Merits, Not Munitions

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The reporter’s question: “Should the chareidim serve in [Israel’s] military, or at least serve in some other capacity such as recognized public service commensurate with military service?”

The query was posed to me in my capacity as Agudath Israel of America’s media liaison.  My response: In the view of chareidim, they are already doing so.

I explained that a religious Jew sincerely believes that his or her life, based as it is on religious observance, charity and Torah-study, helps ensure the security of Jews.

Raw power, after all, doesn’t win wars.  Even strategy isn’t decisive.  Often, what turn the historical tide this way or that are simple, unexpected happenings.

The Byzantine Empire fell when it did because a single gate to Constantinople was left open in 1453, allowing the Turks to invade and take the capital city.

World War I was famously set off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Less known is that his assassin, Gavrilo Princip, had abandoned his plan.  But the Archduke’s driver made a wrong turn that took their vehicle to the very spot where Princip was standing.  The car stalled and Princip took advantage of the situation, firing the shots that would yield the death of 17 million people.

In October, 1907, an aspiring teenage artist took a two-day entrance exam for the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.  He thought he did well and was shocked to be informed that he hadn’t made the cut.  Dejected, he pursued a different life-path, eventually becoming the Führer of the Third Reich.

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took a rare leave from his post in France in 1944 to celebrate his wife’s birthday on June 6, reassured by miserable weather that the Allies would not be invading France that week.  With the weather’s sudden improvement, the Normandy invasion began in the early morning hours of Mrs. Rommel’s birthday.  By the time her husband returned to France, it was too late to repel the decisive offensive.

Some regard such history-altering occurrences as mere happenstance.  But a believing Jew knows that history is in Hashem’s hand.  That isn’t always evident, but it’s always true.

It was both, though, during the 1967 Six-Day War.  While some attribute Israel’s victory over three neighboring Arab countries, aided by others, to superior military prowess, then-IDF Director of Operations Major General (and later Israeli president) Ezer Weizmann, noting the fact that for 3 straight hours, IAF planes flew from one Egyptian airstrip to another destroying the enemy planes without the Egyptians ever radioing ahead to warn their own forces of Israeli attacks, credited “the finger of G-d.”  Haaretz’s military correspondent at the time contended that “Even a non-religious person must admit this war was fought with help from Heaven.”

The futility of trying to predict geopolitical matters is no less evident today.  Although Russia is committed to keeping Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power and Turkey is backing the Sunni majority and pushing for Assad’s ouster, the two countries have maintained generally good relations.   A year ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, celebrated an agreement for Russia to invest in a major gas pipeline, to pump Russian natural gas through Turkey to Europe.  And Mr. Putin praised his Turkish counterpart as “a strong man” willing to stand up to the West.

More recently, though, after the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai by ISIS, which Russia claims is aided by Turkey; and then Turkey’s downing of a Russian air force plane that Mr. Erdogan says violated Turkish airspace, Kremlin ideologue Dmitry Kiselyev described the Turkish leader as “an unrestrained and deceitful man hooked on cheap oil from the barbaric caliphate [ISIS].”  A recent headline in a pro-government Turkish newspaper asserted that “Putin tries to deceive the world with his lies.”

What relations between the two nations will look like a year hence, whether the war of words will evolve into a missile-and-mortars conflict or blow over, is nothing anyone can know.  But one takeaway, here as from so many happenings, is that the only thing one can reasonably expect from history is the unexpected.

I spared the reporter all those observations, offering only what he sought, a sound-bite with which (hopefully) he will balance the piece he’s writing.  But it was more than a soundbite.  It was a truth – in fact, a Chanukah truth: Divine providence is at work in the world; and spiritual merits, not superior munitions, are what matter in the end.

© 2015 Hamodia