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  • Lara Crigger

When God Shouts, "Here I Am"

Once, not too long ago, I was of the opinion that God had mostly left us Jews to our own devices. God might act as spiritual cheerleader once in a while, but any divine wonderworks we experienced would be very subtle, easily mistaken, and/or misattributed. When God did act in the world, we couldn’t be sure the divine had done anything at all. In short: The time of miracles had passed.

I no longer believe that.

For starters, God isn’t silent. Torah is very clear on this point. God repeatedly calls out to our ancestors by their names—Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and others—and they answer, “Here I am.”

The divine voice isn’t a subtle whisper, either. God asks, calls, demands, cajoles, badgers, nags—anything God thinks will get us to Turn Our Listening Ears On, until finally God has to raise God’s voice so loud that it becomes hard to make out the individual words.

I heard God’s voice last Saturday. Maybe you did, too.

As the Jewish world observed the holy rest of Shabbat, the Israel Defense Force, Shin Bet, and Yamam police force carried out a daring mission to rescue four of the hostages trapped in Gaza. Those four were Noa Argamani, Shlomi Ziv, Andrey Kozlov, and Almog Meir Jan.

Thank God they were rescued safely!

New details emerge every day about how difficult the rescue mission was: the clever plan to sneak into the two apartment buildings where the hostages were kept; the close-range fighting, room to room and through alleyways and stairwells; the heroism of Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, the leader of the Yamam commandos who gave his life so that the four hostages could be free.  

The mission wasn’t easy, but the soldiers did it because there is no greater mitzvah than pidyon sh’vuyim, or the redemption of captives. In fact, the redemption of captives takes precedence over all other commandments.

As Maimondes writes:

The redemption of captives receives priority over sustaining the poor and providing them with clothing. [Indeed,] there is no greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives.

(Matnot Aniyim, Chapter 8, 10)

Or in the Shulchan Aruch:

Every moment that one delays unnecessarily the ransoming of a captive, it is as if he were to shed blood.

While IDF soldiers were engaging in this holy mitzvah, dodging RPGs and exchanging fire with terrorists, many of us were at home or at synagogue, performing a mitzvah of our own by reading the weekly Torah portion, Nasso.

In Hebrew, Nasso read: נָשׂא. Nun. Shin. Aleph.

Those also happen to be the first initials of the first names of the rescued hostages.

Nun. Shin. Aleph. N. S. A. The names of the hostages and the Torah portion appear to be connected.

Maybe it’s a coincidence. But I don’t believe in coincidences anymore; and I especially doubt coincidences when we are fighting to survive against an existential threat that wishes to erase us for the mere crime of being Jewish.

Instead, I think that using the Torah, God is telling us, loud and clear: I see you, and I am with you. It’s something of a reverse Hineni. Many of us have asked in this difficult time where God is. Well, now God has answered: “Here I am.”

God has not abandoned us, nor the hostages. And when we rescue the hostages, we will find God there, too.  

This war has shattered my preconceptions about so many things: my sense of security, my belief that antisemitism was dead, that we as a society had learned from history and wouldn’t repeat its mistakes.

But it has also convinced me that we live in the time of miracles. That is to say, the miraculous time we thought had long past is actually now, and it always has been now.

Maybe that’s what holding to a covenant with God really means: When we fulfill God’s mitzvot, we work God’s wonders into this world. We become God’s miracle makers.

To that, all I can say is: Hineni.

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