We learn in Sefer Melachim how HaKadosh Baruch Hu saves and reinstates the honor of Am Yisrael when they are decimated and have no one to help them, even if they are resha’im and chata’im and their kings serve idols. In Uganda 40 years ago, He repeated the motif.
To Rabbi Dovid Gross shlita,
I read your letter in last week’s Inbox (Issue 617) in which you commented on my column regarding the Entebbe rescue (Issue 615), and I was astounded. You quoted me as having written that it was Divine Hashgachah that pushed Israel’s leaders into taking such a mad risk, which indeed turned out to be successful beyond any expectations. Yet, as you point out, it is well known that Rav Shach ztz”l objected to the way the rescue was carried out and declared that it contravened halachah. And therefore, if I wrote that Hashem’s Hashgachah wanted it to be so, then I was, chalilah, coming out against the psak din of Rav Shach.
Of course that was disturbing, and I hastened to reread my piece in order to find out how my words could have conveyed such an idea, for I was quite sure that I couldn’t have stumbled into such an error.
Upon rereading the article, I felt calmer. Begging Rabbi Gross’s pardon, I must say that my words were misconstrued and taken out of context, for the article goes on to say — as gedolei Yisrael said at the time — that HaKadosh Baruch Hu heard and answered the prayers of the Jewish People, and brought the miraculous yeshuah in response to that outpouring of prayer. And I stand by what I wrote, that to this day I don’t remember anything equal to the atmosphere that prevailed while those hostages were being held. Fervent prayers rang out day and night from every shul and yeshivah, even from the not-so-religious amcha who don’t usually engage in prayer.
This was the view held at the time by several of our great mashgichim when the surprising outcome became known — that HaKadosh Baruch Hu brings yeshuah to the Jewish People when they pray to him wholeheartedly, even if they are not worthy. All this, however, has nothing to do with the firm stance of Rav Shach. Clearly, had Israel’s political and military leaders asked for his daas Torah, the captives might have been saved in an even more miraculous way, but the leaders weren’t exactly interested in seeking daas Torah. Nonetheless, it was HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Will to save the captives, because the power of tefillas harabim brought them the merit of salvation. My intention in the column was to call attention to the series of “small” miracles that happened in the course of the rescue, not to give approval or credence to any claim of kochi v’otzem yadi. When we perceive Divine intervention in the small but pivotal details in an event, it strengthens our emunah in the Creator, the G-d of Israel.
And now we can move on to the conversation that my friend Rav Shmuel Chassida and I had with Rav Shach on the very subject of the Entebbe rescue during the week it took place 40 years ago, which I will relate after this brief introduction:
In the early 1970s my friend Rav Chassida and I initiated a “Jewish page” in the secular newspaper Maariv. Today, with so many baalei teshuvah in our midst, it’s difficult to grasp what a revolutionary thing this was. Our biweekly column was called Da et Yahadutcha (Know Your Judaism), and in it we discussed Jewish topics with a contemporary approach. Naturally, there were people who came out against us, some choshuve rabbanim among them, but fortunately for us, Rav Shach was on our side. He was a gaon baTorah who protected the yeshivah world with mesirus nefesh, but he was concerned as well with the needs of the generation. When we came to him with our idea of featuring a page on Judaism in the most secular of newspapers, written in the language of secular-minded Israelis, he agreed. We consulted with him about almost everything we wrote, although we also listened to the opinions of other talmidei chachamim, and Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l became our regular critic. (There is much I could tell about that amazing experience of bringing Judaism to the masses. According to a study done at the University of Haifa, that biweekly feature was one significant trigger of the teshuvah movement that began in the ’70s. )
During the amazing week of the Entebbe rescue, all of Israel, and in fact, all the world, was dizzy with the excitement of that incredible rescue mission. And I, too, was caught up in the general mood as I prepared to write my column for Maariv. But then we were told that Rav Shach wanted to speak with us. We went to him and he asked us not to write about the rescue mission. He explained to us in that conversation that the army had acted contrary to halachah because objectively they were endangering their own lives and the lives of the hostages in a seemingly impossible mission, and therefore we were not permitted to praise it.
“But open miracles happened,” I protested, “and Jews were saved!”
Rav Shach was also joyous that Jews were miraculously saved, but I gained some important insights as he went on to clarify his halachic view. “I cannot rejoice when Tzionim are successful,” he said. “Yes, I know there are religious Zionists who said, in the heat of an argument about the matter, that of course Rav Shach would rather see all those Jews killed than see the Zionists win. That Rav Shach of yours has no ahavas Yisrael.”
We sat there with Rav Shach and we heard mussar from him, and we saw how glad he was that Jewish hostages were saved. But he was concerned that the feelings of excitement engendered by the victory would lead people to come closer to secular Zionism’s tenet that a Jewish army is the ultimate protection of the Jewish People. And this Zionism, he said, was the antithesis of Torah miSinai — not that love of Eretz Yisrael is the antithesis of Judaism, chalilah, but the Zionist view of Eretz Yisrael simply as the national homeland of the Jewish People, and of the Jewish People as a nation like any other. A success like the Entebbe rescue, Rav Shach argued, could warp the thinking even of Torah-observant Jews, enticing them to see the sweeping victory as a sign that Zionism is the right approach. In their superficiality, people are liable to fall into the trap of kefirah and believe that a sensational victory somehow indicates that secular Zionism is a good thing.
And therefore the Rosh Yeshivah asked us to lower the profile of the military victory, and rather than praise the army for its boldness, to highlight the miracles that accompanied the operation. And this is what I did when I wrote about it then, and again 40 years later in these pages. I didn’t say that Operation Thunderbolt itself was justified, but instead highlighted the fact that the Creator chose to intervene and ensure the rescue of the hostages, despite the irrationality of the decision to go ahead with the operation and the many instances of incompetence involved in its planning and execution — and even despite the fact that the mission might have been assur according to halachah, as I will explain. The zechus that brought this Divine support came not from the Zionist leadership, but from the prayers of the Jewish masses. The two must be carefully separated. Even if the operation was not halachically sanctioned, 40 years ago the Jewish People prayed with all their hearts for the safety of the hostages, and the hostages were saved because against all logic, HaKadosh Baruch Hu made great open miracles.
On more than one occasion the Ponevezher Rav ztz”l would quote the pasuk in II Melachim (14:26) about how HaKadosh Baruch Hu saves and reinstates the honor of Am Yisrael when they are decimated and have no one to help them, even if they are resha’im and chata’im and their kings are serving idols. And those miraculous salvations indicate nothing about the rightness of the victor’s worldview. By the same token, Rav Shach asked us not to glorify the IDF or the government leaders, even though we were writing for a secular audience, but to direct their attention to the miracles Hashem performed to ensure a successful rescue.
I hope that I have clarified the important issue brought up by my esteemed reader. "