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Shabbos – Our Spiritual Pit-Stop

At the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei we read:  “ And Yaakov went out of Beer Sheva and he went to Choron.(Bereishis 28:10) Rashi asks why we need this posuk. We already know that Yaakov was coming from Beer Sheva and was going to Choron.

There are a number of answers.  One of them pertains to far more than this particular journey of Yaakov Ovinu. It is an answer which the Pirkei Ovos says is so important that we have to remember it constantly, throughout our lives. We always have to know where we have come from and where we are going to.

Where do we come from? Every Jew is a ‘ chelek eloka mimaal’. Within us we have a spark of Hashem. Our neshomos come from the holiest and purest source. As we say in our daily Brachos, “The soul that You gave me is pure. ”And when you have something so valuable, you treasure it, you make sure it remains pure.

And if we think, “Sure, our neshomo came from a holy place but now we live in this world and our neshama is bound to lose its purity.” —t hen we have to remember the next part. Where we are going to? We will all eventually go back to Shomayim. And Hashem will ask us, “How is the neshama I gave you. Is it still pure and holy?” If we remember this, we won’t let our neshama be sullied. We don’t want to be shamed by having to show Hashem that the beautiful neshomo tehora He gave us, is now impure.

The trouble is that we forget. We look at our neighbor. Compared to him or her I’m not bad. We so easily ignore our final destination. This World is so overpowering. We want to be successful in this world and sometimes a little lie, a little loshon hora would make life easier. We like to be popular and we are tempted to be one of the boys just once, just twice, just three times…How can we remember our destination and keep our neshomos untainted?

To preserve the wholesomeness of our neshamos we have Shabbos every week. True, the World is a spiritual quagmire. It’s easy to slip and fall. But Shabbos reminds us. Shabbos brings us back. And if our neshomo is not quite so clean, Shabbos is the great cleanser. It’s our spiritual pit-stop for us to re-assess, refuel our neshama and get back on track. If during the week, we veered from the narrow path, Shabbos stretches out her hands to help us back. Not with harsh words but with love and warmth.

We just have to say and hear “Lechu neranana” and we want to come back home. When we say shiru l’Hashem shir chadash we want to join in the singing. When we sing Lecho Dodi and we feel and enjoy that closeness to Hashem that we have missed for the last six days. And when we turn round and sing “Bo’i veshalom ateres baala, …toch emunei am segula,” we’re proud and happy to be part of that Am Segula, Hashem’s treasured nation. We say “Never will I go away again. Never will I leave the daled amos shel halocho. Never will I distance myself from the mechitzo of Hashem.” And if, despite all these beautiful intentions, I do slip again, next week Shabbos will again embrace me and bring me back.

Shabbos is me’ein olam habo. But not just in the usual understanding that we are removed on Shabbos from all material distractions and can concentrate on ruchnius like olam habo. It is also in the sense that we expereience the Shechina just as we will in olam habo (Reb Shimshon Pinchas).Yet there is a difference. In the real olam habo we have to present our neshomo for judgement. There are no more chances. On Shabbos, although we meet the Shechina, we have another chance. If we can be inspired to try to grow from now on, our journey through olam hazeh can still be successful. Shabbos is our weekly opportunity to get back on track, to make sure we are going in the right direction. And just in case we have temporarily forgotten, Shabbos will remind us about our true destination – where we are going to and in front of whom will we have to give din vecheshbon.

The parsha says more about Yaakov’s journey:“And he came to the place and stayed there ovenight because the sun had set. He took some stones and put them under his head and lay down for the night. He had a dream and behold there was a ladder standing on the ground and the top reached to the heavens. And behold, the angels of G-d were going up and down on it. And Hashem was standing at the top.”

If we think about it, Yaakov Ovinu’s journey is similar to the journey we travel in our own lives. We also have our dreams — what we want to achieve; how we see our future, materially, spiritually. Sometimes the malochim who represent us go up and everything we touch turns to gold. At other times our malochim go down –we have our failures, our disappointments. But as in Yaakov’s dream, Hashem is at the top of the ladder to help us, support us and when necessary to comfort us. As the pasuk continues…“And He said, I am Hashem, the G-d of your father Avraham and your father Yitzchak…I am with you and will look after you. I will guard you and will not forsake until I have fulfilled what I said to you.”

And when each of arrives at our destination, after 120 years, we will appreciate that everything which happened to us was for the best. The successes and the failures, the happy times and the disappointing times, peaceful times and times of war were all according to Hashem’s precise plan.

“And Yaakov woke up from his sleep and he said, surely G-d is in this place and I didn’t know.”

We will realise that even when we could not see Hashem, He was with us all the time.

We have to remember where we came from — the highest levels of sanctity and purity. Where we are going to– back to Hashem’s loving embrace. We should use Shabbos as our weekly inspiration to maintain the purity of our neshomos and to strengthen our emuna and our bitachon. Then when we come to our appointment with Hashem, He will congratulate us on a job well done and welcome us Home.

Thanksgiving

In 1621 the Plymouth colonists in America and the Wampanoag Indians wanted to thank G-d for a successful harvest. They organized what became known later as the first Thanksgiving celebration. Eventually it became a fixture on the calender and on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans sit down to their annual Thanksgiving  dinner. The traditional menu, I’m told, consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Thanking G-d is always a good idea but in America it seems that this is the season.

Here in Eretz Yisroel, we have multiple reasons for thanking Hashem particularly at the moment. The first reason is the positive side of horrendous fires which damaged thousands of properties and caused widespread panic to huge numbers of people. This week it rained, which we will come back to later, but last week the trees were dry from months of sunshine and there was a strong wind.  Many, if not all the fires were deliberately caused by Arab arsonists. It has been called the pogrom of 5777.  Seventy-five thousand people were forced to leave their homes in Haifa. At Neve Tzuf, a moshav in the Shomron, a Molotov cocktail thrown over the perimeter fence on Shabbos night exploded into a fire which threatened all one thousand residents.  There were also fires at Zichron Yaakov, Beit Meir and other places. Yet despite the extreme threat to the lives of many people, no-one died. Firemen fought for three days in great danger. The elderly and infirm were evacuated from hospitals and old-age homes. Children were rescued from kindergartens which were within minutes of becoming fire traps. No-one was left behind. No petrol stations caught fire nor gas balloons which provide cooking fuel to older homes to. In short, there was financial damage, some injuries caused by smoke inhalation but no deaths. Boruch Hashem for this miracle, for these many miracles.

And now it has rained. In London this is nothing to talk about, and certainly not in Manchester but in Eretz Yisroel there is no rain from the middle of May to October. Even then it is sporadic and December can still be hot and dry. We read in Krias Shema about the yoreh and malkosh, often translated by “the former rains and the latter rains.” The time of the yoreh is in Cheshvan or Kislev. The Gemoro Taanis tells when the rains should start and when the people began special tefilos and fasting if it hadn’t rained yet. The Gemoro (7b-8a) also lists several reasons why the rains might be late in arriving. One reason is that people have pledged money over the Yom Tov season but have not kept their vows. Other possible reasons for Hashem not sending rain are loshon hora, chutzpa, bitul Torah and theft. The day of rain is considered as great as the day heaven and earth were created. It is a sign that our aveiros have been forgiven. So when it started raining on Thursday evening, here in Ramat Beit Shemesh, there were shrieks of joy to be heard. It continued to rain throughout Erev Shabbos until later on Friday evening. People were glad to wear their raincoats and hat covers. On Friday morning just about every child from about the age of four proudly held their coloured umbrellas on their way to school. Other parts of Eretz Yisroel also saw record amounts of rain. It has already stopped raining with temperatures forecast to go up somewhat but this is another reason for our own thanksgiving to Hashem at the moment.

However, the main thanksgiving we feel at the moment is the result of the American elections. First, we need two introductions.

The two main candidates, as we all know, were Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Mr Trump gave a list of several policy points concerning his proposed attitude to Israel and the American Jewish community. 1. He would support Israel against Iran who are building weapons of mass destruction targeted towards Israel and Europe. 2. He does not support the idea of a Palestinian State since the Palestinians are only interested in terrorism not living in peace. 3. He would oppose the B.D.S. movement which tries its best to persuade as many countries and businesses as possible to boycott products made in Israel. 4. He wants to protect Jewish students in American colleges who are the victims of violent actions by pro-Palestinian and extreme left wing groups.

Mrs Clinton supported the agreement with Iran which, although it may have somewhat slowed their nuclear programme, allows them to become a nuclear power in a few years. She supports a Palestinian State right up to the pre-1967 lines which are considered indefensible and are known as the Auschwitz borders. She has admitted receiving into her Clinton Foundation huge sums of money given by Arab nations and terrorist supporters which were clearly intended to influence her policies. She supports the rights of any individual, no matter what his or her lifestyle, to be employed and even a religious institution (like a Jewish school) cannot refuse. An institution which refuses is liable to lose its charitable status. And her closest advisers are known to be B.D.S. supporters, the very people who try to destroy Jewish businesses and harass Jewish students at the American colleges. All the polls and expectations were that Mrs Clinton would win.

