On May 2nd, Mahmoud Abbas, in a rambling speech, suggested that the Holocaust was caused by the Jewish People; specifically the Jewish money-lenders and bankers, and the Holocaust had nothing to do with the Nazis racial and anti-Semitic views. Talk about blaming the victim.
I don’t know about you, but I did not find his comments to be that surprising. After all, this is the man who has a PhD in Holocaust denial – literally. His 1982 doctoral dissertation was titled, “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism.” So I for one, was not very surprised by what he said.
The past few Fridays has seen over fifty thousand of Arabs living in Gaza marching towards the fence that divides them from Israel. Although itś true, many of them did not have weapons, but to somehow think that tens of thousands of young men marching on your border is not a threat to Israel’s security is ludicrous. And yet, when Israel used force to hold them back, there was international condemnation on the use of excessive force. Surprised?
Neither am I.
Have soldiers been excessive at times? Sure. But when an IDF soldier smiles the wrong way, the news agencies have, for the past three decades at least, spun as an act of aggression. Again, no surprise there.
On April 30th, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presented the world with an overwhelming trove of documents stolen from Iran, making it clear to all that the Iranians had been working on a secret program to build nuclear weapons and not a nuclear energy plant as they claimed.
That the Mossad was able to smuggle 110,000 documents out of Iran in one night – not surprising. This is the same group of people who smuggled 8000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the same group that rescued 102 hostages from Entebbe, and the same group that assassinates enemies of Israel in a way that puts James Bond to shame, so no, I am not surprised.
Nor was I surprised that Iran had lied and that they were planning to build a nuclear weapon. This is the country whose unofficial motto is ´Death to the Jews, death to America.´ This is the country that is cash-strapped, whose banks are hanging by a thread, but still finds a way to pump millions of dollars into Hamas, Hezbollah, and supports Bashar al Assad as he kills civilians with chemical warfare. Not very surprising.
(I was somewhat surprised that Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the country that created Waze and cellphones, used a Power-point presentation that my first grader could have made. But then again, this is the man who used a picture of a looney tunes bomb at the UN, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about that either.)
On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Iranian Nuclear Deal, which I was also not surprised about. For starters, President Trump has pulled out every deal that President Obama had put into place; healthcare, trade, and now this. But more than that – I wasn’t surprised because the deal, for all that it had accomplished, also had serious flaws; allowing Iran to continue its development of ballistic missiles, allowing for a sunset clause, which meant that Iran would be able continue working on its nuclear “energy plant” in just a few years. So no, not very surprising.
Those are all things that do not surprise me. But now let me tell you something that I do find surprising, not something new, but something that when I take the time to think about it, is nothing less than astonishing. And that is the fact that Yerushalayim, the capital of the Jewish People since time immemorial, is once again b’yadeinu, is in our hands. No people in history have held onto such a far-fetched dream, liyot am chafshi b’artzeinu, for so long. Not for ten years, not for a hundred years, and not for a thousand years. But for over two thousand years, we have dreamed and we have hoped. That, in it of itself, is nothing less than miraculous.
But to see that dream fulfilled? To be a free nation in our land? To turn that tikvah, that hope, into reality? That’s unbelievable. It simply defies the rules of nature.
And to think that when Ben Gurion declared statehood he was told by his top military deputy that there was a 50/50 chance of Israel’s survive? And to think about the fact that they won that war. And then the next one. And then the next one. And then the next one.
Isn’t that shocking?
To think that for the first decade of her existence, as Israel welcomed hundreds of thousands, Israel’s economy was perpetually on the verge of collapse, and she somehow survived? And that today, with all its financial woes, Israel has the third to most companies being traded on NASDAQ, right after the US and China?
To think that in the 13th century the Ramban described what he saw in Israel with the following words: “She is greatly forsaken and her desolation is great… That which is of greater holiness is more desolate than that which is of lesser holiness. Yerushalyim is most desolate and destroyed.” To think that in the 19th century Mark Twain wrote this about the land of Israel: There exists here a state of neglect that even the imagination is incapable of granting it the possibility of beauty, of life and productivity. The Land of Israel is a wasteland… The Land of Israel is no longer to be considered part of the actual world…”
And now?! I don’t even have to say anything. The blooming of the desert! The explosion of life! The reawakening of a new religious-Zionist culture! You name it.
