A Time For Question Marks

by Michael Nachtiler, CEO of the Netzach Educational Network, Cheshvan 5784, October 2023

The events of Simchat Torah, 5784, do not call for conventional soul-seeking. Above all, they call us to convert our exclamation marks to question marks.

Simchat Torah morning. Stepping out of the house, worrying about how much candy the kids might consume, I hear an unexpected noise. I look to the skies, see the white streaks, and hear the Iron Dome interceptions. And the heavens collapse. Reality had been intercepted.

The Kishinev pogrom and other attacks against European Jews reshaped the Jewish world and shook its most fundamental perceptions. They spurred Zionist leaders Herzl and Jabotinsky to understand the urgency of the Zionist cause, ultimately leading to the mass immigration of Jews to the future State of Israel.

Arab riots in 1929 led to the British White Paper, a Jewish uprising, and an understanding that things could not remain as they were. The events of those times are forever etched in our collective memory as a reminder of the treacherous hostility of our neighbors. You might live in peace for years, but never forget to watch your back. They have accompanied the Zionist movement and the State of Israel for nearly nine decades.

In Kishinev, 49 Jews were murdered; in 1929, 133 Jews were brutally killed. The death toll of the Gaza massacre has now exceeded 1,400.

We’ve lived for many years around (opinionated) exclamation marks of conviction and passion. Just as the Jews of Kishinev before the pogrom and the inhabitants of Chevron before the massacre, we, too, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in the North and the South, enthusiastically debate the exclamation marks of our own existence. The line above the period is unbreakable, unwavering, and uncompromising.

But the heavens have fallen. The line has been broken. And the period is no longer the end of a sentence but the end of life. The exclamation marks are blurred against the backdrop of death and unspeakable atrocities.

The need for soul-searching arises during crises large and small, for individuals and the collective. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the entire House of Israel stood and confessed its sins on Yom Kippur. Yet, our self-reflection and accounting in ordinary times measure reality against exclamation marks, searching the gap between our reality and what it ought to be. We beat our chests for the sin of underperformance compared to abilities and expectations.

As a result of the unfathomable blow we endured, we are not called to engage in ordinary soul-searching nor to refine those actions we already know how to perform. Above all, we are urged to raise question marks. The reality we lived in until now will not return. We are in a new, different world, one we did not know, one that demands a different way of thinking and reevaluating foundations that were once clear and steadfast.

At the funeral of a dear friend’s young daughter, the father cried in pain before her lifeless body, “Up until now, we lived life, but from now on we will need to live death, too.”

Until now, we embraced life. From now on, we must also embrace death.

We lived in a world of trust in our path, trust in our faith, trust in our communities, in our country. We lived with trust in our people, in our personal and family interactions, in our belonging, and in everything that propelled our nation forward. We lived lives of trust and faith. They are no more.

Whoever continues on as usual, whoever employs current events in the service of all he believed before the heavens fell, reaffirms his detachment from reality. He refuses to see the collapse, maintaining a delusional grip on a shattered sense of security.

Our discussion must focus on the foundations that have crumbled. As we fight the war, our debate should be about the transformed world that will emerge in the aftermath. The controversies of the previous world must be laid to rest.

Children’s beds of present nightmares will become the future symbols of sweet and innocent life

Flowers on fresh soldiers’ graves will bloom anew and adorn bridal chairs. Children’s beds of present nightmares will become the future symbols of sweet and innocent life.

But those who return to old exclamation marks will remain in the past, disconnected, devoid of relevance to our future reality. Their hearts are sealed to the experience of fallen heavens.

Originally published in Hebrew and translated into English by Tzarich Iyun – Charedi Thought & Ideas

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