Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Sheni”: Reflections > The Simchat Torah War > The Gaza War: Fighting with Faith

The Gaza War: Fighting with Faith

The fault of attributing our success to “my power and the might of my hand” cannot be remedied by remote control. Doing so requires us to step into the arena.

Cheshvan 5784, October 2023

Two analyses were recently published on the colossal security failure that allowed Hamas to breach Israel’s defense lines and commit the unspeakable pogrom in Israel’s South. Though each was written in altogether different terms and contexts, they are not dissimilar. One was penned by Dr. Ran Baratz – philosopher, publicist, and former head of the hasbara (public diplomacy) department in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office. The other was published under the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, Rav Dovid Cohen.

Baratz claimed that we committed the cardinal sin of arrogance and complacency when we placed our trust in the massive barrier between Gaza and Israel erected in 2021

In a column published in “Makor Rishon” (Friday, 13.10.23), Baratz claimed that we committed the cardinal sin of arrogance and complacency when we placed our trust in the massive barrier between Gaza and Israel erected in 2021. Upon completion of the project, Brigadier General Eran Ofir said that it was a “massive and tremendous barrier that does not allow any land incursion.” He ended with a message – words hard to repeat in the light of current hindsight – addressed to residents of settlements bordering the Gaza Strip: “Today there is a momentous wall, both underground and above ground… that will not allow any entry into the State of Israel.”

After citing similar statements from a long line of senior officials in Israel’s security system (including the prime minister), Baratz continued to severely critique Israel’s senior command, people “full of self-confidence and arrogance […] enjoying a trust bias towards authority figures which is intensified by the traditional cloak of secrecy, cover-ups, a culture of lying that pervades our security cave.” “The security elite,” he wrote, “has become a closed and smug clique, a systemic sounding board that is characterized by a lack of professionalism. The less professional it is, the more it demands independence from oversight and immunity from criticism.”

In words published on the same day in the Haredi “Bama” magazine, Rabbi Cohen expressed similar sentiments, though in wholly different terms. “After the Six Day War, the state felt invincible, believing that the army was the strongest in the world, and when the Yom Kippur war broke out, our rabbis said that there was an excessive sense of ‘my power and the might of my hand [have amassed this wealth for me’]. I remember my Yeshiva rabbis – Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna zt”l, Rabbi Meir Chadash zt”l, and Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l – saying that the sense of ‘my power and the might of my hand’ had shattered against our eyes. Even now, after fifty years during which we managed, more or less, the sentiment was similar. Now, it has once again been shattered in the same way.”

The Arabs slaughtered over nine hundred people, and again they return and speak of ‘my power and the might of my hand’ in the most appalling way, words of pride and arrogance

Our arrogance, according to Rabbi Cohen, continues unabated even after the unspeakable atrocities of Simchas Torah: “The Arabs slaughtered over nine hundred people, and again they return and speak of ‘my power and the might of my hand’ in the most appalling way, words of pride and arrogance. People are massacred while you stand helpless, and you continue with ‘my power and the might of my hand’”.

Both, alongside others who repeatedly highlighted the risk of a Gaza incursion, agree about the problem. So what needs to be done?

In the short term, the authors concur that everyone needs to do what they know best. The army has to fight, says Baratz, because first and foremost, we need to vanquish the enemy. On the other hand, Rabbi Cohen states that Yeshiva students should focus on Torah study: “The role of young men is to engage in Torah study […] Believe in the power of the Torah, and you will be strengthened.” But what should we do in the longer term? From whence will come my deliverance?


Baratz claims that the solution lies in a deep change in our overall perception. It should be clear right now that there will be no going back: “We need to quickly rid ourselves of the complacent asymmetry consciousness and the degenerate technological defensiveness. […] We must also immediately arrange for thorough military-strategic IDF training. We have a lot of talented, dedicated, and intelligent officers and commanders. They need to learn how to think realistically about military strategy and, along with changing the impoverished organizational culture that has developed in the defense system, rebuild our national power.” As for the arrogance problem, Baratz does not offer a solution. Presumably, we just need to be less arrogant.

Rabbi Cohen also agrees that deep reform is required: “It seems that there is a demand from us to strengthen ourselves and consider our role. After God showed us such a remarkable hiding of His countenance on this day, it is impossible to continue life as we have been. This is implausible.” However, he leaves the statement hanging. We cannot continue life as it was, so what needs to be done?

Unlike some rabbinic responses blaming the secular spirit of Israel generally and the rave party in Re’im specifically – an approach I consider misguided and even obscene – Rabbi Cohen cites the Brisker Rov that facing such calamity, we cannot state that “the Zionists are to blame.” Like the prophet Yonah, we need to admit that “this great storm is due to me.” But what, indeed, is required of us?

In this hour of need, perhaps we can take inspiration from the words of Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel, written at the most difficult time of all. During the inferno of the Holocaust years, Rabbi Teichtel encouraged the Jews of Hungary to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael: “The most important thing is to awaken and return to our Holy Land, which is the only reason why all these calamities have befallen us, as I explained above.”

