Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Holocaust Memorial Day
To dedicate this lesson

Jewish revenge

We cannot kill all of our enemies nor punish all of those who rise against us. But in our existence and continued intellectual, physical and spiritual development do we refute all of their hateful, false accusations and nefarious plans.


Rabbi Berel Wein

More than seventy years have passed since the onset of the Holocaust and the destruction of most of the Jews of Europe. Any objective observer will have to agree that almost all of the perpetrators, planners and collaborators who participated in that heinous stain on the civilization and culture of the Western world were never punished for their behavior and crimes. Even those who were tried were soon rewarded with commuted sentences, shortened prison terms, and eventually full rehabilitation and participation in regular civil life.

That generation of criminals mostly died in their beds without ever having to truly account for their crimes to the families of their victims or to the judgment and conscience of the world at large. Except for the Nuremberg Ten, Adolf Eichmann and a few hundred top Nazis who fell into Soviet hands, there were very few revengeful reprisals against the murderers who continued to live normal lives after the end of the war.

Simon Wiesenthal as an individual person, and later recognized by the organization named after him, continued, and still continues, to pursue the murderers living amongst us. But, in the main, their pursuit remains futile relative to the number of criminals and the crimes that were committed. Jews are apparently not that good at playing revenge games, as revenge is popularly defined in our violent culture.

Israel has managed a number of times to exact revenge upon terrorists and murderers but the list is long and the day is short. And in the clucking, politically correct, even-handed culture that currently dominates Western intellectual thought and political action, retribution is frowned upon. Where there is no morality present, there really is no crime present either, for everything is understandable and even justifiable.

And, anyway, victims must bear most of the guilt for the fate visited on them. For otherwise how can one explain the presence of this type of evil in a rational and mentally well-balanced world?

So Jewish vengeance must perforce take on a different definition and be seen in a far more focused and illuminating light than ordinary acts of retribution. Last week the family of the Belzer rebbe – the Rokeachs – celebrated the wedding of the rebbe’s grandson. The wedding ceremony took place in the courtyard of the great and magnificent Belz synagogue and the festive meal took place later in the International Conference Center – Binyanei Haumah – in bustling, traffic-choked Jerusalem. Over fifteen thousand people attended the wedding.

The previous Belzer rebbe escaped from Hungary in 1944 just weeks before the German invasion and takeover of the country. He arrived in the Land of Israel, broken in body and alone in spirit, with almost all of his family and chasidim on the way to Auschwitz. He barely was able to muster up a minyan – a quorum of ten men – to start up his court once again. But somehow Belz, like the Jewish people itself, rejuvenated and revitalized the future generations that were miraculously born to it.

Today, the grand Belz synagogue dominates parts of the Jerusalem view and once again, as in Eastern Europe, Belzer adherents flock to the court of the rebbe for advice, sustenance, prayer and spirit. Thus, last week, caught in a taxi on a Jerusalem street in the midst of a colossal traffic jam occasioned by the wedding procession, I thought to myself: "This wedding and all that it entails and represents is our true revenge against Hitler and his cohorts. I thank the Lord that I have lived to witness it."

In effect, the existence of the Jewish people and especially of the State of Israel is itself the true revenge against all those criminals who attempted to destroy and uproot us just a few decades ago. The Holocaust was a terrible event in our history – an event without human explanation or even seeming theological justification. Yet the aftermath of the Holocaust, the revival of the Jewish people in all facets of human life, culture, technology, medicine and politics, the creation and continued flourishing of the State of Israel, the salvation of Russian Jewry, and the immense growth of Torah and tradition in Jewish society, are all nothing short of being truly miraculous.

This is the ultimate revenge against those who sought to destroy us – if you will have it, the ultimate revenge against history itself. The prophet taught us: "Not by might nor by strength but by My spirit!" We cannot kill all of our enemies nor punish all of those who rise against us. But in our existence and continued intellectual, physical and spiritual development do we refute all of their hateful, false accusations and nefarious plans. Being Jewish in practice and perspective is itself sufficient to allow one to be part of the ongoing pattern of Jewish revenge.
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