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The Spiritual Legacy of the Holocaust

Several stages of the continuing evolution of our nation's comprehension of its greatest tragedy: Rejection of the Diaspora, remembering the victims, and the beginnings of incorporating this indescribable catastrophe into our understanding of G-ds scheme for advancing the world.


Rabbi Eliyahu Brin

2 min read
In our discussing of the Holocaust from the perspective of the Torah, we must remember that everything said on the topic must have dimensions of magnitude, of responsibility and of depth, which comes from a long-term and comprehensive reflection. That being the case, we can say that we fall far short of being able to claim to be capable of speaking on the subject.
However, since the chief Rabbinate set the Universal Kaddish Day on the Tenth of Tevet, we must relate to the Holocaust Memorial Day, and this necessity is important, despite our lack in strength and lack in facilities to deal with the subject.
When we deal with the Holocaust, we confront a human phenomenon with no parallel, in any proportion. The accounts of the terribleness and the cruelty are known, and there are many stories which are unknown, and will remain unknown, of all the different weird and horrible forms of murders, tortures and terrible suffering, and all with such horrific proportions of victims. All this done so monstrously systematically and purposefully, phrased in "philosophical" and "scientific" terms, with the cooperation of so many people, of an entire state, and of other nations whose participation in this terrible and cruel bestiality was far from insignificant. All this is true from a universal human perspective. When we measure the proportions of the Holocaust with relation to ourselves, we can that is encompasses far more than that. We are talking about the destruction of such a great part of our nation, which included many of the best of our people, Yeshivot with their Rabbis and students and magnificent communities dating back hundreds of years, and which produced generations of giants in Torah and prayer. It is nearly impossible to find someone with no connection to the incredible scope of this terrible destruction, and to the awful psychological influence within us.

The Different Stages of the National Psyche toward the Holocaust over the Years
It appears that the renewed dedication of energies to the subject of the Holocaust springs from a new approach, that we can perhaps utilize in order to ascend to a new level in our ability to understand and comprehend the things, and this is due rather to the advantage of the passage of time. Generally speaking, the sentiment of the general populace in Israel after the Holocaust was to continue to escape, and this is connected with the establishment of the State of Israel - many of the energies of survival were channeled into the new rebuilding; this signified not only finding a relatively sheltered place, but also established manner of life capable of insuring that what had happened would never repeat itself. All attention and activity was focused not on the past, but on the future, how to get the Nation of Israel on its feet, and this was concentrated first and foremost with regard to the consequences of the Holocaust: making provisions for the survivors, the payments and the reparations, and all kinds of necessities encountered on the way out of the terrible Holocaust.
A significant part of this behavior was disengaging from everything surrounding the concept of Holocaust. In the opinion of many, the Holocaust came about as a result of the isolation of the Galut (Diaspora) Jew. In their eyes, temporariness and weakness were connected with the life of Torah and Mitzvot, which was concerned only with holiness and not with strength and valor, industry and success, and thus part of the escape from the Holocaust was building a different life. For many, this caused a complete disassociation from the former lifestyle; they didn't want to be reminded of the European communities and towns, but to see the renewed model, the full powerful form, emancipation and liberty, freedom from constraints, and happiness. They didn't want to see the wrinkled, humiliated and suffering form that many identified with Torah and faith. Therefore, many of the Jewish People had no desire to delve into the horrible experience, which for part of the nation caused a complete disconnection from G-d, since faith was accompanied by deficiency in health, progress, might, etc.
In a later stage, attention to the Holocaust renewed, with a personal emphasis - remembering the victims. Very many of the populace - obviously not only those in a public position, who were responsible for commemorating the lost communities and people - had relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust. I recently visited the memorial in Latrun for those soldiers of the Israeli Armored Corps killed in the line of duty. There, on one wall, are inscribed the names of all the dead of the Armored Corps of the State of Israel. On one wall they can all be written. But the proportions of the Holocaust - these are unbelievable numbers. The obligation to remember the individuals has produced continuing work of all kinds, and later on, the removal of the Iron Curtain opened up the possibilities to return to there, and to establish various kinds of memorials.
Nevertheless, all these things do not comprise the deepest thing, a comprehension of the Holocaust in its entirety. In recent years, we are more capable of reflecting upon it in a larger way, obviously without making any pretense to fully understand. But we must approach the significance of the Holocaust in a deeper way. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, began to speak about this subject, and we will try to explain the direction, with certain emphases.

