THE HOLOCAUST & MOSHIACH
Rabbi Israel Chait
The Lord said to Moshe: “You are soon to lie with your fathers. This People will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’ Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods. Therefore, write down this song and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel. When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant, and the many evils and troubles befall them—then this song shall confront them as a witness, since it will never be lost from the mouths of their offspring. For I know what plans they are devising even now, before I bring them into the land that I promised on oath (Deut. 31:16-21).
The song is the parsha of Haazinu. Moshe tells the people as follows:
Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, that I may speak all these words to them and that I may call Heaven and Earth to witness against them. For I know that, when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path that I enjoined upon you, and that in time to come misfortune will befall you for having done evil in the sight of the Lord and vexed Him with your deeds (Deut. 31:28,29).
I will mention that song for the purpose that when tragedies occur to you, you should not attribute them to chance. But you should attribute those tragedies to your corruption and give heart to repent.
This is followed by the song of Haazinu, which reveals many ideas and discusses Israel’s history. And in reveii and chamishi the text mentions the tragedies again.
How could one have chased a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, the Lord had given them up?” (Deut. 32:30).
The downfall of the Jews will reflect Divine providence, expressed in the previous verse. The song concludes with the redemption of the Jews.
Some people wish to suggest that these tragedies refer to the Holocaust. From the framework of history, I do not say this is impossible. The Holocaust is the greatest tragedy that ever befell the nation of Israel; there is no question about this. The Torah could quite possibly refer to the Holocaust—while Maimonides says, we have no definite knowledge in this area, this possibility is reasonable. After all, the Torah includes the tochahca (rebuke) at the end of parshas Vayikra, which refers to the destruction of the first Temple, and the curses in parshas Ki Savo refer to the destruction of the second Temple. These were great tragedies, but the Holocaust was greater in terms of magnitude. So, it is certainly possible to say that the Torah refers to the Holocaust. But we do not know for certain for these are “hidden matters regarding the prophets.”
For those who wish to maintain that this Torah portion refers to the Holocaust, they must be consistent regarding the other versus that explain the cause for this tragedy:
This People will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them.
Thus, one cannot attribute these verses to the Holocaust without attributing its cause to the Jewish nation’s sin of abandoning God. A Torah fundamental is that Israel’s tragedies are not chance occurrences, but they are Divine punishments for Israel’s sins. Whether or not this part of the Torah refers to the Holocaust, the Holocaust happened because of the Jews’ sins. Throughout, the Torah is clear on this principle. If the Torah refers to the Holocaust, Haazinu is written so that the nation will at some point understand the sin that precipitated the Holocaust. That understanding and knowledge will raise the nation to a higher level, bring them to teshuvah, and it will bring about the final stage of the Messianic Era.
I am not averse to saying that the Torah refers to the Holocaust. The problem is that people do not wish to recognize the truth. People feel that the Holocaust was a chance occurrence and not the result of the nation’s sins, as God says throughout the Torah. Such a position is almost heretical.
Today, people find it difficult to maintain fault with the Jews of that era. One reason is that today’s generation identifies with the Holocaust generation, and by blaming that generation for abandoning God, today’s generation will be forced to admit their own sins. Another reason is that all a Holocaust victim has left is sympathy. And to condemn that generation is difficult as it removes that sympathy, which people feel they deserve. People feel such condemnation is insensitive. Therefore, we do not see such blame. But to conform to the Torah, we must understand why this tragedy occurred. We cannot suggest something other than the idea that the Torah put blame on the Jews for abandoning God. Otherwise, one suggests that God is wrong and that the Jews suffered a tremendous punishment unjustly. That is impossible; the Torah is against such an idea. And as hard as it may be for us to accept this concept, we must accept the Torah’s framework. We don’t know what the sin was; we are not great enough to understand it. We require great Jewish thinkers to uncover the sin of the Holocaust generation. But by denying the sin, we are saying that God is unjust and we deny His covenant with Israel.
The most popular justification for the Holocaust is that it was necessary for the creation of the state of Israel. But everyone would not consider that justice, that so many could die and suffer in order that others might enjoy the land of Israel. This violates any sense of justice. In the beginning of Haazinu, Moshe discusses God’s justice:
The Rock!—His deeds are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful God, never false, righteous and upright is He. Corruption is not His—the blemish is His children’s, a perverse and twisted generation (Deut. 32:4, 5).
Moshe says that God is perfectly just and that any tragedy is the fault of the Jews. Therefore, to suggest that people should be destroyed and tortured so that others should receive Israel makes no sense and carries no justice whatsoever. The Torah clearly states this:
Fathers shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for fathers: A person shall be put to death only for his own crime (Deut. 24:16).
But since people are desperate for an answer to the Holocaust, they make this suggestion regarding Israel.
