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Friday, March 24, 2017

On Contemplating The Future

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On Contemplating The Future

This week's Drasha will be a little more serious than you prefer. Shoyn. If you write a nice check to the Yeshiva and dedicate next week's Drasha, I will be happy to write as many Bris Milah jokes as you like.



I keep coming back to the same theological quandary. (If these words are too big, you Minuval, I suggest you buy a dictionary.)

I am reading a book about the Shoah and the mass killings in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Western Russia, and elsewhere in the space between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The book is called Bloodlands, and is an award winning book by Professor Timothy Snyder from Yale (AKA "The Ponovitch of New Haven). It focuses not just on the Jews, but on the murder of non-combatants overall - from Soviet organized purges and starvation campaigns that murdered millions of innocents, to the mass murders committed by Nazis - not just of the Jews, but of many others. In total 20 million deaths.

20 million deaths. Buried in that statistic are my own immediate family - grandmother, aunt and great grandmother, who died either in execution pits or the burning of a Shul. And doubtless countless of more distant relatives whose names I will never know. 

20 million human beings. Try to contemplate that number. I cannot - and you certainly cannot, you Mechutziff because you have the brain the size of an Arbis. (To you so-called-Jews who do not have the rich background of thirty years in the finest Yeshivas in Brooklyn, New Jersey, Israel, and Madagascar, that is a "chick pea". You should be ashamed of yourself.)

So - mass murder. The statistics are dry, but they carry our own flesh and blood, and the deaths of millions of others. Murdered by soldiers and operatives and agents and locals inspired or seduced by twisted ideologies, or who were themselves turned into animals.

So I keep coming back to the same quandary - Where was the Reboinoisheloilum? 

I have written in this topic many times. It is one of the great unanswerable questions, and the responses of those who would blame the victims for so-called "sins" or Jewish secularism for some Divine punishment are cynical and offensive efforts to explain the unexplainable. Here is a typical exchange:

"Why did Hakadoshboruchhu murder Klal Yisroel and many others?"

"They were punished because some Jews became secular."

"You mean that the Aimishteh murdered millions of people because a few Jews ate Tarfus and were Mechalel Shabbos?"

"Of course! Plus they probably never made tea on Shabbos without using a Kli Sheinee, and they might have even worn Shatnez!"

"Oh, that definitely justifies it now!"


And so - anyone with the slightest bit of common sense must come back to the same quandary - Where was the Reboinoisheloilum? 

No one can be faulted for contemplating some obvious possibility answers: Perhaps He does not exist. Perhaps He is not engaged in human affairs - the Hakadoshboruchhu of the RAMBAM and many others. Or perhaps He died. 

Ich Vais...

Rabboisai - The Toirah gives us many answers to many questions - between Toirah SheBichsav, the TANACH, and Toirah SheBaal Peh, the Oral Law captured in the Talmud and debated for centuries, up to and including our day. But the Toirah does not provide an answer to such a fundamental question. It addresses such questions, mind you, in the story of Noiach, in the writings around the defeat of Israel and Judah, and in philosophical works like Iyoiv - Job, for you Am Haaratzim. And preceding generations and centuries struggled with similar issues, without definitive answers. Because there are none. 

Rabboisai - I wanted to start this Drasha by depressing the shit out of you. Now you can begin to understand the scope and scale of mankind's essential theological dilemma.  By the way, you can also use such depressing philosophical discourse to pick up Maidelach who dig dark, morbid types - you know, Frum Yeshivish women who are in crisis because they are 23 or older and not married. Uchinvei!!

But the underlying theological dilemma is real. And it begs the question: If Hakadoshboruchhu is not directly engaged in world affairs, what is the significance of any of our actions, and in fact, what is the basis for morality? Why not live like a lawless thief, stealing from others, living off of society, rather than getting educated, working for a living and being a productive member of society? You know - like living in Williamsburg or KJ. 

Rabboisai, the Toirah begins with the world in a state of Tohu VaVohu, the Primordial Chaos. Out of that chaos comes order.

We are in the third generation past a social and historical Tohu VaVohu. Our ancestors died in unspeakable ways, and in incomprehensible numbers. And so did millions of others.

We can look around the world and see that in many places, there are similar horrors that are ongoing. For example, one day Africa will emerge from its lawlessness and anarchy, and we will learn of the depth of the atrocities of the past few decades. People caught in the waves of civil war in Syria and Iraq - the modern day Mesopotamia - have also suffered atrocities on all sides. And no one knows exactly what is happening within North Korea, but it is believed that concentration camps are part of the structure of the single most closed industrialized society in the world.

So we can never really know what the essential causes of such evil are. We can look back and only ponder the incomprehensible.

But like the Dor after Mabel, the generations after the great, mythical flood of Sefer Beraishis, we can rebuild. And as we do so, we have the ability to shape the future the way than some would try to explain the past. The people who believe that they can determine the cause of why the Shoah and all the mass killings happened at a theological level are deluding themselves and their followers by interpreting history in a narrative that reflects their own world views. Is essence, they are using their own theological prism to interpret the past, and in attempting to explain the "motivations" of the Divine, they are essentially creating the Divine in an image of their own making.

But Yiddishkeit is a forward looking religion. Halacha and Jewish thought are essentially about the here and now and the future on earth. Our tradition is inspired by the past, and only refers to the Oilam Habah, the World To Come, in abstract terms. Consequently, rather than trying to explain the unexplainable, the Toirah mandates us to look ahead, and to shape our current and evolving society according to our own beliefs, and in our own image. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. And what are those principles? There are many, but we can certainly start with “V’Ahavta Le’Reiacha Kamoichah” - Love Your Neighbor As You Would Love Yourself, and remembering to treat The Other with basic respect and dignity, “Kee Geyrim Hayinu Ba’Eretz Mitzrayim” – Our people were outsiders in the land of Egypt.

Rabboisai - I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Zulzein Mit Mazel, was once, on the weekend, fixing the gutters on his house. He had been busy studying Toirah, giving Brachois to his Chassidim and other well-wishers, and handing out single Ruble bills that his Chassidim would often laminate with the Rebbe’s picture in place if the Czar, but his Rebbetzin had complained that their gutters were blocked by leaves and damaged by squirrels, and it was causing pooling of water that was damaged her... ummm... Besamim plant located next to the house.

So, the Zulzein was outside on a large ladder, emptying the gutter that ran down the side of his house by hand. As he was working, several of his Chassidim passed by the house and called to him, "Rebbe, what are you doing? We can do that for you!"

The Zulzein replied, "Boys, I appreciate it, but you would not be able to unclog a gutter no more than you can perform open heart surgery or change a tire." With that, the Zulzein went back to cleaning and repairing his gutter. This story became so famous all across Russia, that the Russian ambassador discussed it with Donald Trump's transition team, at least according to the FBI transcripts.

So just as the Zulzein insisted on repairing his gutters himself, so too we much take responsibility for building and shaping the world as we would like to see it.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Menuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

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