Every responsible person is asking today: “What can I do about the ongoing battles in Israel?”
This is not the space or time to address those that, for whatever reason, are apathetic. But even for those of us that care , the answer seems to be not that simple.
Firstly, that region has been embroiled in tensions and hostilities for decades if not centuries. No one has come up with any new innovation how to once and for all create a permanent and lasting peace between the Jews and the Arabs/Muslims. Any respite from violence is always short-lived. And even in quiet times there is a brewing toxicity ready to explode any given moment. Volatility is the most apt description of the standoff between Israel and its enemies.
Secondly, what can those of us outside of Israel do about events thousands of miles away?
As difficult as it may be, to ignore these questions or to not answer them is simply unacceptable. The consequences of addressing – or not addressing these issues – are far reaching.
When we witness upheaval or tragedy , there is no such thing as a neutral position. You are either going to do something about it or not. Yes, it may be easier to go into denial and ignore events around us, but as Maimonides writes:
When a calamity strikes the community we must cry out, examine our lives and correct our ways. To say that the calamity is just the way of the world and a coincidence is cruel and insensitive.
Just plain sensitivity, not to mention the concern for our brother and sisters in the Holy Land, dictates that we do not remain spectators on the sidelines, but do whatever we can to help the situation. We really have no choice but to find a way to respond to today’s crisis. If we do not, we do not remain untouched, our psyches become paralyzed by our inaction, and this paralysis will undermine and erode our self confidence in all areas of life. We MUST act. Period.
So, what can we do?
In confusing times like this it is best to turn to our selfless leaders for direction and guidance. Additionally, it’s no coincidence that the current events in Israel are taking place in the period, which we have just entered, called “The Three Weeks.” Beginning with the fast on the 17th of Tammuz (this year July 15th) and culminating with the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av, this year August 5th), we remember and honor the breach and destruction of the two Holy Temples in Israel by the Babylonians and the Romans, 2436 and 1946 years ago respectively. How uncanny is it that the present siege in the Holy Land is taking place in that same time period?!
We therefore thought it appropriate to share a letter written by the Rebbe in connection with the 10th of Tevet – the fast day that commemorates the siege of Jerusalem began (culminating in the breach and destruction in the Three Weeks) – addressing precisely this question. The Rebbe makes several suggestions as to how to act. Specifically, he advises on how we should utilize a fast day to intensify our spiritual security, which in turn reinforces our material security – a timeless letter eerily suits the situation at hand.
A Letter from the Rebbe – dated 5th of Tevet, 5736-December 9, 1975
~ Free translation (original is printed in Likkutei Sichos vol. 15 p. 555-557) ~
By the Grace of G-d
3rd Day of Week
5th of Teves, 5736
Greeting and Blessing
… In reply to your inquiry and request for instructions in connection with the forthcoming fast of Asoro b’Teves (10th of Teves), in view of the situation in and around Eretz Yisroel — —
You will surely be instructed by the Rabbi of your congregation this coming Shabbos, which is erev Asoro b’Teves, in his sermon, and in practical terms, since the essential thing is the deed.
However, since you have also approached me in this matter, I will set forth, at least, several suggestions – after the following introductory remarks:
Regrettably, there are people who claim that it is necessary to think and act “big,” in terms of global dimensions and stupendous undertakings, etc., etc. Surely they mean well; and to the extent that such resolutions are practical and are actually carried out – they are very helpful to improve the situation.
Yet, we must never overlook – indeed, rather greatly emphasize – the so-called “small and unsophisticated” things which each modest congregation, or even each individual, can and must do – beginning with the old, yet ever-new, Jewish way, collectively as one people and also as individuals. This is the action of hakol kol Yaakov (“the voice is the voice of Jacob”) – Torah and prayer – which G-d himself has shown us to be the first effective action to nullify the power of yedei Eisov (“the hands of Esau”) – in whatever shape or form they are raised against us.
Certainly this should find the fullest expression in a day which the Shulchan Aruch declares to be a Day of Fasting, one to which the prophet Isaiah refers as a “chosen fast … a fast and time favored by G-d.”
Now, in answer to your inquiry, and since the Fast of Asoro b’Teves is especially connected with Eretz Yisroel and the holy city of Jerusalem (recalling the siege of Jerusalem), my suggestion – in addition to the regular “observances” on Fast Days, as set forth at length and in detail in Poskim and in books of Mussar and Chassidus – is as follows:
During this Day – expressly for the sake (zechus) of the security and strengthening of Eretz Yisroel as well as in the Diaspora – and particularly for the benefit of our brethren behind the “Iron Curtain” –
A special effort should be made in the spirit of “Old Israel” – in the areas of Torah, Tefillah (prayer), and Tzedoko (charity),
Specifically: After the prayers (both in the morning and at Mincha) to learn (and where there already are daily study groups, to add) a subject in Torah, including a halacha pesuka (legal ruling),
Immediately following the prayers, even before learning, to say several chapters of Psalms (in addition to the regular portion);
Before and after the prayers – to give charity (in addition to the regular donation), including charity for a sacred cause or institution in Eretz Yisroel, Eretz haChayim (“Land of the Living”).