The second point of introduction is bringing up the different attitudes to the State of Israel amongst chareidi Jews. When the State of Israel was created, some Gedolim led by the Satmar Rebbe zt”l refused to have anything to do with it, to be involved in any of its institutions, to receive any funding etc. Other Gedolim like the Chazon Ish zt”l thought it correct to work within the system and fight for the rights of chareidi Jews to live according to the Torah. It is not for us, no matter who our Rebbe is, to disqualify the other opinion. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim. (The late Gateshead Rov, zt”l once told me that Agudas Yisroel need the Neturei Karta to stop them veering). But all of those Gedolim had a great ahavas Yisroel and never wanted Jews to suffer, even Jews who did not subscribe to their opinions and even not (yet) religious Jews. However strongly one objects to the State of Israel as an institution, we should never chas vesholom support anything which would aid Israel’s enemies who, given half a chance, would happily destroy Israel together with its over six million Jewish residents. Clearly, all of us who care very much about the physical welfare of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, preferred the more pro-Israel candidate.

This is our third “thanksgiving.” When, against all expectations, the candidate who once kissed Mrs Arafat after the latter had accused Israel of poisoning drinking water to kill Palestinian children, lost her chance to put her policies into practice, we were relieved and thankful. Certainly we need to daven every day that Mr Trump will be kind to all Jews, just as we have always davened concerning every non-Jewish ruler, but we can and should appreciate the he’oras ponim which we have been shown.

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A year later, we can look back. One well know columnist argued that in view of Mr. Trump’s moral history, Jews should not vote at all. I argued to him that Jews have always voted for who is better for the Jews, personal morals notwithstanding and I wrote to two Gedolim who confirm that this is daas Torah. President Trump’s support for Israel and his recent release of Sholom Rebashkin indicate that those who voted for him, voted wisely. Our thanks is due to him but especially to Hashem for showing us this welcome he’oras panim.

The Kedoshim will Praise You Every Day

When Yosef followed Yaakov’s request to check on Yosef’s brothers it was always going to be a risk. The pasuk tells us that the brothers hated Yosef and were jealous of him. Nevertheless, with great loyalty to his father, despite the danger, Yosef went to Shechem in search of his brothers. They weren’t there. But at the vital moment he was spotted by someone who asked what he was looking for and directed him to Doson. This led the sale of Yosef to Mitzrayim which led, eventually, to the whole family going down to Mitzrayim and their descendants being enslaved for hundreds of years. Reading the story we could think that if it weren’t for Yosef chancing upon this helpful local resident, the enslavement of the Jews would never have happened.

Yaakov Astor’s book, The Hidden Hand, (Judaica Press) recounts a very fascinating historical detail. In September 1938, Hitler had already taken over Austria; the Sudetenland, the Germanic section of Czechoslovakia was now within his sights. However there was a high chance that any attempt to capture it would have led to an ignominious defeat for Hitler and Germany. So much so, that his Commander in Chief and other highest ranking officers were planning to overthrow him, were he to tell them to attack. On the other hand, for Hitler to back down would have been such a blow to his prestige that it would also have destroyed his political career, according to historian and author William Shirer. Although he did not know it, Hitler was in a lose-lose situation. Yet on the night of 12th September, Hitler was saved, apparently by one man, England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. At 11.00 pm he sent a telegram to Hitler offering to negotiate and he offered him the Sudetenland on the condition that he would not seek any further territorial gain. Chamberlain came back from Munich a few days later waving a piece of paper announcing “Peace in our time.” The army didn’t rebel, Hitler broke his word and the Second World War broke out, including the Holocaust of six million Jews. Just like the unnamed man in the parsha without whom shibud Mitzrayim would, seemingly, have never happened, it would appear that without Chamberlain and his late night telegram, the Holocaust would not have happened.

However, Chazal tell us that shibud Mitzrayim would have happened anyway. As Rashi comments Me’emek Chevron, me’eitza amuka she osoh tzadik hakevura bechevron, to fulfill what had been told to Avrohom Ovinu, “Your children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs and they will be enslaved for four hundred years.” (37:14) The man (Rashi says he was the malach Gavriel) was there to direct Yosef because Hashem put him there to fulfill His decree. Similarly we cannot think that the Holocaust would not have happened without the political ineptitude of one English politician. It was clearly a decree of Hashem which had to happen whether we understand it or not.

The Biur Halocho in the first chapter of Shulchan Aruch brings from the Sefer Hachinuch that the mitzvah of knowing that Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim is not merely believing in that historical event but of believing that Hashem supervises everything which happens in this world. This is one of the mitzvos temidios, those mitzvos which we should fulfill continuously. This emuna peshuta that, for some reason that we cannot understand, Hashem decreed that the Holocaust should happen, enabled many of those who suffered terribly, those who survived and those who didn’t survive, to keep their emuna in Hashem intact.

In my sefer “The Hidden Light” I discuss the Holocaust from various angles. One is that basic Torah hashkafa requires us to believe that Hashem keeps an account for every single person. We have the well-known explanation of tzaddik vera lo and rosho vetov lo – that Hashem sometimes punishes the tzaddik for his aveiros in this world to give him unadulterated pleasure in the World to Come and a rosho can be given reward for his few mitzvos in this world to cut him off completely from the pleasures of the World to Come. (Kiddushin 40b). In the same way, if a blameless person suffers, like many who suffered in the Holocaust, because, in the big picture which Hashem wants to create, it is unavoidable, he will undoubtedly be given a glorious olom habo which will more than make up for his suffering in this world.

This could shed new light on a section of the wording in the third brocho of the Shemone Esrei , “Ukedoshim bechol yom yehalelucho – the Kedoshim will praise You every day.” Who are these kedoshim, why do we mention them in this important part of the Shemone Esre and why is the phrase in the future tense? The Avudrohom explains that Kedoshim refers to the Jewish People, Hashem’s holy nation. We praise Hashem every day because we believe that whatever happens, Hashem is in charge as we mentioned above and all is for the best. But why is this mentioned here and why in the future tense?

Perhaps, based on what we wrote earlier, we can suggest the following. We say this brocho after the brocho of Techiyas Hameisim. According to Derech Hashem and other sources, although immediately after death, the neshomo goes to the Olom Haneshomos where it receives reward appropriate to its achievements in this world, our main reward will be given after Techiyas Hameisim. Perhaps, we can extend the Avudrohom to say that the kedoshim in the Shemone Esrei refers not only to all Jews who live their life in holiness but particularly to those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem in the Holocaust and throughout history. And it will be particularly after Techiyas Hameisim, when individual accounts will be corrected and they will enjoy unbelievable pleasures which will more than make up for their yissurim which they suffered previously, that these kedoshim will praise Hashem every day.

This emuna in Hashem’s hashgocho protis, that nothing happens by chance and that everyone receives their just reward sooner or later, is so important that Chazal saw fit to include it in the first section of Shemone Esrei, immediately after the brocho of techias hameisim. This emuna is also an important tool to enable all of us to participate in next week’s festival of Hallel Vehodo’oh.

Happy Chanukah.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts, The Hidden Light. If you want to be put on his email list, please write to rabbimfletcher@gmail.com

Where Are We?

“You did not want to marry her to your brother. Instead she will be married to your enemy. You did not want to marry her to someone permitted to her. She will marry someone forbidden to her.” (Medrash Rabboh). Yaakov Ovinu is being criticized for hiding Dina from Eisav to prevent him from marrying her. In the end she was ‘married’ to Shechem. This Medrash has been questioned by many. Why should Yaakov have even considered marrying Dina to Eisav the rosho? Already at the age of fifteen he was reported to have been guilty of serious aveiros (Boba Basra 16b). He was the “man of the field” as distinct from Yaakov, the “man who dwelt in tents” (of Torah). The argument that she could have had a good influence on him seems weak. Would we consider marrying our daughter to a rosho because she might be able to influence him? Why should Yaakov be blamed?

A similar question troubles all the commentators in parshas Toldos. Yitzchak Ovinu was apparently prepared to give the blessing and spiritual inheritance to Eisav. He would have been the third of the Ovos, if not for Rivka and Yaakov’s last minute trickery. Was Yitzchak unaware that Eisav was a serial sinner? It does not reflect well on our holy patriarch to suggest that Yitzchak was so cut off from his son that he simply hadn’t heard what he was really like. Some mefarshim suggest that Yitzchak knew that Eisav was not the studious type, but he thought that he would be like Zevulun, providing for Yaakov who would continue in the Beis Hamedrash. But Zevulun was a tzaddik. Eisav was a rosho! Any comparison is an insult to Zevulun.

A key to some understanding in this very difficult subject is appreciating Chazal. We often learn aggadic comments of Chazal as children and accept them at face value, never deepening our understanding of what Chazal meant. This is not the place to discuss when we need to accept aggadeta as literally true and when we should understand the message of Chazal without accepting their words literally. The Rambam gives us guidance (Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek,) as does the Maharal. On the subject of Eisav, the Maharitz Chayos in his introduction to Ein Yaakov says that although Chazal said that Eisav transgressed five serious sins when he was fifteen, they did not mean that he really did them but that he was capable of doing them.  Chazal, with their depth of understanding, were commenting on Eisav’s penimius, his neshomo, his inner attitude to life, his true spiritual level. Perhaps we could say “where he was.”

When Hashem asked Odom Harishon after his sin, “Where are you?” the literal meaning is where he physically was. This was just to give him an opening to speak, as Rashi explains. But some understand that Hashem was asking a much deeper question, Where was he, spiritually? Was he still the yetzir kapov, pure handiwork of Hashem or had he veered from that level by sinning?

