Missing the Appointed Hour החמצת השעה
1 א

We too are living in troubled times, in days of anger and distress. We have been afflicted ‎with ‎violent pogroms and have become accustomed to suffering. In the past fifteen years [1941–‎‎56] we ‎have undergone tortuous ordeals that are unparalleled in thousands of years of ‎diaspora, ‎degradation, and destruction. This chapter of suffering did not end with the ‎establishment of the ‎State of Israel. To this day the State is still in a condition of crisis and danger, ‎and we all fear for its ‎future. We are all eye - witnesses to the rising star of the iniquitous and to ‎the corruption of ‎international law by the Western nations out of indifference to the principles of ‎justice and ‎fairness. All try to curry favor with our enemies and bow and scrape before them with ‎false ‎humility and shameful hypocrisy. All are concerned with the welfare of our enemies, and ‎remain ‎indifferent to the suffering Jewish State (much like the rich man who stole the lamb of his ‎poor, ‎powerless, and uninfluential neighbor [II Samuel 12:1-6]).‎

2 ב

The well-known metaphysical query surfaces and the sufferer asks: “Why do you show me ‎iniquity ‎and cause [us] to behold mischief … for the wicked man besets the righteous, so that ‎justice goes ‎out perverted?” (Habakkuk 1:3–4). Indeed, as we emphasized above, God does not ‎address this ‎question, and it is not answered. It remains hidden, beyond the realm of logic. For ‎‎“you cannot see ‎My face, for man may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). When the desire for ‎rational inquiry ‎seizes man, he can do nothing but fortify his belief in the Creator, accept God’s ‎judgment, and ‎acknowledge the perfection of His action. “He is the Rock, His works are perfect: for ‎all His ways are ‎just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). If we want to ask a penetrating question at a time beset ‎by terrifying ‎nightmares, it is incumbent upon us to do so in a halakhic mode: What obligation ‎accrues to the ‎sufferer as a result of his suffering? What commanding heavenly voice breaks ‎through from the ‎midst of suffering? As we have said, this question has a solution which is ‎expressed in a simple ‎halakhah. There is no need for metaphysical speculation in order to clarify ‎the rules of rectifying ‎evil. “For it is not in Heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). If we succeed in ‎formulating this doctrine ‎without dealing with questions of cause and telos, we will earn a ‎complete salvation, and the ‎scriptural promise will be fulfilled for us, as it is written: “Take counsel ‎together, and it shall come to ‎naught; speak your harshnesses and they shall not come to fruition, ‎for God is with us” (Isaiah ‎‎8:10). Then and only then shall we emerge from the depths of the ‎Holocaust with enhanced ‎spiritual stature and augmented historical splendor, as it is written, “And ‎the Lord gave Job twice as ‎much as he had before” ( Job 42:10) — double in quantity and quality.‎

3 ג

When the doctrine of the corrective effect of suffering is put into practice, it demands of ‎the ‎sufferer courage and spiritual discipline. He must gird himself with extraordinary strength, ‎make a ‎detached assessment of his world, examine his past and look to his future with complete ‎honesty. ‎The lesson of Job’s suffering did not come to him easily. And we, too, who are soft ‎hearted weak-‎willed, bound by fate, and devoid of spiritual strength, are now bidden by ‎Providence to adopt a ‎new attitude; to ascend and raise ourselves to a level where suffering ‎teaches us to demand from ‎ourselves redemption and deliverance. For this purpose we must look ‎at our reflection with ‎spiritual fortitude and pure objectivity. This reflection bursts through to us ‎from both the present ‎and the past.‎

4 ד

If God’s grace, which is given to either an individual or a community, requires certain actions of ‎the ‎beneficiary, even if the gifts (such as wealth, honor, influence, power, etc., which are attained ‎by ‎exhausting effort) are granted to man by natural means, how much more so is it true that ‎Divine ‎gifts given supernaturally, in the form of miracles that transcend the framework of the ‎elementary ‎laws of historical causality, must subject the recipient of the miracles to God. ‎Miraculous grace ‎places upon man an absolute responsibility to fulfill the larger imperative that ‎calls out from the ‎miracle. A transcendental imperative always accompanies miraculous activity. ‎‎“Command the ‎Children of Israel” (e.g., Numbers 5:2, 28:1, 34:2, 35:2). Woe unto the beneficiary of ‎a miracle who ‎does not recognize it for what it is, and whose ear is deaf to the echo of the ‎imperative that arises ‎out of this metahistorical event. Pity the one who benefits from the miracles ‎of the Master of the ‎Universe but the spark of faith is not kindled in him, and his conscience is not ‎stirred by the sight of ‎this singular event.‎

