Thursday, October 18, 2018



The former Soviet officer who trusted his gut — and averted a global nuclear catastrophe
September 18, 2017
“Just past midnight on Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov was on overnight duty inside Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker southwest of Moscow where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites positioned over the United States.
“The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces was sitting on the commander’s chair when sirens began blaring. A red button on the panel in front of him flashed the word “Start.” On a computer screen was the word “Launch,” in red, bold letters.
“The message appeared clear: The United States had just launched a nuclear missile attack against the Soviet Union. And Petrov had to immediately warn his commanders so that the Soviet government could plan a counterattack.
“A second missile was launched. Then another, and another, and another.
“Petrov and his staff were in shock, but they had only minutes, if not seconds, to act. The decision rested heavily on Petrov, the officer in charge of Serpukhov-15. And he had two choices: He could follow military protocol and tell his commanders that computer readouts were saying that five intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched by the United States. Or he could go with his gut.
“Less than five minutes after the alarms began blaring, Petrov, working the intercom with one hand with lights flashing around him, picked up the phone with his other hand. He told his commanders that the computer warnings were false. If he was wrong, his mistake would be catastrophic and irreversible. The government’s military would have no time to respond, leaving his country vulnerable in the face of a nuclear attack.
“A mistake would be especially critical at a time of heightened distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Yuri Andropov had sent instructions to his spies to look for evidence that the West was plotting a nuclear attack. And just weeks earlier, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, a commercial airliner carrying 269 passengers, including 63 Americans.
But if Petrov was right, a nuclear holocaust in the middle of the Cold War would be averted.
“And he was.
“Petrov died May 19 at age 77….
“Petrov’s split-second and arguably life-changing decision has been hailed as a heroic act by Western media, though he has repeatedly said he’s not a hero. He was called “The Man Who Saved the World” by a 2014 documentary narrated by actor Kevin Costner…
Over the years, Petrov talked candidly about those harrowing seconds and minutes in that bunker.
“I felt like I was being led to an execution. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes stretched for eternity,” he said in the 2014 documentary.
His decision was based largely on a guess, he said, but he did have doubts about the accuracy of the computer warnings. First, why just five missiles? A country seeking to start a nuclear war would’ve fired more, he told The Post. Second, the ground-based radar installations, which detected missiles, showed no evidence of an attack.
“I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”
He also made clear that he understood the full weight of his decision.
“I refused to be guilty of starting World War III … If I made the wrong decision, a lot of people will die. A lot of people will die,” he said in the documentary.

The gemara at the beginning of Kesubos[2] has a discussion in which it tries to prove a point by quoting a beraisa. The gemara then proceeds to immediately reject that attempted proof due to the fact that the beraisa quoted doesn’t explain the reason for the point it makes. In its effort to express how poor the attempted explanation was, the gemara employs very forceful and unusual vernacular: “Lord (Master) of Avrohom! Will you base a teaching that was taught on a teaching that was not taught?”
The expression “Lord of Avrohom” is an expression of surprise, as if to say, ‘how can you even think of saying such an explanation?’ Why is that explanation specifically used in this context?
The Medrash[3] relates that the greatness of Avrohom Avinu was in his ‘discovering’ Hashem through his own cognitive deductive reasoning. “Rabbi Yitzchok said: This is analogous to someone one who was passing from place to place and saw a certain palace ablaze. He said to himself ‘Can it be that this palace is without a supervisor?’ The owner of the palace peered out at him and said to him ‘I am the master of the place’.
“So too, because our forefather Avrohom (upon seeing the constant destruction in the world, said to himself -) ‘Can it be that this world is without a supervisor?’ The Holy One, blessed is He, peered out at him and said to him ‘I am the Master of the world’.”
The greatness of Avrohom was that he didn’t allow life to pass him by listlessly. He focused on what was happening around him, he pondered, he contemplated, and eventually he recognized the truth. Once he did, Hashem drew him closer and helped him recognize that he was on the right path.
Avrohom’s faith was rooted in a clear understanding and knowledge of the truth. He came to a level wherein he intrinsically knew with conviction that there was a G-d who was in full control of the world and orchestrated everything that occurred. Once he recognized that absolute truth he was able to place his full belief in that G-d, even when he could not comprehend why events were occurring.
When the gemara seeks to prove how illogical a statement is it uses an expression of “Lord of Avrohom”. The greatness of Avrohom was rooted in his clarity of thought. Logic which lacks clarity defies what enabled Avrohom to recognize Hashem, the ‘Lord of Avrohom’.