We imagine Eisav in secular clothes, transgressing every mitzvah of the Torah, with no connection to the Beis Hamedrash, no spiritual connection to Yitzchok, Rivka or Yaakov. Somehow, he fooled Yitzchok into thinking he was a tzaddik at least like Zevulun. This led to our questions earlier. But maybe, as Rav Avigdor Miller implies, (Behold A People p. 65), Eisav was dressed just like Yaakov, kept the same mitzvos as Yaakov, perhaps learning part of the day in the same Beis Hamedrash as Yaakov, spending the rest of the day in the field providing for the family.  Any onlooker would have thought he was indeed the classic Zevulun. Yitzchok might have thought the third of the Ovos should be a role model for all those who don’t sit in the Beis Hamedrash all day.  And he was right, as Yaakov’s life after he had received the brocho showed, which Dorash Dovid points out. But at Yitzchok’s lower level of prophecy he didn’t discern that Eisav was unsuitable for this role. It required Rivka’s depth of prophecy to know that Eisav’s heart was in the wrong place. It was “in the field.” That was his enjoyment in life. Can we describe such an Eisav as a rosho? Yes. Rabbeinu Yona describes somebody whose source of enjoyment is the pleasures of this world rather than serving Hashem, as a rosho. (Sh.T. Shaar 2:18 as explained by Lev Eliyahu Vol 1 P.13) He is on completely the wrong path despite his technical adherence to mitzvos. And he is capable of the worst aveiros even if he hasn’t done any of them, as the Maharitz Chayos explained. This is a chilling thought. We might be sitting in kollel wearing our frack or reckel but if the highlight of our day is our physical pleasures, we are an ish sodeh, Eisav’s spiritual descendant.

Zevulun may be “in the field” but in his heart he is in the Beis Hamedrash.  Yaakov worked for twenty years tending Lovon’s sheep but he remained the ish yoshev oholim.  We can be out and about, trying to provide for our families, but if the highlight of our day is our chavrusa or shiur in the evening, a geshmake Shemone Esrei rather than a geshmake pizza, we are ish yoshev oholim, Yaakov’s spiritual descendant. The question is not what we are doing but where our heart is. Just as Hashem asked Odom Horishon, “Where are you?” we have to ask ourselves, “Where are we?”

The Medresh’s comment, implying that Dina should have married Eisav is a positive message for us. Even if at the moment we still prefer a new car to a new messechta, beautiful clothes to a beautiful esrog, we can change. Under the influence of a good spouse or good friends or good rebbes or, if we are determined, even by ourselves, we can steig. We can grow from being an ish sodeh to being an ish yoshev ohalim.  Dina could have changed Eisav. And that is why Yaakov, in the words of the Medrash, was held responsible.  

Choosing Our Songs Of Praise

In our daily davening we say that Hashem is “habocher beshirei zimra” – He chooses our songs of praise. In what respect does Hashem choose our songs of praise as if He has different options? Rav Chaim Kanievski shlita explains that the non-Jews also sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem, but they only sing their songs of praise after a successful harvest or battle etc. We sing songs of praise to Hashem whatever happens. Our songs of praise reflect greater emuna because we believe that whatever Hashem does, is for the best. Also, even when a situation is challenging to us, we find certain aspects which we see as being proof of Hashem’s kindness, rays of light in the darkness. Therefore Hashem “chooses our songs of praise.”

Leah, in this week’s parsha, called her fourth son Yehuda as a demonstration of her particular appreciation of being granted more than what might have been regarded as her “fair share.” After Rochel gave birth she expressed her great appreciation that she was no longer childless. Rashi brings the Medrash Agada that she thanked Hashem that she would now have a way of explaining why a vessel was broken or why the figs were eaten. Even for such an apparently minor detail, Rochel was full of thanks to Hashem.

We explained last week that the penultimate kapitel Tehilim (149) of Pesukei D’Zimra expresses how much Hashem loves us and that we reciprocate by rejoicing in Hashem. We sing, dance and play musical instruments in our love for Hashem. Our emuna in Him is strengthened particularly during Succos when we no longer have a solid roof to protect us and we are under His sole protection. We previously explained also that a deeper lesson of Succos is to reach the level of humility that nothing has any power besides Hashem. Without Hashem, we would be reduced to dust and ashes in a moment, as Avrohom Ovinu said. With this emuna that nothing has any strength besides Hashem, ein od milvado, our enemies lose all their power. This explains the continuation of this kapitel. (ibid 4-8) “Hashem glorifies the humble with salvation. The chassidim will sing joyously as they lie on their beds.” If we have humility and emuna sheleima in Hashem, He will save us from our enemies without us doing anything as He destroyed the whole camp of Sancheriv during the night, as Chizkiyahu Hamelech and his people “lay on their beds.” If we do not merit this level of miracle, we will at least merit Hashem’s help as we wage war “singing Hashem’s greatness with a double-edged sword in our hands.”  This means that if we sing about Hashem’s greatness when we face our enemies, Hashem will help us overcome them as if we had a double-edged sword in our hands. (Metzudas Dovid).  Even if we have to fight with real arms, Hashem will enable us to “bind up their kings with chains and their noblemen with fetters of iron.”

The next mizmor which is also the last kapitel of Tehilim is naturally the high point of Sefer Tehilim. The last pasuk is the best known and we repeat it for emphasis. “Kol haneshomo tehalel koh hallelukoh. – Everyone with a neshomo should praise Hashem.”  Chazal darshan this last posuk and say “For every neshima – breath, we should praise Hashem.” On a basic level this means thanking Hashem that we are alive as evidenced by us breathing, our sign of life. But with the help of Rabbi Avrohom Katz’s Designer World, we can appreciate our breathing in a deeper way. He explains that when we breathe in and breathe out we are experiencing, through Hashem’s kindness, a most amazing miracle. We might imagine that when we inhale and exhale a few seconds later, we are dealing with the same air. Not true. The air we breathe in contains oxygen. This oxygen moves from our lungs into our bloodstream and performs vital functions without which we cannot live. At the same time our blood, which is constantly circulating round our bodies, exhudes waste carbon dioxide which leaves our body when we breathe out. Millions of oxygen cells enter our bloodstream as millions of different carbon dioxide cells leave. In the entertaining style for which he is renowned, Rabbi Katz compares this exchange of cells to a railway station where a train passes through a station. Millions of passengers jump off the moving train and at the same time as millions of other passengers jump on. This happens approximately sixteen times a minute, twenty-three thousand times a day. No railway station in existence could compare with the mind-boggling efficiency of the human body engineered by Hashem. If we breathe even once or twice during this last kapitel and think about what is happening, we will be consumed with thanks to Hashem for His constant kindnesses.

Dovid Hamelech praised Hashem in all the different situations he found himself in during his lifetime. He endured serious illness, being captured by his enemies, being pursued by Shaul Hamelech as well as celebrating moments of triumph and great happiness. Perhaps the variety of his experiences is reflected in the variety of musical instruments mentioned – the lyre, harp, drums, organ, flute, cymbals and trumpets. In all situations Dovid Hamelech has taught us to praise Hashem. What a wonderful springboard to our Shemone Esre which follows shortly after Pesukei Zimra and to this month in which we celebrate Chanukah, the Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah. No wonder Hashem is bocher beshirei zimra, lovingly choosing our songs of praise.

Eisav’s Tears

“Eisav is still crying.” Since the time that Yaakov received the brochos from Yitzchak, Chazal say that Eisav has never stopped crying. This is surprising for two reasons. Firstly, if we look at the pesukim, it would appear that Eisav received virtually the same brocho as Yaakov. Secondly, if there was a slight difference, why can’t he get over it? It’s been a long time. Eisav has enjoyed mighty empires over the years which we never had. Why does Eisav still cry?

Firstly let’s look at the posukim. Yitzchak blessed Yaakov as follows: “May Hashem give you of the dew of the Heavens and of the fatness of the Earth, abundant grain and wine. Peoples will serve you and regimes will prostrate themselves before you. You should be a lord to your brothers and the sons of your mother will bow down to you; cursed be they who curse you and blessed be they who bless you.”(Bereishis 27:28-29). Yitzchak blessed Eisav as follows.” Behold of the fatness of the Earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the Heaven from above. By your sword you shall live but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved because Yaakov is not worthy, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck. (ibid 39-40) They both received dew. The fatness of the Earth which Eisav was blessed with presumably includes the same abundant grain and wine that Yaakov was blessed with. Yes, Yaakov was blessed that he should rule over his brother but Eisav was told that if he is aggrieved he will be able to cast off the yoke of Yaakov. So why the tears?

