OK I did a positive post first, and I’ll start this on a positive note as well, but we’re headed downhill. 9 Av afternoon is as good a time as any to look at some Holocaust books and reflect on the tragedy closest to out time, a tragedy perhaps unparalleled in Jewish history. I draw inspiration from the aftermath of the churban. It is easy to get depressed if you have faced or continue to face unemployment in the current economic crisis, if you are dealing with a home foreclosure, debts, a shidduch crisis, etc. But when you realize that many of our people faced far worse with less and managed to rebuild and survive, you gain a sense of perspective. I cannot imagine what life was like in a DP camp. I cannot imagine what coming to this country or anywhere else with no job, not knowing the language, no money, no resources, was like. The difficulty of your kids’ yeshiva bill being more than your salary just doesn’t compare – baruch Hashem you have a yeshiva to send your kids to. I once took some of my kids in the summer to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan so they could see first hand what life was like for an entire family to live in two rooms with no air conditioning, no private bathroom, no privacy, and a twelve hour work day. It’s hard to communicate just how lucky we are.
When looking back in time the question that I find fascinating to ponder (and so many others wonder about as well) is how could it have happened. How could the Jews in Europe have not seen it coming? And this is the frightening part, because I fear the answer is found right in the newspaper today: the almost casual bashing of Israel that occurs daily, the anti-semitism of those in the highest echelons of society. Can we really ask why America did not do more to stop the destruction of European Jewry when we live in a time when a modern dictator is developing nuclear weapons with the intent to use them against Israel and the world and America look on and do nothing? But we push it aside and trust that it will all come to nothing, they won’t get that far, Israel or America will stop them sooner, etc. The Reich won’t get to Poland, to Budapest, to Vilna…, the war will end sooner, the Russians are coming, etc. Sound familiar?
Rav Altusky, the Rosh Kollel of Darchei Torah, noted that Rashi explains that kinos are really meant to focus on recent tragedies; the remembrances of churban habayis are secondary to the mourning over losses of the present. Rav Altusky noted that we live 60+ years from the Holocaust. The tragedy of our time is not the sho’ah. The world was on our side for a few decades after the sho’ah as we struggled to rebuild. It was politically correct to support Eretz Yisrael. But those times are gone. The world now frowns on our very existence. This is what we should be saying kinos over.
Rav Altusky reminded those who attended the kinos program at Yeshivah Darchei Torah of the prophetic words of the Meshech Chochma in Parshas Bechukosai who foresaw the destruction of European Jewry precisely because they had grown too comfortable in their host countries. Hashem does not let us grow too comfortable. We are not supposed to enjoy galus. The frightening thing is that the Mesech Chochma continues and writes that his message of impending doom does not apply only to his own era. There is a historical cycle: the Jewish people escape one country’s danger and flee elsewhere; they thrive and rebuild in a new host country; they grow complacent and forget the lessons learned the last time around; sadly, they once again face tragedy and exile.
To me, what is even scarier than the external threats is the internal problems and decay of Torah life taking place all around us.
B’mechilas kvodo, I do not agree with the Rosh Kollel that this time we have no place left to go. This time the only place left is the place that we belong – Eretz Yisrael. Even if we cannot get there physically, if our hearts and minds are there and we yearn to be there, we will have broken the cycle of complacency.
I don’t want to dwell on tzaros, so as we approach chatzos on 10 Av, may we be zocheh to nachamu nachanu ami…