Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

See the earlier article about the 2023 Hamas-Israel War: "War is not new to Israel" (Oct 16, 2023)

The war Hamas launched against Israel on October 7th, 2023 coincided with the day of Shabbat that was also the day of the combined Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in Israel and outside of Israel it was Shemini Atzeret on Shabbat followed by Simchat Torah the next day. I was in Shul in Brooklyn the night of October 7th when Shemini Atzeret had ended and Simchat Torah was about to begin when some people found out that Hamas had attacked Israel, killing hundreds of Israelis and taking many as hostages. Shock waves streaked around the small Shull as the scope of the attack was unimaginable. The rabbi who had also heard the news declared with great pain that even though the news from Israel was shocking we must still continue with celebrating Simchas Torah
It so happened to be that on that Shemini Atzeret the full book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was recited in Shull. Now that I think about it, the famous first eight verses at the beginning of Chapter 3 are ringing in my ears. That is because on October 7th, 2023 on that day of Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret as the Hamas terrorists inflicted their atrocities on Israelis and as Israel responded, we are now at war with Hamas, and all the verses seem to be ringing out simultaneously all at the same time expressing their truths:

"1. Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.
2. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.
3. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build.
4. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing.
5. A time to cast stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
6. A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.
7. A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak.
8. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace." (Kohelet-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

These words are nothing less than prophetic for that day and this time by King Solomon who according to Torah tradition is the author of these words that are both confounding and comforting at the same time.

Indeed, who could have said it better than this, only a giant of prophecy as was King Solomon, King David's son and chosen successor, who lived in Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago, according to Judaism the wisest of all men to have ever lived: "Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven...a time to die...a time to uproot...a time to kill...a time to break...a time to weep...a time of wailing and a time of dancing...a time to cast stones...and a time to lose...a time to rend...a time to be silent...a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."!

With such blunt candor it is no wonder that when the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesses HaGedolah) were putting together the books to be included in the final official TANACH, the Jewish Bible, there was some hesitation as to whether the Book of Ecclesiastes should be included in it. From its very beginning the Book of Ecclesiastes sounds a note of seeming pessimism: הֲבֵ֤ל הֲבָלִים֙ אָמַ֣ר קֹהֶ֔לֶת הֲבֵ֥ל הֲבָלִ֖ים הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל the accepted English translation is "Vanity of vanities, said Koheleth; vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (Kohelet-Ecclesiastes 1:2). However the Hebrew word "Hevel" means more than vanity, it implies "nothingness" or as Rav Yitzchok Hutner used to joke in Yiddish rhyme "Hevel Havulem Di Velt Iz A Chulem" ("Emptiness and nothingness, the world is but a dream") and sometimes it is a bad dream or a nightmare!

So this past Shemini Atzeres it turned out that way in Israel as Hamas began their brutal attacks against Israel launching the latest deadly round of fighting and the suffering and dying that comes with it. The killing and dying, the wailing and hate, the war and the longing for peace have been heartrending. The atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists within a day of crossing the border into Israel has been horrific. It produced its own unique type of Jewish heroes: Kedoshim (martyrs) that the Jews have sadly known all too much and too well for all too long!

Wikipedia has a listing of some of the worst massacres and battles committed by Hamas on October 7th, 2023 starting on Shabbat Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah in Israel. These are some of the main ones:

