land of Israel in 1948. A tiny strip of land - 600,000 Jews—many of them Holocaust survivors—had to ward off ferocious attacks from enemies on all sides; and they did so in one military victory after another, with great miracles, signs and wonders—the reunification of Jerusalem; the recapturing of the Temple Mount. And in the midst of all of these military dangers, Israel has absorbed millions of immigrants from all over the world - from the Middle East, Russia, Ethiopia - and has built a thriving economy, becoming a leader in technology, medicine, and all fields of human endeavor. Indeed, this is a remarkable, divine miracle before our very eyes.
Another awesome miracle of our times is the rebirth of Jewish learning and education. The Holocaust destroyed everything; all of the great seminaries and yeshivas of Europe, the Chassidic dynasties - everything was laid to waste. What chance was there for Jewish scholarship to be revived? Yet we have seen the most remarkable rebirth of Torah right across the world. And this miraculous growth has led to an amazing rejuvenation of Jewish life all over the world.
In our times we, too, face new enemies: Iran, in pursuit of nuclear weapons, together with its proxy armies, Hamas and Hezbollah, seek the total destruction of the Jewish people. And the world listens with silence and equanimity as once again, we, the Jewish people, face mortal enemies. What should our response be? Obviously we have to prepare practically and strategically to fend off these dangers. But we also need to strengthen ourselves spiritually. What should that response be? Vehi She’amda, “And it has stood by us.” What has stood? The covenant between us and our Creator. At times like these, we need to reexamine that covenant. It will give us our clarity of purpose, our moral vision, our confidence and our faith in the future.
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor Emeritus of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University; Aryeh.Frimer@biu.ac.il.