Parashat Acharei-Erev Pesach: The 5th Son, On the Wings of Eagles
Rabbi Nachman Kahana
PART ONE – On the Wings of Eagles (and F-16s)
You saw what I had done to Egypt, and I have carried you on the wings of eagles and I have brought you to me (Shemot 19:4)
The great commentator of the Torah, Rashi, explains the phrase "and I have carried you on the wings of eagles." Except for eagles, birds carry their fledglings under them for fear that atop the wings would make the fledglings vulnerable to attack from higher flying predators. But eagles have no such fear, since they fly the highest. The danger to eagles is from Man who could shoot an arrow at them from the ground, so the eagle carries the fledglings on its wings with the thought that better the arrow should pierce its body but not the fledglings.
So too HaShem, when He stood between the Israelite camp and the approaching Egyptian army at the Red Sea, the holy cloud absorbed the enemy projectiles.
This week I was privileged to enter the inner sanctum of the army of Israel - an air force base of F-16 jet planes.
The scenes you see in the movies are quite real. The briefing and de-briefing room; the super secret computers and maps; the camaraderie between the pilots and crews; and the indescribable atmosphere of elitism formed from the awareness of the huge, huge historical mission which rests upon their young shoulders.
At 9 AM the entire unit gathered to "toast" the coming festival of Pessach. The rav of the base spoke as a rav should. Next to speak was the commander of the "tayesset", he held a Tanach and read excerpts dealing with the Exodus from Egypt. He then held up a very large, framed photograph of the most fantastic scene I have ever seen which occurred several years ago on and above the blood drenched soil of Poland.
It showed the train tracks leading into the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, with its maddening, sadistic inscription "arbeit macht frei" - work makes one free," while overhead flew Israeli war planes, piloted by sons and grandsons of survivors of the Auschwitz gehennom (hell). It was the strongest assertion of 'Am Yisrael Chai' our country could make!
The commander, a man in his late thirties, who I was later told is one of Israel’s top pilots, explained the enormous responsibility which rest on Tzahal and on the air force in particular, because the alternative to victory - for all Jews in the world - is the train tracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The commander then asked me to speak. I knew that I had about 30 seconds of concentration time because of the duties awaiting each soldier, so it had to be "short and sweet."
I said that there is one night in our calendar year when we all sit together for a very orderly and calibrated feast. Upon seeing this and comparing the order to the usual disorder in the home, the young children ask "ma nishtana" - why all this order tonight? When I entered the closed doors of the squadron, order and discipline was so very real - even tangible. There was "order" but without "orders," because every one there is aware of the importance of his task. This awareness comes from the internal "order" in their minds and hearts, which house the values of our 3500 year old nation. I salute you! May HaShem continue to give you the courage, strength, intellect and faith to keep the skies safe from the enemy in our beloved Eretz Yisrael".
We then went to the hangar to witness a "take off." It does something to the Jewish soul to see and touch the Magen David on the wings of an F-16 and on the pilots’ flight suits. It was then I felt what the Jews felt at Mount Sinai - (וכל העם ראים את הקולות (שמות כ:יד And the entire nation saw the voices.
The engines and noise were so overpowering and gripping as to make them a real entity.
In our generation we have merited to experience again, as in the exodus, and I have carried you on the wings of eagles and I have brought you to me. The "wings of eagles" are the instruments of defense which HaShem has put to our use. The "eagles" are the men who fly and service these instruments, who are now carrying the holy people who have returned home. These holy sons are saying in their souls to the God of Israel, to themselves and to us: "Let the arrows pierce our bodies but not the holy Jewish people who have returned to Eretz Yisrael."
PART TWO: The fifth son
The hagada gives expression to the Torah’s directive to explain to each child the miracles of the exodus from Egyptian bondage. The wise son according to his understanding, down to the one whose simplicity make him disinterested in the past and future of our nation.
This is the obligation of a father on the seder night, but it is the obligation of every rav to teach the belief in the Jewish God to all Jews every day of the year.
For years I have taken the intellectual initiative to convince "stragglers behind the camp" of the truth of the Torah; of our being chosen by HaShem as His people and of our historic right and obligation to Eretz Yisrael etc.
But, as I view things today, I am convinced that in this upside down world in which we live, even this activity is distorted. It is not for us to convince Jews of the truth in our heritage, quite the opposite, the onus of proof is upon the "break away" to justify his rejection of 3500 years of Halachic Judaism and the 175 generations of unbroken conviction that HaShem revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and there He gave us His Torah. It is not I who has to prove that God created the world, it is the break away who has to explain the origin of all existence.
The break away is the one who has to prove that the ham sandwich and the marriage to a gentile is true, whereas Avraham, Moshe, King David, the Bet Hamikdash are fiction. That the teachings of his professor of philosophy 101 can stand over the TaNaKh, Mishna, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, tens of thousands of talmidei chachamim who have dedicated their lives to the study of Torah, and the many millions of Jews who have stood steadfastly in their beliefs.
The same applies to my efforts in convincing Jews in the galut that the time has come to return home. The truth is that we do not have to convince them. It is they who have to justify their remaining in the galut, when the hand of HaShem is shown daily here in Eretz Yisrael and the dangers in galut loom ever greater with each passing day.
Our generation has added another "son" to the Hagada - the blind and deaf one - blind to the miracles in the Holy Land and deaf to the dangers to his Judaism, and very life, in the galut.
So this year, set a place at the seder table for the fifth son - the spiritually blind and deaf mute of the 2000 year old galut - whose status is inferior to even that of the aiyno yoday’a lish’ol (he who does not know how to ask).
Shabbat shalom ve’chag samayach