Distinguishing Between Private Accountings and Progressions, and Universal Accountings and Progressions
When we encounter a catastrophe of such massive proportions, the sensation which is capable of filling us is one of astonishment at this painful and terrible act of G-d. A feeling expressed by, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, says G-d. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)" We cannot understand it in any way. On examination, we see that the Torah spoke of this kind of reality in the Parshiot Bechukotai, Ki-Tavo and Ha'azinu: "You will thus be destroyed among the nations. The land of your enemies will consume you. (Vayikra 26:38)" "Then G-d will strike you and your descendents with unimaginable plagues. The punishments will be terrible and relentless. And the diseases will be malignant and unyielding. G-d will bring back on you all the Egyptian diseases that you dread, and they will cling to you. G-d will also bring upon you every punishment that is not written in this book of the Torah, so as to destroy you. (Devarim 28:59-61)" In many additional verses, the Torah describes a situation of near-annihilation which the Nation of Israel is supposed to encounter in the Galut, and the prophets also speak of painful and drastic things. All of these things in their essence are relevant to the Galut in general, and in the Holocaust they are highly and powerfully concentrated.
The Galut is something incomprehensible. The processes that G-d works, we never understand on the general scale; our thoughts tend to concentrate on the individual. In individual joy as well as individual sorrow, we are more capable of comprehending their dimensions. Despite our knowledge that there were sins which brought it about, it is difficult for us to understand the necessity a terrible Galut of such tremendous dimensions, which disintegrated the nation, as the Vilna Gaon compares the Galut to a cemetery, and the Redemption to the Revival of the Dead. It is difficult to understand how the Galut repairs and how it atones, why it is advantageous and necessary, and together with that we know that when G-d decides to create and change levels, to make internal, significant revolutions - He has different accountings.
At the beginning of the book Orot ("Lights") Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook opens with two important subjects: first that of the Land of Israel, so that we can understand the greatness and level of life of the Land of Israel, and afterwards the chapter "The War," which comes to give us the proper perspective to understand that when G-d builds worldwide systems, He puts events in motion in His own way - "Master of wars, sowing righteousness, blossoming redemptions." In all-encompassing processes of this kind, it is likely that there are things which we do not comprehend, like "there is (a situation) of one who perishes without trial (Bereshith Raba 49)" and "the deaths of the righteous atone. (Moed Katan 28a)" We don't understand how the demise of people without judgment, in such gigantic proportions, builds new levels. We do not understand, but that is the way the world is created.
Nevertheless, we are acquainted with something of this with regard to Torah and the Land of Israel, that they are also acquired by virtue of suffering (Berachot 5a). When this world interfaces with values which are above this world, as if "touching and not touching," sometimes its capability to grasp something of those values is only by way of suffering. As Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes in the book "Ein Ai"h" (regarding the aforementioned passage in Berachot), the afflictions purify the man and have the capacity to make him jump to a level beyond material downfall, and thus he can connect with greatness. And just as regarding an individual, the afflictions can make him jump spiritual levels, so we can say on a far greater scale regarding great devastations; this is what opens the eyes of the whole human race to ascend from level to level. The world must climb until the days of the Moshiach on the never-ending ladder, and the distance from rung to rung is so great, to the point that there is no possibility to advance in a smooth path and therefore crises are necessary. Already at the splitting of the Red Sea there are hints that there will be more Diasporas, in the verse, "Until Your people crossed, O G-d, until the people You gained crossed over. (Shemot 15:16)" Our Sages say (Berachot 4a): "Until Your people crossed" - this is the first entry into the Land of Israel, after the Egyptian exile; "until the People you gained crossed over" - this is the second entry, after the Babylonian exile. Additionally, "I Will Be Who I Will Be (Shemot 3:14)" - G-d said to Moshe, go tell the People of Israel that I will be with you in this bondage and I will be with you in the bondage of the kingdoms. Already Moshe Rabbenu knew that he would not be the last savior, because the redemption from Egypt could not be the final redemption.
The torments of the Galut spread over all its years, and it can be said that the terrible concentration of victims during the Holocaust are a kind of "final hammer blow" of the unfathomable function of the Galut with regard to purification and atonement for the entire Jewish People over the generations. Despite the fact that no Jew prays without recalling Jerusalem, and some of the Jews say Tikkun Hatzot etc. - nonetheless, within the Galut itself, there are destructions and rebuilding, like after the Expulsion which put an end to the Galut of Spain, and as a result the center of Torah was uprooted and rebuilt in another place. The Ohr Sameach writes that the purpose of this is so that we should not grow fond of the Galut, which is liable to become a substitute for the full Redemption. Beforehand were the terrible pogroms of the years "tach" and "tat," during which more than a hundred thousand victims were murdered and communities were wiped out. During all the years of the Galut, G-d uproots and builds systems, and we do not comprehend this.
In the wake of the Holocaust, the State of Israel is established, the Diaspora is uprooted, a great cultural clarification begins for the nations of the world, the internal roots of anti-Semitism are revealed, and the Nation of Israel gains momentum in its return to its foundations.
The Resurrection of Jewish National Independence in the wake of the Holocaust
In retrospect, we can see from several vantage points that it would have been nearly impossible for the Nation of Israel to build itself up in the State of Israel if not for the Holocaust. First of all, with regard to numbers: before the Holocaust there were about six hundred thousand Jews in the land, out of which over a hundred thousand came after the Nazi rise to power on the eve of the Holocaust. As a result of the Holocaust, the numerical scope changed entirely. Secondly, necessity dictated that there was no escape, and even opposite seven enemy armies, we had to proclaim the establishment of the State. Also the recognition of the State of Israel by the United Nations (which, to be sure, was not universal) came in the wake of the Holocaust - the world reluctantly agreed that they had to give the Jewish People a state with almost no chance of survival, but all the same the recognition of the State represented some degree of conciliation and obligation to the Jewish people after the Holocaust. Without that piece of paper, we would not have had the courage to take the step of establishing the State. During the Holocaust itself there were Rabbis who spoke in terms of their being the "Akeidat Yitzchak" (binding of Yitzchak, meaning sacrifice) before the Redemption, and this when all around them were multitudes of victims, and their own personal Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G-d's Name) was at hand. Even before the Holocaust, great Torah scholars spoke of this, among them the Vilna Gaon who instructed his students to come to the Holy Land, and said in "Kol haTor" that his students must come to the Land, and if not there will be catastrophes and suffering. The Vilna Gaon sensed this and therefore pressed his students to come to the Land; afterwards the Hafetz Haim spoke of this explicitly, and Rav Kook less explicitly.
The Balfour Declaration was also born out of the world's aspiration for purification after the First World War, which came as a slap in the face to the nations of the world, and revealed before them their cultural wickedness. In a number of letters, Rav Kook spoke of the fact that the War was founded entirely on contests of honor, while tens of millions of men perished uselessly and ill logically, on one battlefront which hardly moved, and despite that the belligerent nations continued to pour in more and more forces. The War was a resounding disgrace for Europe, and it created a need for something pure, and one of the important things in this respect was returning the People of the Bible to their land. Eventually the Balfour Declaration was short-lived, the British Mandate "swallowed" it, and nobody cared. The British felt that whenever it pleased them, they could allow or forbid the Jews to return to their land...
There are those who say that the Holocaust was the result of the sins of the Jewish People, but I think that the desire to attribute something so terrible in its severity to a number of offenses - minimizes it. Certainly there are many sins and punishments, but we must differentiate between different levels of reckoning: individual and national. On a personal level, the one who was killed was not necessarily the one who sinned. Certainly, universal reckoning doesn't contradict individual accountability, and there are those who G-d terminates their lives in this world in order to give them their reward in the next world; however it is exceedingly difficult for us to make this calculation. After the Holocaust we could also attribute all kinds of punishments to a variety of iniquities that our society needs to rectify. Our outlook has to come from a universal perspective: "Ponder the years of each generation" (Devarim 32:7). We have to realize that in G-d's processes, beyond the individual dimension there is also the universal dimension of His governing. All of the prophets also spoke from a universal perspective. The State of Israel is not a reward for a certain quota of mitzvot, just as the Holocaust isn't a punishment for a number of transgressions. There definitely is a reckoning at the individual level, but that isn't the only one that exists.

