Uri Pilichowski
Author, Educator and Father - Brother to All

God’s Judgement and Jewish Tragedies

Rabbi Sinai Adler zt"l

The Torah shouldn’t be used to support political positions and it is abhorrent when people distort the Torah. The Torah doesn’t align with contemporary political positions. People familiar with the Torah who use it to back their positions know they are being dishonest and those unfamiliar with the Torah shouldn’t be staking positions on matters they have no expertise in. At the same time Jewish leaders should look to the Torah, Rabbinic literature, and traditional Jewish values for direction on guiding the nation. Avoiding mixing the Torah into politics while remaining loyal to Torah values is a difficult balance to maintain, but it is one required of Israel’s leaders. Israel isn’t only a state of Jews, it is a Jewish state.

Many were disappointed to see Torah and politics mixed in an unproductive way this past week. In a cabinet meeting addressing the desire of Bratslov Hasidim to travel to war-torn Uman, Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “Israeli citizens traveling to Ukraine must take personal responsibility. There are no safeguards there; historically, God hasn’t always shielded us, especially in Europe and Ukraine.”

The Sephardic Haredi Shas party objected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks about God not protecting the Jewish people, saying, “God has perpetually watched over the people of Israel through all trials.” Shas members argued that although Divine providence is conditional on upholding faith and abiding by the Torah and mitzvot, the Jewish people’s survival over millennia, in the face of countless challenges and while other nations disappeared, attested to the Divine protection the Jewish people enjoy. Tally Gotliv, a fellow Likud member of Knesset, also objected to the Prime Minister’s remarks about God not protecting the Jewish people saying, “It is forbidden to make an account of the Lord of the world. “Where was the Holy One, blessed be He, and why did this happen, it is not within your knowledge.” It is unfortunate that a topic that should be kept outside the realm of politics became a political controversy.

Theodicy is the study of understanding God’s role in the face of evil, and it is one of the most significant challenges that many Jews face when trying to understand God and the Holocaust. My Rabbi, Rav Sinai Adler of blessed memory, was a Torah scholar, the former Chief Rabbi of Ashdod, and a Holocaust survivor himself. He authored a book on the subject of God and the Holocaust titled, “Your Rod and Your Staff.” He took a controversial position on God’s role in the Holocaust.

Rabbi Adler wrote, “When dealing with the subject of the Holocaust, one of the fundamental questions which arises is how is it that God, whose mercy is boundless, could look down from His heights at all this destruction and not respond? This question has troubled many people, and it deserves an answer. There are those who, although troubled by the question, prefer to push it out of their minds, whether because these thoughts cause them sorrow and depression, or whether they fear that the examination of such a question might, God forbid, undermine their faith. It seems, however, that this is not the Torah’s way to deal with such questions. Torah literature is filled with catastrophes which befell our people, and the former considerations did not prevent these events from being examined.”

Rabbi Adler continued, “Not only is it possible, but it is foreseeable. When God performs miracles and redeems His People, we praise and laud Him because through these wonders God reveals Himself to us, and we are fortunate to witness His mercy. The natural response bursts out from within, “Here, this is our God; we have waited for Him that He should save us. This is Hashem; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). Witnessing a miracle strengthens a person’s faith in God, the Performer of that miracle, and some miracles are so great, that we can point and say, “This my God, and I will exalt Him…” (Exodus 15:2). So too when we see God’s guidance of our world through judgment we should react similarly. In this case, can we not point Him out with our finger? After all, what happened is exactly what we were warned about by the Torah.”

Rabbi Adler’s next words are challenging, “Because we suffer from the judgment being carried out, should we deny the Judge or the righteousness of the judgment? Just as we learn about our Creator’s ways through His mercy towards us, so too, we must learn when we experience His judgment. The events of the Holocaust teach us that the Torah’s admonition regarding the tragic consequences of failure to follow God’s commandments came true. What a terrifying and overwhelming lesson to learn! However, exactly for this reason, we have a sacred obligation to strengthen our belief that there is an almighty Judge who holds us accountable for our deeds. When the Holy One, blessed be He, acts strictly with man, this can be a tremendous trial of faith.”

Rabbi Adler‘s opinion is not one that is usually taught. If Rabbi Adler hadn’t been a Torah scholar with an expertise in Jewish philosophy, and a survivor himself, I wouldn’t quote his opinion on the Holocaust. His opinion on the Holocaust and theodicy in general, sheds light on the controversy that erupted after the Prime Minister’s comments about God not having protected the Jews of Europe. Rabbi Adler wouldn’t have agreed with Prime Minister Netanyahu or his critics. Rabbi Adler wouldn’t have said God didn’t protect the Jews, nor would he have claimed God did protect the Jews. Rabbi Adler would’ve taught that God was punishing the Jews during the Holocaust.

Without prophecy and a Divine direct message telling us the role God played in the horrific tragedies of Jewish history, Jews will forever be challenged by these questions. Each Jew looks to their Rabbis, teachers, and scholars for guidance. Ultimately each Jew decides to relate to history, God, and Jewish destiny in a way that makes sense to them. The Jewish people pray everyday for a Messianic era when tragedies will end, and clarity of the past will be presented to all.

About the Author
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator. As a teacher, author and speaker, he teaches Torah and Politics, where he specifically emphasizes rational thought and conceptual analysis.
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