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Sukkat Shalom B'nei Noach




I had just arrived back in Israel after an intense three weeks in the United States. A day later was Shabbat, and I was able to float gently on the peaceful spirit of Shabbat in the holy city of Jerusalem. Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), I noticed that my father had tried to call me. I thought it might be an emergency, so I called him back, even though it was Shabbat in North Carolina where he lives. My father told me he had heard that the Iranian regime had launched drones and missiles at Israel. I had read threats of such action in the news a day earlier, but had left thoughts of it behind me going into Shabbat. Since Teheran is approximately 950 miles away from Israel, I knew we had several hours before anything would land in Israel. At the same time, I had a slightly nauseating feeling of impending doom, knowing that the missiles were in flight and headed towards us. Anyone who grew up in America during the 1980s, when the Cold War was perhaps at its most delicate moment, can recall the fear we no longer have of immanent attack, whether nuclear or conventional. Scenes from horrifying movies like The Day After and Red Dawn, the “No Nukes” activism and all of the world history classes and documentaries about Hiroshima makes any child of the 80s shudder at the idea of a missile attack.

And here we were. I wasn’t trembling with fear; it was simply an abstract notion. I had never actually experienced the things I’d seen in war movies or documentaries, and so it was just a troubling piece of information. At least this was true at the conscious level. At the subconscious level, however, I think my experience was different. We all went to bed knowing that we would likely be awakened by air raid sirens and loud bomb intercepts, and accordingly, it was hard to actually sleep. As expected, the sirens began sounding at around 2:30 am, and were accompanied by explosions. We listened to innumerable news reports about what was happening, where the sirens were going off, pundits venting their spleens about what Israel’s response should be, and biased Western media outlets excusing the attack as a legitimate response to Israel’s bombing of an Iranian “embassy” in Damascus.

(It turns out that it wasn’t an embassy; it was a building near the Iranian consulate. In the building sat the entire command unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, including Mohammed Reza Zahedi, yemach sh’mo, who has been identified as a possible mastermind of the October 7th massacre.)

Some time within the hour, the noises stopped. I flipped through a few more news programs until, lacking any real information, I fell asleep. The next day, I read that, indeed, the Iranian regime had launched the missiles—somewhere in the range of 320 of them, including suicide drones, and ballistic and cruise missiles. Yet, 99% of them were intercepted, and of the few that fell in Israel, the only injury was a serious one sustained (unfortunately) by a young Bedouin girl. Despite this being the largest missile attack ever to have occurred; despite the unremitting chant of “death to Israel” by the regime and its supporters; despite their persistent threats to destroy Israel, not one Jew suffered a scratch as a result of the attack.

There was no question that this was a miracle, but the question that plagued me was, what, exactly, was the miracle? Was it the fact that the Islamic regime failed to hit anything? Was it the contribution of allies, such as the United States, England and France—and even Jordan—in shooting down the missiles? A Reuters article stated that, according to Hakan Fidan, the Turkish foreign minister, the Biden administration was notified of the Islamic Republic’s intent to bomb Israel and had told them that they must keep it limited in scope. In other words, the attack was essentially greenlit by the Biden administration, despite the president’s performative verbal support for Israel.

Was this the miracle, that despite the apparent back-stabbing of Israel by the Biden administration in this manner, the attack was of no consequence? Or was the miracle that the mullahs decide not to cause the mass casualty event such a huge amount of ordinance could cause, but simply to stage a gigantic sound-and-light show for its own honor—because Israel demonstrated that it could locate and kill the IRGC murderers in Damascus?

I struggled with this for a whole week. As I mentioned before, I was able to handle the information surrounding the attack on a conscious level, but I found myself incredibly disoriented nonetheless, knowing what could have happened and didn’t. I was also at odds with myself from a faith standpoint, because I couldn’t muster the presence of mind to immediately affirm for myself what the miracle was. Yet, a Jew is obligated to recognize and thank G-d for any amount of good that He bestows upon him, even to recite Hallel. This is especially true when Divine salvation is experienced by the entire people of Israel.