The Holocaust - the Uprooting of the Galut (Diaspora)
Harav Tzvi Yehuda Kook considered the Holocaust the terrible uprooting of the Galut. On one hand, the Holocaust represents the terrible meaning of the Galut to its lowest depths - the most horrendous things the Torah and the Prophets spoke of were concentrated in such a terrible way. On the other hand, it has an aspect of "a king as harsh as Haman" (that, as a result of his harsh decrees, the Jews return to the path of righteous. See Talmud Sanhedrin 97b) and an aspect of "and He took me by the hair of my head" (Yechezkel 8:3), with no way out and no way back. The national attitude after the Holocaust was that the Jewish People must return to Zion, and we have to build ourselves up as a nation in the Land of Israel with all of the apparatus of fortitude, economy and strength. There is here a Divine command which echoes through different forms and methods, some more inspired by faith and others less, and this command says that the community as a whole must unite around the fundamentally Israeli entity, and not continue as appendages protected under the wing of one nation or another. This awareness entered the blood and the bones of every one of us, and it is attempting to take two thousand years of Galut out of us.
We see a similar thing after the exodus from Egypt: "When Pharaoh let the people leave, G-d did not lead them along the Philistine Highway, although it was the shorter route. G-d's consideration was that if the people encountered armed resistance, they would lose heart and return to Egypt" (Shemot 17:13). The slave mentality had been ingrained in the soul of the Jewish people, and when they see the Egyptians at the splitting of the Red Sea, they immediately become frightened. The fear of the gentiles had to be eradicated in order that we could return to our land on a national scale, walking tall and with our back straight. Today as well, the weaknesses and illogical lack of confidence are attributed to the Galut and its remnants, which we still haven't been able to break our addiction to. The Holocaust was the very depth of the Galut, and for that very reason it pushed us to our rightful place, to its rebuilding.

