Last week, my daughter who lives in Beer Sheva assured me, “No need to worry, Jews and Arabs get along fine here.” Today, before we could read the news and panic, she texted us. A coworker had just gotten off a bus the moment before it was attacked by a terrorist with an M-16 rifle grabbed from the soldier he had just killed.
That night she went to a ladies-only party. For a group activity, they made self-defense weapons to carry on the street. She made a bottle of nail polish water. Apparently, there’s no mace or pepper sprays left in the stores.
No, this is not just a spate of random killings. It’s terror. As my daughter put it, everyone says they prefer rockets falling from the sky to knife-stabbers lurking in dark places. Rockets come with a siren.
Throughout our history, when Jews hit troubled times, they went to their spiritual leaders and asked what to do. For many decades, that leader was the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory. Tefillin on the arm and head of every Jewish male, Shabbat candles for young girls and women, children’s rallies, checking mezuzahs, charity boxes affixed to the wall of every home—all these and more were provided as responses to situations in Israel as they arose.
And they make sense. Mitzvahs are the glue that bond us as a nation—to one another and to G‑d. But it takes a special soul, a true spiritual leader, to know just what mitzvah is needed in what situation.
It would be a critical error to imagine that we no longer have that guidance. In the words of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the Rebbe left us with “marching orders.”
The order of the day is quite simple: Aside from all the other directives—which, of course, still apply—this year is a Hakhel year. Hakhel was a once-in-seven-year event, when all Jews—men, women and children—gathered to the Temple in Jerusalem to hear the Torah read by their king. They returned home flying high—as though they had just heard the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
The Rebbe made Hakhel into a major campaign. In a Hakhel year, he would repeat again and again that Jews need to rally together as often as possible for inspiration and a spiritual recharge.
The opposite of Hakhel is isolation—that horrid feeling of vulnerability, because there’s no one here to protect me. When Jews come together, as one person with one heart, they form a solid wall against all attack. And we are one, wherever we may be. When one community makes its Hakhel, every cell of the global organism that is the Jewish people is fortified.
I asked a friend of mine, “Why is it so easy for the destroyers to gather and wreak havoc, and so hard for Jews to gather to pray for the peace of Jerusalem?”
He had a wise answer. A group of reckless teens gathers, and sees instant results. We rarely see the immediate results of our prayers.
But the results are no less real. On the contrary, when we gather to hear some heartfelt words of Torah wisdom that speak to our hearts, to pray as one, and to contribute materially to the needs of our people, we create light, tremendous light. We carry our entire people, and ultimately the entire world, to a place where there simply is no place for fear, only love, peace and goodwill.
What can you do? If Jews in your community are getting together, get together with them. If not, make it happen. If you can get 1,000 Jewish men, women and children together, fantastic. If you can get a handful of them together in your living room—or over the Web—also fantastic. The “order of the day” is simple: Get together, get inspired, change the world.
As were the Rebbe’s most common words, “The main thing is: do something!”