Introduction to the current issue of Zman (Nissan 5773)
The True Master of Disguise
My mind is still reeling from this month’s cover story. In it, we detail how a CIA agent, armed with the most advanced spying equipment, crawled through the catacombs beneath the Kremlin to place a listening device that monitored Soviet activity during the Cold War. As this was happening, the subject of our cover story — Tony Mendez, the “master of disguise” — was overseeing an incredible body-double “exfiltration” at a gala Moscow event to help two Soviet spies escape to America under the noses of the KGB.
And this is only one of his amazing stranger-than-fiction operations.
Disguise — what a perfect theme heading into Pesach. Pesach reminds us that everything in our lives is ultimately manipulated behind the scenes by the true Master of Disguise. Our challenge is to realize it even today, even in current events that seem to run of their own accord.
As of this writing, Israel is locked in heated negotiations over the makeup of the next government. At stake is nothing less than the identity of the Jewish state, epitomized by the issue of forced conscription of yeshivah students.
In a recent shiur, Rabbi Yosef Viener emphasized how extremely dangerous this decree is and yet how difficult it is to explain to the average secular Israeli that the reason his country is still in existence is because the limud haTorah is generating tremendous zechusim. How does a Saddam Hussein fire 39 SCUD missiles into civilian areas and not one person is killed? How is it that war after war, incoming missiles cause relatively minor damage? How has a tiny nation been able to survive in a sea of hostile nations a thousand times its size?
The answer is that there is a Hidden Hand involved. There is a Master of Disguise pulling the strings behind the scenes.
How do we merit His help? Through Torah learning and its support. There is more Torah being learned now in Eretz Yisrael than at any time since the time of the Gemara. That zechus has enabled the miracle of Eretz Yisrael to continue.
Between regional instability and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we need more people learning Torah, not less. We need to realize that the trajectory of a missile and the presence or absence of people at its impact is a mysterious calculation not in human control. No matter what the outcome of the current political situation, the issue of forced conscription desperately needs our continual attention and tefillos – as well as our continual focus on the protection Torah provides for klal Yisrael.
For years, the CIA needed to keep the work of their “master of disguise” hidden. But we need to do the opposite: to make the work of our Master of Disguise revealed. That is what Pesach is about. Kol hamarbeh l’saper, harei zeh meshubach. “The more one tells about the miracles in Egypt, the more one is to be praised.” May all Jews succeed this Pesach seeing through the Disguise and realizing Who is pulling the strings.
Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief
Light Makes Might
The story of Chanukah is made up of two radically different components. One is the war, the battles of the Chashmonayim and their ultimate victory over the Syrian/Greek oppressors. “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…” we insert into our shemonah esrai during Chanukah.
The other component is the spiritual, miraculous event of the small pitcher that supplied oil for eight days even though it held enough only for one night.
At first glance these components — the military the spiritual — are diametrically opposed.
Indeed, there is no other holiday on the Jewish calendar that emphasizes military victory. The triumphs of Yehoshua, Shaul or Dovid HaMelech, magnificent as they were, are not commemorated. What makes the military victory on Chanukah different from all other victories?
It is not the permanence of the victory. The great pantheon of famous warriors in the distant past and the near present testify to this disappointing truth: there are only temporary victors in wars. All military victories are subject to reversal, destruction, decay and abandonment – and Chanukah’s is no different. After the Jews retook Yerushalayim and experienced the miracle of the menorah the war dragged out another five to seven years. Successive Greek emperors tried to take back Eretz Yisrael by force of arms and by orchestrating a coup among the Jews.
What makes a military victory more than a fleeting moment of glory? The spiritual truth behind it. How do we know that Chanukah was more than a military victory? The little flask of oil that miraculously burned eight days.
Only when the military victory is combined with and sublimated to spiritual accomplishment, only when Hashem is acknowledged as having fashioned the victory, only when there is symbolic religious ritual attached to the celebration of physical triumph, only then can that victory be seen as having some sense of permanence.
The memory of the victory of the Chashmonayim is glorified because of the Chanukah candles. With its spiritually uplifting message of eternal fuel and lights, Chanukah allows us to exult fully in the military victory of the Chashmonayim as well. For it is no longer just a triumph of arms and war but of the human spirit and hashgachah pratis.
How apropos, then, that our cover story this month is about four IDF soldiers who became baalei teshuva. The idea that military victory is rooted in spiritual causes is a difficult message to accept among those not raised in an environment of Emunah. Perhaps then the most miraculous aspect of our four soldiers is that they got the message. Despite their upbringing they figured out that, for a Jew, “sharing the burden” means sharing the yoke of Torah and mitzvos – and that it is not only a much more difficult yoke, but the root cause that best protects Jewish lives.
Therefore, the light that these four soldiers shine is a truly a miracle – one worth celebrating ba’zman hazeh, at this time.
Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief