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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

70 Years of Miracles

Israel and Jews the world over celebrated 70 years since the great miracle of 1948 when a tiny Jewish IDF was able to subdue five vast Arab army’s hell bent on destroying Israel and its Jewish population. The miracle of 1948 was just the beginning. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the 1982 Lebanon war were all follow up miracles that defy all military historical warfare. There are so many more miracles that have transpired over the past 70 years in the Holy Land but there is one miracle that stands out which I want to emphasize in this article. The Miracle of Israel itself.

With all the problems that Israel faces on a daily basis such as terrorism, bad neighbors, internal strife among Jewish factions; religion vs. secularism, Chareidim vs. the non-religious, right vs. left and many more problems that Jews in Israel have to contend with every day, Israel is still the greatest beacon of G-dly light, morality, generosity, freedom and love that the world has ever seen.

 Seventy years ago many wondered what kind of Jewish State Israel would turn out to be. Will it be too secular, too religious etc. When we look back at what Israel has accomplished during the past seven decades one cannot help but marvel at the incredible success in almost every area of life. There are thousands of Torah institutions, houses of prayer, institutions of Chessed, all over the country. The  Economic ingenuity that Israel has become known for, development in all areas of health, their annual export and their legendary creative technological breakthroughs have made Israel the eighth wonder of the world. While none of this should be taken for granted, and we owe so much to those who have dedicated their lives to the development of this great land and especially to the soldiers of the IDF, we as Jews know that Israel has a special blessing. Moses told the Jews over 3300 years ago: Israel is a land where G-ds eyes are upon it from beginning of the year to its end. That is what makes Israel so Holy and special a land; the fact that G-d continuously watches over it. It is this holiness that we should celebrate when we look back at the past seven decades. True, Israel has very few real friends in the world, but it has one really good friend in heaven without which none of the miraculous success it has enjoyed could ever have happened.

 The Holy Land of Israel and the Holy People of Israel are eternally intertwined. Many are hostile and even some “allies”, to Israel’s claim that the land is not fully ours because we have not been there for close to 2000 years. How can we have a claim to the land after such a long separation? Others have been there during this time and have taken root and they demand therefore, that we should give up parts of it or all of it. To this, there is only one legitimate answer; in the bible (which Christians and Muslims believe in) we are referred to as the Bnai Yisroel, the Children of Israel. A child is connected to his/her father regardless of how many years they may have been separated. A child never gives up on his/her parent. The nation of Israel is one with the land of Israel because of the Torah of Israel. As long as we hold tight to the Torah of Israel no one will ever be able to separate the Children of Israel from land of Israel.

 Am Yisrael Chai.  

ATale of Two Silences


In Israel and the world over, Jews commemorated a day of remembrance for the 6,000,000 Jews who perished at the hands of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Survivors told their horrific stories to young and old, thousands marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau in the March of the Living, memorial candles were lit in homes and synagogues around the world and thousands upon thousands flocked to hundreds of Holocaust museums and memorial events to reflect and proclaim “Never Again” and unite with the memories of millions of our people whose only “sin” was that they were Jewish.

Hitler and his Nazi regime were able to do what they did because so many around the world were silent. They let it happen. Some were very happy to remain silent and saw the Nazi’s as doing their “dirty work”, some were silent reluctantly and yet others would have been happy to stop it but were ‘unwilling’ to interfere in a war that was ‘not theirs’ and therefore remained silent. The common denominator of all the nations of the world was their silence. Their silence was the de-facto license the Nazi’s needed in order to be able to do what they did. As harsh as that sounds, if we are to take the slogan ‘never again’ seriously, we must understand that such murderous acts do not happen in a vacuum. We must understand that if we do not appreciate the sin of silence, such atrocities will happen again, in fact they do happen again and again all over the world only because of the sin of silence.

 

To be sure, silence is sometimes a great virtue. In the Torah portion of this week, Shemini, we read the story of the death of the two sons of Aaron the High Priest. They both died on the day of the inauguration of the temple that was built by the Jews in the desert. The tragedy of their death interrupted the jubilant celebrations surrounding the temple and its dedication. Needless to say, Aaron was shocked and devastated beyond description upon hearing the terrible news. The Torah relates that ‘Vayidom Aaron’, and Aaron was silent. Our sages tell us that as a reward for his silence G-d revealed himself to Aaron and communicated with him directly, not via Moses. In every other case G-d would speak to Moses who would then communicate to Aaron the message. This time G-d speaks to Aaron directly. His silence brought about a new and direct revelation of G-d. His silence opens him up to hearing the voice of G-d. This silence is different.

In 1963, Mr. Eli Wiesel came to meet with the Rebbe. He asked the Rebbe if he could explain the Holocaust. Where was G-d? How could He have allowed this to happen to his beloved chosen people? Why? This question was asked by so many and continues to be asked. The Rebbe told Wiesel that some things are beyond our capacity to understand at any level. The only response is that of Aaron: Vayidom. Silence. There is nothing to say. What possible explanation or rationalization could there be for the horrific slaughter of 1,500,000 children and millions of others? In this case speaking and explaining would be a sign of arrogance and therefore sinful.

[Parenthetically, The Rebbe went on to tell Mr. Wiesel that after such a Holocaust there is only one response for us as Jews; to rebuild the Jewish nation. The Rebbe encouraged him to get married and start a family which he did. On a personal level, my grandmother Libba Spalter was gassed to death in Belzec. My grandfather Moshe Spalter died in Russia in 1945 as a result of six years of gulag life and much illness. My father, may he be well, arrived to New York in 1950 with the shirt on his back and nothing else. He eventually married my mother and went on to build a family, 200 strong... That’s a real number. 9 children, 75 grandchildren and 116 great grandchildren. And they’re not done yet. May G-d give them many more healthy years and many more off springs. This is the only response the Rebbe talked about].

When Aaron was silent it was after the death of his children. He realized that he is unable to fathom the mysteries of G-ds world and accepted the decree. He never questioned his faith in G-d, instead he continued to serve in the temple. It was that faith which opened his soul to a new recognition and communication with G-d. The same is with the Holocaust. All we can do is ‘Vayidom’ be silent. It is this silence that is a Mitzvah. It is a sign of strength. It is a sign that our faith in G-d is steadfast and not dependent on our full comprehension of Him. It is a faith that says; G-d is beyond our puny little brains. If I am able to understand certain aspects of Him, great. But we recognize that He is ultimately beyond us and that’s what makes him G-d. In the words of the great Kabbalaists: if I were to know Him I would be Him.

By contrast, silence during the holocaust is a great sin. When lives could be saved and we are silent because we do not think we should interfere in the mysterious ways of G-d, that is an egregious sin. Then the world needed to shout at the top of their lungs and act to stop the Nazi murderers from killing their victims.

The world needs to repent for its silence. ‘Never Again’ means, never again will the world be silent when innocent people are getting killed by murderers. By the way, screaming loudly and doing nothing is a small virtue. If you can do something to stop bloodshed and all you do is shout from a roof top, that too is a form of silence and a grave sin. Of course I am not advocating going to war anytime and everywhere there is bloodshed, careful assessment must be made. But I think it is safe to say unequivocally that during the holocaust too many were silent and too few acted.

This then is the lesson of Yom Hashoah. ‘Never Again’ must not be an empty bombastic shout or an empty slogan that politicians and others use here and there. It must be a commitment from good people to never allow evil people to perpetrate their evil schemes. We must never be silent and we must never be inactive. It is such silence that the despots of the world crave so much.

Such silence destroys the world. Aarons silence builds the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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