5 ה

When a miracle does not find its appropriate echo in actual deeds, a lofty vision dissipates and ‎is ‎squandered, whereupon Divine Justice indicts the ungrateful recipient of the miracle. “The ‎Holy ‎One sought to make Hezekiah the Messiah and Sennacherib, Gog of Armageddon. ‎However, ‎God’s Justice said to Him … ‘Hezekiah, for whom You wrought all these miracles, did not ‎sing in ‎praise before You. Shall You make him Messiah?”.5 Then comes distress, the hour of ‎misery. ‎Suffering is the final warning given by Providence to the man, who is devoid of gratitude ‎for the ‎good God has done for him. To the final proclamation that issues forth from suffering, one ‎must ‎react quickly and answer the call of the Almighty, who cries out to him, “Where are you?” ‎‎(Genesis ‎‎3:9). Judaism has been very careful about not missing the appointed hour. It has a very ‎sensitive ‎time awareness; any delay is considered sinful. Man may sometimes lose his entire world ‎for but ‎one sin — that of tarrying. “But he lingered” (Genesis 19:16). What is the sin of leaving over ‎a ‎sacrifice, if not missing the appointed hour (Leviticus 19:5–8)? What is the desecration of ‎the ‎Sabbath, if not the performing of prohibited actions one second after the setting of the sun —‎‎ ‎work that just one second before was permitted? How does the loss of the ability to perform ‎a ‎‎mitzvah occur if not for the tarrying of a few moments, such as reciting the passages of ‎the ‎‎ Shema after its appointed hour or the taking of the Lulav and Etrog ‎after ‎sunset, and the like? Two kings of Israel, both equally the anointed of the Lord and heroes of ‎the ‎nation, sinned, repented fully, and confessed. One God did not absolve; the other ‎was ‎immediately forgiven upon his confession. With regard to Saul, God acted in accordance with ‎the ‎demands of strict justice and tore the kingdom from him. With respect to David, He ‎tempered ‎justice with mercy and his dynasty was not wrested from his children. Why was the Holy ‎One so ‎strict with Saul and compassionate with David? The question does not require special ‎analysis. The ‎answer is quite simple. David did not miss the opportunity and immediately ‎confessed his sin; Saul ‎tarried a bit, and for this delay kingship was wrested from him. When ‎Nathan the prophet came to ‎David and uttered his cry, “You are the man!” (II Samuel 12:7), David, ‎in the blinking of an eye, ‎began his confession. “And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against ‎the Lord” (II Samuel ‎‎12:13). After he heard Samuel’s reprimand, Saul wasted one precious second, ‎a second “more ‎precious than gold and pearls” (Proverbs 20:15). “And why did you not listen to the ‎command of ‎God but instead went after the booty?” (I Samuel 15:19). Saul began to argue with ‎the prophet and ‎only later confessed: “And Saul [initially] said to Samuel: ‘Indeed I have done what ‎God has ‎commanded me to do, and I have gone along the path in which the Lord has sent me’" (I ‎Samuel ‎‎15:20). Indeed, in that confrontation, [after a moment’s reflection] he also confessed his ‎sins out ‎of a broken heart and a tempest-tossed spirit. “And Saul said … ‘I have sinned, for I ‎transgressed ‎God’s command and your instructions’" (I Samuel 15:24). But this confession was not ‎timely, and a ‎momentary lag such as this caused Saul to lose his kingdom. By the time Saul ‎confessed, the ‎decree was already sealed and the opportunity was lost. “The Lord has rent the ‎kingdom of Israel ‎from you” (I Samuel 15:28). If Saul had not missed the proper moment, and had ‎he not been ‎among the laggards, his dynasty would have continued.‎6

