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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Eikev 5773 "G-d Bless You"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The ninety-two graduates walked in tandem, filing into the already crowded auditorium at Washington Community High School in Washington, Illinois on May 21, 2001. With gowns flowing and the traditional caps perched proudly on their heads, they took their designated seats in the front of the room. Fathers swallowed hard behind broad smiles, as Mothers freely brushed away tears.

There would not be any prayers offered during the commencement speeches, not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. After eighty years of commencement exercises at Washington High, this would be the first in which G-d was not mentioned.

The principal and several students were careful to stay within the imposed guidelines. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned Divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were banal and routine... until the final speech.

The graduate walked proudly to the microphone. He stood silently for a long quiet moment staring at the crowd. And then he sneezed! On cue, every one of the ninety-two graduates shouted in unison, “G-D BLESS YOU!” He then walked off stage to a thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

“Hear Yisroel, today you cross the Jordan, to come and drive out nations that are greater and mightier than you, cities that are great and fortified up to the heavens.[1]” Moshe then described the seeming impenetrable might of the Canaanites, and continues, “But you know today that Hashem, your G-d… He will destroy them and He will subjugate them before you; you will drive them out and cause them to perish quickly, as Hashem spoke to you.[2]” Throughout Sefer Devorim, Moshe repeatedly encouraged the nation to remain courageous and valiant when entering the land.

Maharil Diskin explained Moshe’s repeated references about the conquest of Canaan with a parable:

There was once a merchant who would travel from town to town selling processed animal hides. He would purchase a simple hide for twenty-five rubles and would sell it for fifty rubles.

One day, just as he arrived in the market, all of the other hides sellers in the city agreed to simultaneously raise the standard price of a hide to a hundred rubles. The merchant was excited by his good fortune; in one day he had doubled his profits.

A few days later, the merchant traveled to another country in which the king himself was looking to purchase new hides. As soon as the king wanted something, all of his subjects wanted it too and the price immediately surged upward. Again the merchant made a tremendous profit on his sales. A few days later, his luck continued when a devastating fire ravaged one of the major hide warehouses. Once again the merchant watched his earnings rise. His serendipity continued until the price of a simple hide reached the exorbitant sum of one thousand rubles. By the end of the year, the merchant was a wealthy entrepreneur.

If at the end of the year we were to analyze the earnings of the merchant, we would probably conclude that he had great mazal. The market is constantly in flux and he was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end. We would not view his earnings as beyond the normal laws of nature.

However, if someone were to tell the hide merchant at the beginning of the year that in a few months people would beg him to sell a hide for the ‘bargain price’ of nine hundred rubles, he would undoubtedly think the person was mocking him. The merchant would reply that such a thing would be a miracle.

As Klal Yisroel stood poised to enter Eretz Yisroel, the conquest of thirty-one kings in Canaan seemed quite daunting. They were a nation of weary travelers for forty years and were being informed that their beloved leader Moshe would not be entering the Land with them.

If Moshe would not have repeatedly mentioned the imminent conquest of Canaan however, the nation may never have fully appreciated the incredibility of the miracles that transpired. In retrospect, they would have rationalized how and why they were able to overcome the Canaanites through brilliant maneuvers and military tactics. They would undoubtedly have admitted that G-d’s Hand guided them, but it wouldn’t have been as clear in retrospect as it was when the events were foreshadowed.

The miracles closer to our time profoundly demonstrate this idea:

In early June 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol made a public radio address in an attempt to boost the depleted national morale. The speech had the opposite result; Eshkol’s bumbling and nervous delivery reinforced to the frightened nation the extent of the peril of their predicament, with pending invasion of the joint forces of Pan-Arabic forces of Egypt and Syria, in a two front war. Mass loads of body bags were being imported in anticipation of the catastrophic losses expected.

When the Israeli armies were uncannily victorious in six days, including the recapturing of the Temple Mount, and the decimation of the Jordanian forces, the world was stunned. If Prime Minister Eshkol would have told the Israeli public on June second that by June tenth, the U.N. would call for an immediate cease-fire to stop the Israelis from marching on Cairo and Beirut, no one would have believed him.

In retrospect however, the war can be explained militarily. In a daring and successful preemptive strike, the Israelis destroyed the Egyptian air forces while they were on the ground. In the North they were able to force back the Syrian forces and they valiantly fought off the Jordanians house to house in the Old City of Jerusalem. No one doubts that G-d guided the Israelis, but the sense of it being completely miraculous and a Divine war is somewhat lost in hindsight.

The same could be said about the formation of the state of Israel in 1947. It was the only time the United States and Russia voted the same way in the United Nations[3]. During the subsequent War of Independence the Israelis were unequipped and untrained[4]. That victory too was miraculous.

When Eretz Yisroel was attacked on Yom Kippur in 1973, the army, and country, was completely caught by surprise. A shaken Moshe Dayan told Golda Meir that, “the Third Temple is being destroyed.” The resurgence of the Israelis was nothing short of miraculous.

How often has our generation heard survivors say, “If you would have told me in 1945 when I walked out of the camps that there would ever be a revival of Torah anywhere, especially in Eretz Yisroel, I would have told you, that you were delirious.” There are more people learning Torah in the world today than there have been since the time of the formation of the Talmud in Babylonia.

We have a hard time appreciating the miraculous greatness of what we are witnessing, because we can conjure up rational explanations.

The truth is that if we would look back at almost any interval of our lives and imagine that we are able to go back in time and tell ourselves what will happen in the future, both to ourselves personally, and the world generally, we would not believe it. But in retrospect it all seems logical, and we have a hard time appreciating the profundity of what has occurred.

Moshe repeatedly exhorted the nation to be mindful of the events that would transpire when they entered Canaan so they could appreciate the greatness of what they were part of.

We often fail to appreciate how much we are guided from Above. Often when faced with a daunting and overwhelming life challenge, we cry out to G-d because we cannot see any way out. But then, when things improve and we have traversed the difficulty, we look back and convince ourselves that we were able to pull it together by ourselves.

A man stood on the beach with his five year old son watching the crashing waves. All of a sudden, a tremendous wave engulfed him and his son and within seconds his son had been swept out to sea. “G-d”, the man cried out, “PLEASE SAVE MY SON! I’ll do anything! I’ll become more observant! I’ll pray every day and I’ll dedicate my life to Your teachings! I’ll do anything! Please give me back my son!” Suddenly, a second wave came crashing onto the shore spitting the unharmed young boy onto the beach. The man grabbed his son and hugged him and kissed him. As they walked off together the man looked heavenward, “Never mind G-d; he’s okay. I don’t need Your help!”

No matter how hard they try to mask G-d’s Presence from our lives, it is there. Whether the world will admit it or not, we all live by the words, “G-d bless you”!

“Hear Yisroel”

“Know today that Hashem will destroy them from before you”

Please have in mind Elimelech ben Basya in your tefillos

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[1] Devorim 9:1-3

[2] Devorim 9:3

[3] Russia thought Israel would become a socialist state and so they voted for the state

[4] The Israelis resorted to psychological warfare like the ‘Davidka’ - a homemade mortar that made tremendous noise and sounded like heavy artillery fire. The noise it generated was totally disproportionate to the limited damage it could inflict.

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