Rabbi Teichtel mentions a debate he engaged in with a group of young Chassidic men who claimed they should not immigrate to Israel for fear of associating with sinners. He rejected the claims, telling his disputers that “although your Rebbe is giant among men, the Rebbe of Gur is no less a giant […] and he says that if many God-fearing Jews gather in the Land of Israel, they will thereby augment the holiness of the Land.” He proceeds to explain that the Jews of Babylonia refused to ascend to the Holy Land because those who initially followed Ezra were “lowly people and great sinners,” yet they were wrong in this since “had they all ascended, holiness and purity would have appeared among the entire nation of Israel, and even the greatest sinners would have repented their ways.”

Our presence in Israel has not profoundly affected the Jewish spirit of state authorities, state institutions and mechanisms, and the IDF

Unfortunately, not enough Jews heard or were able to heed Rabbi Teichtel’s call. Despite this, the center of Judaism shifted from Europe to Israel within just a few years, and instead of the departure of Jews from observant Judaism that was rife in Europe, we were blessed with Jewish flourishing in Israel in every sense. But our labor did not end there.

Our presence in Israel has not profoundly affected the Jewish spirit of state authorities, state institutions and mechanisms, and the IDF. The need to rehabilitate the Torah world – Yeshiva institutions, Torah-centered communities, and the full range of religious services – combined with the justified fear of assimilation into secular society, left Charedi society out of the arena. Israel grew and prospered, also empowering the blossoming of the Torah world, in all its variety, to dimensions never hitherto seen. It achieved this without the significant involvement of Charedi Judaism.

Seventy-five years have passed, and we once again find ourselves in times of crisis: “It is a time of trouble for Yaakov, but he shall be saved from it” (Yirmiyahu 30:7). And still, the voice of Rabbi Teichtel cries out to us from his writings. Faced with a terrible predicament, he calls us to act: to take responsibility not only for the isolated Torah world but even for our very existence here – for the state itself, including the army. Only thus can we have the positive influence that is so required, and only thus can we learn to combine strength with modesty: to strike our enemies with full force while avoiding the ever-lurking trap of “my power and the might of my hand.”


One of the great principles of Rabbi Teichtel’s Em Habanim Semeicha is that faith alone is not enough. Action, too, is required. As Rabbi Yosef Zarfati (a 17th-century rabbi) stated, “Faith, unaccompanied by action, is ineffectual.” The faith that Charedi society brings to Israel is critical, but it must not be detached from the realm of human action. Our Emunah only receives its true expression when coupled with actions in the real world – when we enter the arena. The Torah, indeed, was given to be realized in the Land. As the Sages state, our faith becomes full trust in Hashem only when embodied in labor: “He believes in the Life of the Worlds and sows” (Yerushalmi, cited in Tosafos, Shabbos 31a).

[T]he fault of attributing our success to “my power and the might of my hand” cannot be remedied by remote control

In other words, the fault of attributing our success to “my power and the might of my hand” cannot be remedied by remote control. If we want to be part of the solution, we first need to include ourselves among those to whom the Torah refers when stating, “It is Hashem your God who gives you the power to achieve wealth.” Herein lies the Torah remedy for curing the sin of arrogance: by engaging in chayil – creating wealth, military strength, and similar worldly achievements – while internalizing that our capacity to do so comes from Hashem alone.

Over the past week, many have adopted this principle by massive mobilization for the campaign to defend Israel, either in extensive voluntary activity – preparing and sending out food and gear, tying army tzitzis for soldiers, ensuring attendance at funerals and Shiva houses, and so on – or through over 2,000 requests by Charedi individuals (over 26, the current exemption age) to join the army reserves in some capacity. These couple with thousands of Netzach Yehuda soldiers (active duty and reserve) and hundreds of thousands who look heavenwards and fight the wars of Hashem. We must fight with faith.

I have no doubt that such participation will also serve to realize another great principle on which Rabbi Teichtel expounds: the principle of national unity. As he cites in the name of Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Belz zt”l, “One must love even the most lowly person among the Jewish People as his own soul, unite the hearts, and distance anything that causes discord and disharmony. Our salvation in times of crisis depends on this.”

After such a period of national discord and disunity, this idea, at the very least, is abundantly clear today.


I end in prayer:

My God, make them like the whirling chaff, like stubble before the wind;

Like a fire burning the forest, and like a flame that sets mountains ablaze.

So pursue them with Your tempest and terrify them with Your storm.

Fill their faces with shame, then they will seek Your Name, Hashem.

Let them be shamed and terrified forever, then they will be disgraced and they will perish.

Then they will know that You – whose Name is Hashem – are alone, Most High over all the earth. (Tehillim 83)

One thought on “The Gaza War: Fighting with Faith

  • Actions need to point toward desirable, necessary, achievable goals. Starting from where we are now, what types of actions would achieve, in finite time, the goal that believing,, practicing Jews should lead Israel and its major institutions? While it’s comforting to know that Israel under attack can come together, the problem of atheistic leadership, even of coalitions including religious Jews. persists. The religious Jews already in government seem to get pushed aside whenever key national decisions are made.

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