Tisha b'Av and the Holocaust

A few months ago, I wrote that in the opinion of the Torah scholars, the fixing of the 27th of Nisan as the day of remembrance for the Holocaust was inappropriate. A veteran member of the Religious Kibbutz movement – a Holocaust survivor – agonizingly asked: Which day does the Torah scholars feel is appropriate to fix in remembrance of the Holocaust? Indeed, they did not fix any day for the Holocaust, the most awesome tragedy that has befell our nation since the destruction of the Second Temple. The setting of the 10th of Tevet as the ‘Yom Kaddish Ha’Clali’ (the day of general ‘kaddish’), is meant only for the recital of ‘kaddish’ for the holy Jews whose date of death is unknown.

Answer: Indeed, the power of the Torah scholars is limited – and it is important to admit it. This is comparable to the explanation of the Maharal from Prague in the introduction to his book “Netzach Yisrael” where he wrote that as long as the Jews living in the Diaspora refer to their situation as ‘exile’, they are guaranteed to return to their land, because they realize that they are not in their proper place. So too, as long as we realize that the power of the Torah scholars is limited, and in order for them to reveal the Torah in all its enlightenment and strength, we must have the Sanhedrin, the Holy Temple, prophecy, and kingship – we are guaranteed to continue praying and striving for it, until we merit the complete revelation of the ‘Shechina’ (Holy Presence) by way of the Jewish Sages and the Oral Torah.

The Holocaust was not the only event over which the Torah scholars did not set a fast. Even over the destruction of the Second Temple they did not set special fasts, but rather, reinstituted fasts that had already been amended by the Prophets and Sages over the destruction of the First Temple, despite the fact that the second destruction was more severe and brutal than the first.

Similarly in our times, days of fasting which were fixed over the destruction of the Temple should also be days of mourning and remembrance for the awesome tragedy which befell our nation – the Holocaust. On these days, lamentations that were composed about the Holocaust should be recited, stories should be told, and the holy communities and millions of holy Jews who sacrificed their lives in the sanctification of God’s name should be remembered.

The Legacy of the Holocaust: Be Fruitful and Multiply

While studying the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar) this year, I had a great insight: The numbers of the Jewish nation did not grow while we were in the desert. We started at 600,000, and we ended at 600,000. In Egypt, when we were afflicted, we were abundantly fruitful and multiplied – every forty years we tripled our numbers. While we in the desert, however, we idled ourselves from the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying. We paid a heavy price: There were not enough people to fill the Land, and so that the wild animals would not overwhelm us, we did not merit conquering the Land entirely. Therefore, the eastern side of the Jordan was not considered from the outset a place for settlement, because the Jewish nation was not large enough in numbers to settle it (as explained by the Ramban). Hence, Moshe Rabbeinu is considered as being left outside of the Land of Israel and his prayers to enter the Land were not accepted, despite the fact that he merited entering the eastern side of the Jordan. Due to our lack of numbers, our grasp on the land was weak, and eventually our Holy Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land.

We pray that the blessing of Moshe (Deuteronomy 1:11): “May God, the Lord of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousand fold, and bless you as He promised” be fulfilled within us.

The Sages said (Eliyahu Zuta 14): “Just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their being fruitful and multiplying, so too will they be redeemed in the future by the merit of their being fruitful and multiplying. From where do we know this? Know that this is true; Israel will only be redeemed if they are fruitful and multiply, filling the entire world, as it is written (Isaiah 54:3): “For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited.”

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