'Our own flesh and blood'-the overwhelming tragedy of the Shoah

Publication Date07 Apr 2021
AuthorRabbi Eliezer Melamed
An individual possesses the ability to grasp the short range significance of events and to understand those aspects which affect his own personal life. Yet, even this process takes time. Only after enough time has passed is one able to analyze properly what has befallen him. When a massive, sweeping event occurs – a tragedy so overwhelming that the mere thought of it causes one to recoil in horror – one must not lose sight of the fact that the world possesses a Creator and Provider, and that, as dreadful and terrifying as things might seem to be, there is pattern and purpose in the world's development.

When tragedy befalls an individual – the death of a loved one, for example – the feeling is so painful and so sharp that at first one is unable to bear it. Because one lacks the strength to confront what has happened to him, he "forgets" the event, as it were, attempting to divert his attention from it. Thoughts attempt to comprehend the tragedy yet are forced to recoil for it is beyond contemplation. It is simply too difficult.

Only after some time has passed – after one has adjusted somewhat to the pain – does a person begin to accustom himself to what has happened, to internalize the experience and to consider it in greater depth. This process acts as a sort of defense mechanism preventing one from facing the experience so long as he does not possess the necessary strength. And, as noted, only when the pain finally dissipates does the true confrontation, as difficult as it may be, begin.

All this holds true for the "Shoah" (Holocaust) as well. It appears that we have not yet reached the stage at which we can attempt to understand what happened. As much as we may desire to earnestly understand the Holocaust, we are unable to. True, constant emphasis is placed upon the importance of being "informed" about the Holocaust and recalling what befell us, and perhaps for a portion of the public this is necessary.

Yet, my experience with the public leads me to believe that the Holocaust was so enormous and so painful that true reflection implies nothing less than crying. It is simply impossible to sit and listen to all of the recollections which are broadcast on Holocaust Day without crying. Such a horrifying tragedy; our own flesh and blood.

We ourselves were murdered along with the six million. The deaths of the Holocaust confront us in such monstrous proportions that the mind is overwhelmed. Therefore, it is impossible to consider the

Shoah without tears. We are still unable to give it proper meaning.

Rabbi Teichtal: The End of an Era

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook used to point to the fact that Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, may God avenge his blood, the author of "Em HaBanim Semechah," reached the conclusion that the Holocaust came about because Jews did not immigrate to Israel. Rabbi Kook did not present this opinion as the final word on the subject, not claiming that this was undeniably the reason for the Shoah. He made clear, instead, that it was the opinion of Rabbi Teichtal. He, who was there in the midst of the Shoah and whose death served as a sanctification of God's name, is permitted to say such things. We, who were not there, are not permitted to claim to know the reason for the Holocaust.

Many ask, "How is it possible that the Almighty allowed such a terrible calamity to befall His people? How is it possible that such a thing could have happened?" We might answer this question with a question from an entirely different direction: How is it possible that such an event did not befall the Jewish people earlier? After all, throughout the generations the nations expressed their hatred for the Jews in such a sharp manner, portraying the Jews as leaders of a world conspiracy and the murderers of God. How is it possible that the nations did not rise up and destroy the Jews on such a large scale hundreds of years earlier?

The survival of the Jewish people in the Exile was no doubt a phenomenon which defied the laws of nature, a miracle, for "were it not for the fear of God," say the Sages, "how would it is possible for one nation to survive among the nations?" (Tractate Yoma 69b). So long as we managed to survive among

the nations the miracle persisted – the miraculous phenomenon of one lamb which, despite seventy wolves surrounding her, is not torn to pieces. And so it was, that even when one king enacted difficult

decrees, it remained possible to flee to a neighboring kingdom which was willing to show favor upon the Jews, such that the People of Israel were never completely erased. With the arrival of the Shoah the

miracle of Jewish survival in the Exile came to an end, and the force which protected us because of our task in the Exile (the "elevation of sparks"; the clarification of the minute details of the Torah) stopped

its functioning; with its disappearance, persecution and destruction on a scale previously unknown began.

Rabbi Kook: Time For Action

It is possible to discern a concept such as this in the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook. In his book "Orot" Rabbi Kook explains that when the Judaism of the Diaspora is detached from that of the Land of Israel, its strength weakens. All of Exilic Judaism's strength derives from its desire to come to Israel – a desire which in the past, because of factors beyond its control, could not be realized. This

longing had no choice but to find alternate ways of expressing itself, on a restricted and individual level.

The moment that the barriers were removed, the gates opened, and the possibility to immigrate granted – the life force which sustained Exilic Judaism ceased to function. It was no longer enough to talk about Israel – the time for action had come. The miracle ended. Even in the case of Jews who managed to escape death in Europe, fleeing to other countries – America for example – their plight and the plight of the generations which followed deteriorated with the passage of years. This, despite the fact that numerous Torah scholars fled to America; despite the fact that observant Jews reached her shores in larger numbers than those who reached the shores of Israel.

Today it is...

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