I don’t often document my Shabbos thoughts, but this week I felt compelled to do so.
To give a little context: I spent Pesach together with my family this year. Ka”h all 8 siblings were home, 5 of whom are now married with children. My father’s Chabad house also hosted the “Pesach in Gan Eden” Program. 2 Years ago, I spent Pesach with my in-laws in this same program, that time as a guest. The last day of that Pesach was the infamous attack at Chabad of Poway – a Chabad where I had spent many weekends, as the Rabbi’s son was a classmate of mine. In the days immediately following the attack I worked together with Drs David and Debbie Fox, as a volunteer for Project Chai (the Trauma and Bereavement Counseling branch of Chai Lifeline), speaking with countless survivors, witnesses, and friends of the victims. That event pushed me to take a much more active role in growing Magen Am.
This Shabbos, in Shuls across the world, we read the Shira. It is a unique piece of poetry and song that holds a special place in the Torah. It is one of 2 or 3 places that the actual writing of the Torah changes to reflect he poetic nature of the passages. In Chabad at La Costa, there is a tradition to read this portion out of a special Torah scroll we have. It is a scroll that is somewhere between 150 and 400 years old, that survived the Holocaust. I won’t document that entire story here – come visit my father if you’d like to hear more – but the Shira in this Torah was his first exposure to it, and it has a very special writing; each ‘kesser’ in the Shira has its own kesser on top. It also had survived in the very city that my home town is named after: Carlsbad. (Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia was known for its hot springs. Carlsbad, CA was named after it due to its own springs.)
As we read the Parsha, I couldn’t help but think about the symbolism of using this Torah to hear the story of Krias Yam Suf; Hearing the clear miracles and descriptions of Hashem fighting our battles for us. Of all the miracles this holiday could be named for, the name that we use most often is “Pesach”, which specifically recalls the miracle of Hashem punishing the Egyptian first-borns while sparing the Jewish families. Here we see another example of extreme divine protection. [Speaking of ‘protection’] That morning, before Davening began, I was meeting with the shul’s community security team to prepare for the day. One of the greeters had asked me if I thought hatred against Jews was caused/aggravated by recent political developments. While following along with the Torah reading, I saw an insight from Rashi:
When the Yidden were stopped by the sea, before it split, it says the looked back and saw ‘Egypt travelling after them’ utilizing the singular tense, while plural would seemed to have been more fitting. Rashi says “B’lev Echad, K’ish Echad” – “With one heart, like one man”. In the next Parsha when discussing the Jewish nation camping by Har Sinai it again uses the singular tense and Rashi says “K’ish Echad, B’lev Echad” – “Like one man, with one heart”. The obvious question is; Why the change? What’s the difference between the 2 phrases? Based on the earlier conversation, one potential answer is as follows: The Jewish people, by virtue of our spiritual DNA, have the innate ability to view each other as extensions of ourselves (of course, sometimes it takes extra focus to bring this awareness into our consciousness). This makes us ‘Like one Man’. Because of this, we are able to care for each other and focus on uniting to accomplish a larger mission (like bringing G-dliness into this world) ‘with one heart’.
The Egyptians, on the other hand, were not in this for each other. Each man had his own selfish interests and reasons for pursuing the Jews. However, because they all had a common interest of capturing the Jews, they were able to pursue ‘with one heart’ uniting them ‘like one man’. So the hatred of Jews has been around for a little while, and it has always been strong enough to unite our enemies against us.
This brings us back to the need for Protection. One of the theories and philosophies that heavily influences my work – in fact, it is a theory about which I hope to one day publish a book – is that the (Biblical) Jewish nation is unique in our relationship with War and the ‘Warrior Class’. In most cultures, there is a revered ‘Warriors Class’ that spends its energy and focus on combative skills and tactics, for the sake of war itself. In Biblical Jewish history, we see countless stories of wars fought and Jewish heroes/heroine. However, in the vast majority of these stories, that individual is not praised for their physical prowess or lethal warfighting abilities. From Avraham Avinu (in his war against the 4 kings) to Dovid HaMelech, we see that wars were won by Tzaddikim who fought only when a divine command called for it. These people were primarily known for their piety and dedication to Heavenly Service. That said, they certainly dedicated time to the practice of these combat oriented skills and philosophies.
In fact, if we look back into our history at great Jewish warriors known for being a warrior, we often find negative endings (Shimshon HaGibur). This may be a stretch, but even in more modern history, we find with Israel that many wars that were won, when fought knowing that we needed Hashem’s miracles. But wars fought with faith in the IDF’s own physical capabilities were often lost.
Back to the Torah reading – I found a possible challenge to this theory: In the Shira itself we find a possuk that reads “Hashem Ish Milchama; Hashem Sh’mo” – “G-d is a Man of War; G-d is His Name”… No minced words. The focus of the song regales the amazing physical feats of G-d’s warfighting abilities. So how can it be so that we do not honor a Warrior’s abilities? A second look at the possuk reveals the answer. When it says “Hashem” it uses the spelling for shem “HaVaYaH”. According to Kabbalah and Chassidus, this spelling reflects on G-d’s attributes of Mercy. The name “Elokim” reflects on justice and discipline. So when the possuk reads “G-d is a Man of War; G-d is His Name”, it could be read as follows: “G-d is a Man of War; [which attribute of G-d? How is a war to be fought?] G-d [HaVaYaH – The Merciful One.] is His Name [War is to be fought with mercy – only when necessary”].
A few years ago, my father asked me to speak on Parshas Beshalach and we explored the 4 schools of thought before the sea split. We discussed how each of these thought patterns exist today and how, at the end of the day, the correct answer was to just continue on with G-d’s direction. Continue moving forth, and He will make it possible to continue.
I feel that, as the Chag was coming to an end, it was time that we do what we must to bring this Divinely focused protection to the Jewish community. No more analysis paralysis. It is not about fighting, but it is also not only up to prayer. We need to have faith while we continue marching into this formidable task – because this is how we will reach our goal. May this will allow our community to continue working in Hashem’s ways with peace, ultimately resulting in the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
Tomorrow night – Tuesday, April 6th, Magen Am will be launching the first ever licensed, armed patrol staffed by returning IDF and US veterans, focused on the protection of neighborhoods with a densely Jewish population. This will begin in the La Brea/Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. The Patrol Team is staffed by Alumni of Magen Am’s Veterans Program, which was launched in October of 2020 under the Directorship of Leibel Mangel.