Thursday, April 16, 2015
Consider two Jews trapped together in a shul or a store by a terrorist or a neo Nazi, chas v'Shalom (G-d forbid). Even if one Jew was wearing a Chareidi outfit and the other Jew a Hawaian shirt, they'd still call each other brothers or sisters. The religious Jew would say, you know, HaShem probably put us in this situation to bring us together. The secular Jew may not believe in G-d, but they would say, yes, I see what you mean. So if we'd be brothers and sisters then, why not now?
Today we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the worst tragedy that ever happened to the Jewish people, perhaps to any people. It wasn't the first time that our enemies set out to destroy us, as we recalled two weeks ago at our Passover seders, but the Holocaust was a different order of suffering for our people. The questions come back and haunt us again... how could human beings do that to other human beings? How could it happen in a world made by a benevolent G-d?
The same outrage and incredulity roil within many of us today as we read news stories about the choices that this country and others are making about Iran's nuclear weapons program. They risk, chas v'Shalom, giving weapons of annihilation to a dark regime that has called for Israel's destruction. The proposed plan goes against all common sense and the most basic human decency. It is obviously and utterly wrong. What are they thinking?! How can this be?!
There may be no way to say this without sounding naive or insensitive, but I say it honestly: there actually is an answer to these questions. The Jewish people have faced annihilation before, and we have learned from that example. More than 2,000 years ago, in ancient Persia (modern day Iran), a government minister named Haman had a decree issued to kill all Jewish men, women, and children. We were ultimately saved from that decree, and we celebrate our deliverance every year on Purim.
Haman began his genocidal request to the king by saying "Yeshno am echad m'fuzar u'm'forad bein ha'amim ..." - "There is one people, scattered and divided among the peoples ..."1 Jewish tradition understands this to mean that Haman got his decree because the Jewish people were fractured as a nation. The underlying spiritual problem was a lack of Jewish unity, a lack of achdus. But when Mordechai and Esther led the Jews to unite, events changed quickly to overturn Haman's plan - the Jews were saved and Haman was destroyed. Ultimately, Purim revealed that G-d was behind it all along - He simply wanted the Jews to come together again.
The same cause and effect relationship that held in ancient Persia applies throughout Jewish history, including in 20th century Germany. I am not a historian, but because of the connection between national threat and lack of achdus, I've wondered if the East European Jewish world was then more fractured than at other times in our history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were indeed bitter conflicts between different groups in Jewry. The Chassidic/Misnagdic division, the Orthodox/Reform split - these were wrenching conflicts that tore communities apart. In Frankfurt, the separate Orthodox and Reform communities, which had been apart for many years, reunited only in the wake of Kristallnacht.2
There are certainly other factors that contributed to the Shoah. Many Orthodox Jews believe that the Holocaust was a Divine punishment for losing our Jewish identity and assimilating into German culture. Some Zionist Jews, secular and religious, see the Shoah as the terrible dark before the dawn of our return to the Land of Israel. But we must acknowledge that achdus also had to be a major factor. It is a fundamental of Jewish thought. When the Nazis, who we believe to be of the same national origin as Haman, forced all of us to wear "Jude" stars, it showed who was Jewish not only to the Nazis, or even to ourselves - but also to our fellow Jews.
|"Jude" stars identified us not only to the Nazis, or even to ourselves, but also to our fellow Jews.|
The problem is the same as in the days of Haman, but the solution that Mordechai and Esther showed us is also the same. If now, as then, we can get our people to unite, the decision upstairs will quickly change from threat, chas v'Shalom, to triumph. If the Jew in the Chareidi suit can join hands with the Jew in the Hawaian shirt now, then G-d won't have to do it by force. If all the Jews in the world can recognize that we have always been, we always will be, and we are one people, NOW, then there will again be "light and gladness, and joy and honor" for all of the Jewish people.3