Soul-searching when the flames on Chanukah scorch and burn

A speech by Esther Pollard at the Gush Katif Museum

Delivered in Hebrew - December 6, 2010 - 6th Light of Chanukah

To my deep sorrow and great disappointment, in spite of the great hope we all had, Jonathan is not here tonight to light the Chanukah lights. He has therefore asked me to light for him and to speak in his place.

May my talk, on this the 6th candle of Chanukah, be for an elevation of the soul of our beloved father, Moreinu v'Rabbeinu, Ateret Rosheinu, Maharan Ha Rishon Letzion, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu ztvk"l

This past Shabbat we read Parshat Miketz - the parsha about Yosef HaTzadik. This parsha teaches us a lesson that is important for all of our lives. It teaches us about how great the value of tshuva (repentance) is.

And we learn this from the verses where Yoseph confronts his brothers and accuses them of being spies. No, they insist, we are honest, we are not spies; we came here to buy food. But Yosef continues to insist, you are not honest, you are spies. Then he orders the brothers to remain in Egypt in prison while one brother may leave to fetch Binyamin their youngest brother.

In turmoil because of the accusations and not knowing that Yosef could understand Hebrew because there was a translator between them, the brothers begin speaking aloud to each other: "And they said one to another: 'We are sorely guilty concerning our brother; we saw the distress of his soul, when he pleaded with us, and we refused to hear; that is why this trouble has come upon us.'"

Yosef hears what his brothers are saying. He understands that his brothers have done tshuva for selling him into slavery. He witnesses their contrition and is deeply moved. He turns aside and weeps. He then wipes his face and comes back to confront his brothers, but now with great compassion. He tells them that they may all return home, except for one (Shimon) who will remain until Binyamin arrives. This too is a test, which Yosef plans for the brothers' benefit, so that their process of tshuva (repentence) may be complete.

What does this have to do with us today? Why is tshuva (repentance) so important?

Look at the situation in the Land.

In the North, the Land is still burning under our feet following an inferno which lasted 82 hours. Some 50,000 dunams of land have been scorched - nearly half of all of the forest area of the Carmel Mountain range. Five million trees have been destroyed. Forty-two people have died as a result of the fire and many others are badly injured.

Why did this happen? How did this happen?

It happened because this is the hottest, driest winter since 1948.

In recent months we have not had any winter weather. The summer weather went on and on. It has been very hot. No clouds. No rain.

In Israel we depend on the rain we receive in the winter to replenish our water supplies for the whole year. No rain is a national disaster.

So why no rain?

The Torah teaches us that no rain is a punishment.

We also learn from the Torah that we are punished when we sin.

When we are guilty and we do not do tshuva we are punished.

The question is what is our current sin that has brought this great disaster upon us?

HaKadosh Baruchu romez lanu. The Almighty hints to us.

Perhaps the hint is in the fact that this fire began near a prison up north. There, 500 prisoners were in mortal danger because of the conflagration. A bus filled with prison guards and police officers gathered from all parts of the country was dispatched to rescue the prisoners.

It breaks the heart to know that more than 40 officers and police were burnt to death while on their way to the prison to extract the prisoners. Their bus caught fire and all of the rescuers were burned to death. Pure souls. Righteous souls, every one of them. An enormous loss for our Nation.

Was this tragedy --which started at a prison -- perhaps intended to make us think of our own prisoner? Of our brother, the prisoner that the State of Israel has betrayed and abandoned? The prisoner that the Government of Israel has left to rot in an American prison for 26 years?

Is this disaster a call from Heaven to our nation to search our deeds and do tshuva?

There are no coincidences under Heaven. No random events.

When a tragedy occurs, on a practical level we need to take steps to resolve it and to ensure that it never happens again. On a spiritual level, we need to do some soul-searching to try to find out what the message is, why Heaven is so angry with us, so that we can mend our ways.

I think it is worth of note as well, that HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu, the greatest Kabbalist in the world (and the most humble; his true greatness is only being recognized now, after his passing) he declared years ago that Jonathan is the Yosef HaTzadik of our generation. Could that be why the fire occurred during Parshat Miketz?

The Rav also taught us that Jonathan is the microcosm and Israel is the macrocosm. Whatever goes on with one will always be mirrored in the other.

So when I saw the Land in agony, I looked for the reflection in Jonathan's situation.

For weeks now, Jonathan has been extremely ill. He has been experiencing excruciating pain.

Jonathan's pain has been so debilitating that even the strongest medicine could not help him. When I would tell family and friends about how Jonathan is suffering, I would say, he is suffering kevay tofet.

In Hebrew the way that the most excruciating pain is described is as kevay tofet. Kevay literally means "pains" and tofet means "hell-fire" or "inferno."

If we think about kevay tofet, it's easy to make the connection between Jonathan and the Land, easy to see the reflection. That is, Jonathan has been experiencing hell-fire pains or kevay tofet.

And what has been happening to the Land?

The Land has been scorched by tofet, by an inferno, by hell-fire itself.

I am not a prophetess or a seer.
I am only Jonathan's wife.
I fear for him;
And I fear for the Land.
For they are one and the same.
Our leaders have betrayed both of them badly
And we, the People, have allowed it.

Please pray for the immediate release of Yehonatan ben Malka.
Please pray for the safety and success of the Land.
And may we, the entire Nation, merit to do full tshuva and to receive Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our day. Amain!

* * *

Post Script:

I read my speech to Jonathan for his comments before delivering it here tonight.
Jonathan said, "There is just one thing missing."
"And what is that?" I asked.
"May we also merit to speedily return to Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron!"
And let us say amain!