Beit Meir is a small rural community about twenty minutes from Har- Nof on the Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv highway... Unlike most Israeli communities, Beit Meir is one in which individuality is treasured and the people who live there don’t fit into a specific mold.
One of the families is my daughter-in-law Peninah’s parents. They are Reb Usher Chassidim, semi empty nesters (no one home young enough to make lunch for, but not everyone married off). They live quietly, and unlike yours truly don’t have a compulsive need to stay abreast of the latest news. Late Thursday night their daughter phoned. Fortunately, Yaffa, the mother of the family, was up – she just couldn’t sleep that night. She didn’t know what was keeping her awake, and when she answered the phone she was shocked to notice that it was close to 2a.m. “Are you alright?” Her daughter asked. “Of course” she replied, “Why do you ask”. Her daughter began to tell her that the wind driven forest fires that had consumed building after building in Haifa were now a present danger in the Jerusalem Corridor. Moments after she hung up there was hard knocking on the door. They opened the door and found themselves facing two soldiers. “Get into your car. Now. Don’t pack. You have to leave immediately”.
No one had to tell them why. The blackness of the night beyond the door was illuminated by flames. They did as they were told. The road out of the moshav was filled with cars, each one bearing a family trying to escape what threatened to be an inferno. It took two hours to navigate the narrow road out of Beit Meir. When they reached the last stretch a tree fell onto the road blocking it completely. The soldiers who accompanied the convoy of cars were unable to move it. The path on the side of the road was burning. “Drive through the fire. The helicopter above you will shoot water onto your car.”
That’s what they did. They left Beit Meir through fire and water.
Later I found out that there were at least 200 areas in which the fires started. There were estimates that there were up to 700 “offspring” of the blazing conflagration as they moved from the original sites in which the fires began. The wind and dry forest provided the perfect environment for the flames to travel. They spread to Haifa, Zichron Yaakov, Latrun, parts of the Shomron, the Jerusalem corridor. Over 60,000 people were evacuated. Thus far over twenty arsonists were apprehended. Some yeshiva students took the pictures that forced us out of denial. They show young Arabs bringing cartons to a fire to spread it more rapidly. No one wanted to think too much about what they saw... It’s so much more normal, if that word can be used in this context, to think that 200 fires started spontaneously in different areas. At this point you have no choice but to either bury your head in the ground or read the writing on the wall. The Arabs are trying to burn the country down.
There are people who see the trees in the forest of their enemies... They see the earth itself as defiled because we live here. It is a very oppressive image, and there is only one thing that makes it look completely different. Hashem in His kindness is taking out His fury on wood and stones.
Hashem is in the picture. Imagine tens of thousands of people evacuated from Haifa. Thirteen story buildings in flames. No fatalities.
This is an open miracle, and not one foreign newspaper chose to acknowledge the events that surrounded it. I don’t think that we have yet grasped the enormity of this miracle. Just think about how quickly death by smoke inhalation can take place. Think of the Twin Towers, the Sassoon children and think of the implications of 60,000 evacuations without any deaths.
There are many theories of what the best response to the fire and the miracle should be. The one thing that we know with certainty is what the worst response is. It is retreating into denial and going back to sleep deeply enough to file the events of last week under the file labeled “Just a co-incidence”. That frees you to ignore the miracle and to move your inner eye to political or military responses.
The problem is concretizing your desire to respond to the message that Hashem is sending. You may feel like you received a writ on Royal stationary. It has the king’s signature and is addressed to you, but it is written in a language that you don’t understand. You know Who sent the letter, but you don’t know what it says.
In general people look at what mitzvah is most real and precious to them, and try to see if they are living up to what that mitzvah demands. Shabbos celebrates the fact that we don’t own the world; Hashem created and is its sole owner. If nothing else, the fire made us all recognized how little control we have over nature. Another approach is to answer the irrational hatred that fueled this tragedy with love, and to increase our tolerance and love for our fellow Jews. After all, this, like so many other tragedies is caused by the fact that we are in exile and in a certain sense strangers in our own Land. The sages tell us that the cause of the second destruction and the subsequent exile is senseless hatred; sot the core and hope for return must be loving people without their having to “buy “your commitment to them. There are other possibilities, just as there are other mitzvos. I asked Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch who I have turned to many times when I find life overwhelmingly puzzling. I expected him to pinpoint a specific mitzvah to take to a higher level. Instead, he said everyone knows their heart.
In our parshah, Toldos, we find that Yitzchak gave Yaakov many blessings. They are not “spiritual” ones. Who you are spiritually depends on you. Instead, he blessed him with the material prosperity that gives you the opportunity to see Hashem moment to moment in our lives, by observing His presence in His world. May we all be worthy of this