Gemoro Succah (28b) compares rain on Succos to a servant who brings a cup of wine to his master and the master pours a jug of water over him. The Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu Emor) asks why the Gemoro doesn’t say simply that the master throws the cup of wine over the servant? Why bring the jug of water into the moshol? He gives an illuminating answer. Hashem has arranged Succos after Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur because He loves us. As we know, Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur are days when we are being judged. It could be that we have davened sincerely, tried to do teshuva sheleima, committed ourselves to do better next year but alas at the final count, after Neila, our merits are not quite enough. Our aveiros still outweigh our mitzvos and Hashem has no choice but to respond with harsh judgement. But He loves us and wants to give us a last chance. Therefore Hashem gave us the mitzvos of Succah, arba minim, simchas Yom Tov (which women are also obliged to fulfil) as a way of diluting the judgment which He would have had to bring on us. There are so many mitzvos which we can do over Succos that we have an excellent chance to add enough merits to tip the scales of justice in our favour. Hashem’s desire to ‘dilute’ our judgment is symbolized by the water in the Gemoro’s moshol. If Hashem makes it rain (this is clearly talking about Eretz Yisroel where it rarely rains, not a country where rain is frequent anyway) and thus denies us the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of Succah, it is like the water, which was ready to dilute the strong wine into a pleasant drink, being thrown over the servant. The undiluted wine, which symbolises strict judgement, will now remain unpalatable.  The main inspiration of this explanation, however, is how much Hashem loves us and wants us to deserve to be blessed with a successful year. He decrees a Yom Tov with its many mitzvos just at the moment that the merits acquired can tip the scale of judgment in our favour.

In Tehilim (149) we are told to “sing a new song…rejoice…praise His Name with dancing…make music with drums and a harp… because Hashem loves His People.” This could be a hint to Succos, according to the Vilna Gaon’s explanation. On Succos we can particularly appreciate how much Hashem loves us, wants us to be successful in judgement and wants to bless us. Of course we love Hashem in return and want to play our drums, harp, and other musical instruments to dance and sing in His honour which may hint to the simchas beis hashoeva of Succos.

True, Eisav’s dew, grains and wine etc were equal to Yaakov’s. That is not what Eisav cries about. He cries that Yaakov receives his blessings from Hashem: “Veyiten lecho Elokim”, whereas in his brocho the name of Hashem is not mentioned, as the Sfas Emes points out. Eisav’s brochos will come but without Hashem’s love. He might rule empires but will have no connection to Hashem. His life will lack the sweetness which a connection with Hashem produces. No beauty of Shabbos. No joy of Yom Tov. No inspiration from the Torah. A spiritual vacuum.

Yaakov was told that Hashem will bless him. His descendants will always feel His closeness. And this is the greatest brocho, which gives the greatest simcha. No wonder Eisav still cries.

Why did we lose the Land?

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One hundred years after Lord Balfour began the political process to enable millions of Jews to live in Eretz Yisroel as they do now, let’s look again at the religious reasons we lost the land two and a half thousand years ago. An honest discussion of the relevant pasukim and statements in Chazal will reveal what we need to do to transform the present political de facto situation into the true geula sheleima. We might also have a still better understanding of why we ask for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash at the end of our Shemone Esrei.

The pesukim on this subject in Sefer Yirmiyahu are very difficult to understand. Yirmiyahu says, “Is there a chochom who can understand this, someone to whom Hashem has spoken that he should explain this, why did we lose the Land and it has become parched like a desert without a passer-by?” Hashem said, “Because they forsook My Torah… they didn’t listen to My voice…they served idols.” (9:11-13)

The first difficulty is the plurality of expressions describing their disloyalty to the Torah, all of which seem to refer to idol-worship. But far more difficult, is that the first pasuk indicates that no-one could explain why the Land was lost, not even chachomim and nevi’im, while in the second and third pasukim Hashem said that the people were serving idols. If they were serving idols, the reason for the exile was clear, as we read in krias shema, “If you serve other gods…you will be exiled from the Land.”

Nedarim (81a) is often brought as a source to explain these pesukim. It asks, “Why are the children of talmidei Chachomim often not talmidei chachomim?” One answer of the Gemoro is that they don’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learn Torah, as Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav. What does the pasuk mean when it says, “Is there a Chochom who can explain this….why was the Land lost? Hashem said, Because they forsook My Torah, they didn’t listen to My voice…” Said Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav, this means that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learnt Torah.”

The Ran explains that the Gemoro had the same difficulty as we had. If the people had really forsaken the Torah, why couldn’t the chachomim answer the question of why we were exiled from the Land?  The Gemoro answered  that their aveira was that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah. However this is still difficult. Firstly, why didn’t the  Chachomim realise their aveira that they were omitting birkas HaTorah? Secondly, and more problematically, our Gemoro seems to imply that the only aveira was that the people did not say Birkas Hatorah. But this is contradicted by the simple meaning of many pasukim and also by another Gemoro (Yuma 9b) which says that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, murder and immorality. Later (ibid 69b) the Gemoro says that Chazal later davened that Hashem should take away the yetzer hora for idol worship which had been the cause of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Ran brings the Megilas Sesorim who says that they did say Birkas HaTorah but they did not have the correct kavono when they said it.  This answers the first question. No human being could discern that until Hashem revealed their failing. However the second difficulty of the other sources which say clearly that the people were guilty of horrendous sins therefore everyone should have realized why we lost the Land, remains unanswered.  Perhaps this is the explanation. The people were clearly guilty of idol worship, murder and immorality, but Yirmiyahu wanted to know the source of this spiritual decline. What led us to fall so low?  And only Hashem knew, “They had forsaken My Torah.” Yes, they learnt the Torah and kept it but it wasn’t ‘My Torah’. They no longer felt the connection between themelves and the Shechina. And the first manifestation of this yerida was in the way they said Birkas Hatorah. They said the words, but they were not completely focused on the One to whom they were speaking. They lacked kavono. This led to a lack of kavono in other brochos and other mitzvos. “They didn’t listen to My voice,” as the navi said. This led to a gradual abandonment of other mitzvos and eventually to the cardinal aveiros including idol worship.

We see the same concept in reverse in Krias Shema. The wearing of tzitzis should first of all ensure that “We see them and remember all the mitzvos and do them.” Then, in an apparent repetition, we are told, “in order that you remember and keep all My mitzvos and be holy to Hashem Elokeichem.” This is not a repetition. We have, in fact, gone from keeping the mitzvos to keeping “My mitzvos” and through this we have become holy.

If we want to merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the Geula Sheleima, it is not enough to go through the motions of the mitzvos, even if we do them in every detail and following the strictest opinions. We have to reclaim our personal connection with Hashem. When we say a brocho, we have to know and feel that we are talking to Hashem. We will say the words clearly and accurately even if it takes a few more seconds. When we put on our tallis or tefillin or do any other mitzvah we will remember that this is not just “what Jews do”, but it is part of our Avodas Hashem.  When we learn Torah we will have in mind that we are bringing the Shechina down to this world which will protect us, particularly in Eretz Yisroel. (Bach)

By the time we reach the last section of the Shemone Esrei we have built up a close personal relationship to Hashem. We say “Elokai, netzor leshoni (not Elokim). We have, hopefully, regained at least to a small degree the madreiga we had before our spiritual decline which led to the Churban. There is no better moment to plead with Hashem that He should consider us worthy of the Geula….sheyibone Beis Hamikdash bimheira beyomeinu …kimei olom ukeshonim kadmonios.

Rest under the Tree

Every aspect of Avrohom Ovinu’s hospitality was repaid to his children. Avrohom ran to prepare meat for his guests; Hashem later gave us the slav. He gave them butter and milk; we received the mon. He gave them water; we received water from the rock. (Bobo Metziah 86b). He told them to rest under the tree, we later received the mitzvah of succah. (Bereishis Rabboh). We can easily understand the first few examples, but what has resting under a tree to do the mitzvah of succah? The fact that a succah under a tree is not kosher only adds to the difficulty. And Chazal say in Yalkut Emor that a person who performs the mitzvah of succah will be protected from mazikim. Why?

Last week we showed how the high point of our Shemoneh Esrei is the last line Oseh sholom bimromov..When we bow down three times during that line with the emuna that Ein od milvado – there is no power besides Hashem – we express our humility and emuna that nothing besides Hashem has any power, then indeed everything else loses its power. This provides tremendous protection from those who seek to harm us. And humility, in different forms is the central theme of Elokai netzor. Netzor leshoni mero … speaking badly of others is a sign of arrogance. Nafshi ke’ofor lakol tiheye… we highlight the qualities of others whilst being mindful of our shortcomings. P’sach libi besorosecho; humility is the key to learning Torah and our acceptance of the mitzvos. Admitting our inability to shape our destiny or control our lives, rejecting kochi ve’otzem yodi – that “the strength of my hand has achieved for me this wealth,” our belief in ein od milvado – that there is no power besides Hashem, leads us to hope that indeed chol hachoshvim olai ro meheira hofeir atzosom vekalkel machshevosom. Hashem will destroy the plans of our enemies. Asei leman shemecho … even if our emuna is not perfect, He should still destroy our enemies to protect His Name, to protect the reputation of his “right hand,” to uphold sanctity and for the sake of His Torah. Lemaan yecholtzun yedidecho…You have said that You love us; please save us for this reason. Yiheyu lerotzon imrei fi – please, Hashem accept our tefilos and hegyon libi – this could refer to those heartfelt desires which we didn’t succeed in verbalising but could also refer to the emuna in our hearts.

Now we take the obligatory three steps back. Without them, according to Yuma 53b, “there is no point in one’s whole tefila.” Why are they crucial? Because these steps backward reflect our subservience to Hashem. We are not just finishing a chat with our friend. The Creator of the World deigned to allow us to speak to Him. “Oseh Sholom..” with its three bows indicates again our complete subservience to Hashem, as we said earlier.

