Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Wings of Doves: Another Way to Protect the People of Israel

If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, I can guarantee you had you lived in Yad Binyamin (or Gadera), this morning you would not have had a problem. For the first time since the Gaza War (soon to be war? Mini war?) broke out, a siren jolted us out of bed in the middle of the night. Actually, we had no idea what time it was, because no one thought to look at the clock until after we got into the safe room. Thank God, we're fine, but when I checked the clock and realized that it was 5:20am, that was it for the day. I checked the news sites to learn that they hadn't reached a cease-fire agreement yet (go figure), and then went to catch up on the Daf. I'm glad that instead of going back to bed I learned the daf, because today's daf (Shabbat 49) relates a well-known story that lifted my spirits. The Gemara relates a halachic fact about a man named Elisha Ba'al Cnafayim (Elisha the Man of Wings), and then wonders why he had that strange nickname. The Gemara answers by relating a story:
שפעם אחת גזרה מלכות רומי הרשעה גזירה על ישראל שכל המניח תפילין ינקרו את מוחו והיה אלישע מניחם ויוצא לשוק ראהו קסדור אחד רץ מפניו ורץ אחריו וכיון שהגיע אצלו נטלן מראשו ואחזן בידו אמר לו מה זה בידך אמר לו כנפי יונה פשט את ידו ונמצאו כנפי יונה לפיכך קורין אותו אלישע בעל כנפים ומאי שנא כנפי יונה משאר עופות משום דאמתיל כנסת ישראל ליונה שנאמר (תהילים סח) כנפי יונה נחפה בכסף וגו' מה יונה כנפיה מגינות עליה אף ישראל מצות מגינות עליהן:  
And why is he called the man of wings'? Because the wicked Roman government once proclaimed a decree against Israel that whoever donned tefillin should have his brains pierced through; yet Elisha put them on and went out into the streets. [When] a quaestor saw him, he fled before him, whereupon he gave pursuit. As he overtook him he [Elisha] removed them from his head and held them in his hand. 'What is that in your hand?' he demanded. 'The wings of a dove,' was his reply. He stretched out his hand and lo! they were the wings of a dove. Therefore he is called 'Elisha the man of the wings'. And why the wings of a dove rather than that of other birds? Because the Congregation of Israel is likened to a dove, as it is said, "as the wings of a dove covered with silver::  just as a dove is protected by its wings, so is Israel protected by the mitzvot. (translation from here)
I opened Facebook this morning to find a wonderful message from friend in Michigan:
rabbi spolter,
hope you and your mishpocha are doing well and the tumult ends quickly and safely. please let us know if there's anything (besides davening and correcting misinformation) we can do for for you.
First of all, those messages really do help. We don't feel alone in this at all, but it's always nice to hear from friends. But if you want to help, I can think of two other ways (in addition to the davening and correcting information - both of which are important):
Advocacy: While we all say that Israel should act irrespective of world opinion (and sometimes must), world opinion is undeniably a fact that Israel faces. To that end, American support for Israel's self-defense has been critical, not to mention the financial support that provided the amazing Iron Dome system that's saved countless lives, literally. That support, both political and financial, is the direct result of an ongoing, never ending lobbying campaign that depends on committed Americans communicating with their elected officials. So, if you want to make a real difference on the ground here, short of Aliyah (which I continue to recommend highly), get involved with AIPAC.
Yet, we must also heed the Gemara's message about the defensive power of mitzvot. Living here, listening to the radio, hearing about the constant rocket barrage, I wonder about our national "bank" of merit. We're using up a heck of a lot of credit upstairs. We need more mitzot - and none better than the mitzvah that protected Elisha himself. So, if you're not usually so great about wearing Tefillin, put on Tefillin and fulfill that mitzvah. If you are good about tefillin, pick something else. In the words of the Talmud, the Jewish people are "like a dove" because, like the wings of the dove, which protect her from danger, our fulfillment of mitzvot, as much as any missile system, tank or soldier, offer yet another, critical way to protect the Jewish nation.