Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Meir Kahane- Parshat Nitzavim
IS THE HOLOCAUST REALLY INEXPLICABLE?
"But if you heart turns away so that you will not hear, but will be drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you this day that you will surely perish..." (Deuteronomy 30:17-18).
Whenever anyone asks how G-d could have allowed the Holocaust to take place, it is fashionable to reply, "There is no answer to this question." But our failure to grapple with this issue has caused us to be silent accomplices in the worst of all Jewish sins and crimes: chiruf v'giduf, blasphemy against the L-rd, open insult and attack on His Name, Chillul Hashem. We sit by quietly while Jewish ignoramuses and blasphemers speak of the "death of G-d." And our children turn down the path of apostasy and atheism because our only reply to the attacks of the blasphemers is: "No one can answer the question."
But the Holocaust- like the slaughter during the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Chmelnitzki Massacres- has an answer. It is one that we read twice yearly: "If you don't listen to the voice of the L-rd...then all these curses will come upon you" (ibid. 28:15).
What is the origin of our dumbness and failure to understand? From where cometh this sudden stupor: "It is a question no one can answer..."?
Of course we can answer it, but the irreligious Jew, the one who does not accept the divinity of the Torah, refuses to accept an answer which lays the blame upon HIM, upon the Jew who- knowing of the warning- ignored and disdained it. No, since it is impossible to accept the relationship between Jewish suffering and failure to obey the Law, one must blame G-d. One must ask how the modern G-d, a beaming Santa Claus who would never take seriously our desecration of mitzvot, could do such a thing.
In truth, the Orthodox Jew is also to blame. He has created a picture of a saintly European Jewry that leads people to wonder how G-d could have punished such righteous people. This picture, though, is false. It is an image the yeshiva world gave us in its desire to negate the present materialistic, Western one. But by falsely idealizing Man, they have laid the groundwork for the desecration of G-d. By painting the East European Jew as a saint, they designed a G-d of cruelty and irrationality. That most terrible of sins must be ended. We must save G-d and sanctify His Name by telling the truth about European Jewry in the years preceding the Holocaust.
Yes, as the nineteenth century passed into its third quarter, the Jew of Russia and Poland was, indeed, observant. But what else could he be? The overwhelming number of Jews lived in a Pale of Settlement where they were isolated from the gentile world and barred from participating in anything else except the society of the shtetl. And that society was religious, in toto...What Jew, even if he wanted to, was prepared to rebel against the society that laid down the religious rules of life? Who was prepared to accept the ostracism that would be his inevitable punishment if he dared throw off the halacha? And so, of course, the Jew was "religious." He had no other choice.
But once that choice arrived, look at what happened!!!! The Enlightenment that began to arrive in Eastern Europe in the last third of the nineteenth century quickly swept away a society and structure that had been built up for centuries. Vilna- which had become a byword for piety and Torah learning- gave birth to the Bund, a bitterly anti-religious, anti-nationalist group that saw Jews, who just yesterday were "religious," flocking to its ranks to spout atheistic socialism. Poland and Russia and Lithuania and Galicia- the places that gave us the Rema and the Shach and Chassidim and the great yeshivas- OVERNIGHT gave birth to Jewish communism and socialism and secular Zionism and assimilation. The moment the barriers dropped, the Jew rebelled. This was the reality, and the fault, dear Jews, lies not in G-d but IN OURSELVES!!!
And there was, of course, more. There was the terrible oppression of Jewish workers and proletariat by the wealthy Jews, the PARNASIM. Not for nothing did the Bund and communism succeed so easily in attracting poor Jewish workers to their ranks. The low wages and horrible working conditions in the factories owned by Jews are epitomized in the classic story told about the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev who once visited a matzah bakery on the eve of Passover. There, he saw women and little children working under terrible conditions from dawn to dusk. "Dear G-d," he said, lifting his eyes unto heaven, "what liars are the gentiles! They accuse us of using Christian blood in our matzah. It is not true. We use Jewish blood."
And too few know the black chapter of the kidnapped Jewish children of Czarist Russia. When the czar decreed that Jewish children be drafted as "Cantonists" in the army for 25 years, the rabbis declared that the quota imposed on each community be filled by casting lots to see which child would be drafted. Tragically, the wealthy communal leaders would hire gentiles to kidnap the poor Jewish children, lock them up in the synagogue, and keep them to be turned over to the Czarists.
The lack of ahavat Yisrael cried out to the heavens!!! Was this "RELIGION"??? Was this a saintly Jewish community that was cruelly and unjustly slaughtered by G-d?
The lack of unity and love was epitomized, too, in the incredible number of bitter arguments and splits within the Jewish community. My father, of blessed memory, told me as a child about the split between the chassidim of Sanz and Rizhin, a hatred that reached its climax with chassidim going to the Western Wall to put the Sanzer Rebbe, the great Divrei Chaim, into CHEREM! And at a Shabbat Seuda Shlishit, a chasid attempted to stab the Divrei Chaim...
Sinat Chiman ran through East European Jewry as a thread, and the classic example was the Munkatcher Rebbe declaring, concerning the Pressburg Yeshiva founded by the Chasam Sofer, "v'hivdilanu min hato'im- and He has separated us from those who err," even as the Pressburg Yeshiva refused entry to any student who was a member of Mizrachi...
And this terrible hatred was, long ago, described by the Rabbis as an unpardonable sin with a terrible, and terribly clear and precise, warning: "How severe is machloket! The Court of Heaven does not punish until one is over the age of 20, and the court on earth does so from the age of 31, but in the dispute of Korach, children of one day old were burned and swallowed up by the earth..." (Tanchuma, Korach 3). And the Rabbis in Shabbat 33b: "When there are righteous in the generation, the righteous are caught for the sins of the generation. When there are no righteous, then little children are caught for the sins of the generation." Let each of us think long and carefully about this. Let us search our souls.
And let us remember, on top of all the above-mentioned sins, the refusal to grasp the Land of Israel to our bosom. "And they despised the desirable land" (Psalms 106:24) is the Biblical condemnation of the generation of the desert and its great scholars and leaders who preferred to return to Egypt rather than go to the Land of Israel. Their actions led to the night of "weeping for generations," Tisha B'Av. What shall we say, then, about the rejection of Eretz Yisrael in the decades preceding the Holocaust by so many great religious leaders in Europe?
It is time to put an end to the nonsense of "we cannot know the reasons." That answer guarantees the turning away of Jewish youth. It is time to bury the myth of an East European Jewry that was pious and saintly. That insures the creation of a Jewish G-d who is senselessly cruel. It is time to put an end to the indictment of G-d, to blasphemy against the L-rd.
The Jewish press, 1985
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