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16 Tammuz 5760 - July 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Yahrtzeit: 21 Tammuz, 5701

Signs From Heaven

By HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Zt'l, Hy'd

The following article was published in Yiddishe Togblatt in Warsaw in 1938. Although the current situation in Eretz Yisroel is very different from the one prevailing sixty-two years ago, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the article's message is as applicable today as it was then.

Hatred of our nation is by no means a thing of the past. Sixty-two years ago, HaRav Bloch demonstrated through the events that were unfolding, that Hakodosh Boruch Hu was calling upon us and demanding a response. This is even clearer to us now, in the light of all that has transpired since then. This is the light in which we must try to understand all that we witness and strengthen our resolve to act upon this realization.


Many signs are sent to us in order to serve as pathfinders, imparting understanding to wayward souls. Some of them are obvious in the general shape of events while others are only apparent in the private sphere of the individual. Let us contemplate some of these signs and try -- even to some small degree -- to illuminate and elucidate their meaning for us.

Worsening Persecution of the Jews in Europe

Before our eyes, the following are transpiring:

1) An extraordinary sequence of events;

2) Revelation of the pattern of "measure for measure" in the way Heaven treats us;

3) Concealment (apparent) of Heavenly kindness by misfortune.

1 -- The Extraordinary Sequence of Events

There is nothing new for Jews in the gentile nations' hatred towards them. Our nation's very founding [at Har Sinai] also saw the beginning of their hatred of us. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all the great hatred as well as the persecutions and confrontations that we have experienced in every generation, it is extremely rare for it to erupt in an all out war against the entire Jewish people.

What is happening now has never happened before: that antisemitism and blood-lust directed toward the Jews should be the main platform and the central feature steering the internal politics of strong and mighty nations.

The German nation, whose military power and warlike ambitions the whole world fears, is concerned because of Jewish opposition and it numbers the Jewish nation among its enemies, despite our lack of fighting power and our natural weakness. Is this not extraordinary? Can any ordinary human reckoning be advanced in order to explain such a situation?

And this is happening in such an unexpected and improbable way! We are not talking about faraway peoples or insignificant nations but about mighty powers, in both size and strength. And they are, moreover, nations whose Jewish population is but a minute fraction, and which is shrinking to the point of disappearance. And it is by none other than these world powers that the declaration of war has been issued against "the scattered lamb."

Isn't all this totally unpredicted? Can any rational argument be put forward that can explain it?

2 -- Revelation of the Pattern of Measure for Measure in the Way Heaven Treats Us

Is it not amazing that of all countries, it is in those where Jews built a future for themselves and their offspring at the cost of denying themselves the basics of Judaism and engaging in traitorous assimilation, where authentic Judaism was waived and sacrificed as the price for racial mixing -- there of all places, where Jews started off by divesting themselves of their Jewish appearance and ended up emptying themselves entirely of Judaism's inner content, in the hope that in that way, the country's leaders would cease to recognize them as Jews -- it is there that in an obvious instance of Heavenly measure for measure, there has been an extraordinary outbreak of ultra-nationalism, which sees every member of another race as an undesirable element and every Jew as an enemy, who can only be rendered harmless by his extermination, chas vesholom.

To those who can see a little further it is clear that this war against the Jews did not just start now. It started as soon as assimilation and the denial of national identity started. Hashem yisborach's ways are such however, that there is always a certain space, according to a certain process, between the actual sin and its punishment. It is this distance which can give rise to mistakes and misunderstandings in direction, and to the failure to see the pattern of "measure for measure" in events and in adopting the resolution that nothing whatsoever happens randomly.

"It is because the consequence of an evil deed does not follow it swiftly, that people's hearts aspire to do evil," (Koheles 8:11). The truth is that the sin and its punishment are of the same weave and the same coinage. The punishment is a direct consequence of the sin. It is only the time that elapses in between, the fact that one does not follow speedily on the heels of the other, that causes mistakes and confusion. However, the time approaches when all will witness how punishment is the result of sinning. If and when that time arrives and people still refuse to acquaint themselves with Hashem's ways, then they are practicing cruelty towards themselves.

