HaRav Moshe Sternbuch Speaks About Miracles and Missiles
By Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
Headlines – Tammuz 5774:
- Hundreds of sophisticated missiles, each one capable of causing mass destruction, fall in Israel.
- Most of these missiles land in open areas, and as a result no one is killed.
- The Kipat Barzel – the Iron Dome, intercepts some of these missiles, and the shrapnel and debris from these exploded missiles causes almost no injury or damage.
- The head of Hamas admits, “We have experts launching these missiles, yet their G-d will not allow us to hurt them.”
What is Hashem telling us?
The passuk tells us, “Hu Dasan V’Aviram” (Bamidbar 26:9). Chazal explain that Dasan and Aviram continued in their evil ways from the beginning of their lives until their deaths (Megillah 11a). We know that Dasan and Aviram were not tzaddikim. What is it that our Sages were trying to convey to us here?
The deeper message of their words is startling. Dasan and Aviram saw the eser makkos, Krias Yam Suf, the mann and the be’er. Yet witnessing these miracles did not inspire them to abandon their evil ways.
At the time of Krias Yam Suf, Hashem brought a powerful northern wind that raged the entire night before the sea split (Shemos14:21). The Sefer Hachinuch (132) explains that the purpose of this wind was to give people the option to believe that Krias Yam Sufwas not a miracle, but rather that it resulted from natural causes. Similarly, after the makkos in Mitzrayim, the sorcerers of Egypt showed that they, too, could perform similar feats (Shemos 8:14).
Whenever Hashem performs miracles, He always leaves an opening for people to err by believing that these events came about through natural causes. Dasan and Aviram assumed that all of these miracles had natural causes, and therefore they clung to their evil ways. Yet the question remains: If the purpose of a miracle is to display Hashem’s might and glory, why should He want to hide Himself?
Hiding Behind Nature
This world is a corridor leading to Olam Haba, and we will receive reward in the Next World in accordance with the degree to which we prepared ourselves in this world. If the Almighty were to reveal Himself openly, that would leave no room for free choice, and we would not have a chance to earn reward. Hashem hides Himself behind the cloak of nature so that we will need to search for His Presence.
For this reason, when Hashem performs open miracles, He always leaves room for a natural explanation for them. In Mitzrayim that explanation was the sorcerers; at Krias Yam Suf it was the northern wind. All of these natural causes are merely diversions He creates to hide Himself and to give evil people the opportunity to deny that it was Hashem’s Hand that performed these miracles.
While we cannot ignore the fact that our enemies are trying to destroy us, we must be wary about becoming overly absorbed in the details of what is happening. We should always remember that, just as the Almighty is stopping these missiles from hitting their targets, He is allowing them to be launched. We must recognize that every missile is a test in emunah: Do we attribute what is happening to natural causes or to Hashem?
If we take a few minutes to think about what is going on around us, we will be amazed. Each of these missiles has the ability to cause mass death and destruction, Rachmana litzlan, yet not a single person was killed. One of the missiles made a direct hit on someone’s home, yet by chance the family had decided to go away that day; another missile hit someone’s home and miraculously did not explode.
These are highly sophisticated long-range missiles that, according to Hamas, were fired by expert missile launchers. The possibility of some of them missing their targets is low. The likelihood that there would not be a single fatality is nonexistent. This is an overt miracle of the highest degree.
After witnessing these miracles firsthand, why is it that all of us – each and every individual – have not decided to make major changes in our lives and taken upon ourselves an intense regimen of teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah? We have been so strongly influenced by the media and by our nonreligious brethren who tell us that natural causes are behind these events, that we have hardly been affected by these miracles.
Blessing after Tragedy
Rav Sternbuch relates that after World War II he spoke to Rav Mordechai Pragamansky about what would happen to the Jewish people. Rav Pragamansky told him that when Hashem brings a great disaster to the world, such as the Holocaust, inevitably it will be followed by a period of great shefa, affluence. Even then, at a time when most Jews were living in great poverty, Rav Pragamansky foresaw that Jews of the next generation would become millionaires and billionaires.
We find a precedent for this phenomenon in the time when the Jewish people left Mitzrayim. After suffering 210 years of slavery and servitude, at the time of their departure the Egyptians gave them great wealth. Following Krias Yam Suf, Klal Yisrael received even more with the bizas hayam, the spoils they gained from the Egyptians who drowned in the sea.
Rav Pragamansky explains that all of this affluence is meant to be a nisayon for the Jewish people: If we attribute everything to Hashem and His kindness, and if we use our resources to serve and sanctify Him, then we will have passed the test. If we attribute this wealth to our own ingenuity, then we will inevitably fall and be punished, as we see happened to the Jews in the Midbar, who sinned with the egel hazahav.
Reward or Punishment
Over the past week we have been witness to the highest degree of kindness and mercy from Hashem, when He prevented hundreds of missiles from hitting their targets. If we internalize the extent of His Kindness, and use it to raise our recognition of His Presence in our lives, then we will have passed the test that He has given us. We can be sure that this is one of the final nisyonos before the geulah.
Since it is possible to deny all of these miracles, the reward for one who recognizes them is extremely great. Someone who sees Hashem’s Hand during such times, thanking Him constantly for His benevolence and telling other people about the great miracles that He has performed for us, brings great nachas ruach to the Almighty. He has recognized what the Ramban writes at the end ofParashas Bo: “There is no such thing as nature in the world, and everything that happens is a direct result of Hashem’s Hand.”
However, if we attribute what took place to natural causes, then we are putting ourselves in the gravest danger. If we do not recognize His Hand in our lives, we can arouse great Divine wrath, and we will no longer be worthy of His protection. Then we are liable to receive a punishment similar to that of the generation of the Midbar, whose people used their affluence to make the egel hazahav.
The Power of One Person
Chazal describe the great reward that Pinchas received for his act of kana’us. By taking up arms and killing Zimri and Kozbi, Pinchas saved the entire Jewish people from destruction (Bamidbar 25:11). So too, every single Jew, without exception, has the potential to be the “Pinchas” who saves Klal Yisrael during these times.
Hashem is performing ever greater miracles before our eyes, and our avodah is to recognize Hashem. We must thank Him for the past (modeh al ha’avar) and beseech Him that He continue to have mercy on us (mevakeish al ha’atid). Anyone who breaks through the smoke screen of nature, who recognizes Hashem’s Hand behind all of these miracles, and who helps to open the eyes of his fellow Jews who have not yet been privileged to see this, can be considered the Pinchas of our generation.
Those people who recognize and publicize the miracles that are taking place will receive the greatest reward for doing so. However, we should realize that as soon as the geulah comes, this test will be no more. On the day that Hashem reveals Himself to the entire world, there will no longer be any free choice, and we will not be rewarded for seeing the obvious.
May this day come soon.