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And all the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this Land; why this wrathfulness of great anger?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers, that He sealed with them when He took them out of the land of Egypt” (Devarim 29:23-24).
Several weeks ago (in 2003), a suicide terrorist’s bomb exploded on a number 2 bus in Jerusalem. Every attack is tragic but what made this one unique is that it was on the bus returning from the Kosel HaMa’aravi and it was packed with Chareidim (ultra-Orthodox people). It is the nature of Man that if the tragedy hits closer to home, he feels it more.

Those looking for an excuse not to be religious would undoubtedly use this incident as unequivocal “proof” that Hashem does not protect those who are loyal to Him. The manifestations of such an argument are obvious and would constitute what is classified a chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Holy Name). How interesting that many honest, non-religious people in Israel were influenced in a totally different manner; one which constitutes a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s Holy Name). Hearing and seeing, again and again, in the Israeli media, interviews with survivors of the bombing, many of them children who had lost family members, all of them making the identical statements: “We have to make cheshbon hanefesh (a self-accounting)”; “We have to repent”; “Hashem wants something from us”; made a tremendous, positive impression upon the listeners and viewers. Many of them found themselves awed and full of respect for those “black” people they always despised.

The following article was printed in the non-religious (usually anti-religious) paper “Ha’Aretz” and is available on the Aish HaTorah website (http://www.aish.com). My thanks to Rabbi Chanoch Oppenheim for sending it to me.

An Elegant and Painful Nobility
by Yoram Kaniuk

On Channel Two's news magazine Friday night, Shelly Yachimovich spoke very wisely about our attitude toward the ultra-Orthodox and of their strength in times of distress. I've been thinking about this since the day the bus exploded in Jerusalem. The bus was packed with Haredim. Most of the casualties - the dead and the wounded, some of them critically - were Haredim or their children. If this type of tragedy had happened to secular Israelis, messianic Jews, members of the Chabad movement or Mizrahi Haredim, their cries of grief would have immediately sought out the guilty parties: the government, the bus company, the lack of security guards. And, of course, the usual cries of “Death to the Arabs” and the terrible and justified anger against the human agent that brought the tragedy down upon them.

But the Ashkenazi Haredim do not hold anyone to blame. With a sort of nobility devoid of pathos, they live in a world that lies outside of history. What is true in our world is not real truth for them. They live in a world in which the Blessed be He loves the Jewish people and whatever befalls a person is G-d's handiwork. G-d instructed His chosen people to fulfill His commandments and to do what is good in His eyes. G-d does not need to explain what this good is.

The Haredim do not believe that calamities occur at random. G-d runs this world and He knows what He's doing. His knowledge is not the same as human knowledge, and a believer ascribes himself to G-d and lives within the Torah.

When I saw how they stood and prayed over their own blood, with terrible grief and restrained horror, begging G-d to forgive them, I could only be envious that my forefathers were like them. When I said Kaddish over my father's rag-bound corpse, as it was about to be plunged into the earth, and was compelled to praise and extol G-d - in Aramaic, no less - I hated every moment. I felt contempt for my forefathers. But in the eyes of my forefathers, my hatred would have been perceived as a misreading by a distorted mind.

We have no G-d in heaven. We cannot conceive of life as a narrow bridge. We have a reality in which trademarks are a reality within a reality. We are Israel and we are also Sony televisions. We are the cars we drive. We are the general human culture that we are part of and that is a part of us.

The Haredim are not involved in this. They are not interested in Immanuel Kant, Bach, Beethoven, or the question of how much a pair of Reeboks cost. When a tragedy hits them, they seek to understand within their hearts, through prayer, what evil might have been committed by those who have never sinned. How could an 11-month-old child be guilty of anything? This is a difficult world view.

Zionism was supposed to return the Jews to history. Their religion seemed ridiculous to us with all its prohibitions - why is it forbidden to turn on lights on Shabbat? And why can't you smoke on Shabbat? Many of us scorn those who - because of their faith - wear warm coats in the summer, mimicking the landed gentry of Poland, and who don the hats of the Cossacks in the desert heat because that was what the aristocratic goyim wore. They only have seen the goyim and us through their books.

Perhaps we cannot live this way. Maybe it is ridiculous to live outside of history, and outside of physics and math, believing that the world was not created through science, but with a word. But their strength to withstand curses, terror and calamities is a strength that we, with all of our teachings, do not know. We disparage them, but they pity us.

I never believed that at the age of 73 I would write an article praising the Haredim, who live as my grandfather and great-grandfather did, praying for the messiah. But the moments after the tragedy in Jerusalem made me realize something that I had not fully appreciated. And it would not hurt us to try to understand the nature of their elegant and pained stance at a time when the soul cries out for vengeance. The word vengeance does not exist in their lexicon, with the exception of a few sentences like “Pour out Your fury upon the nations (goyim)” - which none of them takes very seriously. After all, the Haredim never killed goyim or Jews, but the others did.


Reading this article made me think a lot. I hope that the non-religious realize something else too. Over the last few decades, something annoyed them more than once. Often, when tragedy struck them, some religious speaker suggested that it was because of their sins that they were being punished. They were very much insulted and immediately lashed back at the one who dared to suggest such a thing.

But one must always judge another by his world view; not by his own. For example, if a non-Jew brings a bottle of wine as a present to an observant Jew, will he throw it back in his face and accuse him of trying to poison him with something that is non-kosher? Of course not. He will accept it pleasantly and thank him for being so thoughtful; and then get rid of the forbidden drink, realizing that in the Gentile’s mind frame he was being friendly although we have a totally different view.

Similarly, the non-religious, having gotten a closer look at the Chareidim, should now realize that we never intended to insult them at all. On the contrary; we meant to help them rid themselves of their pain by pointing out to them what may have brought it upon them. If we are right, then by correcting that fault or sin, they can protect themselves and their loved ones from harm.

And that is not only the way we speak to them; it is the way we have been taught to speak to ourselves and to each other. Every believing Jew, when he is troubled in any manner, will immediately, instinctively retrospect to try to find what he did wrong to deserve this punishment since the foundations of Judaism include the axioms that nothing is by chance, rather by Divine Providence, and that Hashem will never hurt anyone in vain.

The Sages taught us that Hashem actually makes it easier for us to find our sins by punishing us in a manner similar to our transgression: middah kinegged middah. One whose feet hurt, for example, should search his actions and check if he went to forbidden places. One whose eyes hurt should examine himself as to whether or not he is looking at forbidden things. And similarly with all types of pain and discomfort.

As the Judgment Days approach, when our situation for next year will be determined, we would be wise to take some time to analyze those things which distressed us this year and try to figure out what really caused them. When we become aware of our misdoings, we can repent for them and then we will be assured of a good and sweet New Year; a year of health, success, and, most of all, peace, for us and our loved ones among all of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel