Chaim Ingram
Chaim Ingram

Acute angles: Trading the Six Million for Israel?

Dear Rabbi. On a second-generation Holocaust survivors group to which I belong, I saw a posting from a gentleman including the following intriguing statement: If I would have to choose, I’d rather have the Six Million alive, including my uncles, aunts and cousins, and no Jewish State”. What are your thoughts on such a hypothetical trade-off?  H.K.

Dear H.K.

It is an offbeat question, but I shall not shy away from attempting to address it!

Firstly, of course, as you say, it is totally hypothetical. G-D has given us as individuals the precious gift of moral free choice. Hitler and his thousands of henchmen used that free choice to perpetrate pure evil while most others chose to stand by and do nothing.  Elsewhere in his posting, the gentleman raises the familiar cliché “where was G-D?”. It is a pity he does not ask “where was man?” Actually, I would answer him that G-D was in the Shema Yisraels  and the Ani Ma’amins that the kedoshim (holy martyrs) affirmed with their dying breaths. His presence was also manifest in the more than twelve million global Jews who mercifully and, yes, miraculously (as anyone who knows the full story of how WW2 unfolded will aver) survived.

However, if hypothetically a seraph were to have come down to earth in 1939 and presented us with the irreversible option between either the six million being saved or the State of Israel being created, there would have been no question in Jewish terms.  The Mishna in Sanhedrin (4:5) declares that “whoever saves a single life  …it is as though he saved the whole world!”. If we could have saved six million immediate lives – six million dynasties – with a nod of the head, of course we would have done so, no matter what alternative amazing future options for preservation of Jewish life in our own State. amounting to tens of millions plus, were promised us with absolute certainty.

It isn’t a numbers game. Rambam (Yad, Yesodei HaTorah 5:5) states the following halacha: If gentiles fall upon a group of Jews and demand “Give us one of your number and will kill him and spare you, otherwise you will all be killed” they should allow themselves all to be killed and not hand over a single Jewish soul”.  It is inconceivable, therefore, that Jewish morality would ever allow trading the six million for the security of the State of Israel.

Back to reality.  The matter was never in our hands. Whether, in theological terms, the Holocaust had to happen for the State of Israel to exist is something we can never know. “If we knew G-D we would be G-D!” (attributed to the Kotsker Rebbe). It is futile to speculate.

Finally, let me offer a left-field hypothesis. Who is to say the Six Million – or some of them – are not amongst us right now? Who can state for sure that the myriads of Jews born since 1948 who embraced Torah and Jewish active life in the wake of the founding of the State and especially the Six-Day War were/are not gilgulim (reincarnations) of the million-plus Jewish children mercilessly gassed by the Nazis in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Trebilinka?

In any event, “the righteous are called living even after their death” (Berachot 18a).  Their memory lives on in the hearts and minds of second-, third- and even fourth-generation survivors and we can be certain that their immortal souls are uniquely cherished beneath the wings of the Shechina.

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of four books on Judaism and honorary rabbi of Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing.
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