Cultural Clarification for the Nations of the World, and its Significance to the Nation of Israel
The Second World War also brought about a penetrating and sharp cultural clarification, similar to the one Harav Avraham Yitzchak Kook indicated after the First World War, with regard to the evident failure of Western culture, and to what degree it can come to bloodshed and murder. This came out in the most horrifying and cruel way by far, in the terrible Amalek-ness of the German nation, with all of their helpers and accomplices. In some places, like the Ukraine and Lithuania, the local residents got a "head start" on the Germans: when they understood that their government was about to fall, they didn't repress their murderous inclinations. Nearly no civilized nation of the world, even those of the West, are clean of this outward expression as it appeared in the "enlightened and cultured nation" as it was then, in brains and science and scope of the population and efficiency. This reality dealt a deathblow to all of their spiritual "accomplishments." All of this cruelty, obviously, has its roots in Christianity, the "religion of love", which already revealed itself in the past in massacres and the Inquisition, and here it clothed itself in a more "respectable" and "cultured" attire. But when the Nation of Israel is not projecting its light - all the most progressive cultures, within and without, and full of beautiful words, can collapse.
This clarification with regard to the nations of the world has not been completed; the world dislikes it and tries to blur it and to mitigate the extent of the atrocities, but the truth is continually being revealed, and the time will come when they will reckon with it and with the resulting conclusions. In any case, this clarification is significant for us as well: it must compel us to stand on our fundamental cultural assets, to understand that we have nothing to seek or search for in foreign cultures, but rather to live according to our essence, and our intrinsic life can only be in the Land of Israel, "And on Mount Zion there will be deliverance and it will become holy" (Ovadiah 1:17). We must be worthy of being a reminder of all of the spiritual strengths of all these great casualties. So much can be recounted about every single person, and there is very much that we do not know. We have so great an obligation to continue their way, to reinforce ourselves with the strength they radiated, both individually, and in the powerful message emanating from this collective Akeidah. The Akeidah compels us to greatness in faith, to building up the Nation of Israel to be as it should be in the days of the Moshiach, and only this can be a response - if it is at all possible to speak of a response - to the terrible sacrifice.

