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Jewish World Review
July 29, 2008
/ 26 Tamuz, 5768
Good things happen
Rabbi Avi Shafran
Like so much in our world that seems genuine at first, the photograph that graced the front pages of some of the nation's most respected newspapers earlier this month was in fact a fake.
The digital manipulation of the image, which depicted Iranian missiles being test-fired, is readily apparent in the launch pad cloud of exhaust and the mid-air smoke trails of two of the four missiles depicted. The clouds and trails are, incredibly, identical. Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which released the photograph along with some belligerent rant, was clearly doing some Photoshopping.
The alteration, first pointed out by political blogger Charles Johnson, seemed intended to conceal the fact that one of the missiles, which the Iranians claim could reach Israel, either did not fire or exploded on the ground.
This latest Iranian Photogate scandal (last year the same blogger exposed a similar clumsy attempt at graphics monkey-business by Iran's Fars News Agency) might be regarded as nothing more than an example of sloppy damage-control.
But a deeper thought hovers here.
In our day, open miracles do not occur. According to the Jewish religious tradition, direct Divine intervention to turn what we call nature on its head ended in Biblical times. Still perceptible, though, in even our less holy times are more subtle Heavenly intrusions, twists of "fate" that might wrongly be dismissed as mere coincidence.
When Israel destroyed the assortment of Arab armies arrayed against her in 1967, even hardened military men well aware of their forces' skill spoke of wonders. The rescue at Entebbe in 1976 may have entailed special-forces acumen, but sensitive Jews saw Divine fingerprints on the operation as well. In 1981, when the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak was obliterated, they likewise perceived the imprint of not only might but miracle as well.
And then there are the frustrated plots against Jews and the civilized world (the former so often the first target of the latter's enemies), the miracles that consist not of something happening but of something not happening. The celebrated Jewish Sage known as the Vilna Gaon is said to have once been asked about a verse in Psalms that calls on the nations of the world to praise G-d: "What sort of special praise can other nations offer that we Jews cannot?" His response: Only those among the nations who hate us know of the secret plans they crafted to harm us that failed to come to fruition. When the Messiah arrives and those people see the truth of G-d's plan, they will have a singular praise for G-d, alone in their knowledge of how He undermined their evil designs.
When, twice this month, Arabs turned bulldozers upon Jewish residents of Jerusalem, amid the sorrow over the dead and wounded, and the reminder of the evil that exists in some twisted hearts, a realization also merited attention: There are bloodthirsty Jew-haters at the wheels of countless vehicles large and small in Israel every day of every month of every year. And so, each day we are spared tragic news is a miraculous one.
And every time a Palestinian terrorist is intercepted, or has a "work accident" - his explosives detonating in his lap rather than in the Jewish crowd he had targeted - that, too, is a miracle.
As was an episode recounted in a book about Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon" (the title in fact of the book, by Brendan Murphy, Empire/Harper & Row, 1983):
In 1943, after more than three years of German control over France, the Great Synagogue of Lyon continued to function. That December 10, a Friday, the Lyon Milice, the Vichy government's shock troops, decided it was time to end the Jewish worship.
The synagogue's rabbi survived the war to tell how a member of the Milice quietly entered the rear of the sanctuary that night during Sabbath services. Armed with three hand grenades, he planned to lob them into the crowd of standing worshippers from behind, and to flee before the explosions. After quietly opening the door, he entered the room unnoticed by anyone but the rabbi, who was standing facing the congregation, and pulled the pins.
What the intruder saw at that moment, though, so shocked him that he froze wide-eyed in his tracks, barely managing to toss the grenades a few feet before fleeing. Several worshippers were injured by shrapnel but none were killed.
What had so flabbergasted the Nazi was the sudden, unexpected sight of his intended victims' faces. The congregation had suddenly, as if on cue, turned around as one to face him.
Because the would-be mass-murderer had entered the shul precisely at "Bo'i b'shalom," the last stanza of the liturgical poem Lecha Dodi, when worshippers traditionally turn toward the door to welcome the Sabbath.
We are certainly enjoined to do what we can, using all means at our disposal, to fight evil. And world leaders are right to consider the full gamut of approaches for dealing with a belligerent and potentially nuclear-armed Iran.
That is all fine, good and necessary. We do well to remember, though, that whatever path may be taken by the world's nations, what ultimately will matter is G-d's assistance.
Missiles can fail. And work accidents can happen.
And, if we are deserving, they will.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
© 2007, Am Echad Resources