When the prophet Jeremiah uttered these words, he could have been referring to Shabbat 22 Tishrei 5784, corresponding to the seventh of October 2023. That was the day on which Israeli Jewry celebrated Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. A day of immense joy, celebration, dancing and festivity. A day on which they completed the annual cycle of the Torah reading and began it anew. A day on which they thanked God for the “Lord’s precepts which are just and gladden the heart” (Tehillim 19:9). Alas! The joy was transformed to sorrow; the dancing to mourning; the light to darkness; the laughing to tears. At the time of writing, we still do not know all the details nor the accurate numbers, but this much is clear: the worst terror attack in the history of the State of Israel took place on this day. In a carefully planned and meticulously executed operation, Hamas terrorists infiltrated the south of Israel, killing indiscriminately and taking hostages of all ages. They shot, burned, stabbed and tortured their victims, in some instances slaughtering entire families in cold blood. And while the infiltrators went on their rampage, thousands of rockets rained down from Gaza bringing death and destruction in their wake. Israel was caught unaware. First responders who bravely raced to assist the victims were gunned down. The soldiers of the IDF were instructed to report for duty immediately, notwithstanding the fact that it was Shabbat and Chag. Reservists left their families and headed for the south and the north. Some soldiers were killed in the early clashes, still others have been missing for days. The number of casualties so far are staggering: over 1000 dead; 1500 injured and 130 taken captive.   

When I contacted some friends in Israel after Yom Tov, they kept referring to this attack as a pogrom, on a scale with the pogroms in Kiev and Kishinev in the early part of the twentieth century. There is, however, one major difference between those dark days in Ukraine and Russia and the current events. Then, Jews were helpless with nowhere to turn, but now they have their own Land and their own army.   

I am reminded of what the illustrious Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchick said in his famous address Kol Dodi Dofek (delivered on Yom Haatzmaut 1956, in the section “The Six Knocks”). The Rav, as he was known, outlined six changes that occurred when the State of Israel was created. “The fifth knock of the Beloved” said the Rav, “is perhaps the most important. For the first time in the annals of ‎our ‎exile, Divine Providence has amazed our enemies with the astounding discovery that Jewish ‎blood ‎is not cheap! If the antisemites describe this phenomenon as being “an eye for an eye,” we ‎will ‎agree with them. If we want to courageously defend our continued national and ‎historical ‎existence, we must, from time to time, interpret the verse of an “eye for an eye” literally. ‎So many ‎‎“eyes” were lost in the course of our bitter exile because we did not repay hurt for ‎hurt. The ‎time has come for us to fulfill the simple meaning of “an eye for an eye.” (Exodus 21:24) ‎Of course, I ‎am sure everyone recognizes that I am an adherent of the Oral Law, and from my ‎perspective ‎there is no doubt that the verse refers to monetary restitution, as defined by ‎halakhah. However, ‎with respect to the Mufti and Nasser I would demand that we interpret the ‎verse in accordance ‎with its literal meaning — the taking of an actual eye! Pay no attention to the ‎saccharine ‎suggestions of known assimilationists and of some Jewish socialists who stand pat in ‎their ‎rebelliousness and think they are still living in Bialystok, Brest-Litovsk, and Minsk of the year ‎‎1905, ‎and openly declare that revenge is forbidden to the Jewish people in any place, at any time, ‎and ‎under all circumstances. “Vanity of vanities!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) Revenge is forbidden when it ‎is ‎pointless, but if one is aroused thereby to self-defense, it is the most elementary right of man ‎to ‎take his revenge.”‎

Since I heard about the attack, I have been in a state of emotional turmoil. At first, the news was vague, but as details became clearer, I found myself struggling to come to terms with the enormity of the invasion, its savagery and cruelty. I was gripped with anxiety when thinking of our relatives in Israel who have been called up to fight. I have been struggling to get certain images which I saw on social media, out of my mind. My anxiety mushroomed when I learned that one of my Israeli colleague’s sons was injured and another is missing. Both are soldiers in the IDF. I was filled with sadness when a congregant, Stephen Meltz, messaged me, “Morning, Rabbi. The conflict is closer than we thought. My first cousin, Marcelle, was murdered this morning on Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha by Hamas terrorists who shot her while she was walking with a plate of biscuits to take to her two small grandchildren.” I was overcome with relief when I saw an interview with Adi Levitz Bosi, daughter of our beloved Rabbi Ephraim and Nurit Levitz. Adi, who is eight months pregnant, narrowly escaped the attack in her home town of Sederot, with her husband and children.

I was filled with anger when I read the ANC’s statement of support for Hamas. Their national spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri, said that “the decision by Palestinians to respond to the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime is unsurprising.” Any shred of human decency that still remained within the ruling party after years of corruption is now completely ripped to pieces. Their time of reckoning will come, when Hashem will say to them, as He did to Cain (Bereishit 4:10), “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” Rashi notes that the word “blood” is in the plural because Cain killed his brother and all his future descendants. By their support of terrorists, the ANC has copious blood on its hands. And as for Hamas – they deserve what is coming to them. You do not treat the Jewish people this way. As the prophet Zechariah (2:12) said, “For one who touches you (Israel), it is as though he touches the pupil of His eye.”

I have also been strengthened and encouraged by the messages of support from beyond the community: from non-Jewish acquaintances, neighbours, world leaders and even the band members of U2 who dedicated a song to the victims at a recent concert. The prayer gathering held this Monday night at Marais Road Shul which was attended by hundreds, lifted my spirits and demonstrated the power of the “voice of Jacob” against the “hands of Esau” (see Bereishit 27:22). Unfortunately, this war is far from over. Until it is, we will recite Tehillim, daven, perform mitzvoth and learn Torah on behalf of heroic solders of the IDF, as a merit for a full and speedy recovery for the injured and in anticipation of a safe return of all the captives. Am Yisrael Chai!

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/zhxPo47AAwk?si=97Lea3EI_RFWeHyl

*Sunday 15 and Monday 16 October – Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan

The month of Cheshvan is associated with the beginning of the rainy season in the Land of Israel. The month is also referred to as Marcheshvan, where the word ‘mar’ means a drop of water. The Great Deluge in the times of Noah began in Cheshvan. Others explain that the word ‘mar’ means ‘bitter’ and that Cheshvan is a bitter month because it contains no festivals. The Molad (appearance of the new moon) for Cheshvan is on Shabbat 14 October at 18h33 and 1 chelek (a chelek, literally a “portion”, is a Talmudic measure of time equal to one-eighteenth of a minute, or 3 and 1/3 seconds).

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