Was the Tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo a preview of the Holocaust?
In 2014 Rabbi Reuven Mann, then the Rav of Young Israel of Phoenix (currently teaching at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Jerusalem), presented a drasha contending that the second Tochacha, given by Moshe in Parshas Ki Savo (Deuteronomy/ Devorim 28:68, Art Scroll Chumash p.1065) foretold the Holocaust, which constitutes strong evidence for the Divine authorship of the Torah, as no other religion even attempts to predict events thousands of years in the future.
The first part of the Tochacha deals with agricultural matters such as crop failures and nasty climate, as well as with physical illnesses, all of which relates naturally to the events leading up to the first and second exiles. Woven into the narrative, however, are elements such as: “HASHEM will send in your midst attrition, confusion, and worry, in every undertaking that you will do, until you are destroyed, and until you quickly perish, because of the evil of your deeds, for having forsaken Me…. [ibid.28:20] HASHEM will cause you to be struck down before your enemies; on one road you will go out against him, but on seven roads you will flee before him, and you will be a cause of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth …. [ibid.28:25] HASHEM will strike you with madness and with blindness, and with confounding of the heart. You will grope at noon as a blind man gropes in darkness, but you will not succeed on your way; you will only be cheated and robbed all the days, and there will be no savior …. [ibid.28:28-29] Your sons and daughters will be given to another people – and your eyes will see and pine in vain for them all day long, but your hand will be powerless …. [ibid.28:32]
“HASHEM will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as an eagle will swoop, a nation whose language you will not understand, a brazen nation that will not be respectful to the old nor gracious to the young …. [ibid.28:49-50] HASHEM will scatter you among the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, and there you will work for gods of others, whom you did not know – you or your forefathers – of wood and stone. And among those nations you will not be tranquil, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; there HASHEM will give you a trembling heart, longing of eyes, and suffering of soul. Your life will hang in the balance, and you will be frightened night and day, and you will not be sure of your livelihood. In the morning you will say, ‘Who can give back last night!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘Who can give back this morning!’ – for the fright of your heart and the sight of your eyes that you will see.” [ibid.28:64-67]
All these psukim [verses] indicate a process of increasing oppression, which is evident in 1930’s Europe. In April 1933 Germany imposed a major boycott of Jewish products and stores, thereby both creating scarcity of goods and affecting the livelihood of Jews. As recounted by Werner Bergmann, “The boycotts were flanked by increasing anti-semitic public propaganda and marked the beginning of the exclusion from German society which increasingly affected ever more areas of Jewish life. In the following period, Jews were morally defamed in a deluge of more than 2,000 laws and decrees, they were excluded from social life, economically plundered, driven out of the country and physically threatened.” Specifically, Jews were expelled from the public schools and universities, from academic positions, and from the Civil Service. The loss of livelihood, accompanied by “attrition, confusion, and worry,” is apparent.
The passage of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935 revoked Jews’ German citizenship and prohibited intermarriage between Jews and Aryans. Following Kristallnacht, Jews were fined heavily, had their insurance payments for damage seized by the government, and forbidden to practice many professions. The Nazis also banned shechita [ritual slaughter], and in 1936 Poland followed suit. The “Pilsudski Colonels” who ruled Poland also instituted a boycott of Jewish businesses, referred to as the “cold pogrom,” and Cardinal Hlond, the archbishop of Warsaw, had a pastoral letter read in every Catholic church accusing Jews of selling Christian girls into prostitution. During the same time period, anti-Semitic organizations such as the Arrow Cross in Hungary and the Iron Guard in Romania gained political power, leading to anti-Semitic legislation similar to Germany. All in all, we can conclude that the Jews had indeed become a “terror to the kingdoms of the earth.”
With the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, the process escalated to physical violence, making life increasingly fearful for German Jews. Many fled the country. And as Germany expanded by swallowing up Czechoslovakia and Austria, Jews there began arranging to send their children out of the country, on trains referred to as Kindertransport, and then ultimately by ship to safety in England. One such escapee, Theodore Bikel, grew up to be a star singer/actor in America, including playing the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Thus we had sons and daughters given over to foreign people, and for the most part, the parents perished in the Holocaust.
Needless to say, the fears expressed in the latter verses of the Tochacha became reality in the deportation to and suffering in the concentration camps. Nevertheless, I believe it is fair to say that Rabbi Mann’s most startling assertion concerns the concluding verse of the Tochacha: [Deuteronomy / Devorim 28:68, Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash, p.1065]
“HASHEM will return you to Egypt in ships, on the way of which I said to you, ‘You shall never again see it!’ And there you will offer yourselves to your enemies as slaves and maidservants – but there will be no buyer.”
Rabbi Mann identifies Egypt here as standing for Germany, and ships as representing the trains by which Jews were shipped in cattle cars to the death camps. This is a logical identification since, as we know, the Torah is written in terms that the average person can understand, and there were no trains 3300 years ago. The second sentence is perhaps even more remarkable in light of an event that occurred in 1944. The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz had just begun when Adolf Eichmann, may his name be blotted out from under Heaven, the architect of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” offered, with the approval of Heinrich Himmler and the SS, to allow one million Jews to emigrate to any Allied-controlled country other than Palestine (since the Nazis had promised the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj-Amin al-Husseini, not to allow any Jews to enter Palestine) in exchange for 10.000 trucks for civilian use or for use on the eastern (Russian) front. [Incidentally, one would think that the alliance between al-Husseini and the Nazis, cemented by the Mufti’s personal meeting with the Fuehrer in November 1941, rendered moot any Arab claim to the Land of Israel, over and above the United Nations Mandate ratified by the San Remo Conference in April 1922.]