3 -- Concealment (Apparent) of Heavenly Kindness

At a time like this, can we remain oblivious to the powerful Providence that is operating with such precision, even amid the sea of suffering, ensuring that no Jew will get lost? If it were simply a matter of their nationalist theories [of superiority] being a little more accommodating -- were there for example to be a possibility of segregation and safety for [Jewish] "spiritual deserters" -- what waves of apostasy would sweep over Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries!

"If not with a strong hand, an outstretched arm and outpoured wrath will I rule over you!" (Yechezkel 20:33). In this very attitude of "the strong hand" and "outpoured wrath," when there is no refuge for Jews who try to flee from the battlefield of "the war against the Jews," that is where the kindness is apparent -- in Hashem's concern for the future of the Jews and in His wish to bring all the lost and wayward souls back to their Judaism.

In the innermost reaches of this outpoured wrath, can't we see the great kindness shining and radiating forth from every event, accompanying Hashem's call and His request, "Return to me and I will return to you" (Malachi 3:70)?

Don't the Nazi theories themselves constitute a clear response to the self-made attempt to sever all connection with the religion of Yisroel and to view Judaism simply as a function of race and ancestry; on the assumption that with the removal of the barriers imposed by the Jewish religion, all the differences between a country's Jewish and its other citizens would disappear? For all their savagery and the inhumanity that is evident how one views them, the Nazi theories serve as a clear demonstration of "measure for measure."

How We are Guided in Exile: the Situation in Eretz Yisroel

The events that are unfolding and the signs currently appearing in Eretz Yisroel follow the same pattern as those experienced by the Jewish people in exile.

According to all the rules of human logic, Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel should have been greeted by the Arabs as a blessing. Hasn't this settlement, small though it is, brought almost two thousand years of desolation to an end? Hasn't it proved to be a wonder of human creativity and the rebuilding of ruins? Disease ridden marshes have become fertile tracts. Thousands of destitute Arabs who had no property of their own to lose, now have the chance to embark upon a better and more human life.

Yet unexpectedly, the clamor of hatred and destruction have arrived on the scene, though all perceive them as being senseless. The rampage of destruction upon which the Arabs have embarked is damaging to themselves, as well as to the Jewish settlement. Yet the battle continues mindlessly, fanned by governments that are considered enlightened and with the silent acquiescence of those in possession of the Mandate for governing the country [the English].

Were this only to be the result of "chance," chas vesholom, there are plenty of facts that could even today be marshaled, that would change the minds of both the Arabs and their supporters regarding the blessing that Jewish settlement is bringing. What would Transjordan look like, and what would Arab countries look like, were it not for the Jews who dwell among them? And where is the justice in Arab claims to the land, at a time when their own lands are so sparsely inhabited? All these developments are totally unforeseen by a mind approaching the situation from a conventional viewpoint however, they serve as a clear lesson to us of Hashem's Hashgocho!

How apparent -- how transparent -- is Hashem's dealing measure for measure in Eretz Yisroel. They didn't come to the land in Hashem's Name but in the name of nationalism. They didn't come bearing Tanach in their hands, rather, as a cheap imitation of global nationalist aspirations. Comes along Divine Hashgocho and shows them how an undeveloped nation can awaken -- even if it is only an artificial awakening -- and become swollen with unlimited chauvinism, and with a patriotism that cannot countenance the existence of any others whatsoever in their country, not to mention if those others are the descendants of Yisroel.

From this outpoured wrath too, Hashem's kindness shines through, in the form of a clear lesson that: "If Hashem is not building a house, its builders will have toiled in vain. If Hashem is not guarding a city, the sentry has labored for nothing" (Tehillim 127:1), with its inherent call to direct eyes and hearts to the Ribono Shel Olom when setting out to build ourselves a home. It also therefore serves as a lesson to us to remember the Guardian of Israel when we aspire to protect and to build our own private lives, and to ensure that our own homes are places of Torah, for our lives will only have permanence if Torah reigns supreme.

Those of us who look at the situation from a Jewish perspective simply must see Hashem's kindness in current events. Through the "strong arm" and the "outpoured wrath" there shines through the Divine wish that "I will rule over you"!

