Yom Hashoah QandA from Rabbi Raymond Apple

May 3, 2016 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Why didn’t God send a miracle to save us?

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Why didn’t God send a miracle to save the martyrs of the Holocaust?

A. There are many who accuse God for failing to step in, and many who say that there are times when we have to believe whilst not completely understanding the ways of the Almighty.

Some Holocaust theologians speak of times of “hastarat panim”, God “hiding His face” and then emerging, as it were, from hiding.

The view of Eliezer Berkovits is that “hiding the face” is logically necessary if man is to have free will; with free will man can choose deeds of hatred as well as deeds of love, but God cannot intervene and stop him from committing acts of hatred or else free will would mean nothing.

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin wrote, “Reliance on God in situations where human action is required is courting disaster. ‘The earth is given to mankind’ (Psalm 115:16), and we must take charge of life…”

Weiss-Rosmarin points out that one Simchat Torah the Lubavitcher Rebbe felt ill with chest pains and eight heart specialists were summoned: “Of course, the Chasidim recited Psalms and prayed for the Rebbe’s recovery, but neither the Rebbe nor his many thousands of followers the world over relied upon or expected God to act instead of the Rebbe’s physicians.”

If we ask why God did not send a miracle during the Holocaust, an answer might therefore be that He tried; He hoped that human beings would themselves be the miracle and would speak out and act to save the victims, but many failed to live up to their miraculous potentialities.

BACK TO EUROPE

World attention has reverted to Europe, not just because of the migrant crisis and terrorism, but because resurgent antisemitism is gravely threatening Europe’s Jews. The European Union makes nice noises about inhumanity being a menace but still criticises Israel and by extension the Jewish people.

But fair’s fair, and since the EU are so negative towards us they are bound by logic, decency and conscience to balance it with something positive. I suggest they endorse Phyllis Bottome’s words in “The Moral Storm”, 1938:

“To be a Jew is to belong to an old race that has enriched every country it has lived in. It is to be strong with a strength that has outlived persecutions. It is to be wise against ignorance, honest against piracy, harmless against evil, industrious against idleness, kind against cruelty!

“It is to belong to a race that has given Europe its religion; its moral law; and much of its science – perhaps even more of its genius – in art, literature and music.

“I do not say that there are no bad Jews – usurers, cowards, corrupt and unjust persons – but such people are also to be found among Christians. I only say to you this is to be a good Jew.”

Without those Jews and their contribution to civilisation, Europe would revert to primitiveness and decay. Without what the Jews have pioneered and developed, Europe would have to close down its schools, universities, hospitals, laboratories, libraries and opera houses. Its commerce and media too. And its technology and modernity.

Europeans won’t stop being antisemites overnight. Nor become philosemites. What’s the difference? Someone said that a philosemite is an antisemite who loves Jews.

The question is not emotional, whether they hate Jews or love them. It is pragmatic: is Europe better off being Judenrein?

In its own interests, Europe really should say it’s better to be fair to the remarkably creative contribution that Jews have made and make.

HOLOCAUST K’DOSHIM

Q. Why are the martyrs of the Holocaust called “k’doshim”?

A. Literally it means “holy ones”. The use of the word in this sense probably comes from Psalm 16:3, which speaks of “k’doshim asher ba’aretz hemah”, “The holy ones who are on earth”.

They are contrasted with the angels, who are also called k’doshim (e.g. Psalm 89:8, Zech. 14:5, etc.), and God Himself, who is “K’dosh Yisra’el”, “the Holy One of Israel”, a common phrase in Isaiah. The martyrs show their holiness “ba’aretz”, by the way they live (and in this case, die) on earth.

K’doshim do not always die for their faith. They live by it. Their principle is “kiddush hachayyim”, “Sanctification of Living”. They live holy lives by never abandoning their faith or abdicating their Jewish dignity. They would prefer not to have to die for it, but if there is no choice they will die nobly and win a moral victory.

One thing they will not do is to allow themselves a murderous spree in which they rake the world with death and pollute the earth with blood. K’doshim are not paragons of perfection, but despite their imperfections they are heroes of the spirit.

Such certainly were the k’doshim of the Sho’ah.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation.

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