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The Sin of Superficiality

Nov 7, 2023

Israeli's united, waving Israeli flags (

וַיָּבֹ֣א הָעָם֮ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶה֒ וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לָ֣מָּה נְגָפָ֧נוּ יְהֹוָ֛ה הַיּ֖וֹם לִפְנֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֑ים נִקְחָ֧ה אֵלֵ֣ינוּ מִשִּׁלֹ֗ה אֶת־אֲרוֹן֙ בְּרִ֣ית יְהֹוָ֔ה וְיָבֹ֣א בְקִרְבֵּ֔נוּ וְיֹשִׁעֵ֖נוּ מִכַּ֥ף אֹיְבֵֽינוּ׃

When the [Israelite] troops returned to the camp, the elders of Yisrael asked, “Why did Hashem put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the Aron Brit Hashem from Shilo; thus He will be present among us and will deliver us from the hands of our enemies.”

va-ya-VO ha-AM el ha-ma-kha-NEH, va-yo-m'-RU zik-NAY yis-ra-AYL, LA-mah n'-ga-FA-nu a-do-NAI ha-YOM lif-NAY f'-lish-TEEM, nik-KHA ay-LAY-nu mi-shi-LOH, et a-RON b'-REET a-do-NAI, v'-ya-VO v'-kir-BAY-nu, v'-yo-shi-AY-nu mi-KAF o-y'-VAY-nu

1 Samuel 4:3

Though all Israelis are fully focused on winning the war against Hamas, some are quietly beginning to wonder: how could this have happened? “How has Hashem covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger?” (Lamentations 2:1)

It’s certainly true that successive Israeli governments did not grasp the danger of Hamas. For years, Israel allowed Hamas to grow increasingly brazen, hoping to deter Hamas without having to declare a full-scale war. Clearly, in hindsight, this was a disastrous mistake. War with Hamas was inevitable; if only we had attacked Hamas before the massacre of October 7!

But at the same time, we know that there must also be spiritual causes that led to the nightmare of October 7. God does not punish His people willy-nilly, nor does He do so merely out of anger. If God allows evil nations to harm His people, it is because this punishment is what Israel requires to heal itself and further God’s plan for humanity.

What lesson must we learn from this nightmare?

“Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle… And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel; and when the battle was spread, Israel was smitten before the Philistines; and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.” (I Samuel 4:1-2)

As they so often did, the Philistines attacked the people of Israel in I Samuel 4. Tragically, the Israelites lost badly, causing Israel’s spiritual elders to reflect on the disaster:

“And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said: ‘Why has Hashem smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem out of Shiloh unto us, that He may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies.’” (I Samuel 4:3)

The elders of Israel asked the appropriate question: “Why has God caused us to be defeated?” This is what God-fearing people are supposed to ask when disaster strikes.

The problem, however, is what happened next. Instead of engaging in real self-reflection, authentic repentance and prayer, instead of taking a hard look at the people’s obsession with idolatry, the people immediately turned to a different solution: “Bring the Ark! The Ark of the Covenant will save us!”

Predictably, God was unimpressed with this superficial solution, and the Israelites paid dearly for their failure to truly reflect on their actions:

“And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent; and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (I Samuel 4:10-11).

Thirty thousand soldiers, including the sons of the High Priest, were killed in one short battle! The Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s most precious and holy possession, was taken hostage by the evil Philistines! The Philistines would also go on to destroy the Tabernacle in Shiloh, which had stood there for 369 years. This was an epic disaster, the likes of which Israel had never seen.

Why did God allow this to happen? Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809-1879) explains: “The people thought that God would be forced to save the Ark of the Covenant and would protect it from the Philistines, and through this they would also be protected. But this was incorrect thinking, for the Ark of the Covenant is not a goal in itself, but rather for that which is written within it.”

The people believed the Ark would protect them. But the Ark of the Covenant, for all its holiness, was not a “lucky charm” or a talisman. The Ark was only a means to a greater end. It was an external manifestation of something much deeper and holier – the word of God Himself.

The Israelites failed to see beyond the superficial and external – and they paid a terrible price.

Why did the evil of Hamas befall the people of Israel on October?

The year leading up to October 7 was filled with terrible infighting among the Israeli public over the issue of judicial reform. But beneath the surface, the anger and discord were really about the many tensions and differences between the various “tribes” of modern Israel – between secular and religious Jews, between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, between the Jews of Tel Aviv and the Jews of Jerusalem. Tragically, the people of Israel viewed each other superficially and saw only their differences. Seeing only difference led to constant argument and even hate.

The horrors that Hamas perpetrated on the people of Israel on October 7 – on Jews of every religious and ethnic background – reminded us all that we must look deeper. Ultimately, all Jews are bound together as one; we are all one family, regardless of the color of our skin or how carefully we follow the commandments of the Bible. Hamas, like Hitler, did not distinguish among us. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

I am proud to say that, unlike the Israelites of Samuel’s time, modern Israelis are repenting for our sin of superficiality with extraordinary speed, emotion and sincerity. Jews who were calling each other names a mere 5 weeks ago are serving together, arm in arm, in the Israel Defense Forces. The nation of Israel is united in love for one another – and because of that, we are guaranteed to defeat Hamas. When God’s people stand together as one, no one can stop us.


Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.

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