Measure for Measure: The Nations' Delusions

In the same way, world events are also speaking to us and warning us, in the form of the seemingly inevitable devastation that is currently threatening the existence of entire nations and the lives of individuals.

In the ordinary way of looking at things, an ambition to plunge the world into war is completely unaccountable. Nobody can imagine that the destruction resulting from a war would be anything but all-encompassing and of giant proportions. Yet, the preparations and the "war dance" are proceeding apace with an unstoppable momentum. And people are still blind enough not to realize that none of this is happening by chance but that it is being orchestrated by the hand of Divine Providence!

The measure for measure principle is also currently operating. At the end of the [first] World War, when people believed that it was possible to loosen the reins -- whose roots lay in religion -- and refrain from resolving international disputes according to right and wrong; when people fooled themselves into believing that a League of Nations, founded on the principle of the brotherhood of mankind, would usher in eternal peace on earth, the alarm immediately sounded in the hearts of those who are more seriously minded. This was a Heavenly warning, against being swept up into the hubbub surrounding this fearsome falsehood that bedecks itself in spurious morals and decayed humanity. Today, the writing is there for all the nations to see; in letters of fire, that spell out: "Measure for Measure!"

Here too, Hashem's kindness is not absent. Even in the shadow of a giant and fearsome world catastrophe, the sounds of Divine kindness can be heard from without. For with [the prospect of] the devastating confrontation [that threatens to erupt] between them, they forget about the scattered sheep [and this is a kindness] even if our misfortunes in consequence are hardly insignificant. Heaven is at least giving us a "break" to catch our breath, so that we can think about what is happening and repent. In general, we know that Chazal say, "If you see antagonism between the nations, await him," meaning, if you see the nations are preoccupied with struggles between themselves, it is a sign that this is the time to await redemption!

The fearsome events of our times ought not to cast us into despondency or hopelessness. We must remember that it is "out of the very misfortune itself [that we pray Hashem should] produce release and revival for them" (from the pizmon Yisroel noshah BaHashem). Let us just recognize the signs from Heaven which are arousing us and calling out to us. Let us for once and for all uproot from our hearts the dangerous germ of forsaking Hashem, that goes by the name of "chance." To view current events in that light is to perpetrate the height of cruelty against ourselves and to endanger the existence and the spirit of our nation. Let us also remember particularly now, when it seems that all the auspicious times for redemption have chas vesholom passed us by, that "Hashem's salvation comes like the blinking of an eye"!

This article was originally published in Der Yiddishe Togblatt in Warsaw, on Friday the third of Marcheshvan 5699 (28th October 1938).


Some Biographical Notes on HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch zt'l, Hy'd and His Part in the Tragic End of a Glorious Era

While he was still young, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok became known for his great genius and his wide and penetrating knowledge of all areas of Torah. In 5680 (1920), when he was thirty years old, he was appointed to a position as rosh yeshiva, serving alongside his father, HaRav Yosef Leib Bloch zt'l and HaRav Chaim Rabinovitz zt'l, who were among the elder roshei yeshiva of the generation. Before he had reached the age of forty, he assumed his father's mantle of leadership, succeeding him as both av beis din and leader of the Telz Yeshiva. His father had testified that every aspect of his elder son's conduct, his speech, his shiurim and even his movements, were all carefully measured and weighed in advance, to the point that he remarked, "Ehr hot mir ibergeshtiegen, He rose higher than I did"!

HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok possessed a multifaceted personality. Although he bore a heavy burden of communal work while still a young man, including active membership of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and of the Agudas HaRabbonim of Lithuania, he was principally known for his spiritual gifts. Particularly noteworthy was his power of innovation. Through all his talents and his breadth of mind, there ran a thread of freshness and novelty, thanks to which he was always a burgeoning wellspring of Torah and knowledge of Hashem.

He struck fresh pathways into every area of Torah knowledge, both in halocho and agodoh. He also illuminated many peoples' path in matters of yiras Shomayim and knowledge of Hashem. Among the geonim of his generation, he was unique in the scope of the Torah and yiras Shomayim that he imparted to his thousands of talmidim, while serving at the same time as a source of counsel and a leader of his people.

