On the way to the morning service on Saturday, October 7, my brother Gabriel told me dozens of rockets were being fired into Israel again from Gaza. It was not terribly unusual. There would be anger along the Gazan border for the Jewish residents of two dozen villages and towns, but we had to live with it.
During the festive Simchat Torah service, my oldest son Shimon read from the Torah scroll in front of all the worshippers. We were celebrating the completion of the yearlong Torah-reading cycle and would right away begin anew with Genesis 1.
It was also the day after my birthday, so it should have been a happy weekend.
When Shimon paused to take a breath between the verses, we heard the warning sirens not too far away. Occasionally we heard the loud booms when Israeli Iron Dome interceptors hit the Hamas rockets. My nephews said later they saw the explosions in the sky.
The day is seared into my memory as is 9/11, or as is my birthday 50 years ago, the day when the Yom Kippur War started.
The awful details of the massacre were soon revealed by the forensics labs and the ever-present international news media. Live burnings, violent rapes of young and old, live dismemberments, eyes gouged out, unborn babies torn from the bellies of their mothers. Instruction booklets said to kill children and explained how to make cyanide gas. They were reminders of what Arabs did to Jews in Hebron in 1929, and of what Croat Ustaše did to Jews in 1941-1942. The world was in shock. Thirty children and babies, and twenty elderly, Holocaust survivors, ill and disabled, are among the 222 hostages in the tunnels of Gaza. In one case, a family of 10 was seized.
There was an outpouring of sincere sympathy from around the world, but it would not last. From Melbourne to Toronto to Warsaw, hundreds of thousands of other people rejoiced and celebrated the Jewish deaths. American Muslim politicians justified the Hamas massacre. At the BBC, serious voices questioned whether the evidence of slaughter, rape and abduction was real. Apparently, the executions livestreamed on Facebook and other social media by some of the terrorists themselves might have been fake.
Then, on October 17, there was a great explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City and all hell broke loose.
Thomas Rose, the senior advisor to former US Vice President Mike Pence, said: “We’ve gone in two weeks from the worst slaughter of the Jews since the Holocaust, to global demands that Israel not hurt any civilians, to what happened the other night, a universal, wall-to-wall, global media blood libel about the hospital bombing, which turned out not to be a bombing at all! This is a thousand years of Jewish history in a fortnight. I mean, we’ve gone from helpless victims of genocidal maniacs to perpetrators of genocide ourselves, to unindicted war criminals” (The Bauer and Rose Podcast, October 19, 2023).
Worldwide, the news media dutifully copied the Hamas press release saying Israel had bombed the hospital and killed 500 civilians. The Jews were at fault, as usual. Hours later, evidence proved otherwise, but news organizations continued to report that Israel might be to blame. The news media had been reduced to taking dictation for terrorists.
Meanwhile, we attended a funeral service of two boys who died on the first day of fighting. Their father is Rabbi Shmuel Slotki, a resident of our neighborhood. We know several dozen families whose sons and daughters were called up to serve. In several cases, three or four children in one family were called up, 360,000 in all, four percent of Israel’s population.
How to find wisdom and strength in this? Search the Scriptures. The prescribed Sabbath portions for October 14 (The Beginning, Gen. 1:1-6:8) and 21 (Noah, 6:9-11:32) this year are read in every synagogue worldwide and were chosen 2,600 years ago.
They are staggering in content:
The greatest Jewish rabbi, Rashi, asked 950 years ago why the Torah, a book of laws, begins with the creation of the world. He answers his own question: “Because they [the nations] will say that you stole this land, and I, the Lord God, will remind them that I created this world and I decided who I give the land to.” Precisely this is the accusation today, that the Jews stole land that wasn’t theirs. But God has already decided it.
Then, in Genesis 6:11, 13, it states: “Now the earth had become corrupt before God; and the earth had become filled with hamas….And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has become before Me, for the earth is filled with hamas through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.” The word hamas is usually translated as robbery and violence. Centuries ago, commentators understood robbery to also include robbery of persons, meaning kidnapping.
Is it mere coincidence that this prophecy was read in all synagogues around the globe on October 21? Or is it a confirmation of unfolding events being fulfilled?
The corresponding assigned readings from the prophets, added 2,200 years ago, are equally astonishing. God is speaking: “I have long kept silent, been quiet, restrained Myself–I will cry out like a woman giving birth; I will both lay waste and swallow up. I will destroy mountains and hills and wither all their herbage. I will turn rivers into islands and I will dry up marshes” (Isai. 42:14-15).
A German Christian friend wrote me days ago reminding me of the words of Jesus, that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mat. 26:52). This is the fate of those who have caused anguish and sorrow for Jews throughout history. The Jewish people live for peace, while terrorists live by the sword, claiming they look forward to death by martyrdom.
There is more about the Jewish people in the readings: “But it is a looted, downtrodden people, all of them trapped in holes, and hidden away in prisons; they are looted without rescuer, downtrodden with no one saying, ‘Give back!’” (Isai. 42:22).
Are we not reading headlines from the newspaper here?
And then there is this passage of comfort: “For but a brief moment have I forsaken you, and with abundant mercy shall I gather you in. With a slight wrath have I concealed My countenance from you for a moment, but with eternal kindness shall I show you mercy, said your Redeemer, the Lord” (54:7-8).
I tremble reading these words. God’s pronouncements are binding and irrevocable. There are no coincidences with Him. Israel need not fear, even though the foe is formidable. Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!