"Our Own Flesh and Blood" (Part 1 of 2)

Overwhelming Tragedy

Rabbi Teichtal: The End of an Era

Rabbi Kook: Time For Action

Overwhelming Tragedy

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 bare 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 at 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 with 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. 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, claiming that this was
undeniably the reason for the Shoah. He made clear, rather, 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 such a concept 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 possible to see
quite clearly that Yeshivas (rabbinic academies) in the United States
are not able to reach the level of an average Yeshiva in Israel. The
fact of the matter is that today American students are sent to Israel
to study Torah despite the fact that initially there were greater
numbers of observant Jews there. What’s more, assimilation has reached
such frightening numbers in the United States that it is referred to
as the “Quiet Holocaust.” In light of all this it is possible to say
with some confidence that the miracle of the survival of Jews in the
Exile came to an end some sixty years ago, and this found expression
in a number of ways: the Holocaust, the decline of the spiritual level
in the Diaspora, and the unprecedented assimilation there.

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