Now comes the final part of our tefila – a plea for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash. If, at Oseh sholom we were already mentally on our way out of shul, by sheyibone Beis Hamikdash we will certainly be already down the road, checking the time or nodding to a neighbor. What a wasted opportunity! Why do we ask Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash at this point? Perhaps it because whenever the Nevi’im speak about the Beis Hamikdash they speak about Hashem’s greatness. “The Heavens are My Throne and the Earth my footstool” (Yeshaya 66:1). “The Heavens in all their vastness cannot contain Hashem.” (Melochim 1. 8:27). If we can’t appreciate the greatness of Hashem, His limitless power, His awesome wisdom, we will not be able to serve Him with yiras Shoma’im in the Beis Hamikdash. If we do not live with the emuna sheleima that He is a living G-d Who, even though He is magbihi losheves, is also mashpili liros bashomayim uvo’oretz and has a relationship with every single person, our avodas Hashem will be perfunctory, superficial and something we do merely out of habit. And we would not deserve a Beis Hamikdash. We would still be behaving in the way Yeshaya (29:13) criticized when he prophesied the imminent destruction of the Beis Hamikdash –“They honour Me with their mouth and lips but their heart is far from Me.”.

However if we have been concentrating on davening as we should, we can show at this point that we are capable of truly serving Hashem and are worthy again of a Beis Hamikdash. We now say that we are ready to serve Hashem “beyir’a” – with the appropriate humility, awe and emuna. If so, this is an opportune moment to plead to Hashem to restore the Beis Hamikdash. It is certainly not a moment to squander.

Avrohom Ovinu was not merely telling his guests to rest in the shade but hisho’anu tachas ho’eitz, they should note the amazing miracle of a tree which only recently might have a been a mere seed but now, thanks to chasdei Hashem produces fruit in abundance and shade for our convenience during the heat of summer. This understanding of Hashem’s greatness and showing our subservience to Him is the main purpose of the mitzvah of Succah. Thus Avrohom Ovinu’s invitation to his guests to “Rest under the tree” made us worthy of the mitzvah of Succah which echoes the same theme. And if we enter our Succah with the correct kavono that ein od milvado – nothing has any power besides Hashem, all the mazikim who try to harm us will automatically lose their power and we will continue to survive in the shade of Hashem’s protection.

To be continued.

Where was G-d in the Holocaust?

Any rabbi or Jewish speaker who has ever spoken in public on the topic of emuna has probably been challenged with the question, Where was G-d in the Holocaust? Even today seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the issue occupies people’s minds. Some may use it to justify their secular lifestyle. For them the question is really an answer rather than a question. Others are truly perplexed. As Avrohom Ovinu said (Bereishis  18:25) “ Shall the Judge of the Earth not do justice?”

Why am I writing this essay? Do I think that I am the best-qualified person to answer the question? How can I even relate to the horrors of the Holocaust, with no first-hand experience? Many books have been written by survivors, describing their horrific experiences. The authors of the ones I have read maintained their emuna despite everything. However they usually do not discuss how they maintained their emuna. Other survivors have written that they saw   Hashem in the Holocaust. Again, this is usually part of an account of their personal survival. They somehow escaped the brink of death multiple times. They see their survival as an outright miracle. This is a truly Jewish response displaying a level of emuna which we cannot aspire to. We do not reach the ankles of these heroes. But they do not attempt to explain why Hashem allowed so many others to die.

Books have been written on this subject which unfortunately do not represent Torah Judaism. The very few books written by Talmidei Chachamim are either too lengthy for today’s ‘instant’ generation or are written in loshon hakodesh or they are out of print.[1] Having been asked recently by a well-meaning Jewish lady how can I explain where Hashem was when six million Jews were brutally murdered, I felt it was appropriate to give her an answer which, despite the tragedy of the Holocaust, will be positive and non-critical and will leave this lady strong and positive in her emuna. I am putting my answer on paper so that it may be a help for Rabbonim and kiruv workers who need to respond to this question, for others troubled by this question who are reluctant to ask anybody because they might be suspected of having doubts in emuna, and for today’s youth who need succinct answers to their questions in emuna as part of their education. There is a risk that, whatever I write, I might be quoted out of context by somebody who disagrees. But should one not write or say anything because people might quote you out of context? The well-known pasuk says, “The righteous shall walk in them and the wicked shall stumble in them.” (Hoshea 14:10) I have tried to decrease the risk by suggesting various Torah responses to the question. Someone who finds one explanation difficult to accept, might be better able to accept others.

The wording of the question — “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” assumes a belief in G-d. This may lead us to wonder what we mean by G-d. Do we mean the Jewish definition of Hashem, the all-powerful Creator, responsible for the myriads of stars and every blade of grass on Earth, who provides food for every creature from the greatest to the smallest, who gives us the strength for every step we take and every breath we breathe? Or do we mean a childish view of a god who has supernatural powers and is supposed to do for us anything we want at any time we demand it. The latter belief is certainly going to be suspect if our very own god didn’t do what he is supposed to do, helping us out when we needed it. The Jewish belief also leads us to ask why He didn’t help when we needed it because He certainly can do anything. However, expecting an explanation which we can understand, presupposes that we are capable of understanding His conduct. This is clearly a weak assumption; such a Creator is so much greater than us in every possible way that there is no reason to assume that we will understand Him, His actions or His decisions. In fact if a person thinks that he has the mental capacity to understand whatever Hashem does, he is contradicting himself. If we are equal to Hashem, why worship Him?

We can begin to understand the rationale of a decision only if we have all the facts in front of us on which it is based. Would any intelligent person criticize the decisions of the managing director of a company who has decreased his work-force without full knowledge of the workings of the company? Maybe he is doing it because of a poor annual report just in, or in the offing. Maybe he is planning to employ new workers with new skills to meet the anticipated technological demands of the next season? Or maybe he is planning to open a new factory in another country where the wages are less and the company profits will increase. Although the question of where Hashem was in the Holocaust might pass through our minds, we cannot assume that we will understand His reasons. What do we know about Hashem’s plans? What do we know about the present state of the universe and our rôle in it? Have we any concept of the purpose and destiny of each individual’s neshama?

“Shall the Judge of the Earth not do Justice?”

We started by strengthening the question of where was Hashem in the Holocaust by quoting the pasuk “Shall the Judge of the Earth not do justice?”  However, this pasuk is not necessarily relevant. In the context of Sedom and Amora, Hashem was about to destroy the cities with “fire and brimstone from Heaven” (Bereishis 19:24) This was something clearly supernatural, initiated and carried out directly by Hashem. Avrohom Ovinu was asking about the Hashem’s justice if righteous people were to be killed as well. If fire and brimstone had come down from Heaven killing six million Jews we would certainly ask why Hashem did it. But the Holocaust was carried out by human beings. Hitler had written of his plan to destroy the Jews and when he achieved political power he began to carry it out. Our question has to change to “why didn’t Hashem intervene to prevent the Holocaust happening?” This is a different and much weaker question.

It must be emphasized that, however we try to answer this question, an essential part of our emuna is that every person is judged individually by Hashem. Every mitzvah and every aveira that a person does is noted. Every pleasurable moment and every moment of distress that a person experiences on this Earth is similarly noted by Hashem. There are sinful people who are rewarded for their few mitzvos while they live in this world and do not receive any reward in the World to Come. There are righteous people who want to receive all their reward in the World to Come. Others who have suffered in this world through no fault of their own will receive a lofty place in the World to Come with all the pleasure that brings with it. And the very sinful will receive a great eternal punishment. On an individual level every Jew who suffered in the Holocaust will have their account corrected and their pleasure in the World to Come will be greater than we could ever imagine, each one according to their individual life and destiny. What we are discussing here is the Holocaust on a national level. Is there any way we can understand it?

To begin answering, we have to clarify several essential points of Torah hashkafa. The first of the thirteen statements of Torah hashkafa as written by the Rambam says: “I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be He, creates and guides all creatures and He alone made, makes and will make everything.” Nothing can possibly exist outside the will of Hashem. Every act we do, every word we say, every thought we think and every second we live is only because Hashem wills it to happen. Therefore we have to thank Him for giving us life and everything else. However, because these miracles happen on a constant basis, we do not readily recognize them as miracles and they are called nissim nistorim – hidden miracles. Nissim gluyim – open miracles – are those interventions by Hashem which go against the normal functioning of the world. These happen extremely rarely. The plagues in Mitzrayim which punished the Mitzriim but did not affect the Jews were examples of nissim gluyim. The Ramban in his commentary in Parshas Bo (13:16) says that the open miracles which took place at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim proved that Hashem exists, that He involves Himself in matters of this world and that He gives reward and punishment to individuals. But “He will not do open miracles in every generation for anyone who demands a proof of Hashem’s power. We are supposed to have learnt about the power of Hashem from the events of Yetzias Mitzrayim. For this reason we have many mitzvos zecher l’yetzias Mitzraim to remind ourselves of those open miracles.” We see from this Ramban that, although Hashem can do anything, He restrains Himself. He does not perform open miracles on a regular basis. He does not normally intervene in a miraculous way in the ‘natural’ world. The Gemara (Shabbos 53b) tells of a righteous man who prayed that he should have the ability to nurse a baby and was granted that ability, but he was criticized for “changing the ways of nature.”  In fact for Hashem to do so would be self-defeating. Even an open miracle performed often would be taken for granted by many, just like all His constant hidden miracles. One of the reasons for this is that he wants us to have free choice to believe in Him and His powers and so to earn the reward for doing so. If we saw Hashem clearly intervening either to punish the wicked or even stop a sinful act, we would have no free choice. In our times, we often plead for Hashem’s intervention but it is not forthcoming, at least not in an obvious way. After Moshiach comes, writes the Ramban in Devarim  (30:6), we will see open miracles again, but then we will gain no merits for believing in Hashem. In the meantime, therefore, Hashem’s apparent non-intervention should not lead us to wonder where He is. It is in keeping with Hashem’s plan as explained by the Ramban and many other commentators. In fact the Torah says explicitly “I will hide Myself on that day.” (Devarim  31:18). At the same time Hashem promised “I will never allow the Jewish People to be destroyed,”(Vayikra 26:44) which has miraculously been fullfilled despite all our persecutors until today. Our belief in the Torah should therefore not be weakened but strengthened.

