The God Factor: Part 1
Chanukah comes to teach us how history can take the most unlikely turns and produce the most improbable victors.
"Women your age have a 5% change of becoming pregnant using In Vitro Fertilization," Dr. C. was telling me as I sat opposite her in a leading Israeli I.V.F. clinic. I was 45 years old and, since the birth of my first child at the age of 40, had been trying to conceive a second baby using every spiritual, medical, and alternative means available. Dr. C. continued: "Of those 5%, only half carry through to term and deliver a live baby. Thus, you have 2½% chance of succeeding."
I stared at the good doctor. I was thinking: "God runs the world. If God wants me to have a second child, I will. And if God doesn't want, I won't. It's my job to exert maximum effort, which I.V.F. is. Whether or not I succeed is up to God."
To Dr. C. I said: "In any case, I would like to try."
The first time I did I.V.F., I failed.
The clinic offered two tries for the same price. I tried again. This involved getting two shots of powerful fertility drugs every day for two weeks in order to generate as many eggs as possible; a minimum of three eggs was required to continue with the process. Then the doctor would surgically extract the eggs from the ovary, fertilize them, and reinsert them into the womb.
The day before my scheduled extraction, I had an ultrasound to determine the number of eggs. The ultrasound doctor informed me sadly that I had only two eggs, not enough to even bother with the extraction. After all the effort, the drugs, the cost . . . Tearfully, I begged him to fudge the results and write that there were three eggs. "If God wants me to get pregnant," I thought, "He can do it with just two eggs." The ultrasound doctor consented.
When Dr. C. performed the extraction the next day, she found only one egg.
My chances of success slid from 2½% to zilch.
My non-religious doctor looked me straight in the eye and uttered a single word: "Pray."
Since I was already on the operating table, Dr. C. humored me. She extracted and fertilized the single egg. Two days later, as she reinserted it, my non-religious doctor looked me straight in the eye and uttered a single word: "Pray."
I prayed and cried and made a vow to God. Two weeks later, I got a positive pregnancy test.
The next day I saw Dr. C. in the clinic. I was jubilant. She was skeptical. Ever the meticulous scientist, she knew that a woman can't get pregnant with I.V.F. using only one egg. "I'll believe you're pregnant," she told me, "when I see an ultrasound with a heartbeat."
Three weeks later I ecstatically waved in front of her an ultrasound with a heartbeat.
At the end of nine months, at the age of 46, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy, may he live and be well, b'li ayin hara.
Experts and Predictions
Ever since Sept. 11, my Email has been full of predictions by experts regarding every possible aspect of war, bio-terror, and chemical warfare:
- How many Americans would die in a smallpox epidemic launched by bio-terrorists.
- What percentage of Israelis would survive if Saddam Hussein hit us with chemical warheads loaded with VX, an advanced chemical agent.
- Why it is impossible to win a war in the rough terrain of Afghanistan – this before America's allies ousted the Taliban.
All of these predictions, however, leave out one factor, which is the most crucial factor: God runs the world.
Any equation which does not take into account the God factor is bound to come up with the wrong conclusion.
In 1967, as Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser was proclaiming the imminent destruction of the State of Israel, both political pundits and military strategists predicted Israel's defeat. The figures were formidable. The 19-year-old state was up against the impending combined attack of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. The four Arab armies together boasted 810 airplanes against Israel's 350; 2,880 tanks against Israel's 800; and 465,000 troops against Israel's 265,000. So convinced were the Israelis themselves of an inevitable blood bath that the Rabbinate officially designated all of Jerusalem's parks as cemeteries.
Apparently, God had a different idea, and the experts were left stammering.
Apparently, God had a different idea. Instead of defeat, Israel experienced a surprise victory. In just six days, Israel not only pushed back the Arab forces, but recaptured all of the major Jewish holy sites, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem. The experts were left stammering.
My cousin Phil is a retired corporate executive, a highly intelligent, savvy pragmatist who keeps himself well-informed and draws clear-headed conclusions from the facts. In the 1980s, he predicted that the State of Israel would cease to exist by the year 2013.
At first, this doomsday forecast was based on the demographic threat: the Arab birthrate on both sides of the Green Line was staggeringly greater than the Jewish birthrate. The numbers were incontestable; by 2013 the Jewish state would have a majority of Arab inhabitants.
Barring the God factor, that is. In the Torah God clearly states His intention to bring the Jews back to Israel from the far corners of the earth. In 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed, almost overnight, and through the tattered Iron Curtain 450,000 Jews exited to Israel. Within a decade, the Jewish population of Israel had swelled by a booming 10%, and all mention of the demographic threat disappeared from the media.
