Too Fearful To Acknowledge
by Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
Ten years ago, in the final months of 2001, terrorist violence wrought
tremendous havoc in both the United States and Israel. In this country,
our serene realities were burst on a beautiful September morning, the
day that would become known for all time as "9/11". On that
day, Al-Qaeda operatives turned commercial airlines into tools of mass
destruction. Enormous structures collapsed. Thousands lost their lives.
Horror and shock gripped the country. The nation's economic and military
centers in downtown Manhattan and Washington D.C., respectively, were
viciously assaulted by a then- unknown enemy.
Soon thereafter, in Israel, Palestinian terrorist activity took on a different
look. Continuous attacks by suicide bombers held the nation in a grip
of fear. Hundreds of innocent Jewish civilians were murdered. Thousands
of others were injured. Seemingly every newscast brought more tragic news.
People hesitated to leave their homes, walk the streets or ride the bus.
I was struck at that time by the significant difference between the responses
of these countries' respective leaders to their troubled situations. President
George W. Bush, in addressing the nation on the National Day of Prayer
and Remembrance on September 14th, three days after the 9/11 attacks,
comforted his people by making constant reference to G-d and His ability
to protect, heal and comfort.
"On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty
G-d to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all
that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who
now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and
the promise of a life to come. As we have been assured, neither death
nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present
nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from G-d's
love. May He bless the souls of the departed, may He comfort our own,
and may He always guide our country. G-d bless America."
In stark contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking to his
people on December 3rd, made no reference to G-d as a means of comforting
his nation or guaranteeing their survival. Rather, he pointed to a national
strength based exclusively on such human traits as character, unity, fortitude,
"Citizens of Israel, we have fought many wars and we have won
them all. We bested our enemies and we made peace. We held the sword
and we made the wilderness and desert bloom. We built cities, we built
industry and we developed agriculture. We turned the State of Israel
into an example and a symbol to many countries in the world
is no other people in the world that would have shown such maturity
(Our enemies) have already realized that they
won't succeed. They have already realized that the people here are stronger
and that our spirit of resistance is more steadfast than anything they
A similar attitude was demonstrated decades earlier, following the great
Israeli victory during the Six Day War of 1967. All pre-war prognostications
had predicted a quick Arab victory. Numerous Arab armies encircled the
Jewish state, boasting 465,000 soldiers, 2,800 tanks, and 800 aircraft.
So pessimistic was the national outlook that large parks were designated
as gravesites for the many that were estimated to perish during the course
of the war.
The very fact that Israel survived that war was clearly miraculous. That
the Jewish people not merely survived, but won a decisive victory was
infinitely more astounding. Indeed, a West Point general is reputed to
have remarked that though the United States military academy studies past
wars fought throughout the world, they do not study the Six Day War, because
what concerns West Point is textbook military strategy and tactics, not
Yet Israeli leadership did not see it that way. Both then and now, military
and political leaders have spoken of the war in terms of military might,
courage, and determination, all obvious and central components of the
successful campaign. They did not, however, choose to recognize the miracles
wrought by G-d on behalf of His people.
"Our airmen struck the enemies' planes so accurately that no
one in the world understands how it was done, and people seek technological
explanations or secret weapons; our armored troops who beat the enemy
even when their equipment was inferior to his; our soldiers in all other
who overcame our enemies everywhere, despite the latter's
superior numbers and fortifications - all these revealed not only coolness
and courage in battle but
an understanding that only their personal
stand against the greatest dangers would achieve victory for their country
and for their families, and that if victory was not theirs the alternative
was annihilation." (Yitzchak Rabin, speaking at the Hebrew University
of Jerusalem three weeks after the Six Day War. Quoted by Howard Sachar,
A History of Israel, pp. 660, Knopf, 1996)
Yet, despite his nation's own history of military success, President
George Bush Sr. openly sought divine protection for his men on January
16, 1991, the day that he declared war against the Iraqi leader Saddam
"Tonight, as our forces fight, they and their families are
in our prayers. May G-d bless each and every one of them, and the coalition
forces at our side in the Gulf, and may He continue to bless our nation,
the United States of America."
Why is it that so many leaders in Israel - our Holy Land steeped in religious
tradition - have resisted in openly recognizing G-d, while those of the
United States have not? I suspect that the answer lies, at least in part,
in the tremendous sense of obligation that such recognition places on
the Jewish people.
It is relatively simple for a Christian country to evoke the name of G-d
in times of tragedy or war. For the Christian, G-d is comforting, and
not particularly demanding. Christian theology, as established by the
Pauline Doctrine, states that faith is paramount, deeds secondary. Evoking
the name of G-d carries minimal obligations and much solace. Salvation
comes to those who believe.
For the Jew, G-d expects more, much more. Deeds, more so than faith,
form the basis of our religion. For us, G-d is a ubiquitous reality, impacting
every aspect of our lives. To evoke G-d's name is to acknowledge His demands
for continuous effort and sacrifice, and often, a change in focus and
Since its earliest days, the United States has displayed its unwavering
recognition of G-d and His people. In fact, many American colonies were
settled by refugees who, in the face of great persecution in Europe, fled
their homelands rather than compromise their religious convictions. New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, for instance, were established as
"plantations of religion". Puritans in New England linked their
destiny with that of the Jewish people, identifying with biblical personalities,
calling their land "Canaan", and showing great respect for those
who were sufficiently erudite to converse in the Holy Tongue and discuss
the Hebrew Scriptures.
Consider this, from the nation's first president, George Washington.
"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this
land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants
the Father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our
paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in
His own due time and way everlastingly happy." (Letter to the Hebrew
Congregation of Newport, RI, 1790)
So strong would this religious sentiment become that in 1864 the U.S.
Treasury began minting coins inscribed with the phrase, "In G-d we
In stark contrast, the State of Israel and its leaders have followed
in the path of the "enlightened" Jews of the 19th century. They
have attempted to forge an identity as a Jewish state without actively
incorporating the religious beliefs and values that have formed the essence
of our people for four millennia. In its place they have focused on Hebrew
language and Jewish culture, and an identity based on military prowess
and perseverance. In secular Israel, a western style democracy, G-d is
nowhere to be found, not in the educational system, nor in the political
arena, neither in media outlets or even the national anthem.
Of course, this is not the governmental structure as envisioned by the
Torah. Judaism presents a theocratic structure, not democratic freedoms.
In the Holy Land there is no separation, as it were, of Church and State.
Every aspect of Jewish governance involves G-d and His Torah. As such,
the Jewish king is more than a political ruler. He is to serve as His
Maker's representative in this world, and is charged to shoulder that
responsibility continuously. The king was to project a religious value
set that would inspire his constituents to behave in a like mannered fashion.
It thus comes as no surprise that both Tanach and Torah SheBaal Peh are
replete with statements and judgments about the actions of Jewish kings.
The summation that "he did good (or evil) in the eyes of G-d"
or that he "has no portion in the world to come" suggests an
expectation of our rulers that extends well beyond the political arena.
As long as we follow the Torah we are guaranteed survival. It is the
quality of Jewish living that has carried us, not our numerical strength
or military prowess. In the words of the Talmud, "The People that
is tired out by intensive Torah study will not be delivered into the hands
of her oppressor." (Sanhedrin 94b)
It is our responsibility to ensure that G-d not be overlooked, whether
in periods of crisis, jubilation, or even our normative existence, so
that we can merit the final victory, one in which His presence will reign
openly, to be recognized by all. "And the L-rd shall be king over
all the earth; on that day G-d shall be one and His name one." (Zechariah
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is Head of School at Torah Day
School of Atlanta.This article was first posted on //ajop.org