The Rav told a story about Rav Chaim regarding the pogroms of the 1880s. Someone told Rav Chaim that a terrible massacre occurred and that many people were killed. The person who told Rav Chaim then said, “If only we knew that this tragedy was a sign of Moshiach….” Rav Chaim replied, “Chas v’shalom, you are not allowed to say that. We would not forfeit even one Jewish life for Moshiach.” Nowhere in the Torah does it say that we sacrifice a Jewish life to usher in the Moshiach. It would not be permitted to do such a thing. Therefore, it violates the Torah to say that millions of Jewish lives were destroyed for the state of Israel to be created. That is plain viciousness. This opinion of the Holocaust is nonsensical and absurd.
WHY THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER
The righteous are punished for the generation’s sins (Shabbos 33b).
There are a few reasons for this. First, the righteous are responsible for the sins of their generation since they are the leaders and assume responsibility. Second, oftentimes the righteous cannot escape the effects of the generation’s sins. “The death of the righteous atones” (Moed Kattan 28a) means that their deaths affect the nation and generate their teshuvah. But it is not a Torah idea to suggest that a righteous person should be destroyed as an atonement for the generation. An innocent and righteous person is not killed as a scapegoat. The Gemara says that many times a righteous person accomplishes more in his death then during his life.
How much did the Jews participate in their own destruction? How did they go as sheep to the slaughter?
And it came to pass that David was successful in all his ways, and the Lord was with him (I Samuel 18:14).
The derech of the Torah raises a person to a different plane. Whatever he does, he does with intelligence, sechel. But using intelligence alone does not assure success. For even the greatest chocham is not in control of all variables. What is responsible for the chocham’s success? “And the Lord was with him.” His success is not solely his own doing. King David’s enormous success could not be due to his own wisdom, but it was because God was with him. Similarly, Haazinu explains the downfall of the Jewish nation:
Were they wise, they would think upon this; they would gain insight into their future: How could one have chased a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, the Lord had given them up? (Deut. 32:29, 30).
When people stray from the Torah, there are two causes for the downfall. One cause is their poor actions—their sins—but more so, their sins evoke Divine providence, where God punishes them. (Conversely, when one follows the Torah, Divine providence assists one in his success.) Therefore, one cannot say “Had the Jews only done such and such, they would have been saved.” [This statement denies Divine providence, which intervenes to punish sinners.] The proper statement is, “Had the Jews followed the Torah, they would have been saved.”
WHY THE TORAH CONCEALS THE END OF DAYS
Maimonides says that had people known the date of the Messianic Era and yearned for it, and if today was far-off, those people might be lost. Again, if people knew that Moshiach was arriving this year, their fulfillment of the Torah would not be on the level of fear [a low level]. Therefore, the Messianic Era was concealed in the book of Daniel. Unfortunately, people seeking to influence the masses always refer to Moshiach.
Yaakov Avinu desired to share the end of days with his sons. This shows us that a great person is able to see the end of days. It takes a great chocham to see all the wisdom and knowledge of this era as is humanly possible. A wise man can describe certain ideas about the end of days. On his level, such ideas are not harmful for they fit into his entire scheme of knowledge. But these same ideas and facts are dangerous to others who are not on his level. This is what the incident in parshas Vayechi was about. Yaakov was on the level but his sons were not. He desired to reveal the end, but he was prevented.
WHY MOSHIACH IS ESSENTIAL
God will not allow any part of His creation to remain imperfect. In the Messianic Era, mankind will fall in line with the perfection of the universe.
[God] creates harmony in His heights (Job 25:2).
Job said that in the arrangements of the heavens there exists harmony. But due to free will, man lives in disharmony. But this disharmony is not eternal. There was a reason that it must exist temporarily.
He will create peace for us (Kaddish).
The reason one of God’s names is Shalom (peace) is because He is the source of harmony.
THE ATTRACTION TO MOSHIACH
At the core of one’s primitive attraction to Moshiach is the drive to satisfy one’s innermost fantasies. This is harmful, as this mindset is devoid of perfection. One is overcome by his drive toward an unconscious satisfaction and all his energies are captivated. His mind is locked into this state with no ability to direct any energies toward true love of God and that level of worship. But when one is in a state of fear of punishment, there exists enough rationality to grow out of that low level toward a state of worshiping God from love.
What is paramount in the philosophical idea of Moshiach? God’s kingship. The primitive view of Moshiach is where one seeks personal benefit. But the proper value of Moshiach is that God’s kingship is complete. The most prominent element of the Messianic Era is the sanctification of God’s name:
To Me every knee shall bend, every tongue swear loyalty (Isaiah 45:23).
If a person is attracted to this value, he is on the correct wavelength.
Maimonides text of the Kaddish says, “Moshiach will sprout and draw near.” Hearing this, we respond, “God’s great name should be blessed eternally and to all eternity.” The Gemara says this is the greatest prayer. This is the sanctification of God’s great name. Kaddish sets forth the proper idea of Moshiach, as Moshiach is to result from a sanctification of God’s name. The Gemara says that one who offers the praise that God’s name should be made great, is himself very great. The reason being that it is difficult to say this with all of one’s energies. This is a philosophical principle requiring one to function on a high-level where he is concerned about God’s kingship.