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holocaust and faith


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Cheshvan 20, 5774
Dear Rabbi, I had a conversation with someone that disturbed and shocked me very deeply. I was told that I do not have true emuna. I had said that I could understand that people who survived the shoah asked where Gd was during the shoah. As a matter of fact, I ask myself this question, especially as I am setting up my family tree and record all the details of the deaths of my own family members in the great-grandparent, the grandparent and my parents generation. I often have to stop with the work as it really drains me and drives me to tears. And I ask myself, where was Hashem when all this happened? I also wonder why Gd allows severe illness to befall young children and teenagers. It is said that bad illness is a punishment for a major transgression in life. How can a child or teenager have committed such a transgression? They simply haven’t lived long enough for this. It is not that I do not believe in Hashem, if I did not believe, I would not daven twice a day, it is just that I cannot understand it, although I know that my limited mind cannot fathom the infinite. I just cannot understand how Hashem allows this and that it is all supposed to be for a greater good. My question is: Is voicing my feelings in this direction a sign that I cannot be trusted in emuna? Should I just accept everything as it comes and not think about it as to why and for what reason it has occurred? Is it permissible to ask Hashem why he let all this happen? I thank you for your answer. Jessica
Shalom. Your question regarding "how can a good God allow 'bad' in the world?", is the oldest of questions in monotheism, where we believe that God is not only good, but perfect. There are many things in life and in the world that we don’t understand, and this reality is basic humility. I don’t understand quantum physics, after 30 years I still sometimes don’t understand my spouse, and sometimes I don’t even understand myself, so how can I expect to understand God? "If I would understand Him, I would be Him" (R. Yosef Albo). Like a child compared to an adult, our vision is extremely limited compared to the objective all-knowingness of God. If we could see the entire past and the entire future (including the world to come), it would change our view of many incidents in life which seem to be bad, yet in the end, such challenges are exactly what build us. In addition, it’s important to stress, as you inferred, that there are many factors and different “tracks” in the world, aside from reward and punishment, and clearly not all difficulties or challenges are punishments, as is clear from the suffering of small children. Especially when remembering that man’s free will is a major factor in the “ground rules” of this world, and God prefers not to intervene whenever possible. Accordingly, more practical question with more useful ramifications is: “Where was man during the holocaust?” In addition, only after there is a giant question (such as yours) can there be a giant answer (tshuva, which in Hebrew, also means answer, return and repentance!). In fact, we see that Avraham (Breishit 18), Moshe (Shmot 32) and others dared disagree even with God, albeit very respectfully, when it comes to ‘sticking up” to defend Israel, and even Sodom (see the many stories about R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev). God also wrote this in the Torah, as something that we are meant to emulate, as well. Accordingly, you not only can but you should (!) turn to God requesting Him to be as visibly kind as possible, to facilitate the masses to love, serve and emulate Him. Nevertheless, there’s definitely a difference between voicing this questioning in your private conversations with God (prayer- where it's natural and even worthy in a true open “relationship”!), or even here in this educational forum, where it's legitimate, positive and constructive, as opposed to voicing this out loud, especially around impressionable children (who may be old enough to understand the questions but not mature or patient enough to hear the answers…) where it may awaken questions or weaken the belief of others. This may have been the intention of your friend's comment. In addition, our exile from Israel is called a desecration of God’s Name (you must see Ezek. 36), and the Holocaust was the climax of the exile, raising the greatest question, why does God not stand up for His people? The prophet Ezekiel continues that God always wanted to redeem His children, like a father who sent his child to his room as a temporary punishment, just waiting for him to improve and apologize. But after 2,000 years of waiting, and 2,000 years of “holding” Himself back, He declares that He will redeem us, even if we don’t deserve it, for as you point out, the “treading” upon Israel is a bad reflection on God, and raises strong questions (the Babylonians and Romans also asked after defeating us, "Jew- where is your God!"!) We actually say this every day in the central Shmoneh Esreh prayer, at the end of the very first blessing, “and He will bring redemption to His sons' descendents, for His sake (!), out of love”. Even if we don’t understand the Holocaust, the questions: “Does God still exist” and “Is Israel still the Chosen People”, were answered just 3 years later in the miraculous War of Independence in Israel, the fulfillment of the Biblical promise of the Ingathering of the Exiles and the revival of the Land and State of Israel after 2,000 years. It was God’s way of saying: “Of course I’m still around and you are still My Chosen Children” (all of this is in Ezek., ibid), and that’s why He returned us to Israel, even if we don’t deserve it- exactly for this purpose, as an answer to you and all other questioners- especially those who question out of love for God and Israel. With Love of God and Israel, Rabbi Ari Shvat
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