The Sound of War

On Monday, journalist Yaakov Reinitz offered a personal perspective on Israel under fire. In particular, he noted the remarkable phenomenon that chareidi citizens from places such as Ashdod display expertise in identifying various types of rocket incidents. They can, for example, distinguish between a successful Iron Dome intercept and a failure, based on such esoteric data as the number of anti-missiles launched at one time; they can identify the approximate location of the mid-air explosion — whether it was over Ashdod or Rishon L’Tzion, for example — based on the loudness of the boom.

As a resident of Bnei Brak, it was astonishing to him that people with no prior acquaintance with military weaponry appeared to be so knowledgeable, beki’im, in such matters. But the crash-course experience of the past week, he wrote, has made rocketry experts of many residents of Bnei Brak as well. For when the air-raid siren wails, and only seconds separate you from a safe shelter or exposure to a deadly missile from Hamasland, you quickly become attuned to the sights and sounds of life and death.

On 17 Tammuz, Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai and, accompanied by Yehoshua, heard a tumult from the camp of Israel. Yehoshua said he heard the sound of war coming from the camp (Shemos 32:17).

No, responded Moshe, it is not the sound of war, of the cries of the victors and the vanquished, but the harrowing sound of blasphemy that I hear. Moshe was right. Soon they beheld the people dancing around the Golden Calf, and Moshe broke the Shnei Luchos Habris.

The Ohr Hachaim explains that while Yehoshua discerned serious trouble, he mistook it for a conflict, whether of a physical or spiritual nature (the war of the yetzer hara). Whereas Moshe, possessed of a yet sharper sensibility, perceived not conflict but evil revelry in the cries from the camp.

Moshe, who had reached a higher level of perfection and prophecy, was more expert than his great disciple in interpreting the data of the war against the yetzer hara. He had been through more battles; he had climbed the mountain.

In the midst of the current war with the terrorists in Gaza, we, too, must acquire expertise in analysis of the sounds of conflict. Not only in identifying Iron Dome interceptions, but in identifying the nature of the war itself.

Most people view it as a campaign against terrorists fought with planes and tanks. They follow the daily tally of rockets from Gaza versus terrorist targets struck by the Israel Air Force. They listen to the latest threats from Hamas and the warnings of retribution from the Israeli prime minister. The conflict is clear, only the solution is not.

But the conflict is not clear. The war that is described in the media is only the surface. It is linked to a spiritual struggle of titanic dimensions that spans not decades but centuries. The yetzer hatov versus the yetzer hara.

It is the weaponry of the spirit that counts. In this war, the valiant of faith will prevail; the kol Yaakov over the yedei Eisav. Torah and tefillah are the traditional weapons of Klal Yisrael, and it is upon them we must ultimately rely. Only if we are strong spiritually will we be victorious on the battlefield.

“The fast of the fourth [month] and the fast of the fifth [month] will be for gladness and rejoicing and good festivals” (Zechariah 8:19). The 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av will in the future be transformed into a festival; the former like the first day of Yom Tov, the latter like the last day of Yom Tov, and the days in-between compared to Chol Hamoed (Kedushas Levi, Ohev Yisrael).

Harav Yaakov Galinsky, zt”l, posed the question: If the 17th of Tammuz is analogous to the first day of Yom Tov, then it should be the primary joy, and the ninth of Av secondary, just as the last day of a festival is secondary to the first day. Yet, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz is lighter than that of the ninth of Av, which is the culmination of the mourning over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Logically, then, the ninth of Av should be likened to the first day of Yom Tov, while the 17th of Tammuz would parallel the last day of Yom Tov.

Harav Galinsky answered that in this world, the retributions of the ninth of Av seem so much worse than those of the 17th of Tammuz, just as the destructions of both Temples overshadow the breach of Yerushalayim’s walls commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz.

But in the future, all the events of history, no matter how they seem to us, will be revealed to us as acts of love from Hashem, even the sounds of war. May it happen speedily and soon.