“Miracles of the war in Gaza”
George Bernard Shaw was right: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
I promised myself last week that I would not speak about Israel this morning because I had spoken about it for the last 4 weeks. As I was researching this sermon I came across a sermon in my files on this same parsha in 2006—it was during the raining of rockets into Israel from Lebanon—and it struck me how I had the same thoughts even then. This is what I said:
But how can I not speak about Israel? And if I do, what should I say? Should I speak about how the world, at 1st outraged at Hezbollah, now grows weary at Israel’s strong defense and is turning against Israel? Should I speak about the hundreds of rockets that rain upon northern Israel every day and how more than a million Jews now have to sleep terrified in bomb shelters? Should I speak about how the UN…troops allow Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israel only yards away from its compound but complains when it gets hit as Israel tries to knock out those rocket launchers?
It may be Hamas now and not Hezbollah, but “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
How can I speak about the war in Gaza and how they refused to continue the cease-fire yesterday? It’s all too negative for such a wonderful occasion as Sophia Goldberg’s Bat Mitzvah. So I won’t speak so much today about the war and how Hamas intimidates and threatens the media (reported by the not-too-friendly to Israel BBC) into only reporting from Gaza falsely inflated casualty statistics and only what they want the world to see—never Hamas fighters or their wounded or launching rockets at Israel and only Arab women and children dead or crying. And I won’t speak today about how much of the world has an anti-Semitic blind spot when it comes to Israel.
Instead what I will speak about is the loving relationship between Gd and His people Israel. We see this in this week’s Torah portion where we have the chief declaration of Jewish faith, the Shema. Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeynu Hashem Echad, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our Gd, Hashem is One.” This a statement of Gd’s unity and when we recited it we express our desire to be one with Him. It’s followed by the V’ahavta command to love Gd. Christians don’t have a monopoly on loving Gd. We love Gd because our very being is a creation of Gd’s love. We can’t begin to enumerate how much Gd has done and does for us every day. Not to love Gd is simply an incredible display of ingratitude. But that’s a sermon for another time.
Jewish history is steeped in miracles—all expressions of Gd’s love. It began with the plagues in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. It continued with Moses bringing forth water from a rock and Joshua crumbling the Walls of Jericho with the blasts of the shofar and then the miraculous exploits of Elijah and Elisha. What is Gd doing for Israel today? How much does Gd love us? He loves so much that he sometimes bends the rules of nature to show it. What do I mean by that? As David Ben Gurion once said in an interview with CBS: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
Let me share with you some incredible demonstrations of Gd’s love for the Jewish people—miracles of the war in Gaza.
I begin just before the war broke out when we were still looking for those 3 Jewish teens captured and later found to be killed by Hamas. It was in the 1st week of July that a group of religious Jews traveled to southern Israel to help the farmers harvest wheat in advance of the Biblical Shemita Sabbatical year. According to the Torah, Jews are supposed to allow the land of Israel to rest during the entire final year of the 7-year Shemita agricultural cycle which actually began this week. That means no planting or harvesting for a year on Israeli farms.
Aharon Samet told the Israeli radio show “Upside Down” that a great miracle occurred thanks to the fact that they had to harvest more wheat than usual earlier in July to comply with this law:
“This year…we need to harvest wheat for 2 years. We plowed the land up and down looking for wheat that was sown late what with the rains that fell late this year. On Kibbutz Sufa on the Gaza border we found an entire field that was sown in mid-January [because of the rains], which is very unusual.” They harvested the wheat and didn’t give it another thought.
Only a couple of weeks later when the fighting between Israel and Hamas was at its peak did Samet and his friends realize the significance of their actions. On July 17th, 13 Hamas militants infiltrated from Gaza via a tunnel into Israel at the exact spot near Kibbutz Sufa where the men had been farming. The terrorists were shocked, however, to discover—as they rose to the surface—that the natural camouflage that they counted on—the giant wheat field—had disappeared!
The now empty field allowed IDF surveillance to spot them as they emerged from underground ready to find and kill Israelis and dropped bombs on them from above. “Many lives were saved by the grace of Heaven,” the Israeli radio station Kol Hai commented.
At the beginning of the war, Hamas terrorists unleashed a fierce missile barrage on central and southern Israel, but the hand of Gd intervened to protect Israelis from physical harm with very few, if any deaths. In Ashdod, an M75 missile slammed into a home, crashing through the ceiling and landing on the floor of the balcony. I saw the picture. Miracle of miracles, it didn’t explode and the inhabitants along with the rest of the home were miraculously unharmed.
A headline on July 18th of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency carried a quote from a Hamas terrorist who was asked why they couldn’t aim their rockets more effectively: “We do aim them, but their Gd changes their path in mid-air.” Does it sound farfetched? Listen to this story from just this past week.
An Israeli Iron Dome operator said he witnessed “the hand of Gd” diverting an incoming Hamas rocket into the sea. The commander claims that the divine intervention stopped the death of hundreds of Israeli citizens. Israel’s Iron Dome system allows it to shoot down incoming rockets or mortars headed toward major population centers in Israel. The commander recalled: “A missile was fired from Gaza. The Iron Dome precisely calculated its trajectory. We know where these missiles are going to land down to a radius of 200 meters. This particular missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel’s equivalent of the Pentagon) or [a central Tel Aviv railway station]. Hundreds could have died.”
The Iron Dome defense system has emerged as a game-changer in the current round of violence with Israeli officials citing a success rate as high as 90%. “We fired the first [interceptor]. It missed. Second [interceptor]. It missed. This is very rare. I was in shock…with just four seconds until the missile landed we warned emergency services to be on standby. Suddenly, Iron Dome showed a major wind coming from the east, a strong wind that sent the missile into the sea. We were all stunned. I stood up and shouted, ‘There is a Gd! I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of Gd send that missile into the sea.”
The Times of Israel reported a senior officer in Israel’s army said divine miracles protected his soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Givati Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter said that he “witnessed a miraculous occurrence, the likes of which he had never seen before during his military career.” Winter indicated a predawn raid intended to use darkness as a cover was delayed, forcing the soldiers to move toward their objective as sunrise was approaching. With the troops in danger of being exposed at daybreak, Winter explained how heavy fog quickly descended to shroud their movements until their mission was accomplished.
“Suddenly a cloud protected us,” he said, “like clouds of glory,” referring to the clouds the Torah says guided the ancient Israelites as they wandered in the desert. Winter further said, “Only when the soldiers were in a secure position, the fog finally lifted…It really was a fulfillment of the verse ‘For the Lrd your Gd is the one who goes with you to give you victory.’” (Deut. 20:4)
And just yesterday a missile hit a home in Sderot and exploded. Miraculously, no one was home!
It’s amazing how much Gd loves His people and we feel it more in these times than most. I’m sure many more such stories will come out in the weeks ahead. Tomorrow night is a very unusual day in the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av. In Israel it’s called Chag Ahava, “the Holiday of Love.” According to the Talmud, Tu B’Av was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the grape harvest. The Talmud tells us that there were no happier days.
May this Tu B’Av, the Holiday of Love,be a happy day where we clearly see and appreciate the love Gd has for us. Let us be thankful for that love as expressed in the Modim prayer of the Amida we recite 3 times a day: V’al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu, v’al niflotecha v’tovotecha sheb’chol yet, erev vavoker v’tzawharayim, “Your miracles that are with us every day, Your wonders and favors in every season, evening, morning and afternoon. You [Gd] Who are all good, may Your mercies never fail, for we ever hope in You.” Never forget how much Gd loves you. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis