Disaster is the parent of opportunity. When the normal and routine are shattered, when calm and confidence are shaken, the patterns of life are altered and new opportunities are born.

It remains to us to convert these opportunities into reality. It remains to us to grasp that, if we permit it, even dark clouds can bear a sliver lining.

In May of 1967 the worldwide Jewish community joined in unprecedented unity to face the grave danger that threatened the land of Israel. Long-standing fissures that had splintered our community were, for the moment, dismissed. The enemy did not discriminate; he threatened us all, and this brought us together.

Personal animosities and parochial differences were set aside. Jews who had never visited Israel traveled en masse to volunteer their help. Jews secure in distant countries contributed their life savings in defense of the land. At that moment, our unity was complete.

The impending crisis brought to the surface a devotion we never knew we possessed. An otherwise fragmented people was forced by a common enemy to find a common ground. The threat of incredible disaster gave rise to an incredible opportunity for unity and love.

Fertile, but Foreign Lands

As our ancestors approached the Promised Land, two tribes—Reuben and Gad—requested permission to settle in the fertile, but foreign, lands outside of Israel. Rather than encourage them to join their brethren in the Holy Land, Moses acquiesced with only one stipulation. He asked that they fight alongside their people in times of war (Numbers 32).

Moses’ response is perplexing. Were these tribes an integral part of the nation only in war, but not in peace? Were these tribes dispensable to the nation as long as its military strength was not affected?

I would like to offer a different perspective. Moses sought to divine the mindset of those who were prepared to separate from their brethren in pursuit of material gain. Did they view themselves as members of the Jewish nation, or did the promise of bounty on the Jordan’s east bank cause them to sever their ties with the Jewish nation?

The only litmus test that could prove their loyalty was their behavior in time of war. With their families safely ensconced in distant lands, would they identify with their people? Would they risk life and limb to come to the aid of their nation? Drafting an army to fight alongside their brethren would prove their Jewish identity.

Why Do We Wait?

The tribes of Reuben and Gad viewed themselves as a part of the Jewish people, but their commonality did not emerge until it was threatened by war. In times of peace they were content to pursue their own dreams far from the rest of their people. This is why, our sages maintain, these tribes were the first Jews to be exiled from their land.1

This is, unfortunately, the other side of the coin. It is true that disasters parent opportunities for unity and hope, but it is frustrating that it takes a disaster to bring us together. Why can’t we appreciate each other in peace as we do in war? Why can’t we stand together at all times? Why must we wait for a crisis to show our common identity?

Indeed, there will come a time when the astounding unity currently reserved for times of danger will become the norm.

Noah and the Messianic Age

The prophet Isaiah promised that in the messianic age, animals of prey will set their aggression aside. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the goat; the calf, the cub and the ox will be together, and a child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze together . . . the lion and the cattle will both eat straw."2

This particular miracle already occurred once before in history. In Noah’s ark, during the deluge, the animals tamed their aggression and lived together. The lion did not prey on the sheep and the tiger did not stalk the lamb.

The former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meyer Lau, posed the following question. If this miracle did not herald the messianic age when it occurred the first time, why was Isaiah convinced that it would herald the messianic age the next time it occurred?

In response, Rabbi Lau suggested that a distinction can be drawn between that which occurred in Noah’s ark and the miracles of the messianic age.

In Noah’s ark the animals banded together against a common enemy, the flood. They needed each other; they would survive together or not at all. They were in the ark on Noah’s sufferance, and he would not have hesitated to eject them if they had quarreled. Their goodwill was intended to serve their own needs, not those of their prey.

In the messianic age there will not be a common enemy. There will be no precipitating reason for the docile nature of aggressive animals. Peace and security will arise not of necessity, but of choice. Not out of tragedy, but out of goodwill. The animals will choose to become peaceful.

This is a phenomenon not extant today. As Isaiah correctly prophesied, when we witness this astounding miracle, we will know with certainty that the messianic age has arrived.

If we emulate this way of life today, we will hasten the arrival of the messianic age.