The Internal Roots of Anti-Semitism
An additional clarification that came by way of the Holocaust is the subject of racism. Hitler - may his name be blotted out - couldn't live with the knowledge that there is a single Jew in the world, and he won over millions of people with this concept. In his book, Chief Rabbi Lau (himself a Holocaust survivor) wrote that the Mayor of New York showed him a globe that had belonged to Hitler. On every country were written numbers - he counted how many Jews there were, down to the last one. On England, for example, he wrote the numeral "2." This "inventory" covered the entire planet, not only the countries he had conquered. He had a hatred of the Jews as a race, with no distinction between observant and nonobservant, or Eastern or Western, and he could have no peace of mind as long as there was a living Jew on the face of the earth. In Orot haTechiya (The Lights of Resurrection) Harav Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains the roots of anti-Semitism in terms of "they didn't see, but their Mazal (meaning motivating force) saw" (Talmud Megillah 3a). Similarly to beasts, who sense things which we, as possessors of understanding, perceive more slowly, the tormenters sensed that a worldwide spiritual revolution is at the doorway, that the world is approaching the days of the Moshiach, that the Nation of Israel is about to place on the stage of the world a mighty spiritual reverberation that will illuminate the entire world. We still need to learn these things, but the nations of the world sensed this with their animalistic and subconscious instincts, and this sensation stirs them up and incites them to oppose. Their war is not only against Jewish culture, it is against our very essence, down to the last one of us, G-d forbid.

The Legacy of the Holocaust - to Return to Israeli Essence
We, "a brand rescued from the fire" from this satanic hell, we must see how we are being reconstructed in the wake of the Holocaust, how we are giving a response to the Holocaust, and what G-d signaled to us by the means of the Holocaust. Our purpose is not to explain the Holocaust, it is rather to understand what the Holocaust obligates us, what has to be the legacy of the Holocaust, and what is the remembrance appropriate for such a terrible blow to the Nation of Israel. The whole Nation of Israel must internalize the recognition that we are under a divine command which is an incomparable, awesome and terrible command. We must comply with what our soul urges us, to return our Israeli essence with full force, with a full faith-inspired, fundamental, deep-seated spiritual constitution. This, in our healthy, solid, whole existence in an independent, sovereign state, full of national pride and self-determination, confidence, healthiness and joyfulness, rooted in values and full of love and illumination. Our essence will eventually bring its blessing to the other nations as well, as Harav Tzvi Yehuda Kook quoted frequently from "The Israeli Responsibility" of none other than Nietzsche - who the school of racism claimed to be his disciples - that the victory of Nation of Israel will be in "the vengeance of its blessing." The Nation of Israel will, in the future, bless the nations in spite of their wrath and their indignation, with all of their wickedness; it will merit to survive and to illuminate its life, and the whole world will receive its blessing against its will.
There are people in whom the Holocaust engenders a revulsion against war and a great sensitivity to human life, and there are those for whom the Holocaust is associated with travel to foreign countries, foreign languages and a desire to return to the past and to their roots. Although some of these things have validity in their own right, in the large sense they are not the right direction. Our lesson from the Holocaust doesn't focus on the individual facet but on the universal one. We have to know that we have an eternal Judaism which is magnificent, spiritual, and rich; full of powers of direction-giving illumination which we have to recognize and fill ourselves up with. Obviously, the memory of each and every one of those lost is immeasurably precious and under no circumstances would we blur it, but beyond the individual view, we have to reflect with a large scope on the great task, to see, "for eye to eye they will see G-d's return to Zion" (Isaiah 52:8) - G-d wants us to direct our eyes to the G-dly "eyes," that we should see the direction, the demand and the requirement, and with G-d's help, the entire Nation of Israel will reach the full redemption, in a complete rebuilding.
The quotes from scripture are based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's The Living Torah and The Living Nach
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר