By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
Many have asked: “How could G-d have allowed the Holocaust?” It’s a fair question. HaShem is a loving G-d; so how could HaShem have allowed something as terrible as the Holocaust to have occurred? After all, many good and righteous people, and many innocent children, were murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their coconspirators.
In last week’s Parasha, we read about the blessings HaShem will bestow on the Jewish people if they observe the Torah and keep its commandments. We also read the admonitions [תוכחה], which warn of the curses which will befall the Jewish people if they fail to observe the Torah and its commandments.
Parasha Nizzavim, which relates events which occurred on the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life and which was given in the context of the Jewish people’s imminent entry into Eretz Yisra’el, continues the theme of last week’s Parasha through a renewal of the covenant between HaShem and the Jewish people:
Two important aspects of these pesukim are that: (1) the renewed covenant is binding not only on the Jews who were physically present at the time the covenant was renewed, but also on all future generations of Jews (“Not only with you alone . . . and also with him who is not here this day. . . .”) and (2) Jews are responsible not just for themselves as individuals, but also for each other. This second aspect of the pesukim introduces for the first time the concept of collective responsibility ([ערבות], literally “guarantee”), which obligates every Jew to assist other Jews in observing the Torah and not violating its commands. The great commentator Or HaHayyim wrote:
Or HaHayyim, Debarim 29:12.
Parasha Nizzavim continues:
Parasha Nizzavim concludes:
In discussing the Holocaust [שואה], many people have asked, “How could a loving G-d have allowed that to happen?” Many say there is no answer to this question. Others, having not found a satisfactory answer, have abandoned religion altogether.
The Torah, however, is quite clear. “[Y]ou will take it to your heart among all the nations where HaShem, your G-d, has dispersed you and you will return unto HaShem, your G-d, and listen to His voice. . . .” Debarim 30:1. “I have placed before you . . . life . . . and . . . death. . . . [If you will keep the Torah], then you will live. . . . But if . . . you will not listen . . . you will surely be lost. . . .” Debarim 30:1-5.
During the latter half of the 1800s, the Jews of eastern Europe were, indeed, religiously observant. They lived mostly in Jewish communities (the “shtetl”) which were separated from their gentile neighbors. Under such conditions, they had to be religiously observant; there was no other practical alternative.
Things changed toward the end of the 19th century, with the coming of The Enlightenment. The Jews of eastern Europe suddenly had a choice. Almost overnight, many Eastern European Jews abandoned their religious lifestyles and communities and joined the ranks of communists and socialists. They assimilated into gentile culture. Reform Judaism was “born.”
Some might – correctly – point out that it cannot be that every Jew who met his fate during the Holocaust was a Jew who, through his own conduct, deserved to endure such terrible atrocities. There is no question that there were many righteous individuals – both adults and children – who perished in the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, as we learn from our Parasha, each Jew is responsible for the conduct of his fellow Jew. Furthermore, the Talmud teaches that: “[W]hen there are righteous in a generation, the righteous are punished for the sins of the generation. When there are no righteous in a generation, the children are punished for the sins of the generation.” Masekhet Shabbat 33b.
Thus, when we read in this week’s Parasha that HaShem has “placed life and death before you, blessing and curse. You shall choose life. . . .” we should not be surprised to learn that there are real-life consequences for choosing curse over blessing, and for not choosing life.
Although Parasha Nizzavim repeats the blessing and curse from last week’s Parasha, and adds the element of collective responsibility for Torah observance, our Parasha does not stop there.
HaShem, of course, knew in advance of the Holocaust that not all Jews would choose blessing over curse. Nevertheless, the Master of the Universe, in all of His kindness, also promised that, after the Holocaust was over, He would gather the Jewish people and return them to Eretz Yisra’el. “He will return and gather you in from all the peoples to which HaShem, your G-d, has scattered you. . . . . [He] will bring you to the Land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it. . . .” Debarim 30:3-5.
Medinat Yisra’el (the State of Israel) was established after World War II, restoring sovereignty over Eretz Yisra’el to the Jewish people, for the first time in almost 2,000 years. Reestablishment of the Medinat has not, however, been easy. The Medinat has had to fight for its very survival, sometimes fighting day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, minute-by minute, or even second-by-second. With the help of HaShem, the Medinat has, so far, managed – against all odds – to retain some semblance of the sovereignty over Eretz Yisra’el that HaShem so graciously restored to the Jewish people in 1948.
The Holocaust, like Parashat Nizzavim, taught that: (1) there are real-world consequences to choosing the ways of Torah over the ways of the gentile nations, that is, choosing blessing over curse, life over death; and (2) Jews, all Jews everywhere, are collectively responsible for all other Jews.
When the 19th century religious Jews of eastern Europe chose to abandon their religious lifestyles and communities, when they voluntarily joined the ranks of communists and socialists, and when they assimilated into gentile culture, they did exactly the opposite of what the Torah commands: They chose curse over blessing, death over life.
Likewise, when the Jews who constitute the political class of Medinat Yisra’el (as well as those who vote for these individuals and their political parties) continue to choose Western-style “democracy” and “equality” over the commands of the Torah to establish a Jewish state in Eretz Yisra’el (as opposed to sharing de facto sovereignty with those who seek the destruction of the Jewish people), the Jewish people are choosing curse over blessing, and, literally, death over life.
Similarly, when the Jews of Medinat Yisra’el (politicians and voters) continue to choose socialism over the Torah’s commands to establish and maintain a free-market economy, they are choosing curse over blessing, death over life.
As is explained in detail in our other articles on the weekly Parashat, the choice of blessing over curse, life over death, is nothing less than the choice of: (1) full and complete Jewish sovereignty in Medinat Yisra’el, as opposed to the current system of gentile, Western-style, “democracy” and “equality,” and (2) a free-market economy, as opposed to the current socialist economy, both of which have been commanded by our Holy Torah.
May the Jewish people choose Torah over the ways of the gentile nations, that is, may the Jewish people choose blessing over curse, life over death.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.