"Ascent and the Terrorist War from Lebanon"

The Elephant in the Room, the War, and the Saintly Ari

by Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht


"The Elephant in the Room" is an expression widely utilized in the United Kingdom and, more recently, in the United States. It pertains to a question or problem that is patently obvious, but which is ignored for the convenience of one or more of the involved parties.

It derives its symbolic meaning from the fact that an elephant in an enclosed room is something that is very conspicuous. Thus, this colorful expression implies that an action that needs to be discussed openly, isn't being discussed.

Why? Because revisiting a decision requires accountability on the part of the parties responsible for its implementation. By way of illustration: The alcoholic with a drinking problem is willing to discuss every ill in the world except the "elephant in the room," namely, his destructive addiction to alcohol.

Why the Katyushas and Kassams Now?

With the thousands of Katyusha rockets and other more advanced missiles wreaking havoc upon northern Israel, and the Kassams raining upon Israel's southern border, the question to be asked is: Why now?

At present, Israel and the free world are facing an onslaught from Radical Islam, or as others have correctly named it Islamic Fascism, which is aimed at the West. Their fight is not for a Palestinian State only, but rather the elimination of the state of Israel and world domination.

Theirs is a culture of jihad and death. To inflict pain upon innocent civilians is their stated goal and most cherished ideal. In short, they are a sickly, but deadly, culture bereft of civilized behavior or conduct.

The Gush Katif Equation

The destruction of the flourishing Jewish communities of Gush Katif and the forced evacuation of its inhabitants at the hands of the current government and military leadership sent a message to the Hamas and Fatah in the south and to the Hizbullah in the north that terrorism gets results. It has emboldened the extremist elements of the Arab world to become more belligerent towards Israel and that is the current reality we are facing today.

At present, within the year of the Disengagement, the IDF had to redeploy along the entire area of the former Gush Katif to stop the hundreds of Kassams destroying the vibrant communities of S'derot, Nahariya and Ashkelon.

Nothing of lasting value was achieved for Israel with the de-legitimization of its most loyal citizens, namely, the Jews of Gush Katif. The heart-wrenching Disengagement and psychological debasement of the Gush's inhabitants was compounded by the ruthless disregard for their welfare and needs throughtout this past following their expulsion.

It is a collective badge of shame upon the Jewish State for the shabby manner it has treated these heroes of Israel.

Now, together with these thousands of displaced and mistreated Jews of Gush Katif, hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens are tasting the bitter fruit of being uprooted from their life and routine, living under the terrible threat of rockets and missiles at all times of the day and night.

The Lesson from the Holy Ari of Safed

As I am writing this, on the day of the saintly Arizal's yahrzeit, the fifth day of Menachem Av, I am reminded of a story told in his name.

As is well known, the saintly Arizal of Israel had remarkable insight and spiritual powers that allowed him to identify events well before they transpired. Like the ancient prophets of Israel, he foretold events to come.

One day, as he was immersed with the study of Torah with his students in Safed, he said: "Friends, I have heard a heavenly voice (bat kol) proclaim locusts shall descend upon the city of Safed and they will devour all her vegetation. The people of Safed will be left without sustenance." Why? Because a very pious individual by the name of Yaakov Alterin has just complained about his bitter lot and no one has come to his aid: "Heaven can no longer bear his complaints.

"My sons," said the Ar, "let us collect a sum of money and send it to Yaakov Alterin. Perhaps, G-d will then have pity on us and cancel His decree."

Immediately, each student handed a contribution to the Ari, who, in turn, told his student Reb Yitzchak Cohen to deliver the entire amount to Yaakov Alterin.

As he entered into Reb Yaakov Alterin's very humble home, Reb Cohen found him bemoaning and crying about his bitter lot just as the saintly Ari had said. Then, Reb Yitzchak Cohen gave Yaakov the contribution to allow him to earn a livelihood and admonished him to stop complaining about his bitter lot.

"Because you complained so bitterly, Safed nearly suffered a famine."

Then, the pious Reb Yaakov Alterin prayed with all his might that G-d cancel the decree and he forgave his fellow man. When Reb Yitzchak Cohen returned to the house of study, the saintly Ari greeted him and declared, "The decree has been cancelled."

Hours later, a large drove of locusts - literally, a cloud of locusts - could be seen approaching Safed. Trembling, the Ari's students began to cry: "Woe to us. All Safed's vegetation shall, G-d forbid, be destroyed."

The Ari comforted them, saying, "Fear not. We have already apologized to Yaakov Alterin, and the decree has been cancelled. No evil shall befall us."

As the Ari spoke, a strong wind blew the entire drove of locust towards the sea, where they all drowned. From that day on, the people of Safed were careful to support all of Safed's needy people.

Gaining Pardon From the Gush Katif Jews

For the past three weeks, we have been reciting special prayers and offering tzedakah, charity coupled with Torah study. All of our efforts have been done at the encouragement of our sages, chief rabbis and Torah leaders. These efforts are most assuredly helping the people of Israel in their moment of need.

Perhaps, what we need right now is to attend to the "elephant in the room." It's time for the Jewish people to stop avoiding their responsibility and make redress to the wronged Jews of Gush Katif. We owe an apology and a debt to all the displaced Jews of Gush Katif. We owe it to their elders and to their youth. We owe it to the hundreds of struggling families and to all whose dreams - material and spiritual - were cruelly dashed. We owe them monetary compensation and we owe them an apology. Both must be offered now. Even as the bombs are falling, they must become a first priority. We must realize that until they grant us their pardon for how we let them down, our prayers and Torah study and our tzedakah may not be as effective as they should be.

Now is the time for every Jew in Israel to seek out easch Jew and Jewess of Gush Katif, to embrace them and ask of them, on behalf of all Yisrael, to allow us to make amends. But it must be done now and post-haste. The situation in Israel is critical. Don't we see the elephant in the room?

So, please pass on the call to help the Jews of Gush Katif now. It will most assuredly help us all.* It will also serve to avert a future Disengagement from other parts of our beloved land of Israel.

* When Israel does justice, the Holy One, blessed be He, casts down their enemies from before them. (Tanchuma Shoftim 15)

[From Arutz Sheva News Service, Sunday, 6 August 2006 / www.IsraelNationalNews.com]


A comment from an Ascent-of-Safed neighbor:

It was very easy for many religious Jews to find a connection between the tragedy of hutrricane Katrina and the expulsion from Gush Katif. Wow, all those people in Louisiana and Mississippi and Texas with no homes, their lives ruined, destitute. America pushed Israel into evacuating the Jews (supposedly, I'm not so sure that it is true), and now America is suffering like the Jews of Gush Katif suffered. We could see it because it was "them". It wasn't "us". It seems that pointing the finger outward at another group gives a person tremendous wisdom and perspective. I haven't yet heard one such insightful person tell me that they see the connection now, between the ketyushas all over the North of Israel and Gush Katif; not even my closest friends, who are deeply spiritual and always striving to improve themselves, to do tshuva on their own weaknesses.

The only people now saying that they didn't do enough for Gush Katif Jews are those who devoted their lives to the Gush Katif cause all last summer; they wish they would have done even more. But all the Jews who didn't so much as get together in a group one time to say tehillim together? Is there a voice from among them, is there a rabbinical leader, who says, "I was wrong?" Is there one who says, "I see the connection?" I wonder.

If we want to bring the Redemption, in addition to the tremendous –and tremendously impressive-- deeds of kindness being done all over Israel, we MUST do tshuva on our past blindnesses, too.

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