The Haggadah’s account of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, the Divine intervention and their exodus, begins with a statement, tze u’lmad, “go and learn”, i.e., what happened. Yet, the word for “go” in this case is tze, which literally means “to go out” or “to exit”. Why is this verb used? Because there is a type of learning that cannot occur until learner “leaves” his customary parameters of thinking. The phrase, “out of the box” is close to this idea. Insight comes when we go beyond the boundaries of how our minds work.

There are three sages whose opinions are mentioned as to how many plagues G-d created to punish the Egyptians for their refusal to free the Israelites. Rabbi Akiva is the last of the three; his opinion is that there were 50 plagues in Egypt and 250 at the splitting of the Red Sea. A simple reading of the Torah text reveals only 10 plagues, and one last defeat at the Red Sea, when the Egyptian army is drowned. How does Rabbi Akiva get to 25 times that amount?

The Abrabanel, in his commentary to the Haggadah, notes that the two sections following Rabbi Akiva’s statement are a continuation of Rabbi Akiva’s idea. The first is the piyyut known as Dayeinu, “It Would Have Sufficed”, which lists all of the incredible things G-d did for the Israelites, in the following format: “if He had done X, but had not done Y, it would have sufficed”. Thus, “if He had brought us out of Egypt, but had not judged (and punished) them, it would have sufficed”, and so on.

Granted, there are some items that require an explanation, such as “if He had brought us before Mount Sinai but had not given us the Torah, it would have sufficed”. However, the next section, Al Achat Kama v’Kama, reassures us that, in any case, He did do all of these things for us, and built us the Holy Temple, where we could atone for our sins.

What I noticed is that there is a similar outlook expressed in Rabbi Akiva’s description of the plagues and in the following two piyyutim that Abrabanel attributes to him. While, on the one hand, it may have appeared as if there were only 10 plagues, there were actually many levels, nuances and subtleties that comprised these signs and wonders. And, as we see in Dayeinu and Al Achat Kama v’Kama, the miracle of the Jewish peoples’ exodus from Egypt was so multifaceted as to be ultimately unfathomable. Rabbi Akiva’s approach was to take a close, granular look at G-d’s actions on our behalf to fully appreciate the limitless extent of His Kindness.

However, any one of those things would have sufficed, but sufficed for what? If Dayeinu was a halachic statement, the implication would be that it sufficed to obligate us to acknowledge G-d’s Mercy, to show our gratitude towards Him, and perhaps to recite Hallel publicly to demonstrate this. You don’t have to perceive all dimensions of a miracle to thank G-d. Anything that registers in your conscious mind is enough. Dayeinu. From there, I could move into a place of allowing myself to feel the incredible miracle that G-d just did for us during this awful barrage of weaponry. I didn’t have to understand the elements of realpolitik behind it. Dayeinu. Thank You, Hashem.

But what if the next attempt—if there is one—is successful? Can we still celebrate this act of Divine Compassion? The answer is, when we sit down at the seder table on Pesach night, we are commemorating an incredible act of Hashem’s kindness that took place more than 3000 years ago, and was followed by four exiles, the destruction of two temples, and two millennia of awful persecution. A statement brought from the Talmud in the Haggadah, “in every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he himself left Egypt” (TB Pesachim 116b), and therefore, concludes the Haggadah, we are obligated to thank and praise Hashem. This is then followed by the recitation of the first two paragraphs of Hallel (which is completed later in the evening).

So let’s bring this knowing into ourselves. We have just witnessed an amazing miracle performed for us. At the seder, we recite Hallel not simply to commemorate an event from thousands of years ago, but to tap into Hashem’s Compassion and Love which has stood by us for all time, and will continue to shelter us, “for His Mercy endures forever” (Psalms 136).

Shabbat Shalom!

By Rabbi Tani Burton

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