Tehillim 91 & Tzuk Eitan

As an adolescent, I used to have this idea in my head that Israelis were just tougher than the rest of us. They are steadfast in their faith, devoted to the land and her people, and fearless of the enemies surrounding them. Without realizing it, some of this notion had remained with me, even after I made aliyah eight years ago. Now it is July 2014, we’ve been bombarded with rockets from the Gaza strip for two weeks and our troops just went in this past Thursday night. For two weeks I have found myself anxious, afraid to leave the safety of my home, nervous to be caught outside during the eerie wailing sound of the siren.  At first I thought maybe it’s just me. Maybe I have not fully adjusted to what it sometimes means to live in Israel. Recently I spoke with an Israeli friend, and she assured me that I was not alone, “not all Israelis are like that, many of us have fears,” she assured me. In fact, someone in my yishuv is selling natural remedies for anxiety and fear to help treat children and adult alike, to native born Israelis as well as to olim.

Knowing that many others are struggling with maintaining normal routine and a positive attitude helps me to feel more normal and that this day to day situation of waiting for the next siren, is somewhat manageable. One day last week I realized that I hadn’t properly exhaled in a long time, I was sort of holding my breath, on alert for the warning to run to shelter. That’s when I forced myself to take a few deep breaths and slowly exhale all the air in my lungs, and I reached for my Tehillim, the book of Psalms.

Saying Tehillim in times of distress is something that the Jewish People have been doing for thousands of years and today is no exception. There are some psalms which are more well-known and even the average four year old in a religious gan (kindergarten) can say them by heart. While some common chapters such as 20, 121 and 130 are typical “go-to” psalms I knew about, I said a few more that I had read on my “Tfilon” app on my phone including prayers to say for our IDF. When I read psalm 91, I knew instantly that this was “the one,” this is the one that I have continued to say daily, the one that seems so incredibly pertinent, and gives me strength.

The number of psalm 91 is referred to as מזמור צא, as the numerical value of צ  is ninety, and א is one. More than that though, these two letters are the initials of the current situation, referred to as צוק איתן , or Operation Protective Edge, and the content is very relevant. Verse 7 reads:

יִפֹּל מִצִּדְּךָ, אֶלֶף–וּרְבָבָה מִימִינֶךָ: אֵלֶיךָ, לֹא יִגָּשׁ.  (תהלים פרק צא:ז)

Translated as:“A thousand fall by your side and tens of thousands fall to your right and they don’t approach you.” The psalm may be understood to be the enemies falling in battle. When I read that pasuk though, it seemed so clear that it was referring to the missiles falling to the right and left of us. At the time of writing this, more than 1,000 missiles have been launched by our enemies in this current escalation and according to the IDF blog, since Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip in 2005, terrorists have fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel. It is no mere coincidence that the numbers match up.

Sadly, we cannot say that not a single life has been lost. Every life is precious and we are pained greatly that Dror, hy”d, an Israeli 37 year old father was killed this week while bringing food to soldiers in Ashkelon. When I read a few hours ago that a 20 year old soldier named Eitan Barak was killed last Thursday night, it brought tears to my eyes and I prayed that his family should find comfort in this difficult time.

However, to put things in perspective, I read in the Jewish Press that one missile landed in a Kibbutz in the Eshkol region, killing fifty six cows…. Fifty six!?! This is Hashem’s way of reminding us of the very real danger of these missiles. And that was only one missile, out of more than a thousand. Hashem is protecting us. There are open miracles daily and when I stop to think about it for a minute, it is just awe inspiring how much we are loved and protected from Above1. I received a message on my phone (in Hebrew) the other day listing several miracles that have happened in cities all over Israel in the last couple of weeks, including a missile falling in Ashdod in an empty shopping center and another one that fell in Netivot in an empty child care center.  In Beer Sheva  there was a close call, where a large group of youth had just finished a soccer game, when a missile landed on the empty field.  In a more well known incident in Ashdod, a missile hit a gas station and a large fire broke out. Yair Lapid was quoted as saying that a miracle happened there, as an explosion  of the 100,000 liters of gasoline underground could have caused untold damage. Baruch Hashem.

In addition to all of these amazing events, people are lauding the tremendous work of the Iron Dome.While I am so very grateful for the amazing technology of the Iron Dome and soldiers manning it, I realize that it is Hashem who runs the world hidden through the mask of nature. Countless times, the Iron Dome is not used and the news announces: שטח פתוח, איש לא נפגע, a missile was shot towards Israel but miraculously landed in an open area, causing no physical injuries. It lands without hurting anyone, when it could have hurt, G-d forbid, dozens of people. What we are experiencing here is nothing short of miracles and I believe we need to thank Hashem out loud as well as pray for His continuous protection – most visibly seen through the iron dome and IDF – as verse 11 in same mizmor says,

 כִּי מַלְאָכָיו, יְצַוֶּה-לָּךְ; לִשְׁמָרְךָ, בְּכָל-דְּרָכֶיךָ (תהלים פרק צא:יא)

    Hashem will send his messengers (angels) to protect you in all of your paths

Hashem has sent His messengers through our amazing chayalim (soldiers) and the Iron Dome. So, yes, I’m still scared sometimes. Yes, I much prefer to stay indoors with my kids these days. I am not exactly carefree. This is not easy for me or for anyone living here. But I think if I can internalize what David Hamelech has taught me then I will really feel that Hashem is protecting me and I will trust in Him, as it says in verse 2 of the  same Psalm

אֹמַר-לַיהוָה, מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי; אֱלֹהַי, אֶבְטַח-בּוֹ

I will say to Hashem, who is my refuge and my fortress, my God, I trust in Him

And I will have learnt my lesson, that I am as Israeli as the rest of them. I have fears and anxiety as do all my neighbors who were born and raised in the Holy Land. As this same chapter of Tehillim tells me in verse 5,  לֹא-תִירָא, מִפַּחַד לָיְלָה;    מֵחֵץ, יָעוּף יוֹמָם- Do not be afraid of the terror at night or of the arrow (missile) that flies by day. There is terror at night, I can attest to that, I even had a nightmare about trying to rescue one of my children during a missile siren. But I will not let that fear take over, for I am compelled to look around me and see the hand of G-d, I am compelled to realize the truth in verse 15 עמו אנוכי בצרה, that Hashem is with me in troubled times. In this land of ours, the home of all Jews, regardless, of where you were born and how long you are living here or even visiting here, Hashem is watching over us.2

If you’re looking for one mizmor tehillim to say right now, then mizmor 91, צא is the one.

Sent with love for all of Am Yisrael, in hopes of true peace and love, 40 km for Gaza.

[1]תהילים פרק צא:א  יֹשֵׁב, בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן;    בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי, יִתְלוֹנָן

[2] אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ:  תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ–מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה (דב’ יא:יב)  . For the eyes of the Lord are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Deuteronomy Chapter 11 verse 12)