Thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance

Friday, 13 April, 2018 - 3:14 pm

Yesterday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I would like to share two brief thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance.

1. When the state of Israel established Yom HaShoah, they chose this date because it coincided with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At that time, the prevalent attitude in the fledgling state was to lionize those heroes who fought back against the Nazis, whilst at the same time there was a subtle shame and even disdain for those that went to their deaths “like sheep.” I believe this attitude has shifted somewhat over the years, but it still warrants addressing.

Those that fought back and took Nazis down with them, or even escaped and survived, are certainly heroes to be admired. This does not mean that the others, the six million “kedoshim” holy souls, were just sheep who were led to slaughter. There are many types of heroes. Some are heroic on the physical plane, and some on the soul plane. There are countless stories of heroes who kept their heads held high and refused to be degraded to the subhuman level. How many heroes in the camps gave their last crust of bread or drop of energy to uplift the spirits of those around them? How many heroes went to their deaths declaring their faith in G-d and redemption in the face of the horrific efforts to break their spirits? How many heroes risked their own wellbeing to save someone else from harm? How many heroes brought the light of mitzvot and holidays to the darkest corners of the planet? Rather than being ashamed, G-d forbid, of those who perished without taking up arms to fight, we must remember them with pride and learn from their example of how to make the most of life, down to the very last breath.

2. Contemplating the tragic events of the Holocaust has sometimes led to people questioning the existence of G-d. The question of how could G-d allow the Holocaust to happen, is very valid. It is an issue that cannot and should not be justified in any way. Indeed, I do not believe that any human being can supply a satisfactory answer to this question. Yet, at the same time, I believe that events such as the Holocaust should actually reinforce our belief and awareness of the existence of an Omnipotent and Al-mighty G-d.

In all of the arguments about proofs for the existence of G-d, the most powerful one, in my opinion, is the survival of the Jewish people. By every natural law our people should have long been relegated to the ash-heap of history. Throughout the four millennia since the founding of our people, the most powerful nations attempted to annihilate us. As a matter of fact, every several hundred years a third of our people were massacred. We were only sovereign in our land for a sliver of our history. The rest of the time we have wandered and have been tossed from place to place, hated and oppressed. We were blamed and persecuted for every problem that the world faced. Yet somehow, despite all of the challenges, we have survived and even thrived. Some of our greatest contributions to society and to Judaism came under extreme difficult circumstances. The only valid and logical explanation is that there is a G-d and He has a vested interest in our survival. This should give us hope and encouragement as we move forward to what we anticipate to be the brightest chapter in our story, the imminent redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Comments on: Thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance

anonymous wrote...

Very inspiring and well written!