If Hashem does not intervene, at least not overtly, in what happens in this world, some people argue that the central question is not “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” but “Where was man in the Holocaust?” Even if we accept that there are wicked people who are prepared to murder others to achieve their goals, the genocide of six million Jews was only possible with the co-operation and participation of huge numbers of others who had no compunction about murdering innocent citizens. The cruelty of Nazis soldiers and their collaborators is well-documented. The indifference of millions of bystanders to the fate of the Jews is equally testified to by survivors. Western leaders and media deliberately downgraded reports of mass slaughter of the Jews and failed to come to their rescue even when they could. The valiant efforts of heroes like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who saved many thousands of Jews only highlights what could have been done if more people had been determined to help Jews. So where was man? Where was human decency? Where was there an appropriate response by twentieth century civilization to the mass genocide which we call the Holocaust? The lack of response to the question, ‘Where was man?’ should prompt more introspection among students of history than the theological question of where G-d was. He gave man freedom of choice (Devarim 30:19) and if man failed, is He to blame?[2]

One of the most sensitive areas of discussion on this subject is whether the Holocaust can in any way be understood as a fulfillment of the curses of the Torah as described in the Chumash, (Devarim 28: 15-68). These horrific events were understood by the Gemoro in Gittin (55-57)and commentators such as the Ramban (Vayikra 26:16) to have been fulfilled earlier in our history, during the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and the subsequent Roman exile. If the curses of the Torah had already been realized, then the Holocaust could not have been their fulfillment. It is clear from the curses written in the Torah, however, that if we don’t listen to G-d’s commandments we are liable to be punished. Howls of protest beset anyone who dares to suggest that the Holocaust was a punishment for the sins of the victims, not least because some of the greatest Jewish leaders and masses of loyal Jews and more than a million children were victims alongside Jewish atheists and non-observant Jews. Therefore it is not useful nowadays to pursue this avenue of explanation, certainly in a secular forum. Chazal say that “Just as it is a mitzvah to say something which will be listened to, it is also a mitzvah not to say something which will not be listened to.”[3] However it is perhaps a less sensitive point to say that we didn’t deserve that Hashem should perform miracles on our behalf. There are posukim in Tanach tell us that sometimes Hashem will not answer our tefilos because we are not worthy enough.[4]  According to the Seforno’s commentary on Shemos 15:16, Moshe Rabeinu davened in the Shiras Hayam that the Alufei Edom and Eilei Moav should be like stone until the Bnei Yisroel had crossed the river Yarden  because “before they have the crossed the river Yarden any war would be very difficult and would require a big miracle which perhaps they won’t merit.”

Another possible explanation given, is that the Holocaust was a necessary atonement for sins committed over a period of time. The concept of atonement or kapara is not readily understood. Why is kapara necessary? Why isn’t forgiveness (selicha and mechila) enough? It is interesting to note that on Yom Kippur we say “Selach lonu, mechal lonu, kaper lonu” but in our weekday Shemone Esrei we say only “Selach lonu” and “mechal lonu “ We do not request a kapara. Why not? What is this extra concept of kapara?

The Abarbanel says on the wording of our Yom Kippur tefila that our requests from Hashem go in ascending order. First we ask Hashem to forgive us for sinning. We made an error of judgement or we gave into our yetzer hora and we are truly sorry. Please forgive us. In His great kindness Hashem can do this, but there is the question of the honor of His Royal Throne. Hashem, personally, (as it were), can forgive us but sometimes the Honor of the Royal Throne doesn’t allow the sin to go unpunished. For this we need mechila, which is the equivalent of a royal pardon. This is why in the Shemone Esrei we ask Avinu (our Father) for selicha but Malkeinu (our King) for mechila. But our sin has not yet been obliterated from the record books. For this, says the Abarbanel, we need a kapara. However, we still haven’t explained why we need a kapara. If we have been totally forgiven and pardoned, what is missing?

On Yom Kippur and also in the paragraph printed in some siddurim before kerias Shema al hamitta, we ask that our sins should be nimchaku, erased – but not by serious suffering. Why don’t we ask that our sins should erased without any suffering? It seems that this is not an option. There has to be a response by Hashem at some level to our sins.  Why?

The answer is that a lack of response to sin gives the impression that leis din veleis Dayan, there is no judgment and no Judge (ח”ו). We need to know and the world needs to know that that there is a Judge. He may be very forgiving but He exists. He has given us mitzvos to live by. If there is no response to sin, the world will deteriorate into to lawlessness and will eventually destroy itself. We will all be the losers. In the same way that parents love their children and want to forgive them, but they know that if there is no response to their bad behaviour the children will grow up wild and undisciplined and unable to enjoy a successful adulthood, there has to be a response to our sins which enables our sins to be totally erased. This is what kapara is.

Kapara may or may not be in the form of yisurim (physical punishment). Chazal say that Yom Kippur atones for some more minor sins. They say also that the mizbe’ach atoned for sins, as did the clothes of the Kohen Godol. If there is a recognized method of kapara to erase our sins, people will accept that they have sinned but it has been atoned for by one of the ways kapara. But if there is no recognized method of kapara and the sin seems to have been ignored, people will think that there is no Law and no Judge. It is a hefker velt  – anything goes. Unfortunately we do not have a mizbe’ach or bigdei kehuna.[5] Yom Kippur atones only for minor sins. For more major sins there is no option but yesurim. Only with yesurim will there be a kapara. If there are no yesurim and no response to our sins, the world will just degenerate into lawlessness. We will lose any incentive to improve.

This is why we ask Hashem, in our daily tefila, to forgive us. Selach lonu..mechal lonu. He can do that whilst we are standing in front of Him. But when it is not Yom Kippur, kapara will involve yesurim. This we do not ask for.

There is no doubt that the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw large numbers of Jews abandoning Judaism. About two hundred and fifty thousand Jews converted to Christianity in Central Europe.[6] Many more Jews became weak in their loyalty to the Torah. The Russian and Polish governments interfered with traditional Jewish education. The First World War caused enormous damage to the Jewish communal structure. Our youth were abandoning Torah observance. And the more Jews who abandoned Torah observance, the more difficult it became for the rest to remain loyal. Great Gedolim like the Chofetz Chaim tried their hardest to stem the tide, with limited success. Members of their own families were also abandoning the Torah. It was a time of unprecedented crisis for the Jewish People. Hopes of a great return to Torah observance seemed completely out of the question. Something major had to happen.

Did all these Jews really deserve punishment? Probably not. The temptation to leave Judaism was massive. After two thousand years of exile, people were exhausted from pogroms, expulsions and anti-semitism. Mass circulation secular newspapers urged Jews to take the escape route offered to them by the non-Jewish world. “Join the rest of the world and your problems will be solved. Anti-semitism will become something of the past,” they shouted from every rooftop.[7] Let us imagine that Hashem in His mercy could forgive them. The temptation was just too great.  But there had to be a response. Otherwise people would conclude, as we mentioned above, that leis din veleis Dayan –There is no Law and no Judge. Even if there was selicha and mechila there had to be a kapara. Thus some explain that the Holocaust was an atonement for the abandonment of Judaism by so many Jews. It was not a punishment but a kapara which was necessary to show that the world is not hefker. This was the only way of rebuilding the Jewish People so that there could be a Jewish future.

Of course, even though, we are quoting the opinion that Hashem allowed Hitler to carry his intentions for the reasons we have given, he and all the other murderers will not be able to claim that they were carrying out Hashem’s will. This argument was tried by the Egyptians three thousand years ago, in vain. They didn’t enslave the Jews because Hashem had told them to do so but out of their own wickedness and they were duly punished. So the Nazis and all those who helped them were acting only because they in their wickedness decided to commit genocide. They will never be forgiven. As the pasuk says, (Yoel  4:21) “domom lo nikeisi” Those who shed Jewish blood will never be forgiven.[8]  They will suffer a terrible and eternal punishment.[9]

Did the Holocaust bring us closer to Moshiach?

When Yosef was sold to the merchants who then sold him as slave to Potifar the pasuk tells us that these merchants were selling sweet smelling spices. (Bereishis 37:25)  Rashi explains that the pasuk says this because these merchants usually sell tar which has a very unpleasant smell. Because Yosef was a tzaddik, Hashem arranged that the merchants would, on this occasion, be selling sweet smelling spices so that Yosef’s journey would be slightly pleasanter. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon shlita comments that in any situation that we may have to endure, we must look for the ‘sweet smelling spices,’ – the one aspect which makes the situation not quite as bad. There is always something which makes any situation slightly better than it might have been. Not only will we feel slightly better but we can regard it as a hidden message from Hashem that although for some reason we have to endure a very difficult trial, He has not abandoned us.  Therefore even in the horrific Holocaust we must look for something positive, some aspect which could have been worse, some good point which came out of it.

