The Elephant in the Room, the War, and the Saintly Ari
by Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht
"The Elephant in the Room" is an expression widely utilized
in the United Kingdom and, more recently, in the United States. It pertains
to a question or problem that is patently obvious, but which is ignored
for the convenience of one or more of the involved parties.
It derives its symbolic meaning from the fact that an elephant in an enclosed
room is something that is very conspicuous. Thus, this colorful expression
implies that an action that needs to be discussed openly, isn't being
Why? Because revisiting a decision requires accountability on the part
of the parties responsible for its implementation. By way of illustration:
The alcoholic with a drinking problem is willing to discuss every ill
in the world except the "elephant in the room," namely, his
destructive addiction to alcohol.
Why the Katyushas and Kassams Now?
With the thousands of Katyusha rockets and other more advanced missiles
wreaking havoc upon northern Israel, and the Kassams raining upon Israel's
southern border, the question to be asked is: Why now?
At present, Israel and the free world are facing an onslaught from Radical
Islam, or as others have correctly named it Islamic Fascism, which is
aimed at the West. Their fight is not for a Palestinian State only, but
rather the elimination of the state of Israel and world domination.
Theirs is a culture of jihad and death. To inflict pain upon innocent
civilians is their stated goal and most cherished ideal. In short, they
are a sickly, but deadly, culture bereft of civilized behavior or conduct.
The Gush Katif Equation
The destruction of the flourishing Jewish communities of Gush Katif and
the forced evacuation of its inhabitants at the hands of the current government
and military leadership sent a message to the Hamas and Fatah in the south
and to the Hizbullah in the north that terrorism gets results. It has
emboldened the extremist elements of the Arab world to become more belligerent
towards Israel and that is the current reality we are facing today.
At present, within the year of the Disengagement, the IDF had to redeploy
along the entire area of the former Gush Katif to stop the hundreds of
Kassams destroying the vibrant communities of S'derot, Nahariya and Ashkelon.
Nothing of lasting value was achieved for Israel with the de-legitimization
of its most loyal citizens, namely, the Jews of Gush Katif. The heart-wrenching
Disengagement and psychological debasement of the Gush's inhabitants was
compounded by the ruthless disregard for their welfare and needs throughtout
this past following their expulsion.
It is a collective badge of shame upon the Jewish State for the shabby
manner it has treated these heroes of Israel.
Now, together with these thousands of displaced and mistreated Jews of
Gush Katif, hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens are tasting
the bitter fruit of being uprooted from their life and routine, living
under the terrible threat of rockets and missiles at all times of the
day and night.
The Lesson from the Holy Ari of Safed
As I am writing this, on the day of the saintly Arizal's yahrzeit, the
fifth day of Menachem Av, I am reminded of a story told in his name.
As is well known, the saintly Arizal of Israel had remarkable insight
and spiritual powers that allowed him to identify events well before they
transpired. Like the ancient prophets of Israel, he foretold events to
One day, as he was immersed with the study of Torah with his students
in Safed, he said: "Friends, I have heard a heavenly voice (bat kol)
proclaim locusts shall descend upon the city of Safed and they will devour
all her vegetation. The people of Safed will be left without sustenance."
Why? Because a very pious individual by the name of Yaakov Alterin has
just complained about his bitter lot and no one has come to his aid: "Heaven
can no longer bear his complaints.
"My sons," said the Ar, "let us collect a sum of money
and send it to Yaakov Alterin. Perhaps, G-d will then have pity on us
and cancel His decree."
Immediately, each student handed a contribution to the Ari, who, in turn,
told his student Reb Yitzchak Cohen to deliver the entire amount to Yaakov
As he entered into Reb Yaakov Alterin's very humble home, Reb Cohen found
him bemoaning and crying about his bitter lot just as the saintly Ari
had said. Then, Reb Yitzchak Cohen gave Yaakov the contribution to allow
him to earn a livelihood and admonished him to stop complaining about
his bitter lot.
"Because you complained so bitterly, Safed nearly suffered a famine."
Then, the pious Reb Yaakov Alterin prayed with all his might that G-d
cancel the decree and he forgave his fellow man. When Reb Yitzchak Cohen
returned to the house of study, the saintly Ari greeted him and declared,
"The decree has been cancelled."
Hours later, a large drove of locusts - literally, a cloud of locusts
- could be seen approaching Safed. Trembling, the Ari's students began
to cry: "Woe to us. All Safed's vegetation shall, G-d forbid, be
The Ari comforted them, saying, "Fear not. We have already apologized
to Yaakov Alterin, and the decree has been cancelled. No evil shall befall
As the Ari spoke, a strong wind blew the entire drove of locust towards
the sea, where they all drowned. From that day on, the people of Safed
were careful to support all of Safed's needy people.
Gaining Pardon From the Gush Katif Jews
For the past three weeks, we have been reciting special prayers and offering
tzedakah, charity coupled with Torah study. All of our efforts have been
done at the encouragement of our sages, chief rabbis and Torah leaders.
These efforts are most assuredly helping the people of Israel in their
moment of need.
Perhaps, what we need right now is to attend to the "elephant in
the room." It's time for the Jewish people to stop avoiding their
responsibility and make redress to the wronged Jews of Gush Katif. We
owe an apology and a debt to all the displaced Jews of Gush Katif. We
owe it to their elders and to their youth. We owe it to the hundreds of
struggling families and to all whose dreams - material and spiritual -
were cruelly dashed. We owe them monetary compensation and we owe them
an apology. Both must be offered now. Even as the bombs are falling, they
must become a first priority. We must realize that until they grant us
their pardon for how we let them down, our prayers and Torah study and
our tzedakah may not be as effective as they should be.
Now is the time for every Jew in Israel to seek out easch Jew and Jewess
of Gush Katif, to embrace them and ask of them, on behalf of all Yisrael,
to allow us to make amends. But it must be done now and post-haste. The
situation in Israel is critical. Don't we see the elephant in the room?
So, please pass on the call to help the Jews of Gush Katif now. It will
most assuredly help us all.* It will also serve to avert a future Disengagement
from other parts of our beloved land of Israel.
* When Israel does justice, the Holy One, blessed be He, casts down
their enemies from before them. (Tanchuma Shoftim 15)
[From Arutz Sheva News Service, Sunday, 6 August 2006 / www.IsraelNationalNews.com]
A comment from an Ascent-of-Safed neighbor:
It was very easy for many religious Jews to find a connection
between the tragedy of hutrricane Katrina and the expulsion from Gush
Katif. Wow, all those people in Louisiana and Mississippi and Texas with
no homes, their lives ruined, destitute. America pushed Israel into evacuating
the Jews (supposedly, I'm not so sure that it is true), and now America
is suffering like the Jews of Gush Katif suffered. We could see it because
it was "them". It wasn't "us". It seems that pointing
the finger outward at another group gives a person tremendous wisdom and
perspective. I haven't yet heard one such insightful person tell me that
they see the connection now, between the ketyushas all over the North
of Israel and Gush Katif; not even my closest friends, who are deeply
spiritual and always striving to improve themselves, to do tshuva on their
The only people now saying that they didn't do enough
for Gush Katif Jews are those who devoted their lives to the Gush Katif
cause all last summer; they wish they would have done even more. But all
the Jews who didn't so much as get together in a group one time to say
tehillim together? Is there a voice from among them, is there a rabbinical
leader, who says, "I was wrong?" Is there one who says, "I
see the connection?" I wonder.
If we want to bring the Redemption, in addition to the
tremendous and tremendously impressive-- deeds of kindness being
done all over Israel, we MUST do tshuva on our past blindnesses, too.