Beit Midrash

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Translated by Hillel Fendel

From Destruction to Revival

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook, saw the terrible destruction of the Shoah in the context of the great construction of the Redemption. While the Exile was being all but destroyed, he Nation of Israel was being built up in its homeland.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Nisaan 27 5781
How should a believing Jew regard and look at the Holocaust? After all, we are tasked with looking carefully at the acts of G-d and His ways, studying them, and learning from them. It is true, of course, as the Prophet Yeshayahu says about G-d, "As the heavens are higher than earth, so are My ways higher than yours, and My thoughts higher than yours," and therefore we cannot even hope to grasp the depth of the Divine wisdom and the manner in which He runs the world.

Still, we are not exempt from trying to understand what we can. We are even commanded to study His ways and seek to comprehend them: "Remember days long gone by, ponder the years of each generation" (Deut. 32,7), as well as, "Whoever is wise will consider these things and ponder G-d's kindnesses" (Psalms 107,43).

This does not mean that we must or can succeed in understanding G-d's ways. In Pirkei Avot (2,16) we learn, "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it altogether." We are not expected to understand the complete depth of G-d's intentions, for this is beyond our ability. But we are not free from trying to understand that which we can, and to thus recognize the greatness of G-d and His leadership of the world.

Our teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, of saintly blessed memory, saw the terrible destruction of the Shoah in the context of the great construction of the Redemption. While the Exile was being all but destroyed, while the Diaspora was being decimated – at the same time, the Nation of Israel was being built up in its homeland, the Land of Israel. The Exile was uprooted, and Israel was being replanted in its land. Synagogues in the lands of the Diaspora were burnt down, and new synagogues were being built in the Holy Land. Our Sages taught in the Talmud (Megillah 28b): "In the future, the synagogues outside the Land will be uprooted and rebuilt in the Land of Israel" – and this came true in a shockingly harsh manner. This is what happened, and the words of the Sages were fulfilled.

Ultimately, after 1,800 years of Exile, the negativity of living outside the Land became very clear to Israel. After all, the Talmud says that "whoever lives in the Diaspora is as if engaged in idol-worship" (Ketuvot 110b). This recognition led to a longing by all of Israel to reach the Land of Israel. This was chiefly true for great Torah leaders of Israel, for whom the lands of the Diaspora were foreign; their entire ambition was to return and be rebuilt in Eretz Yisrael.

During the Shoah, the depth of this understanding was revealed most violently in the form of G-d's strong and awesome hand [see Exodus 6 and elsewhere in the Torah], and brought it to the forefront of historic reality. It became clear that the option of living outside the Land was no longer on the table, and that we had to detach ourselves from the Gentiles and their lands. It was time to return and build ourselves in our own national homeland, the inheritance of our forefathers, the Land of G-d.

Rav Tzvi Yehuda saw the Holocaust as a very terrible operation, painful and shocking – but one that was necessary to save the life of the patient, the Nation of Israel. With all the horror and terrible suffering involved, the purpose was to bring us back to health, to stop our deterioration down the slippery slope of Exile, to nullify the entire reality of Galut, and to rebuild Israel anew in the nation's natural habitat.

This was an "uprooting for the purpose of replacing," to paraphrase the Sabbath laws that prohibit removing an item from one domain and placing it in another. We were uprooted from the Exile in order to be re-set in Eretz Yisrael. Uprooting for the sake of replanting.

This outlook does not make light in any manner or form of the severity of the cruel evil of the German Nazis, their helpers, and all those who took advantage of the situation to torture and murder Jews. Their deeds cannot be forgiven, and they will go down in infamy; this is a topic for further study. But looking at the Shoah in this manner is full of Jewish perspective of G-d's ways, and teaches us that the terrible tribulations of the Holocaust are the labor pangs of the birth of the Redemption, the pangs of the Messiah, and through them we will reach our destiny. From the troubles comes the salvation. The Maharal of Prague wrote (Netzach Yisrael, chaps. 26 and 35), that prior to the formation of any new being, there must be a cancellation of the previous being – a nullification for the purpose of renewal.

We are now in the process of establishing and stabilizing our national existence in our Land of G-d; we are rebuilding ourselves, we are coming close to full Redemption, with the help of G-d Who, as we say in our prayers, "ingathers the exiles of Israel and builds Jerusalem."

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