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Rabbi Kalmar's SermonLast Days of Pesach 20-22 nisan 5780

"Fly By Miracles" (April 14-16, 2020)

In July 1948 the fledgling State of Israel was fighting for its life. In the middle of another summer cease fire of the War for Independence, Israel desperately needed ammunition, weapons, tanks, trucks, uniforms and all things military. Perhaps most important of all, Israel needed warplanes. Their tiny air force, made up of a rag tag mix of a few old planes had helped keep them in the war but they desperately needed more of them. As told in the book, Angels in the Sky, there was a problem with procuring the airplanes. Complicating the matter was the ban on selling armaments to either side in the conflict – which was being strictly enforced by the Allied forces and strictly flouted by both the Israeli and Arab sides. Israel had managed to sneak a few planes out of the United States by creating a shell airline company in Panama. But now the State Department was on to them and so were other countries’ services, including England’s Scotland Yard. This was most unfortunate as one of Israel’s buyers, Emmanuel Zur, had managed to locate 4 British Beaufighters, a brute of a warplane which had served the RAF well in World War II. The warplanes were purchased but there was absolutely no way to get them out of the country. It was a logistical impossibility. There was no way that the British Authorities would let them fly the planes to Israel.

That July a movie production company announced that a war film was being shot about a Beaufighter squadron from New Zealand that fought in the Japan theatre during World War II. It was a great drama and love story, in which the climactic moment in the film involved a passionate scene in which the pilot must return to his buddies, so he kisses his great love, the lead actress in the story, and parts from her to run off to his plane – tears in both of their eyes. Many British citizens watching this dramatic scene at Haddenham airway in Southeastern England also had tears in their eyes. Only a few years removed from the World War II, the scene resonated with them deeply. Love yielded to honor, duty and country.

The four pilots ran off to their waiting Beaufighters and jumped in and roared off – the scene called for them to return and buzz the airfield with a fly by farewell – however the waiting crowd watched the planes just getting smaller and smaller and eventually the specks disappeared into the distance. People at the airfield recalled the fact that some of the scenes were to be shot in Scotland – closer in terrain to New Zealand – and it must be that the planes were headed to Scotland. No one at the time seemed to have noticed that the last time the planes were seen they weren’t headed North – they were headed South.

Miraculously – Israel had bamboozled the British and flown the four Beaufighters out of the country right under their noses.

Who could have imagined that we would be in the situation that we are in right now? Two months ago – even 6 weeks ago – who could have imagined that we would be living on lock down – with a good portion of the entire world – with billions, maybe trillions of dollars lost, with millions sick. Unprecedented in scope – this situation has turned the notion that we can predict what will be on its head. It is a reminder to us however, that things can change in such a significant way in a very short period of time. Rabbi Akiva found solace in the fact that the Temple grounds were so desolate because it made him believe that if the prophecies concerning its desolation could come true, so too would the prophecies concerning its rebuilding come true.

The Jewish people found themselves in the midst of a few hundred years of slavery to the Egyptian Pharoahs – the most powerful and awesome empire of its day. An ancient Iron Curtain – the odds of their escaping the slavery of Egypt would have have been nil. And yet, God wrought miracles upon miracles and the Jewish people walked out of Egypt with wealth and in the light of day. A week later the Jewish people stood with their backs to the sea – with the still mighty Egyptian army bearing down on them – and once again miracles were wrought for them. The Jewish people are a people who have experienced amazing miracles, in the Torah, in the Purim and Chanukah stories and countless times over. Our very existence is the stuff of miracles – there is no logical historical explanation for the existence of our tiny people after all these years. And yet here we are.

We are a people who said Lishana HaBaah Biyerushalayim at the Pesach seder every year and it was seen as a hope and a belief in the absolutely miraculous. And here we are living in a world where Israel is approaching 72 years old. Where the miracles of the 6 day war are something that many of you still remember.

Even the totally secular Ben Gurion knew it as he said “ Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”

We are a people of miracles. A people who hope for miracles, who live miracles, who make miracles.

A people who see what seem to be seemingly insurmountable problems and come up with ways to beat them. A people who make up a whole movie with a cast and a script and a production company for the express purpose of spiriting away four extra planes for Israel’s air force in its infancy.

On the last day of Pesach we will say the emotional prayer of Yizkor. At Yizkor times we think of those who are gone and remember their good deeds and commit to giving tzedakah in their memory. But we also intensely miss them and long to see them again. It makes me think of the great miracle at the end of days in our faith – of Techiat HaMeitim – the revival of the dead. How wonderful would it be to be able to see those whom we have lost. This last end of days miracle is not a minor part of our faith – we say at least three times a day in the Amidah that God is michayei meitim – that He revives the dead – and it is a fundamental of our faith – enshrined in Maimonides principles of our faith and mentioned regularly in the last line of Yigdal – meitim yichayeh keil birov chasdo – God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness. This great miracle is one I think about at Yizkor time.

And while we say in the Talmud – “Ayn Somchin al HaNeis” – on may not rely on a miracle – we do ourselves a disservice by not believing in them either. For miracles are really things that are beyond the norm, things that are not easily explained by that are aspects of the supernatural – which includes anything we cannot see with our own eyes, including God.

And the Jewish people have certainly experienced the miraculous. And if we are to help make the miraculous happen – we need to believe that it can be done. May God open our eyes in our days to witness the miraculous and may He once again fly us on the wings of eagles.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782