  • Re'im music festival massacre (הטבח במסיבת הטבע ליד רעים): Hamas terrorists massacred 260 civilians (and tortured them first), injured a greater number, and took an unknown number of hostages at the "Supernova Sukkot Gathering", an open-air psychedelic trance music festival celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot near the Re'im kibbutz. This was the biggest terror attack in the history of the State of Israel, the worst Israeli civilian massacre ever, and the deadliest music concert attack in history.
  • Be'eri massacre (הטבח בבארי): 70 Hamas terrorists carried out a massacre at Be'eri, an Israeli kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. At least 130 people were killed in the attack, including women, children, and infants, claiming the lives of 10% of the farming community's residents. Dozens of homes were also burned down, some with residents inside them.
  • Kfar Aza massacre (הטבח בכפר עזה): 70 Hamas terrorists attacked Kfar Aza about 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) from the border with the Gaza Strip, massacring residents and abducting several hostages. The kibbutz had 400 residents prior to the attack, and it took two days for the Israel Defense Forces to wrest back full control of the community. Estimates place the total number of Israeli dead at over 50, including children. The attack is notable for claims of brutality in the form of beheadings, dismemberment, and victims having been burned alive.
  • Kissufim massacre (הטבח בכיסופים): Hamas targeted Kissufim kibbutz located in the southern part of Israel. At least eight Kibbutz civilians and six Thai laborers lost their lives, while at least four individuals were abducted and taken to Gaza.
  • Nahal Oz massacre (הטבח בנחל עוז): 40–50 terrorists infiltrated through the fence system and ran towards the military base near Nahal Oz. 27 soldiers, mostly female, of Unit 414 of the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps were on duty at this base at the time of the attack and they were killed or captured by Hamas. The 13th Battalion of the elite Golani Brigade suffered 41 killed, which was more fatalities than it suffered in the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War combined. In parallel to the events at the Nahal Oz post, at least 20 of the terrorists who carried out the surprise attack infiltrated Kibbutz Nahal Oz near northern Gaza Strip. Total losses were unknown, at least 12 residents were reported killed, and 20 missing, in addition to the guards.
  • Netiv HaAsara massacre (הטבח בנתיב העשרה): Hamas terrorists attacked Netiv HaAsara, an Israeli moshav close to the border fence with the Gaza Strip, as part of a surprise attack on Israel. The militants killed at least 20 people, including in some cases members of the same family.
  • Nir Oz massacre (הטבח בניר עוז): Palestinian terrorists invaded the Nir Oz kibbutz in southern Israel. They murdered scores of its residents, burned homes, and abducted civilians. Around a quarter of the people of Nir Oz were assassinated, kidnapped, or injured in a very severe way. Those who survived have no place to come back to.
  • Battle of Sderot (קרב שדרות): In Sderot Hamas terrorists massacred at least 50 civilians and 20 police officers who bravely defended the police station without long weapons..
  • Battle of Sufa (קרב סופה): Over 250 people were taken hostage by Hamas, and then rescued by the special operations unit Shayetet 13, with other Israel Defense Forces units.
  • \Battle of Re'im (קרב רעים): Re'im Army Base is headquarters for the Gaza Division. Hamas took control of the base, the location of IDF drone and surveillance operations. Hamas posted videos of dead Israeli soldiers it had killed at the base.

These are terrible tragedies of a war Israel neither wanted nor saw its coming. Not since the Yom Kippur War of 1973 has Israel been so utterly surprised and shaken by its Arab enemies. Far too many people believed Hamas would nevere attack, fell asleep at the wheel of the country's intelligence services, its military and its government that prided itself in being a right-wing security government. There will be a time for an accounting and finger-pointing but right now Israel has been thrust into a war it neither wanted nor started, And Israel, quick to recover its unity and strength, with God's help, is pounding Gaza from the air and preparing for a ground war to annihilate the barbarian terrorists hiding cravenly in underground tunnels while the people of Gaza (whom Israel, in its generosity, told to go 5 kilometers south to save their lives) have no shelters..

So far there are over 1,400 Israelis killed and murdered, over 200 who have been taken hostage and over three thousand seriously wounded. This is a staggering toll for a country as small as Israel and for the Jewish People who are a small nation, but suffering is not alien to the Jews who have paid a heavy price in Jewish blood and life in the course of their history of survival among the proverbial Seventy Wolves who are symbolic of the nations of the world according to Judaism.

There is an old Jewish proverb that the nations of the world are compared to Seventy Wolves and the Jewish People are compared to to a lone sheep. The Seventy Wolves are always scheming how to attack and kill the one sheep yet somehow or other the lone sheep keeps on surviving for thousands of years. What the Seventy Wolves don't get is that the lone sheep is being protected by God and no matter how much the wolves try to kill out the lone sheep they fail because God is watching over the sheep.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner in referring to the Holocaust and other massacres against the Jewish People said that what drives the the enemies of the Jews is not merely a hatred of Jews as such such, but they want to uproot and eradicate the very name and presence of God (as the Jews understand) from the world, and in this mission they are bound to fail because the Jewish God and Jewish People cannot be eradicated from the world.

Judaism is well aware of the hatred that the enemies of the Jews carry both in their hearts and that they practice all too well. On some of Judaism's special landmark days such as Yom Kippur and Tisha Be'Av included in the prayers are special elegies that recount the fate of the Asara Harugei Malchus (Ten Martyrs) who were tortured to death by the Romans about 2,000 years ago for the "sin" of openly being Torah scholars and teachers. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who died during the Jewish–Roman Wars (66–136 CE) because they resisted the Roman oppression and the Roman invasions of the Jewish Homeland.

Ultimately, according to Jewish belief it is God who runs the world and determines everything that is supposed to happen to it and its people, especially the Jews. It is none other than the legendary martyred Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who composed the famous Unetanneh Tokef prayer of supplication and submission to God's Will that is recited by Jews on their holiest days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

"On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in quietude and who will be tormented, who will enjoy tranquility and who will be distressed, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity mitigate the severity of the Decree."

There is a famous teaching of the Jewish Sages that "Yachid Meis, Tzibbur Lo Meis" that the "individual dies, but the congregation/community does not die" thus no matter how many individuals of the total Jewish community and nation die, by natural causes of by unnatural causes, in peace time and during wars, even if it is up to a third of the Jewish People who are lost such as during the Holocaust, yet the Jewish People as a whole lives on as a testament to God's existence and that it will only be His will that will prevail in the end and certainly at the End of Time.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]