Germany designated Joel Brand, a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest (also known as the Va’ada), to negotiate with the Allied governments and the global Jewish leadership. At the same time, the Nazis appointed Andor Grosz, a minor intelligence officer who had worked variously for the Va’ada and the SS, to negotiate what they really wanted, a separate peace with the western Allies so they could concentrate on repelling the Russians. Needless to say, no one on the Allied side was interested in any deal. The British were reluctant to accept such a large number of Jewish immigrants; the Russians were obviously opposed; and President Roosevelt had no interest in saving Jews, though he was finally shamed into creating the War Refugee Board, which is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives, mainly in Hungary, due to a report created by non-Jewish employees of the US Treasury Department.
Both Brand and Grosz were arrested. While Brand was under British arrest in Palestine, he was allowed to meet with Moshe Shertok, head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department (and later to become Prime Minister of Israel under the adopted name of Moshe Sharett), who tried unsuccessfully to promote support for the trade.
The story didn’t end there, however. Eichmann brought in Rudolf Kastzner, who had been in Istanbul negotiating with Jewish leaders, to replace Brand. Eichmann described Kastzner as a “fanatical Zionist” who was willing to stop Jews from resisting deportation and even from disobedience in the concentration camps in exchange for allowing a few thousand young Jews to emigrate illegally to Palestine. In the final analysis, after Kastzner met with officials of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency in Switzerland, the deal was consummated, with Germany sending two transports (trains again!) to Switzerland from Bergen-Belsen. with a total of 1,684 Jews, ransomed for $1,000 each. Kastzner also sought protection for the Jews in the Budapest ghetto, which was achieved to the extent of saving more than 100,000 lives, largely through the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who issued certificates of protection. (It should be noted that diplomats from neutral countries assisted him, namely, Swiss consul Carl Lutz issued nearly 50,000 certificates of protection, and Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, issued certificates of protection and established safe houses.)
Sadly, Wallenberg was captured when the Russian Army arrived in Budapest and was never heard from again. It is presumed that he died in the gulag. As for Kastzner, after the war he emigrated to Israel, where he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis and ultimately was assassinated in 1957 by the right-wing militia Lehi, aka the Stern Gang. Kastzner’s choice of actions remains controversial to this day.
We might also cite an episode that actually involved a ship. In 1939 the S.S. St. Louis, with 937 passengers, nearly all of them Jewish, set out across the Atlantic. When Cuba reneged on its commitment to issue entrance visas, the ship headed north toward Florida. Their appeals to be allowed to land were denied, so the St. Louis returned to Europe, where four nations took in the passengers, 254 of whom were eventually martyred in the Holocaust. Once more, no country wanted more than a token number of Jews, and it appears that the Left is pushing the United States (and Canada, for that matter) in that direction.
While preparing this post, I listened to a podcast by Rabbi Yakov Bronsteyn, in whose shul I sometimes daven, on the Jewish reaction to tragedy. In essence, according to Rabbi Bronsteyn’s analysis, there are three stages (which I find somewhat analogous to the stages of mourning: shiva, shloshim, first year).
- Initial pain, for which the only reaction consists of crying and empathy, communally blowing shofar, and repentance.
- Recognition that G-d is in control of everything. As Chazon Ish reminds us, whatever situation we are in, He has put us there, and He determines what will happen. Our exercise of free will is limited to how we react/respond to our situation. We must always be hopeful, and as long as there is any chance of extricating ourselves, make every effort to do so. But if there is no way out, we must accept what happens and not commit acts of desperation, an example of which was Yosaif in prison asking the butler to remember him to Pharaoh, which would never happen. Consequently, Yosaif was admonished by having his prison sentence extended for another two years.
- We need to recognize that tragedy depends on our spiritual state. If our spiritual state is optimal, we will be protected from tragedies, otherwise not. Ramban (Nachmanides) cites a number of examples. The first is the affliction of tzara’as, as described in parshiyos Tazria and Metzora. This has long been recognized as a spiritual, not a physical, illness. Another example is the events surrounding Chanukah. Many of the Jews of that era were attracted to the pagan Greek philosophy of Hellenism. When they repented and optimized their spiritual state, a miraculous victory over the mighty Greek army followed.
Yet another example that connects to the Tochacha is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were evil, but so was Egypt. Why were they destroyed and not Egypt? Because the Land of Israel has an exceptionally high spiritual state and can’t abide evil. In the Tochacha, the Israelites are warned that if they engage in idolatry and other evil acts, the land will spit them out, which is exactly what happened twice. Will this be the third time, or are we approaching the time when the nations of the world (i.e. the United Nations) march on Jerusalem and are routed once and for all? With the modern-day Hamans in Iran ever so close to having nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, we should know soon. Keep praying, everyone!