Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight


Window into the Charedi World | Mordecai Plaut, director







Opinion & Comment
The Outcome of Provocation
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Sixty years ago, on November 9, 1938, the infamous Kristallnacht riots took place. Mobs of antisemitic Germans incited by the notorious Nazi secret police organization, the Gestapo, and the S.S. storm troopers commanded by Heinrich Himmler, shattered windows and broke into Jewish stores and businesses all across Germany. By the end of the night 191 synagogues had been burnt and a further 76 completely demolished.

Although not as well remembered by the general public, this first violent demonstration of extreme Nazi antisemitism was sparked off by an immediate cause: the assassination of Ernst Vom Rath, third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. The person who killed Vom Rath was a young Jewish man called Herschel Grynszpan. The assassin's aim was to revenge his family's expulsion from Germany when the Gestapo deported 1600 Jews of Polish descent from Germany in October 1938.

This act of revenge was, of course, futile. Killing a minor German diplomat in France could not even for one second stop the Nazi death machine. (Incidentally, later it became known that Vom Rath did not see eye-to-eye with the Nazi regime and was put under Gestapo scrutiny because of his remarks against the new political stands of Germany.) Actually, this assassination had the opposite effect and was the so-called justification for the Kristallnacht pogroms.

Doubtless, those dreadful occurrences would have happened even without any assassination. The devastating pogrom had been carefully planned and was kept strictly secret before the assassination took place. That assassination helped the Nazi propaganda machine arouse the masses to go out and "avenge" the blood of that German diplomat. A new research study of Shaul Hefriedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, published recently by Am Oveid, describes in detail how Nazi government heads insured that there would be a "spontaneous outburst" against German Jewry. Hefriedlander quotes the announcement of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: "The Jew Grynszpan was the representative of Judaism; Vom Rath was the representative of the German nation. In Paris Judaism shot the German People. The German government will react in a legal but severe manner."

As mentioned, this was a fraudulent and contemptible charge merely intended for brainwashing and instigation. The vandalistic frenzy of Kristallnacht was not only foreseen; it was well organized beforehand. Nonetheless, that assassin with his reckless thoughts of revenge helped intensify the mob's hatred and played into the hands of the Nazi propaganda experts.

It is naturally hard to judge a person so full of resentment. Nonetheless, we must remember that the Torah- observant always strongly opposed any such acts of revenge and provocation that could eventually turn on an immense inferno and endanger Jewish lives without any justification. It is fitting to quote what Kol Yisroel (the official organ of Agudath Yisroel at that time, printed in Yerushalayim) wrote right after Kristallnacht: "Because of Grynszpan's childish act, an outpouring of wrath fell on German Jewry. Doubtless, it was not Grynszpan's act that caused all this, but in every churban there is a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza who make the churban nearer, and in history a churban's start is proclaimed to be from that act, even though this display of wrath would have occurred anyway.

Any Torah-true Jew who believes in our still being in golus knows that Chazal forbid us to incite other nations. This particular point divides those fearful of Hashem from the heretical movements -- the Reform, "Enlightened," and Zionism -- that have gained control over the Jewish Nation in current history.

The cornerstone of these irreligious elements' outlook is that the Jewish Nation is exactly like all other nations. If so, we are also allowed to organize showy demonstrations as revengeful steps and childish "punishment" for those who want to harm us.

The gedolei Torah, however, have warned us that acting in such a way is definitely forbidden. In fact, acting like that is liable to escalate the intense hatred for us that anyway exists.

We saw this clearly in reference to the debate about enacting a boycott against Germany in the period leading up to World War II.

In the winter of 5697 (1937-1938) Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise organized a meeting that called upon the Jews to join in a "economic boycott of Germany." This public act was supposed to signify "the Jewish Nation's battle" against Nazi regime.