Now Phil, who dearly loves Israel, is convinced that we will commit political suicide. After the failure of Oslo and the near-fatal offers at Camp David, pro-Israel columnists in American media warned that if the U.S. and Europe continue to push Israel into dangerous concessions, the map of the Middle East which appears in Palestinian textbooks – with Israel totally absent – may yet prove accurate. Agreeing with them, Phil opines that Israel's leaders lack the political will to take the un-P.C. steps necessary to disempower the Palestinian Authority. Without such blatant measures, Israel's future is bleak.
I cannot argue with Phil's facts and figures, but I know that God is not bound by them. The story of Chanukah comes to teach us how history can take the most unlikely turns and produce the most improbable victors.
What would the experts of 167 BCE have said about the chances of the old priest Mattathias and his family and friends defeating the mighty army of the Syrian Greek empire? I can see their pronouncements now:
"An ultra-Orthodox priest and his reactionary compatriots have raised the banner of revolt against not only the prevailing rule of the Seleucid Empire, but also against all of modern Greek culture and enlightenment. This motley band of guerrilla fighters is outnumbered more than 4-1 by the Seleucid army, which boasts some 40,000 professional troops equipped with the cutting edge of military technology, as well as the ultimate weapon—a herd of elephants trained for battle, against which no warriors can stand.
"The Maccabees, as this reactionary rebel force is called, are opposed not only by the considerable Greek population on the coastal plain, but also by a large proportion of the Jewish inhabitants, who have, over the last century and a half, adapted to the world-wide hegemony of Greek language, culture, and religion. Thus, the Maccabees have initiated a civil war, targeted at their own progressive fellow Jews, who are called Hellenists. As the Hellenists comprise the most wealthy and influential segments of Jewish society, the effort to unseat them is nothing less than preposterous.
"In short, the attempt of the Maccabees to score a military victory, overthrow the progressive culture which dominates the whole world, and re-establish their antiquated religion on the soil of Judea is futile."
The pundits would have been accurate in their analysis. After all, who could have predicted that three years after issuing his rallying cry, "Follow me, all of you who are for God's law and stand by the covenant," Mattathias's followers would reconquer Jerusalem, purify the Temple of its pagan desecrations, and reinstitute the Temple service? Although the total victory was hard-won – taking over twenty years and costing the lives of four out of five of Mattathias's sons, the Maccabees ultimately triumphed over the Greeks.
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the unlikely, the improbable, the virtually impossible.
The prayer to God we add during the eight days of Chanukah emphasizes the unlikelihood of the Jewish victory: "You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few . . .."
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the unlikely, the improbable, the virtually impossible. It is the antithesis of the still-prevailing Greek worldview which adulates logic and the laws of nature as absolute. Chanukah proves that in a world run by God, miracles can happen.
Judaism forbids relying on miracles. A Jew must always exert maximum effort according to reason to effect desired results. The Maccabees did not sit back and wait for a miracle to happen. But neither were they cowed by the odds nor discouraged by daunting prospects.
The rule of thumb in Jewish history has always been that when we are threatened spiritually, as we were by the Greeks, who wanted to exterminate our religion, not our lives, we fight back physically, as the Maccabees did. And when we are threatened physically, as we were during the events leading up to Purim, when Haman wanted to exterminate every Jew, we fight back spiritually, just as the Jews of Shushan, at Mordechai's and Esther's behest, did tshuva. Since we are today threatened physically, we must--in addition to the Israeli army's self-defensive measures--fight back spiritually.
The spears of the Maccabees are the mitzvot of today. Every time a Jew commits to keeping Shabbat or reaches out in friendship to a Jew of a different stripe, a spiritual force is produced which could make a terrorist bomb placed on a Jerusalem street fail to detonate. (The vast majority of terrorist bombs in Israel miraculously fail to detonate, or blow up on busy thoroughfares without injuring anyone.)
The time has come to wage a spiritual war against our enemies.
My cousin Phil accuses me of being passive. In truth, I am a spiritual warrior. I know that God will come through for Israel if I exert myself beyond my comfort zone to keep the mitzvot that aren't easy for me, and if other Jews do the same. If I overcome my urge to take revenge against my obnoxious neighbor, I have launched a projectile powerful enough to bring down Saddam Hussein's most deadly missiles.
The time has come to wage a spiritual war against our enemies. Every mitzvah is an infinitely more powerful weapon than anything Bin Laden has in his arsenal.
So, when you go to light your Chanukah candles, instead of thinking you are enacting a quaint custom of Jewish tradition, realize that you are fulfilling a mitzvah, and mitzvot are the spiritual antidote to whatever chemicals the bio-terrorists are brewing in their nefarious laboratories. God, who runs the world, expects us to exert maximum effort in doing mitzvot. The victory in this war, as in the Maccabean war we are commemorating, will come from Him.