Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Chaim Mintz
What went wrong?! Why did Hashem (God) bring such horrors to our nation on Simchat Torah, one of the happiest days of the year, and the culmination of so many days of prayer and repentance, when we have reached such lofty spiritual heights? And is there anything we can do now?
Rabbi Chaim Mintz responds:
A Strong Wake-up Call, But a Gift
Although we don’t have prophets and no one can claim to know the exact message Hashem is sending, one thing is clear – He is sending us a very strong wake-up call. The Jewish people have not suffered a tragedy of this proportion since the Holocaust, and each and every one of us must do something to improve.
At the same time, we must realize that harsh judgment is not meant to hurt us, rather, it is a gift from Hashem, to help us become better and earn much greater reward in the World to Come. Like a parent or teacher who is stricter with a child with great potential, Hashem rebukes His special nation because He expects great things from us, and wants us to reach perfection.
One Nation Responsible For Each Other
The first thing we must realize is that we are all one nation, and what happens to a Jew in one part of the world is happening to us all. And just as we all feel the pain of our brethren, one Jew’s good deeds can also elevate the entire nation. So no one can say I live far away and can’t do anything to help. The day will come when Hashem will ask every one of us what we did to help our brethren in their time of distress.
Repentance, Prayers, and Purity of Speech
So you ask what can we do? We must see what our forefathers did in times of distress, who prayed with all their might when in distress. Yes, we spent the last two months davening (praying) and doing teshuvah (repenting), but is quite obvious that Hashem is telling us that we didn’t do enough. Hashem is extending Yom Kippur, and begging us to do more. We must look back and question the quality of our actions and prayers. Did we truly change our ways and start living higher, or did we slip back to our old ways?
Were our prayers really sincere, with heart and fervor, or were they mere lip service? Even if we davened with kavanah (concentration), did we have others in mind, or did we just think about our own needs? We are certainly davening now with more kavanah and having our Jewish brethren in mind, and let’s be sure to always daven properly.
Additionally, if we want our tefillah (prayer) to work, we must be extremely careful not to contaminate our mouths. As the Chofetz Chaim writes, if a person engages in gossip or other forbidden speech, his prayers become polluted and lose their potency.
Torah Study – The Greatest Protection
Every person must also add more time to study Torah, which will provide the greatest protection to our nation. When Yaakov Avinu (our patriarch Jacob) was running away from Eisav (Esau), he made sure to study Torah diligently for 14 years. Torah study is our strongest connection to Hashem, and brings Him down to this world, thereby protecting us from our enemies.
Acts of Kindness, and Shabbat
We can also do more acts of kindness and give more charity, which has the power to save lives. We can improve the spiritual level of our Shabbat tables, with more words of Torah and zemirot (songs of praise for Hashem and Shabbat). Let’s try to recite brachot (blessings) with more kavanah, thanking Hashem properly for all that He has given us. These are just some of the things to work on, and each person knows what he or she can do to become better, thereby bringing us closer to Hashem and saving us from our enemies.
In short: Hashem is begging us to become better. One Jew’s good deeds can elevate the entire nation, and help the situation. We must daven with more kavanah and constantly pray for the entire Jewish nation, and also be careful with our speech. Every good deed helps, but studying more Torah is the strongest protection from our enemies.