His shiurim gained a reputation throughout the yeshiva world. It was commonly agreed that they displayed astonishing breadth and revealed mastery of both talmudim, Bavli and Yerushalmi, as well as the works of the Rishonim and Acharonim. Besides the systematic arrangement of each shiur in a way that charted a wonderfully clear pathway into the various components and details of each sugya, each of these parts was also examined in penetrating depth, in order to arrive at a correct understanding of the basic principles that were operating.

Many flocked to hear HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok's shiurim and to drink in his words eagerly and admiringly. The deeper the content of a shiur of his, the more is contained in a few words. Only after investing considerable toil into understanding them, can their full meaning be fathomed. A collection of his shiurim on Bovo Basra, Bovo Metzia and Chulin, was published in 5711 (1951) and a few years ago, his shiurim on Yevomos were also published.

The following account of Rav Avrohom Yitzchok's final days serves as an example of the greatness that he displayed throughout his life. The account was assembled from the testimony of eyewitnesses and is printed in the introduction to the volume of shiurim on Yevomos.

On erev Shabbos, S.S. personnel appeared in the rav's home and took him and his family out to the marketplace of Telz. The town's Jews had been gathered there and they were standing in rows, with all the rabbonim in the front row. Though the Germans mocked them, they paid them no heed, directing their thoughts instead towards internal reckoning and self purification, in anticipation of sacrificing their lives for kiddush Hashem.

Ignoring the Germans' orders to remain still and silent, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok turned around to face his community and, perfectly calmly, began rousing them to return to Hashem in complete teshuvah, to say vidui and to prepare themselves for giving up their lives for kiddush Hashem. The entire community said vidui with him, word by word. None of them were afraid, for they had already ascended to a higher world, where they were above all that was going on around them.

The Germans also became aware of the elevated atmosphere for they grew silent and gazed in amazement upon these spiritual heroes. Once again, they witnessed the eternal truth that Hashem's nation carries within. They saw their great spiritual strength and their lofty souls.

When it was almost Shabbos, the Germans called HaRav Bloch and asked him to prepare the crowd by telling them that they were about to fire merely in order "to test their ammunition." Addressing his flock HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok said, "We are in terrible danger. Return, children, to our Father in Heaven. Only repentance, prayer and charity can avert the evil decree. We must accept on ourselves that should we merit to live, we will keep Shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpocha."

The entire community, young and old, (even those whose Yiddishkeit had been weakened by the influence of the Communists), raised their hands heavenward and said, "We accept the yoke of mitzvo observance upon ourselves. We undertake to fulfill and observe the mitzvos."

It was a terrifying yet holy scene. All those present felt as though they were standing before Har Sinai and saying na'aseh venishma.

HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok began mincha and the community followed. After they had welcomed Shabbos he gave instructions that Tehillim be said. The sound of the quiet weeping that ascended heavenward was deafening. It was the sound of an entire community, united, with a single mind and a common preparedness to die as martyrs. The ma'ariv which followed was a splendid sight. Even those who were unaccustomed to praying joined in that Shabbos, coming together to shelter in the protection of "Hashem [who] is One and His name is One" (Lecho Dodi).

The Germans ordered the women to return to their homes and allowed HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok to go too. However, he refused, telling them that he would remain with his flock. Although he realized that parting from his family was possibly the final one, he did not bid them farewell. All his attention was directed towards his community, as he offered them words of support and encouragement.

The men were imprisoned for approximately three weeks in a barn on the Rein farm, near Telz. During this time, though they were well aware of the sharp sword that was literally resting upon their necks, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok maintained his learning schedule with undiminished toil and application. He also kept up his usual prolific flow of written novel Torah thoughts. However, with the exception of his participation in the meetings of the committee that had organized itself to negotiate with the Germans, he hardly conversed at all with those around him.

