Vehi She’amda

BY RABBI REUVEN TARAGIN

In 2016, Natan Sharansky celebrated the 30th anniversary of his release from the Gulag after nine years in prison. At his annual dinner of gratitude, which he celebrates every year on Rosh Chodesh Adar, the date of his release, he told the following story. Over a decade earlier, Sharansky was invited by President George W. Bush to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The speakers that morning, including politicians and celebrities, were asked to relate the event in their lives where they most felt G-d’s presence. Christians call it “bearing witness.”

The stories were inspirational, but they all followed the same basic pattern. Some shared a low moment when they felt G-d’s presence had lifted them up, and others spoke about a dramatic moment when they felt divine intervention had saved their lives. A fighter pilot related that a malfunction caused his engines to fail. As he was plunging to earth he felt a heavenly force intervene, restarting his engines without any explicable reason, as if a superior force had intervened.

When it came time for Sharansky to speak, he explained that Jews view these kinds of experiences differently. We look for G-d’s presence not in the life of the individual but in the life of the nation – what G-d does for us as a people. Sharansky knew well that not everyone present that morning was a lover of Israel. He said: “You are Bible-believing Christians, and you know all about the Jews enslaved in Egypt, how Pharaoh refused to free them, and how, through G-d’s mighty hand and outstretched arm, through the plagues and the miracles at the Red Sea He redeemed us from Egypt and founded our nation. But not long ago – just a few years ago – there was a mighty, evil empire that intimidated the entire world. And everyone was afraid to challenge them. Nations sought accommodation, détente, an arrangement whereby the world would keep the peace and no one would interfere in the domestic affairs of this evil empire.

“But there was one small group of Jews who arose, reasserted their Jewish identity and reclaimed their membership in the Jewish nation. It was a small group at first – dozens, then hundreds, then thousands – but small compared to the gargantuan size of their enemy of whom everyone else was afraid. And then Jews across the world heard of them and rallied for them, and pressured governments, and then blow after blow rained on the Soviet Union until it collapsed from within and the Iron Curtain fell and the Jews were liberated, again.”

Everyone burst into applause, and he continued. “For Jews, that is how G-d manifests His presence – in the life of our nation. He reveals Himself through what happens to the Jewish people.” He then told his audience that night that this demonstration of G-d’s presence in the life of the Jewish people was greater than anything any one of them had ever experienced in their lives as individuals.1

“And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.”

But is it true that Hashem always saves us? We know that the nations of the world have succeeded in killing millions of our people – during the Holocaust and on October 7.

Amad aleinu l’chaloteinu, They tried to annihilate us.” The emphasis here is on the word “l’chaloteinu” – many have attempted to annihilate us. Our enemies, from Hitler to Sinwar, may have succeeded at killing some of us. But, miraculously, Am Yisrael continues to exist. 

In the words of Tolstoy: “The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter, nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire, nor sword, nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth… Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as eternity itself.” 

The Christian thinker Blaise Pascal was also awed by the eternity of our people: “These people are not eminent solely by their antiquity, but are also singular by their duration, which has always continued from their origin till now. For, whereas the nations of Greece and of Italy, of Lacedaemon, of Athens and of Rome, and others who came long after, have long since perished, these ever remain, and in spite of the endeavors of many powerful kings who have a hundred times tried to destroy them, as their historians testify, and as it is easy to conjecture from the natural order of things during so long a space of years, they have nevertheless been preserved.” 

On Seder night, even as we feel the bitterness of our losses, let us take strength in knowing that Hashem will always save us from their hands. 

 

1 As related to me by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky.

 

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and Dean of the Yeshivat Hakotel Overseas Program.

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