HaRav Michoel Weissmandel zt'l in his book Min HaMeitzar cites firsthand testimony about the pitiful outcome of that "high and mighty" endeavor. He reports what Reiter Vislitzany, a SS agent in Slovakia, told Jewish activists negotiating with him about a deal to trade about-to- be-exterminated Jews for money and other commodities, "In vain you are hoping to expect your dawn [a change for the better] from war events that have already made the heaven pale. Your night is dark and deep and has just begun. It has no dawn."

He cursed world Jewry again and again and said: "Where is your common sense? Instead of dealing with us you are organizing a boycott in America, and instead of having pity upon those of you whom we rule over, you pushed America into the war."

HaRav Weissmandel zt'l later reports how that Nazi described Hitler's reaction to the boycott announcement:

"According to Gross, Vislitzany testified that in the period that the German consul lived in America, Hitler had demanded a transcript of the Jewish gathering on that specific day in New York in order to hear Stephen Wise's speech. During this address, Wise spoke sharply against that rosho and prophesied his fall. When Hitler read this transcript together with clippings from American newspapers, in his madness he threw himself completely to the floor, hit it with his feet and hands, bit the cloth coverings of his room with his teeth, and cried out wildly: `Now I will destroy you! Now I will destroy you!' Vislitzany showed Gross a photocopy of Stephen Wise's speech as it was printed in an American newspaper and he had with him even an excerpt from a Yiddish newspaper translated into German talking about the speech."

HaRav Weissmandel concludes with evident pain: "From that time on, new decrees and plots began daily. There were beatings and people thrown down, and speeches full of hatred towards Jews, and an appalling language of murder began from all rostrums and newspapers."

There have always been those who have actively tried to oppose Heavenly decrees by using material means. They are those who have cast away Torah and mitzvos, who have buried their heads in the ground and refuse to admit that Hashem governs over the world. When these people find themselves helplessly facing enemies much stronger than they, they feel obliged to at least do some brazen act of incitement and loudly voice provocative statements.

The Torah warns against such behavior. Unfortunately, through their acting in such a way, they have caused bitter tragedies for the Jewish Nation.

Meanwhile they have been dodging the true obligation of a Jew when he finds himself in a predicament. If they would have understood that all decrees are caused by Hashem's hesteir ponim, His disguising Divine hanhogoh of the creation, and by the stringent midas hadin extended over us, they would have understood that wicked nations that want to harm us are only a staff intended to arouse Jews to do teshuvah as soon as possible. Since these people have denied Divine existence, they are unable to see that, "Woe to Ashur, the rod of My anger" (Yeshaya 10:5) and refuse to arrive at the true conclusions.

If the Jews in Germany had reflected discerningly they would have painfully realized how bad was their coming closer to non-Jewish culture in general and especially to that of Germany. HaRav Mordechai Yaakov Breish zt'l, at the occasion of a ta'anis tzibur that took place in Switzerland after Kristallnacht, spoke precisely about this point.

He started out by citing the Chazal (Brochos 5b): "A person who sees he is suffering should examine his deeds. Surely when an entire nation sees how much it is suffering, it must examine how it has been acting. If we will inspect how we have acted we will conclude that we are blameworthy and have ourselves caused all this to happen. Every year we read the posuk, `They shall have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat. Then they will turn to other gods and serve them and provoke Me and break My covenant. And it shall come to pass when many evils and troubles have befallen them' (Devorim 31:20).

"Nonetheless it seems that the reading alone of this posuk telling about the potential misfortunes was insufficient and Hashem had to actually cause it to happen.

"Another posuk (Yeshaya 42:24), `Who gave Yaakov for a spoil and Yisroel to the robbers? Did not Hashem, He against Whom we have sinned and in Whose ways they would not walk, and unto Whose Torah they were not obedient?' teaches us why these sufferings have come about. I know that it is now a time of agony for Yaakov and we should not look for flaws and awaken Divine criticism on us, chas vesholom, but on the other hand, in such a time of great affliction we must face the truth directly and try not to mask it.

