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.
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 [email protected]