Putting Ourselves in the Picture
Thursday was a beautiful day in Jerusalem. The sky was bright blue, the weather mild. No sound of helicopters bringing wounded to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital or of fighter jets overhead broke the serenity of the day. If one does not have any sons at the front or relatives who have received their reserve call-up notices, one could have strolled around all day without any reminder that Israel is once again under fire and perhaps on the verge of a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip,
And that's the problem.
We check out the Jerusalem Post news site, and learn that a Hamas missile hit an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi. Three Jews were killed. This is real. But then we look out the window at the cloudless sky or head off to Mincha, and we forget again.
The fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews within range of Hamas missiles and that of thousands of Jewish soldiers awaiting orders to invade the heavily populated Gaza Strip are not totally removed from our consciousness. But neither have they crowded everything else out. They don't intrude so far as to preclude small talk after davening with a neighbor or a trip to the gym.
On Friday morning, the war in the South moves a little closer to home. Looking at the front page of the Jerusalem Post, my wife realizes that she knows the family of the one of the Kiryat Malachi victims, Mirah Scharf. Rebbetzin Scharf and her husband were Chabad shlichim in Mumbai. She had returned to Israel to give birth, and came early for a memorial service for her friend Rivka Holtzberg, brutally murdered by terrorists in Mumbai four years ago.
Leil Shabbos, as I'm walking down the stairs on the way to Kabbalat Shabbat, the shriek of an air raid siren pierces my reverie. Soon the stairwell fills with womenfolk and a few male stragglers. We all ask each other what it means, what are we supposed to do. No one seems to know. Jerusalem hasn't been under rocket or mortar fire since 1973. In shul, I'm told later, no one knew what to do when the siren went off during Mincha so they just went on davening.
At the Shabbos table, my son comments that he is glad for the siren, and its message that we are in this too. I was thinking the same thing. I feel like Hashem is testing me for the second time in two weeks. And I am failing the test.
The first test I was Hurricane Sandy. Sure I looked at the pictures of the destruction and made clucking noises. But how much time did I spend trying to imagine what it's like being without power or heat for days, or to have one's home rendered uninhabitable. And how much time have I spent thinking about what it's like to raise children in Sderot or any of the southern cities where Hamas rocket fire is a constant fact of life? They sometimes hear a dozen sirens a day. And they don't have to ask the meaning of the sirens: Evidence of the potentially lethal impact of incoming rockets is everywhere in Sderot.
THE MAHARAL in Gevuros Hashem identifies the korban Pesach, which must be either a sheep or a goat, with the Jewish people. Strike a sheep or a goat on any part of its body and the pain will reverberate throughout its entire body because of its relatively small size. And similarly with the Jewish people, if a Jew or group of Jews is struck anyplace in the world, we all feel the pain.
But do we? Technology has made the world much smaller. We have instant access to high-level visuals from any place on the globe. But technology cannot overcome deficiencies of the heart. If we don't place ourselves in the picture, it still remains "there," no matter how fast the image reaches us and how high the resolution.
During the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Chaim Shmulewitz strongly urged bochurim in Mirrer Yeshiva to remain in Jerusalem. The tefillos and learning from afar, he said, bringing many proofs from Torah, could never have the same intensity as the tefillos and learning of those living in a country at war.
To feel part of the picture requires something more than just reciting a kapitel or two of Tehillim after davening – as important as that may be. Rabbi Noach Weinberg used to bemoan those who responded to his question about what they were doing for the Jews of Sderot, "We recite Tehillim after davening." Yet when something they considered really important was at stake, like the Jerusalem mayoral election, they did not content themselves with Tehillim, but closed the Bais Yaakov schools so that students could go out canvassing.
At the very least -- assuming that Jerusalem sirens do not become constant over the next week – those of us living here can invite families from the South to join us next Shabbos, or for longer, so that they can have a respite, and so we can begin to learn what it means to live running for shelter multiple times a day and sleeping every night in the basement.