It is possible that the Holocaust was a necessary preparation for the days of Moshiach. If so, this might be the “sweet-smelling spices” which we are told to look for even in the midst of tragedy.  The Holocaust may have speeded up the messianic process for several reasons. The first reason stems from the extreme cruelty of the perpetrators.  The commentators say that the bitterness and severity of our exile in Mitzrayim was such that the day of redemption from Mitzrayim was brought forward.[10] Perhaps this is the case as we look forward to our final redemption. Perhaps the severity of the Holocaust has also brought that date forward.

Another reason was the fact that the Holocaust caused a re-awakening of the desire for the Moshiach. Millions of tefilos were said during the years of the Holocaust that Hashem should send the Moshiach. Jews re-affirmed their belief in the coming of Moshiach by singing Ani Maamin on many occasions as testified to by survivors.

We mentioned before that in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, we can only merit kapara for major sins through yissurim. Our natural desire to avoid yissurim should have caused Jews at the time of the Holocaust and still today to hope and daven for the Moshiach and a new Beis Hamikdash with greater intensity.

Another reason why the Holocaust might have speeded up the messianic process is as follows.  Before the Second World War, Germany was the center of culture in Europe, if not the world. German musicians, poets and sportsmen were outstanding. Even their manners were exemplary. They never failed to say please and thank you. Why should the Holocaust originate in just such a culturally advanced country? Both the Tenach and our oral tradition look forward to a time when all Jews will return to the Torah. All the nations of the World will abandon belief in other gods, recognize the existence of Hashem and worship Him. For this to happen, everyone needs to see that those other gods are false. Ancient gods of the graven image variety were rejected because they obviously had no power, but modern gods come in less easly-recognised  forms of political systems, secular beliefs, sport, culture and even atheism. For everyone to return to belief in the Torah, all the false gods have to lose their credibility. If the very seat of civilization and culture was the source of the depraved behavior which led to the Holocaust, its worshippers have to reconsider very seriously. And the indifference of the rest of the world to the plight of the Jews, disgraceful as it was, can be a catalyst for Jews wherever they live to resist assimilation into their host nations, to do teshuva and to return to the Torah.

Many Gedolim held that the Holocaust was a fulfillment of the chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of the Moshiach which according to Chazal which will take place before Moshiach and the final redemption.[i][11] These “birth pangs” were feared even in the times of our Amora’im, leading Rebbe Yochanan to say that he did not want to be alive during this most horrific period in our history. (Sanhedrin 98a)  Doniel (12:1) says about this time that “There will be a time of trouble such as never occurred from the beginning of the nations until that time.” Birth pangs are, of course, not random but are a necessary preparation for a healthy birth. Why did Chazal see the need for suffering as preparation for Moshiach and why might the Holocaust have been the realization of that prophecy?

One approach may be this: We try to avoid painful experiences, but pain is part of life in this world and it sometimes strikes us. It can be physical or emotional or both. It can be severe or slight but it is unlikely that anyone can escape it for his whole life. Why did Hashem create pain? There are many answers but let us concentrate on one facet of pain – its spiritual ramifications. A person in pain is challenged. Do we lose our faith in Hashem? Do we blame Him? Or do we accept that it is somehow way for our greater good? Do we learn to daven with more kavono? Do we grow in the mitzvos of fearing Hashem or at an even higher level, loving Hashem?

When Moshiach comes, we will no longer have free will as we mentioned above. Perhaps Hashem, during the chevlei Moshiach wants to give us our last opportunities to gain merits. He puts us in situations in we may be tempted to weaken in our loyalty to Hashem but where the opportunity exists to rise in our loyalty to Hashem. In an easy test we can gain only a few merits. But in a very hard test we can gain enormous merits to prepare us in the best way for the days of Moshiach.

This spiritual challenge certainly existed for every Jew caught up in the Holocaust. How do you react to a well-armed enemy determined to kill you? Does one lose emuna or gain emuna? Does one think only of oneself or does one look for ways to try to help others? Does one try to keep mitzvos or abandon everything? Did those in England and America, who were not physically threatened, carry on with their lives with just an occasional sigh or did they do what they could to help, not least by intensive davening? Everyone alive at that time had their challenges and their opportunities, their chevlei Moshiach – some less, some more. Those who have read the better books on the Holocaust will know that there were many, many spiritual giants amongst both the victims and the survivors. Ordinary people who lived their post-war lives as loyal Jews despite their horrific experiences are heroes whose courage we cannot aspire to. The Satmer Rebbe zt”l famously advised a young man who asked him for a brocho that he should seek one from someone who rolled up his sleeve to put on tefilin, revealing a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm.

Mention of the many spiritual giants amongst the victims of the Holocaust leads to another possible dimension of chevlei Moshiach. In the well known  tefila, ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ there are twenty-six lines all except two of which are requests to Hashem to have mercy on us in many different ways. Towards the end are the following three lines: Avinu Makeinu, aseh lema’an harugim al shem kodshecho. Avinu Malkeinu aseh lema’an tevucheinu al yichudecho. Avinu Malkeinu aseh lema’an bo’ei vo’eish uvemayim al Kiddush shemecho. We daven to Hashem to answer our tefilos for the sake of those who were slain for His holy name, for those who were slaughtered for His unity and for those who went through fire and water sanctifying the name of Hashem. We have made so many requests of Hashem to save us from our enemies, to save us from serious illness, from pestilence, the sword, famine, captivity and destruction etc. Our problem is that, to quote the last line of Avinu Malkeinu, “ein bonu ma’asim” we haven’t done enough good deeds, we do not have enough merits. From the fact that we invoke those who died al Kiddush Hashem it would appear that their merits are a vital way of our tefilos being answered. This idea may be a further positive consequence of the Holocaust and could be another reason for chevlei Moshiach. Each individual who died has his own account as we mentioned before. But they were also part of the Jewish People and the merits they created with their spiritual bravery and through their sacrifice, are passed on to other members of our people. Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l, Hyd, in his last speech before being killed al Kiddush Hashem together with many others, is known to have said that the purity of the way that they will die al Kiddush Hashem will help that at least the Jews of America will survive. Every single pure thought by the victims and survivors creates a merit which others gain from. Their determination to maintain their loyalty to Hashem despite unspeakable horrors has created a spiritual reservoir to help us in our tefilos to be saved from our present-day enemies, from illness, pestilence etc.  Furthermore it can be suggested that their extreme sacrifice helped jump-start the messianic process. How can we earn redemption when we are falling deeper and deeper into galus and losing so many to assimilation and intermarriage as described earlier. But the huge merit of spiritual bravery in a world of physical cruelty could have been just the way to begin the process of Geula. In this sense the Holocaust could have been the chevlei Moshiach, a necessary part of the messianic process.

Yet another way that the Holocaust could have been part of the messianic process was its political consequences. Whether the European nations had any real conscience about what had happened is debatable, but they certainly had a major problem with the half a million Jewish survivors in displaced persons’ camps with nowhere to go to. Nobody wanted them and the logical place for them to go to was Palestine. Despite British reluctance, the United Nations voted in 1947 in favour of a Jewish State in part of Palestine. This monumental decision enabled large immigration of Jews into Eretz Yisroel and they, together with those who were already there, formed the basis of the new Jewish State. Whether one follows those Gedolim who said that it is forbidden to create a Jewish State, certainly a secular state, before the coming of Moshiach or whether one follows those Gedolim who didn’t approve lechatchila but seeing that it was being formed anyway, paskened that it is better to work from the inside rather than the outside, is not relevant because it was formed anyway by others. This had led to today’s situation that Eretz Yisroel is now the centre of Jewish life with huge communities of loyal Jews, yeshivos, kollelim, chadorim, Beis Yaakovs and shuls in their thousands beautifying the land. Although a secular Jewish state is certainly not an ideal and potentially a very negative force, with great siyatto d’shmaya the Torah community has grown exponentially; many of the so called secular community have become baalei teshuva and many idealistic Jews have moved there from other countries. The total number of Jews who live in Eretz Yisroel is now over seven million. It can be argued, therefore, that as a consequence of the Holocaust  and its political aftermath, Moshiach is closer.  The land has been cultivated, cities have been built, trees have been planted which will greet the Jews when they return, as the pasuk prophesied, “And you, mountains of Israel, spread out your branches, give out your fruit for my People Israel because they are coming shortly.” (Yechezkel 36:8)

