Overcoming The Challenge of Destruction
By Rabbi Ezra Labaton ZS”L
The three week period between the seventeenth day of Tammuz, and the ninth day of Av, has never been easy for the Jewish people. Not only because it’s a period of national mourning, but because it brings to mind the countless destructions that we have experienced. A whole host of questions inevitably come to mind in thinking about these painful moments in our people’s history.
We think of the destruction of the first and second Temples. We think of the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt, and the Hadrianic persecutions that followed. We think of the crusaders that swept across medieval Europe, decimating the Jewish communities of France and Germany. We think of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion, which devastated Spanish Jewry. We think of the Chimelnicki pogroms in Poland/Russia in the 17th century, and we think of the Holocaust, whose evil cannot be described.
We wonder how many Jews throughout our blood soaked history were put to the sword? How many millions of Jews died sanctifying G-d’s name? We speculate as to the reasons why so many in the gentile world hated the Jew with such passion. Why the Jews? We demand to know. But more significant than the numbers and more important than the reasons for the hatred, are the theological questions that emerge from these mass destructions. Why did Hashem, allow us, His chosen people, to be so brutalized? The answer to the question, we know in our heart of hearts, is beyond us.
Moshe Rabenu raised a similar question in Masechet Berachot, that, at least according to one opinion, was not answered. Yirmiyahu, Habakuk, and Iyov, all raised similar questions, and not one received the answer to this dilemma. Rabbi Soloveichick, in his classic essay קול דודי דופק, once again raises the issue. Although he admits that this question has eluded Judaism’s greatest minds, he somehow provides a measure of comfort. The Rabbi teaches us that though we are philosophically struck by the depth of this question of all questions, we cannot allow ourselves to be dominated by it. To do so, would be to admit defeat, and classify us as אנשי גורל people captured by their fate. As opposed to this, we have to learn to grow beyond the question; we have to learn to accept the limits of our knowledge, and further build, despite the devastations that we have experienced, as horrifying as they may have been. As such we become אנשי יעוד people of destiny, a people empowered by G-d, Himself, to further His aim of Tikun Olam. To wallow in our own self-pity and to be dumbstruck by our painful history, would be to sacrifice the thrust of our mission. Though it is difficult to see beyond the question, it is a vision that we must have to claim our role as Am Yisrael, an eternal people.
No doubt, my all too brief summary of Rabbi Soloveichick’s thoughts have not captured their essence, nor have I done justice to their profundity. But if we think seriously about the question, if we are inclined to pursue reading his essay, if we can think of one way to constructively build our people and further engage in Tikun Olam, then our efforts will have been worthwhile. It is important to think about the past and remember all we’ve been through, as painful as this may be. But it’s equally important to learn to go beyond the past not allowing ourselves to be captured by its tentacles.
One final suggestion. Our Rabbis teach that the second Temple was destroyed because of שנאת חנם baseless hatred. Let us try to engage in a bit of אהבת חנם baseless love, in order to begin our rebuilding efforts. Take one person with whom you disagree fervently and even violently. Take this person and love him despite all. Attempt to appreciate Selem Elokim, notwithstanding his faults and flaws. Then realize that you have rebuilt a friendship and an entire world. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of our Temple. Amen.