And then! And then to think about the fact that not only did we dream, not only did we settle in the land, not only did we gain sovereignty of the land, not only did we win wars against armies ten times our size, not only did the economy take off, not only did the desert bloom, but that 51 years ago, after being banished from the city by the Romans, after being banished from the city by the Muslims, after being banished from the city by the Crusaders, and after being banished from the city by the Jordanians, we heard the words, Har Habayit b’yadeinu! The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, our most precious dream, it was all in our hands?!
There are no words to describe the joy – nor the surprise.
And the fact that on Monday, an embassy of the United States will be opened in our city, acknowledging our right, acknowledging three thousand years of history…
Now I don’t know if it is good or bad for the embassy to be moving. I am concerned for the safety of those who live in Israel, and I pray for their wellbeing. But in light of the Jewish story, from the time of Avraham to the present, the fact that history’s most despised nation will be having their ancestral right confirmed by the most powerful nation on earth – this is truly shocking. It defies our entire history.
About 2600 years ago, there lived a Jewish king name Chizkiyahu, Hezekiah. The Northern Kingdom, where the Ten Tribes of Israel lived, had been defeated. They had already been exiled by a powerful king from Assyria, Sancheirev. After defeating the Northern Kingdom, he turned his eyes to the Southern Kingdom, to the kingdom of Chizkiyahu and besieged the city of Jerusalem.
The inhabitants of the city were starving, were dying, and were losing all hope, they were preparing to give in. But the night before Sancheirev was to attack, a miracle happened, some form of plague passed through the camp of Sancheirev, causing him and his mighty army to flee, leaving their spoils of war behind, and Jerusalem unharmed and free.
Chizkiyahu was a very righteous king, an exceedingly pious individual. In that light, the Talmud tells us something fascinating – Chizkiyahu was supposed to be Mashiach, he was supposed to be the Messiah. The war with Sancheirev was supposed to be a fulfilment of the prophecies of Gog Umagog, the cataclysmic, end-of-days prophecies of a war that leads us to the Messianic Era. This victory over Sancheirev was meant to be the end of all our suffering. But G-d said, no.
You know why? The Gemara says, because he didn’t sing.
When this great miracle took place, when his nation was saved from the mighty Assyrian kingdom, Chizkiyahu did not sing. And so, he lost his chance, and we lost our chance of bringing about the End of Days.
It sounds a little harsh, and maybe it is, but the point our Sages are making is crystal clear – when something unbelievable happens, when something that defies all of history takes place, when we are surprised by G-d in the most positive and beautiful way, it is incumbent upon us to sing, or to respond in one way or another; to make our feelings concrete. Judaism is a faith of lofty and esoteric ideas translated into the most physical of actions.
So let me ask you, who here gets a sense of warmth singing the tune of Hatikva?
Who here gets a sense of pride seeing a picture of an Israel soldier?
Who here gets a tingly feeling watching footage of the Six Day War?
Who here gets a lump in their throat when standing at the Western Wall?
Who here feels gratitude to G-d for giving us this truly, history-defying, logic-bending, truly shocking and unbelievable miracle?
I think itś safe to say that we all do.
And so I want to conclude with an invitation. Tomorrow is the 28th day of Iyar. It is the day, that glorious day, that the Jordanians were defeated by our paratroopers, it is the day the Israeli flag was lifted over our ancient city, our ancient home, it is the day the shofar was blown, and reverberated throughout the city’s walls. Tomorrow is the anniversary of a modern miracle that many of you lived through and one that we are living through today.
Let’s make it concrete.
We will be saying Hallel at davening tomorrow morning. There will be musical instruments. There will be an uplifting and beautiful davening. And so I invite you to please join us as tomorrow morning to sing and dance together. And if you cannot make it, take a moment from your day to pray, to sing, or to just say thank you to G-d, and to acknowledge this truly surprising miracle.