6 ו

What is the essence of the story of the Song of Songs, if not the description of a paradoxical ‎and ‎tragic hesitation on the part of the love-intoxicated, anxiety stricken Lover, when the ‎opportunity, ‎couched in majestic awe, presented itself? What is it, if not the deferral of a great and ‎sublime ‎opportunity pregnant with a possibility of which she dreamed, for which she fought, which ‎she ‎sought, and for which she had searched with all the fervor of her soul? The delicate and ‎refined ‎Lover, passion-driven to her fair-eyed Beloved, who in days resplendent in brightness ‎wandered ‎the paths of the vineyards, the mountain ridges, through wheat fields and orchards, and ‎in ‎evenings bathed in the pale light of an enchanting moon or gloomy with darkness passed ‎between ‎the walls in search of her Lover — she returned one rain-stormy night to her tent, tired ‎and weary, ‎and fell asleep. The patter of quick-moving, light footsteps was heard in the stillness of ‎the tent. In ‎that mysterious and strange night, the Beloved for whom she had so hoped and kept ‎watch, ‎suddenly appeared out of the darkness and beckoned at the entrance of her tent. He ‎knocked and ‎pleaded that she open the door for Him. “Listen! My Beloved Is Knocking, saying, ‎‎‘Open to me, my ‎sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is drenched with dew, and ‎my locks with the ‎damp of the night’” (Song of Songs 5:2). The great moment for which she had ‎been waiting with ‎such longing came at a time of inattentiveness. The elusive and secretive ‎Beloved, weary of ‎wandering and tribulations, appeared with His curly locks, black eyes, powerful ‎build, and shining ‎countenance. He stood in her doorway and thrust His hand through the hole in ‎the lock, seeking ‎shelter from the dampness of the night. He wanted to recount to her His mighty ‎love, His longing ‎and yearning for a life together filled with desire and joy, and of fulfillment of ‎expectations and ‎realization of dreams. A simple extension of the hand to turn the lock separated ‎the Lover and her ‎Beloved — the great dream from its complete fulfillment. With one leap the ‎Lover could have ‎attained all her life’s desires. “Draw me, we will run after you. … We will be glad ‎and rejoice in ‎you” (Song of Songs 1:4). Deceitful is the heart (Jeremiah 17:9), however, and who ‎can explain it? ‎That very night, sloth, the result of a strange inertia, took hold of the Lover. For one ‎small moment ‎the flame of yearning that burned within her was buried, the mighty desire ‎withered, and her ‎feelings and dreams were silenced. The Lover refused to leave her bed. She did ‎not open the door ‎of her tent to her handsome Beloved. A cruel confusion swept her into ‎forgetfulness and apathy. ‎The Lover became lazy and stubborn, she poured forth countless ‎excuses and pretexts to explain ‎her strange behavior. “I have removed my cloak, how shall I put it ‎on again? I have washed my ‎feet, how shall I soil them?” (Song of Songs 5:3). The Beloved ‎continued to beckon, and as His ‎beckoning became more persistent, so too did the insanity that ‎chilled and tainted the Lover.‎

7 ז

So long as the whispering of the Beloved split the hush of the night, so did the heart of the ‎Lover ‎harden. Pleading and patient the Beloved continued to beckon while the minutes and hours ‎of the ‎clock were ticking away. The Lover did not respond to the voice of the Beloved. The door to ‎her ‎tent was locked shut. The opportunity was lost, and the vision of an exalted life died. True, ‎after a ‎brief delay the Lover awoke from her slumber and jumped in haste from her bed to greet ‎the ‎Beloved. “I rose up to open to my Beloved” (Song of Songs 5:5), but the leap came too late. ‎The ‎Beloved had stopped beckoning and had disappeared into the darkness of the night, “My ‎Beloved ‎had turned away, and was gone” (Song of Songs 5:6). The joy of her life was exiled. Her ‎existence ‎became a desert, a storehouse of emptiness. The episodes of feverish search returned. ‎She, the ‎Lover, still wanders through the dwellings of the shepherds seeking her Beloved.‎