Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
PARSHAT B'HAR - B'CHUKOTAIVayikra (Leviticus) 25:1 - 27:34
Haftorah - Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
This Saturday night and Sunday I will observe the Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of my father Ya'akov ben Yosef. He was a very special man whose attitude during the Holocaust not only saved his life, but so many others. His strength and his love was an inspiration to all who knew him. Only now, one year later, am I beginning to feel the loss of his presence. T'hei Nishmato Boruch - may his soul be blessed.
Please say prays, Tehillim - Psalms, give charity and have your local synagogues say daily prayers for a Refuah Shelayma - a complete recovery for the body and the souls of Rebbitzen Chaya Faigel Mirel bas Esther and for Elana Rachel bas Shira.
The Vortify I am sending is a repeat of one that was sent out in 1997. The subject matter, the timelessness and the subject I feel should be repeated.
Every year when Yom Hashoah comes around, I begin rationalizing the meaning of the Holocaust. Every year I find something that inspires me until the next year's inevitable questioning. But this year, answers are not forthcoming. But the second of this week's two Parshiot gives a very profound insight to the problem of Hashem's merciful essence and national calamity.
In Parshat B'chukotai (Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34) Hashem tells Moshe that if the Children of Israel follow the Torah's commandments, then they will prosper in the Land of Israel. Rain will fall at the proper times, the land will give forth abundant yields, fruit will grow aplenty and the nation will live securely and in peace on the land.
But if they do not follow God's commandments, then all forms of calamity will befall the nation. Without going in too much detail, ultimately the land will reject its inhabitants in all manners of natural, social and political disasters. To paraphrase, "if you will walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you, in fury" (Leviticus 26:27-28).
Let us look a little closer at the concepts of reward and punishment. First let me say that I have difficulty with this terminology. I don't see a reciprocal force, whether positive or negative, as being a manifestation of reward and punishment. Rather, I believe that man creates a positive or negative reality through his actions.
For instance, if we agree that smoking cigarettes is wrong, then if we eventually contract an illness as a direct result of the action of smoking, are we being punished, or have we created our own negative reality? Likewise, if the nation of Israel transgresses Hashem's commandments, the forthcoming negative reality is actually a product of our own misbehavior.
As a father, I try to explain to my children that they own their lives. They are the ones that choose if their actions warrant positive or negative reinforcement. This of course happens on a personal level. But on a national level, a similar linkage between behaviors and existence occurs. Negative reality may take the form of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, or earthquakes. It may possibly manifest itself in the form of social disasters such as, assimilation, intermarriage or sexually transmitted diseases. Or, it might even take the form of political disasters such as exile, anti-Semitism (a holocaust) or being forced into a peace agreement with the PLO.
But there is another viewpoint that was brought to my attention this year by an essay called "Putting Misfortune Into Perspective" by Rabbi Zev Leff, who lives in the West-Bank on Moshav Mattityahu.
He begins with a Rambam (the Laws of Fast Days) that states that when a calamity befalls a community, it is a positive Torah commandment for the said community to cry out and blow the Shofar. The purpose being, that by doing so we become aware that this calamity was a direct result of our actions.
The Rambam continues, "However, if they do not cry out ... but rather say this misfortune is but an accident, a random occurrence, then this response is in fact a manner of cruelty - which will then cause them to continue in their sinful ways, and ... will lead to further misfortune".
Rabbi Leff questions why the Rambam indicates that attributing calamities that befall us to nature or to chance is "a matter of cruelty". He contends that by referring to the calamity as a natural, social or political act or even worse, to refer to it as a random occurrence, is to deny Hashem's involvement in our lives, which is an outright act of heresy.
He brings another Rambam (Laws of Kings 12:1,5) which states that in the time of the Mashiach, "the world will take its natural course and no changes in nature will take place. There will be no famine or war, no jealousy or competition; luxuries will be plentiful. Further more, sickness will be nonexistent and people will have extended lifetimes".
How can the Rambam say the world will not be any different and yet describe a world that so different from ours? Maybe our world is the unnatural one. The natural world - the world that Hashem intended - is the world that the Rambam is describing.
Rabbi Leff gives an analogy. "Imagine a hospital for crippled people where the entire staff, doctors, nurses, technician, even the caretakers - were all handicapped. A child born and restricted to that hospital would believe that this is the way man was supposed to live. Upon witnessing someone who could walk freely, he would assume that he was witnessing something totally unnatural."
The Garden of Eden was the blueprint for the world. That was how the world was actually supposed to be. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the tragedies and calamities that we view today as natural, have become commonplace. To us the original state of mankind seems supernatural, and the world of imperfection and misery, as natural.
We can therefore be assured that Hashem, who is the G-d of Kindness and Mercy, intended to bestow upon mankind everlasting goodness. So when we transgress, and create a negative environment around ourselves, Hashem provides us with a focal point towards repentance and Tikkun - rectification. Misfortune and calamity are thus functions of Hashem's mercy.
Since the Enlightenment Movement of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Jewish people were confronted with freedoms that translated themselves into the abandonment of Jewish lifestyle and culture. The Holocaust is a way that we, "the survivors" of that tragic event, can turn the tide of assimilation and intermarriage from its course of self destruction.
In pursuing the freedoms of gentile society, we have abandoned our own identities. What Hitler could not do to us, we in fact are doing to ourselves. For as Jews we are viewing an unnatural world, as being natural.
If we can see the Holocaust as an opportunity to return to a Jewish reality, then the Holocaust will have meaning for all of us.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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