On 27 Iyar 5761, I was privileged to attend a hesped (eulogy) that Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita delivered about Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l[4]. During that hesped, Rabbi Matisyahu related the following poignant thought:
Towards the end of pesukei d’zimrah each morning, we recite the prayer of Vayivarech Dovid. The prayer begins by enumerating the praises of G-d, in which we make reference to G-d’s strength, splendor, triumph, glory etc. We continue by speaking about the accomplishments of G-d, including the creation of the world and granting life to all living things.
We conclude with a statement that seems to be completely out of place: “It is You, Hashem the G-d, who selected Avrom, brought him out of Ur Kasdim and made his name Avrohom. And You found his heart faithful before You.”
What connection does Avrohom have to the previous paragraph which details the greatness of Hashem?
          Rabbi Elya Lopian zt’l explained this idea with the following analogy: If a drunken peasant is staggering down the street and he suddenly stops and bends down to pick up something from the gutter, does anyone care to know what he found? Most likely no one would even bat an eyelash. It was probably a piece of trash that the drunk found some use for.
          But what if the same scenario happened with the king? The king, escorted by a royal entourage, is being paraded through the capital with great fanfare and pomp. The streets are lined with people who are pushing to get a glimpse of his majesty. Bands play music, and everyone cheers as the smiling king waves jovially at his subjects. Then suddenly, the king looks towards the street, and immediately alights from the carriage He motions for the driver to stop the horses. In a moment, the music ceases, the entourage stops, and there is dead silence. The king descends from the carriage and bends down to pick something up from the gutter. Then he re-ascends the steps, and motions to the driver to carry on. 
There is no doubt that everyone would be clamoring to know what it was that the king found so important as to stop the procession and bend down himself to pick up. It would be the topic discussed on every talk show and written about in every paper the following day.
          We enumerate the great praises of Hashem to stress how special the ordeal with Avrohom had been. G-d Himself, as it were, stopped everything to focus on Avrom and to transform and elevate him into Avrohom.
The whole prelude of the prayer of ‘Vayivarech Dovid’ is only to bring out the idea of how great it was for Avrohom to be uplifted to such a degree.
Why was Avrohom found worthy of being accorded such prestige and honor? The prayer continues, “You found his heart faithful before You.”
Avrohom was a ‘ne’eman.’ A ne’eman is many things - reliable, trustworthy, faithful, loyal, and firm. These are rare traits in a world of fraudulence and deceit.      
Every morning we recite this prayer to impress upon ourselves the importance of striving to be a ne’eman. For one to be steadfast in his convictions, to be truthful to his word, is not easy.
Avrohom was able to traverse all the tests he faced and remain undaunted in his steadfast faith despite the fact that he was a spiritual loner. That is what defines a ne’eman.[5]
The first of our patriarchs recognized G-d by being open-mindedly seeking the truth. His search was not impeded by his ego or personal agenda and that is why he was able to fulfill his quest. He was then able to become the greater believer who sought to fulfill his mission of spreading the word of G-d faithfully.
It’s often said that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The truth is that it’s not enough for one to use his mind. He must also do so unobjectively and without allowing his ego to color what he sees. That is a key component of being a ne’eman.  
May we be worthy of this lofty title.

“Lord of Avrohom!”
“You found his heart faithful before You”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha 5778.
[2] 2a
[3] Bereishis Rabbah 39:1
[4] The hesped was given in Yeshivas Ohr Sameiach in Monsey, NY
[5] Rabbi Salomon noted that Rav Avigdor Miller was the Avrohom Avinu of our generation. He was a ne’eman in every sense. He served Hashem with every fiber of his being and was never abashed to speak up for what he felt was the truth and would bring kavod shomayim.


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