S.T.A.R.’s upcoming exciting events:
- Friday Candle Lighting: 7: 24 pm
- Shabbat Ends: 8:11 pm
This is the People of G-d
“How can I carry alone?” (1:12)
Sometimes I sit down to write things that I know people will enjoy: a heart-warming tale, a wry take on our brief walk in this world. And sometimes I sit down to write something that I know people will find hard to take but nevertheless needs to be said. This is one of the latter.
Soon we commemorate the blackest day of the Jewish calendar, the Ninth of Av. The Ninth of Av has been a day of tragedy for the Jewish People since the Exodus from Egypt. In more recent times it was in the early hours of July 23, 1942, on Tisha B’Av, that the first train transport of deportees left Malkinia in Poland. The train was made up of sixty closed cars, crowded with Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. The car doors were locked from the outside and the air apertures were barred with barbed wire. That was the day the killings started at Treblinka.
In Auschwitz, there was, of all things, a small chapel. The chapel had a priest whose job it was to attend to the needs of the camp staff. Day after day, he watched as train after train after train disgorged its human cargo. Day after day after day his eyes lifted to the smoke wafting from the ovens, all that was left of a million lives, a million mothers’ and fathers’ goodnight kisses, a million broken birthday toys, a million pairs of bewildered frightened eyes staring lifeless into eternity.
Day after day after day.
One day, the priest walked into his chapel and went up to the cross. He picked up the cross and slowly, with his bare hands, tore it piece by piece into splinters. He smashed it until nothing remained of it, saying over and over again, “This is the people of G-d! This is the people of G-d!”
The priest realized that he was witnessing something that defied belief, something that went far beyond the bounds of natural hatred and cruelty. He was witnessing something that could only be called supernatural.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. There was unimaginable hunger in the Land of Israel. One day, he came upon a young girl picking out undigested barley from amongst the dung of an animal owned by Arabs, the only food she could find. This girl was the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion, one of the richest men in the world. Rabbi Yochanan started to cry, “How happy are you, Israel! When you fulfill the will of G-d, no nation or tongue can rule over you, and when you forsake G-d’s will, you are delivered into the hands of the lowliest nation, and not even into their hands, but into the hands of their animals.”
Why the Jewish People should be happy that no nation rules over them is self-evident, but why they should be happy sifting dung to survive demands explanation.
The Rashba tells us that there are two kinds of miracles, a miracle for the good and a miracle for the bad (from our perspective). A miracle isn’t just where someone is saved at the eleventh hour. It isn’t just someone throwing away his crutches after a lifetime of being a cripple. A miracle is clear evidence of G-d overriding the natural order, of His direct intervention in nature. That intervention can be for the good or for the bad.
When natural disaster strikes, when there is an earthquake or a flood, or a building collapses without reason, it means that G-d is punishing us without revealing Himself. He has used the natural world as His agents. In other words, He doesn’t want a direct involvement with us, and has distanced Himself from us. However, when something happens that is so clearly unnatural, even though the punishment is terrible, nevertheless we recognize that our punishment is coming directly from our Father in Heaven. We have not been abandoned to the hands of an agent.
When the daughter of the most affluent is reduced to foraging in excrement, when the world’s most civilized nation suddenly turns into a wild monster without any rational reason, we have clear evidence of the supernatural at work.
This is the source of our strength and our survival. This is the greatest reason to be happy. Even in the darkest times, when we see miracles, even when they are miracles for the bad, we know that G-d has not deserted us. We know that: “This is the people of G-d.”
- Midrash Eicha Rabbah 1
- Tractate Ketubot 64b
- Based on Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz and Rabbi Elya Lopian in Lev Eliahu