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The Most Potent Weapon
by Rabbi Avi Shafran

Intended so or not, Israel's actions of late have echoed the biblical Jacob's.  As noted by the commentary Rashi, quoting the Midrash, when the progenitor of the Jewish people prepared to meet his estranged brother Esav for the first time since receiving (to Esav's outrage) their father's blessing, he approached his murder-minded twin with three distinct strategies: a gift, prayer and war.

Employing the first two, Jacob averted the worst-case scenario, the need for the third.  Modern-day Israel has been less fortunate; unlike Esav, the enemy it faces has shown no readiness for even a temporary peace.

Echoing the Jewish forefather's example, the Jewish State began with gifts, most recently last summer's evacuation of Jews from Gaza.  Neither it, though, nor the withdrawal of Israeli military presence from southern Lebanon five years earlier, placated the global Islamist jihadis, whose respective representatives continued to kill and maim Israelis on both fronts.  And so, the third strategy, war – intended to physically prevent the enemy from expressing its bloodlust in deed – has been the whirlwind reaped.

From a truly Jewish perspective, however, the most vital strategy is the second, and it has been employed with determination over the years by countless Jews who trust in G-d, and in their power, by force of heart, to merit His protection.

And so, over recent years in particular, Jews the world over have gathered on many occasions to pray for the safety and welfare of their brothers and sisters in Israel.  Many, heeding the suggestion of the Council of Torah Sages, have adopted the practice of reciting particular chapters of Psalms on behalf of endangered Jews overseas each morning after daily prayers.

Not that we have ignored the importance of activism.  Only last week, Agudath Israel of America convened the most recent of its missions to Washington, at which members of the organization from across the country traveled to the nation's capital to engage lawmakers and Administration officials.  Israel's security, as always, was a prominent topic of interaction.

Prayer, though, is paramount.  Mere days later, on the evening of July 19, a remarkable gathering took place in Brooklyn, New York.  A major New York Jewish institution, Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, opened its impressive edifice to an Agudath Israel -sponsored special prayer gathering on behalf of Israeli Jews.

It was no pep rally.  The thousand or so Jewish men who crammed the yeshiva's cavernous study hall and flowed out into the large lobby and the street beyond, along with the hundreds of women who gathered in the spacious balcony surrounding and overlooking the hall, had not come to celebrate military actions, or to applaud the routing of terrorists. Those present saw beyond the immediate activity in Lebanon and Gaza; they were all too conscious of farther-reaching things.

Like the import of Hezbollah-supporting Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Khamenei's recent description of the Jewish State as a "cancerous tumor," and that country's president's threat to unleash an Islamic "explosion" to "burn all those who created [Israel] over the past 60 years."  They were aware, too, of the jungle that calls itself the United Nations, and of the putrid gutter known as the "Arab street."  They had gathered in the Brooklyn yeshiva not to cheer or to protest or to make declarations, but rather to hear what they needed to do to merit God's protection of His children, and to pray.

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and rabbinic head of Agudath Israel, spoke briefly and emotionally.

His voice laden with pain, Rabbi Perlow emphasized the importance of "public prayer" at a "time of travail," and the importance of each Jew's taking account of his or her personal life – "in matters between man and G-d, and in matters between man and man."  Especially, he stressed, the latter.  And he extolled, above all, the power of Torah-study.

After reminding his listeners that "We in other lands can truly contribute to the safety of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel," he read the names of the Israeli soldiers being held by terrorist kidnappers.  More than an hour of Psalms and supplications, led by respected rabbis, followed, cried out in unison by the swelling crowd.

Many hundreds more participated at a distance in the assembly by conference call, and the Orthodox Union held similar gatherings across the country that same evening. Thousands upon thousands of Jews were thus united in heart and hope.

And so we remain.

The children of Jacob, using his most potent weapon.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]



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