By Rabbi Avi Shafran
At a recent large rally near the United Nations, it was encouraging to see the breadth of support for Israel and outrage at Iran’s current leadership. Not only were Jews of very different stripes present — from the bare-headed to the black-hatted — but there was quite a representation of non-Jews as well, white and black, American, European and even Middle-Eastern.
The event’s organizers deserve credit for all the work they put into it, and the vast majority of the tens of thousands of Jews who participated surely left with only good feelings. And yet, something — or, perhaps better said, Something — was missing: a clear expression of the Jewish people’s faith in the Almighty.
The void was most starkly evident during the speech of famed lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz. After reading a lengthy indictment of the Iranian president and his policies, Mr. Dershowitz invoked a verse from the book of Isaiah that speaks of the ultimate futility of the plottings of the Jewish people’s enemies.
“Utzu eitzah v’tufar; dabru davar v’lo yakum,” the former yeshiva bochur (religious studies student) eloquently intoned. “Plan a conspiracy, and it will be foiled; speak your piece and it will not stand.”
Very inspiring, except that Mr. Dershowitz left out the final words of the verse, “ki imanu [K]el” — “for God is with us.”
Whether he did so intentionally or not, the truncation seemed to symbolize an attitude that is sadly prevalent today.
The prophet Isaiah was not the only one whose words were edited. When a Jewish band called “Blue Fringe” struck up the classic “Am Yisrael Chai” — “The Nation of Israel Lives” — it used the title words for both parts of the song. In the original rendition, though, which became one of the signature songs of the Russian refuseniks during the dark years of Soviet Jewry’s anguish, the words to the second part are “Od Avinu Chai” — “Our Father Still Lives.” No room for Father, apparently, on the Fringe.
The Torah predicts how, amid affluence and security, it may happen that “your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem your God and you will say ‘my strength and the power of my hand has amassed for me this success’.” (Deuteronomy 8:14-17)
To be sure, the Jewish people will persevere and, at history’s end, emerge triumphant. But Jews’ trust must not be placed in military prowess, even that of a Jewish State. “Israel,” we do well to remember, refers in the Torah not to a country but to a people.
And even our people, we know all too well, is not immune to the hatred and bloodlust of the rest of the world, at least not until the Messiah arrives.
No, not might, but right is the source of our protection. The only thing that can offer security to the Jewish nation — in our ancestral land or anywhere else — is the blessing of Him Who chose us from among the nations.
And so when Jews gather together because of threats against their brothers and sisters, nothing belongs in the hearts of the gathered more than God. And nothing more than He belongs on the lips of those standing before the microphones.
At the recent rally, shofars were blown. Against the disturbing background of the “my strength and the power of my hands” speeches at the rally, the sound seemed a call to arms — even, it seemed, to trust in arms. But the shofar on Rosh Hashana, of course, is a call to repentance, to thoughts of God.
After the Days of Judgment, Jews observe the holiday of Sukkos by siting in supremely vulnerable structures, “temporary dwellings” that by definition are exposed to the elements.
Even had the Talmud not informed us that our sukkos are meant to remind us of the seemingly insubstantial “clouds of glory” with which God protected our ancestors from all harm and attack, could we have had any doubt that our fragile holiday abodes hold the message that our true protection comes not from things physical — or political, or military?
It is a fundamental Jewish message, and an eternal one. But it holds particular resonance, I think, for our own unfocused Jewish times.