Needless to say, one who repeats the above again and again in the course of the day, is to be praised,
And each time – the more one adds in these activities (in quantity and quality), is to be praised all the more.
And, as in all matters of Kedusha (Holiness), it is desirable that all the above be done in a group (with at least a Minyan).
May HaShem accept, and He will accept, the prayers and supplications of Jews wherever they are,
And soon, in our very own days, may the Promise be fulfilled that “These days will be transformed into days of rejoicing and gladness,”
With the true and complete Geulah (Redemption) through our righteous Moshiach.
With esteem and blessing
/Signed: Menachem Schneerson/
Addendum to the letter above –
Excerpt from the Talk of Shabbat Parshat Vayigash 5736
~ Free Translation (original is printed in Likkutei Sichos vol. 15 p. 558-559) ~
…In response to the queries of some [people] for more specific instructions regarding the addition in the three pathways of Torah, prayer and charity explained in the letter of the 5th of Tevet:
No details were stated intentionally, based on the directive of our sages that “one should always study Torah in the place where your heart desires.” Similarly prayer, “service of the heart” – depends on the feelings of each person’s heart. And the same is with charity – in the words of the verse: whose heart impels him to give [thus the Rebbe did not specify which additional sections in Torah should be studied, which prayers should be said and what charity should be given, because all these three activities are dependent on the feelings of each individual – ed. note].
Nevertheless, since every inspiration requires details in order for it to be actualized, we can find specific directives based on the words of our Rebbes our Leaders in similar situations and in the words of Sages in general:
The suggestion to add in Torah study: According to the teachings of our Sages that Moses established that the Jews should study the teachings of each respective day – [the suggestion is to] study the Laws of Fasting.
And since the ultimate purpose of a fast day is that it be transformed into joy and gladness and to a holiday – we should (also) study the end of the Laws of Fasting in the Rambam’s Sefer HaYad [Mishne Torah], where he discusses the fulfillment of the promise that the fast days will be transformed to ‘holidays’ and ‘days of joy and gladness.’
Prayer: Based on the directive of the Rebbe my father-in-law [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak] in 5701  to say the three Psalms – 20, 22, 69 – one can say that also in our case the additional prayer should consist of saying these three Psalms.
Even though the present situation is not at all as severe, G-d forbid, as it was then, yet it is still appropriate today to make an additional effort beyond the conventional etc.
Charity: The siege of the walls surrounding Jerusalem began on the 10th of Tevet. Accordingly, based on the words of our Sages “I am your wall – this is Torah” – charity should be given to a Torah organization, and more specifically – (also) to literally help build a ‘wall’ – charity to construct a Torah building (or for the maintenance and repairs of an existing building).
There is a virtue in the charity outside of Eretz Yisroel and a virtue in the charity given for Eretz Yisroel. Its is therefore appropriate to give [the additional charity] both for a Torah organization outside of Eretz Yisroel and for a Torah organization in Eretz Yisroel, which will be rebuilt by our Righteous Moshiach.
The greatest and most powerful response to the terror around us is by doubling and tripling our efforts. The words of these letters provides us with clarity, directing us in what our response should be. We learned from the sin of the scouts that we do not ask “WHETHER we can do it,” we ask “HOW we can do it.”
Do not stand by as an observer on the sidelines. Act. Add an additional mitzvah. Keep Shabbat and Kashrut. Light a Shabbat candle tonight before sundown. Study Torah. Pray. All people – commit to the universal Divine laws that transform this world into a holier place.
We are not victims or mere observers. Our actions matter now and forever. Do something!
Simplistic or not, this is the time tested method that has kept the Jewish people here for eternity.
Our blood boils when we hear about those that were silent during the Holocaust. When we will be asked one day: “What did you do about the tragic events happening around you?” what will your answer be?
I for one do not want to be left with no answer, or worse yet, an answer that I did nothing. I want to know that I did everything in my power. I hope you feel the same.
Let us create a true revolution. Let us reconnect to our Divine mission. Let us move heaven and earth with our actions. We have been promised that when we do, we will save the universe – literally.
In Honor of the Kedoshim (sanctified ones)
All lives ripped away from us by terrorists.
May we honor their lives through actions that bring more light into this world.