Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the cycle of galus

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…

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:07 AM

    I'm sorry but I think this statement is a bit comical: "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**." Earlier you said the Mesech Chochma attributes our tragic exiles to the fact that we grow complacent in a particular foreign land, and Hashem needs to exile us from the host country to shake us out of our complacency (presumably to remind us that our one true home is Eretz Yisroel ("EY")). Clearly, Jews have grown very comfortable and complacent in America, which I think you imply is dangerously precendential in terms of Jewish history. So how can you say that "yearning" for Eretz Yisroel is how we break the cycle of complacency? The only way we demonstrate we aren't complacent is by moving to Eretz Yisroel. Do you think Hashem cares if we put on a facade of "yearning", but as a practical matter refuse to act on our yearnings because we don't want to give up our renovated homes, fancy cars, designer shopping destinations, etc. (although, I must say, anyone who wants those things will find them in EY so perhaps it's less a sacrifice than people think). You don't think the Jews in Germany, Spain, etc., also "yearned?" They probably yearned as much as we do, but the "yearning" was cheap because it wasn't backed up by action. At least the folks in earlier generations could say that moving to EY was a risky proposition fraught with danger - and anyway, if they made it, they'd still be loving under the hand of the goyim. But what's our excuse in the present day? Israel is enjoying unprecedented economic success. The government, if not the most honest and competent, is at least a Jewish government that generally respects the right of the Orthodox to lead a Torah life. And it's so easy to move - hop on a plane, and you've made aliyah in 11 hours. So why don't people do it? In the end, because we are complacent in America despite the yearning. We are nervous we won't enjoy the same high standard of living. But fact is, anyone who moves to EY is not going to be living in a tenement. The average family of means won't have to make aliyah with no resources and no money. True, I'd say leaving a secure job (although what job is secure nowadays) is a big leap of faith and scary. But organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh and other Anglo olim are there to help - perhaps one ought to at least try and see if they can get a job - and if things don't work out, at least one can say, "Hashem, I had emuna and tried my best and it didn't work out. What can I do, Hashem, I have to support my family." Of course, I'm being a little hypocritical since I still live in America. And undoubtedly there are many who have good halachic reasons for remaining in America. But to return to my opening comment, I find it a bit comical to suggest that "yearning" is going to demonstrate to Hashem that we've broken the cycle of complacency. He can respond, "What are you yearning for? The opportunity is available to move from "yearning" to "action." So I think the only thing that breaks the cycle of complacency is realizing life may not be as easy in EY as in America - all transitions pose challenges - but it's certainly not living in a DP camp, and so perhaps the way we demonstrate to Hashem we are breaking the cycle is by having emuna and taking the plunge, and seeing what happens.