"How did we show our gratitude for all the favors and salvation that the Creator has done for us for more than a hundred years. At this period the brilliance of justice and enlightenment shone in the nations' heart and they decided to grant us, the Jews, the right to belong to the countries we are living in and citizenship so that we were considered the same as other people. After many centuries of being downtrodden and subjected to various limitations [and now we were freed from them], how did we show our appreciation? Unfortunately, the picture is pathetic. `They are a perverse and crooked generation' (Devorim 32:5)."

HaRav Breish at this point harshly criticizes the different Reform movements. "Some Jews in certain countries, led by Germany, reached prominent positions among non-Jews because they have behaved like them by casting away the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. They arranged meetings in which religion and Judaism were cut to pieces, to small segments. The progressive increase of their ideals of liberalism brought in its wake irreverence to Torah and Judaism, Shabbos, Yom Tov, and taharas hamishpocha. Everything is now altogether permitted, with nothing left to obligate us. Even within the neshomoh hakedosha of the Jewish Nation -- the synagogues -- the [Reform] have penetrated deeply. They have copied non-Jews in new ways, such as [using] an organ and women singing and the like. They have uprooted even the unique status of the land of our fathers and have erased Tsion and Yerushalayim from their tefillos. In short, the [Reform] have said `the house of Yehuda is like all the nations' (Yechezkel 25:8). They have done this without taking into consideration the owner of the world, HaKodosh Boruch Hu. Hashem has tested us by giving us an abundance of material benefits to see whether we will remain Jews, but we have failed the test."

HaRav Breish said that we must regard Kristallnacht as a "measure for measure" (Shabbos 105b) because Germany, the cradle of Reform Judaism, is precisely where the hatred for Yisroel was initiated. Exactly "in the place of judgment there was wickedness" (Koheles 3:16). Where residents of that particular country gathered to judge Judaism thinking that by doing so their non-Jewish neighbors will admire them, "there was wickedness." From that country and that place loomed wickedness to completely erase and destroy all of am Yisroel with neither pity nor clemency, Rachmono litzlan."

He concludes as follows: "The [Reform community] heads forgot or did not know that also in the times of Yechezkel, Reformers similar to them came and said `the house of Yehuda is like all the nations.' This was during the golus in Bovel and [these Reformers] claimed that the Torah could exist only in Eretz Yisroel and not among the non- Jews. The answer of Yechezkel Hanovi was, `That which comes into your mind shall never come about, that you say, "We will be like the nations, like the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." As I live, says Hashem Elokim, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with an outpouring of anger, will I be king over you' (Yechezkel 20:32-33).

"Unfortunately, we have today such pitiful men and women whose ears are heavy and hearts are too fat to understand what teshuvah is. They have no concept of it. This is the outcome of what the Reform community heads have done. Because of our sins we see that Hashem has answered `surely with a mighty hand . . . will I be king over you.' If you do not want to be Jews of your own good will, you will be forced and pressed to be Jews. It will be prohibited for you to marry and mix among the non-Jews. The Chazal in Bovo Kama 60a has been fulfilled through us. `Suffering only comes for the world when there are reshoim in the world and only begins from the tzaddikim, as is written, "If fire breaks out, and catch in thorns, so that the sheaves, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed" (Shemos 22:5). When does fire break out? When there are thorns nearby. The fire starts only from the tzaddikim, as is written "or the field be consumed." It is not written and [the fire] will consume a field (i.e., because of the fire, first the thorns and later the field -- the produce -- will be consumed) but rather that "it be consumed," the field (the produce, meaning the tzaddikim) that was already consumed.'"

This is the way Jews who were yirei Shomayim viewed the dreadful occurrences during the Holocaust, the time of Hashem's fury. They did not search for a relief for their turbulent souls through childish and meaningless provocation. They made a cheshbon hanefesh of why Hashem has done this to us.

However, mesisism umeidichim similar to the Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise refused to admit that the root of our suffering was the aspiration to "be like the nations." They even poured oil on the blaze through provoking the nations, and that brought a churban upon the Jewish Nation.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.