Final Thoughts

However we must return to our original theme before concluding this discussion. There have always been questions asked concerning G-d’s justice. The most famous is the question of tzaddik v’ra lo and rosho v’tov lo – why do we sometimes see righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper? Moshe Rabbeinu had this question as did great people throughout the generations. There are answers but the question has never disappeared. Knowing that this world is only an ante-room to the main hall of life in the World to Come certainly helps. There, we are told, all our questions will be answered. We will appreciate the justice of everything that happens in this world. In the meantime, while seeking to understand is legitimate, demanding answers is not. When Yirmiyahu Hanavi saw Nevuchadnetzar and his soldiers trampling over the site of the Beis Hamidash, he said, “Where is the awesomeness of Hashem? Doniel saw the nations enslaving the Jews and he asked, “Where is the might of Hashem? The Anshei Knesses Hagedola explained that we see the awesomeness of Hashem in the fact that the Jewish People still exists despite being in exile. We see the might of Hashem because He conquers His desire to destroy the wicked, despite all their decrees against us. (Yuma 69b and Rashi) We can understand that Hashem is awesome in the Jewish People’s continued existence but how can we understand Hashem’s might because He doesn’t destroy them despite their guilt? Let Him punish them! Isn’t justice served by the punishment of the wicked? When the malachim asked if it was just that Torah sages be tortured and massacred by the Romans, Hashem told them that if they persisted, He would turn the world back to sohu vovohu (nothingness)[12]. When Titus, the Roman conquerer of Jerusalem entered the place of the Kodesh Kodoshim blaspheming and committing immorality, Abba Channan said “Who is as strong as You, Hashem? (Tehilim 89:9) that you hear the blaspheming of this evil man and you remain silent.  Devei Rebbe Yishmael said Michomocho bo’ilmim Hashem – Who is like You amongst the speechless? Can we understand this? Is this praise of Hashem, to see such wickedness and not react? To our minds, a bolt of lightning should have immediately exterminated this rasha. What right did Titus have to live even one more second? It seems that what in our minds is obvious, is not obvious in the mind of Hashem. In the words of Yeshayahu “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.” (55:20)

Our purpose in this world is to serve Hashem, not to second-guess Him. There are things that we don’t understand and perhaps never will. We have a Torah to learn and keep and we have to live each day according to His will. Each day brings us new challenges and new opportunities. There were those who lost their faith in the Holocaust and we cannot judge them. How would we have reacted in their situation? But many others, even as they lost their lives, did not lose their faith.  They had lived as believing Jews; they died as believing Jews al Kiddush Hashem. And many survivors, despite having experienced the most terrible conditions, did not lose their emuna. On the contrary, they strengthened their emuna and according to the testimony of many, their emuna helped them survive. Their determination to keep whatever mitzvos they could and their hope that soon they would be able to recommence their Jewish lives gave them  the will to continue. Spiritual giants emerged like the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l  who, despite having lost his own wife and all his children, did everything he could for others both during the war and after. He spent the day of liberation collecting Jewish bodies to give them a Jewish burial! He had no time to wonder where G-d was in the Holocaust[13]. He was too busy using every ounce of his strength to strengthen and rebuild the Jewish people. His greatness was matched by his humility. After the war he was introduced to someone who had given up his religion. This person explained to the Rebbe that G-d cannot exist because how could it that in his town, pious and wonderful people had died and yet he, the town batlan (good for nothing), had survived. The Rebbe said that he had the same question. In his town also many wonderful Jews had died al Kiddush Hashem and just he, also the town’s ‘batlan’, was the sole survivor!

We asked, “Where was G-d in the Holocaust?” I have no ruach hokedesh to give the answer.[14] But we have suggested several approaches which might help those whose emuna is challenged by the question. What we certainly can do, however, is to follow the example of the Klausenberger Rebbe and others – to do what we can to make up for the tremendous loss the Jewish People suffered during the Holocaust, to strengthen ourselves and others, to observe every detail of the Torah even better than before and wait eagerly for the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach, bimheira beyomeinu omein.


[1] There is an article on the subject by Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita in ‘Rav Moshe Speaks’ published by the Vilna Gaon Center (1988)

[2] The Zohar on Bereishis 37:21 as expounded by the Or Hachaim (ibid) and the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:12 discuss whether man, whom Hashem has endowed with free choice, has the ability to kill an innocent, even a righteous person. Of course, if he can, the innocent victim will certainly be given a lofty place in the World to Come which will more than make up for his untimely death.

[3] Yevomos 65b

[4] See Yirmiyahu 2:27-28 and Yeshayahu 1:15

[5] Even though Taanis 27b says that if we learn about the korbonos it will be regarded as if we have brought them, how many of us have a proper understanding of the seder korbanos to be confident that we have fulfilled this Chazal. See also Machatzis Hashekel  on Magen Avraham 1:7. “It is not enough…..”

[6] Triumph of Survival by Rabbi Berel Wein p 51

[7] With hindsight we will all admit that these claims by the secularists were utterly false.

[8] Rosh Hashana 23a

[9] Gittin 57a

[10] See the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on the pasuk “And they embittered their lives” (Shemos 1:14) who sees a hint to this in the musical notes with which the baal koreh sings these words.

[11]  Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l,  Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l, (Lev Eliyahu 1:77),Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l, The Rebbe of Gur zt”l held that the Holocaust was part of the Chevlei Moshiach.

[12] Yom Kippur Machzor

[13] This is just a figure of speech. We can be sure that the Rebbe zt”l fulfilled the pasuk,Shivisi Hashem L’negdi tamid” throughout his holy life as required by the Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim(1:1)

[14] Rav Moshe Sternbuch in ‘Rav Moshe Speaks’ p 32 writes, “We have no right to interpret the Holocaust as a punishment for specific sins. Rav Yitschok Hutner zt”l wrote, “We have no knowledge of the specific reason for what befell us. (Jewish Observer 1971).

Revolutionising our Shemoneh Esrei

Avrohom Ovinu’s statement that he is “like dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27) is much misunderstood. People often understand that just as dust and ashes are virtually valueless, so Avrohom Ovinu is saying that he regards himself also as having no value. This understanding is not only contradicted by Rashi’s explanation of the posuk but is wrong and dangerous. Rashi says that Avrohom Ovinu meant that if not for Hashem’s help he would have died and become like dust during the war with the four kings and the five kings and he would have become ashes in the furnace of fire into which he was thrown by Nimrod. Far from expressing his low estimate of himself, the words reflect Avrohom Ovinu’s total emuna that we can do nothing without Hashem. This is true humility as we explained in connection with Noach.

To suggest that Avrohom Ovinu would consider himself worthless is preposterous. Imagining that the Torah expects us to consider ourselves worthless is a mistake which could lead to yi’ush and depression. As Nefesh Hachaim explains at length, every mitzvah we do, every pure thought, has a tremendous effect in the higher worlds, which is in turn reflected in brochos which descend later to our world. Naturally, Gedolim and tzaddikim have the greatest effect but we can all contribute in our own way. We have all heard the stories of apparently simple people changing a Heavenly decree through some act of exceptional righteousness.

We can all play a major role in protecting Klal Yisroel from our many enemies as can be learnt from a section of Agadah in Kiddushin (29b). Abaya had a problem with a certain mazik (demon) which was causing harm in his Yeshiva. He heard that the tzaddik Reb Acha bar Yaakov was coming to learn in the yeshiva. Abaya hoped that Reb Acha would destroy the mazik. He engineered that Reb Acha would sleep in the Beis Hamedrash on the first night knowing that the mazik would be sure to try to damage him. The commentators say that Abaya knew that Reb Acha because of his righteousness, would come to no harm. Indeed the mazik, appearing in the form of a snake with seven heads, did try to harm Reb Acha. However every time Reb Acha bowed down in tefilla, one of the heads of the “snake” was destroyed. After his seventh kriah, (bow) the mazik was completely destroyed. Rav Elyashiv in his He’oros on Kiddushin brings from the Shita Mekubetzes that the seven krios were the two at the beginning of the Shmoneh Esrei when we say Boruch Atoh, the two at the beginning and end of Modim and the three times we bow as we say Oseh sholom bimromov…at the end Shemoneh Esrei.

Why was one head of the mazik destroyed every time Reb Acha bowed down? It seems that this is the explanation: bowing down is a way of saying that we cannot stand up without You. You provide us with everything. Nothing else has power. Our enemies have power only if we ascribe power to them. In short, this is the famous concept of ein od milvado (There is nothing without Him.) If we genuinely believe ein od milvado, our enemies automatically lose their strength. Therefore each time Reb Acha bowed down expressing his emuna in ein od milvado, a head of the mazik was destroyed.

This understanding should revolutionise our Shemone Esrei. We have the power to neutralize our enemies as we bow down in Shemone Esrei through the correct kavana that nothing has any power besides Hashem. We may not be on the madreiga of Reb Acha bar Yaakov. Our belief in ein od milvado may not go as deep as it did with the Brisker Rovzt”l who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, even walking past Nazi soldiers, as he concentrated intensely on ein od milvado. But each of us can achieve something. And together we can do much to protect Klal Yisroel from our enemies. If we are not on the level to destroy our enemies, we can weaken them, so that they will not always succeed in their plans against us. Even at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, when we tend to be mentally into chazoras hashatz or even outside the shul, we have still a major avoda ahead of us; three more krios with which can weaken our enemies and perhaps save Jewish lives. This is not a time to dilute our kavono but rather to bring it to new heights which could save ourselves and others from danger.

Bearing in mind that nothing besides Hashem has any power, we can have greater kavana throughout Shemone Esre. “Only You, Hashem, can maintain our mental health. Only You, Hashem, can redeem us from our tzoros. Only You, Hashem, can give us good health and parnasa. Shema Koleinu, Listen to us, Hashem, because only You can help us.” Our Shemone Esre should never be the same again.

 

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and The Hidden Light.