On Monday, the nineteenth of Tammuz 5701, the Germans collected all the men together and instructed them to run. During this session they inflicted savage and unbearable tortures upon those who were unable to keep up. HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok and his brother HaRav Zalman carried the elderly and infirm Reb Moshe Kaplan (father-in-law of HaRav Elya Meir Bloch), who did not have the strength to fulfill the barbaric orders. When they returned from this shattering ordeal, all the men were severely weakened and nearing collapse. It was a moment of ebbing physical but heightened spiritual power. Back in the barn, covered with dirt and grime, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok raised his hands heavenward and said, "Ribono shel olom! Gerecht bist Du, und gerecht zennen diener maisim! (You are correct and Your actions are correct!)"

His weakness left HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok unable to learn from his seforim. He said to his daughter tblct'a, "I need to learn a while longer. Read to me Hilchos Kiddush Hashem from the Rambam." This was his preparation for fulfilling the mitzvo of kiddush sheim shomayim, which he knew was fast approaching.

Tuesday the twentieth of Tammuz was his last day in this world. At five a.m. he and the other man were ordered by policemen "to leave for work." HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok washed his hands, said vidui, and left the barn. A few minutes later, the stillness of the forest was broken by the sound of gunshots. An eyewitness said that HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok's voice could be heard saying Shema Yisroel . . .


In 5688 (1928), HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok made a trip to the United States and to South Africa on the yeshiva's behalf. Seventy years ago, such a trip involved long sea voyages. HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok was accompanied on the trip by HaRav Simcha Bunim Stein zt'l. In his work Olom Chesed Yiboneh Rav Stein records his recollections of those days, from which the following paragraphs are excerpted.

One of the other passengers on board ship was the renowned German writer, Thomas Mann. The conversation which got underway between the rosh yeshiva and the gentile writer was overshadowed by the events of the times. The following day, an election was to be held in Germany which was to bring the Nazis to power. Mann inquired about Shabbos. In time, he came to appreciate the protective power of Shabbos, when it is observed properly.

"Our teacher turned and went onto the upper deck, where he sat down in one of the corners, immersed in thought. At first, we stood some distance away from him, in silence. All one could hear was the sound of the waves and of the boat's wheels that were charting our course through the water that covered the depths. We slowly moved closer to him and sat down around him. Our teacher opened his eyes and looked off into the distance, where all there seemed to be was the sun and its reflected rays dancing on the waves.

"See!" he began, speaking as though he was delivering a discourse in the yeshiva. "The loftiness of nature is revealed to us and we are being carried above it. Let us have the wisdom to penetrate the secrets of nature and to recognize the greatness and the might of the Creator, His great kindness and His elevated wisdom. Then our acquaintance of the Creator, blessed be He, will become wider and will deepen." He suddenly stopped speaking and withdrew into himself. He then started to speak again, with a heavy sigh that his heart was unable to contain. "Tomorrow," he said, "the crucial elections are taking place in Germany. If "that person" (this was the first time I had heard him refer to him in that way) comes to power . . . " he did not continue, for he was careful not to let anything unfortunate pass his lips.

A few paces away from us, a man stood alone, leaning with his elbows on the railing. He approached one of the bochurim and asked him, "Do you speak German?"

"I am a native of Germany," came the reply. The man introduced himself as Thomas Mann, who already then was recognized the world over as the greatest among German writers. He took an interest in us and in the man who sat in the middle of our group. The German-born bochur answered his questions and also told him about our teacher's concern over the outcome of the next day's election. The German jumped as though he'd been bitten by a snake.

"It will never happen! Tell your teacher that I am a German -- a not untypical member of the German nation. I know this nation and I trust that it knows how to be careful and at the crucial time, to protect `true German culture.' "

Mann went on to relate that he was spending the summer in one of the villages in the German region of Lithuania and was travelling to Germany to take part in the election and to protect democracy and German culture. He asked many questions about Judaism and listened to the answers with great interest. One of his questions and the message with which our teacher responded have remained engraved on my memory, for it was a question which assimilated Jews often ask to this day and our teacher's reply was both simple and original.

This was his question: He had tried to understand Judaism years ago. He had held long discussions with a rabbi and had read books on the subject. One of his first conclusions had been about Shabbos. What kind of enjoyment was there to it? After spending several hours in synagogue, there was an enjoyable but brief interlude for some good food, then the Jews spent the remainder of the day in their homes doing nothing. (He did not know that when a Jewish home is quiet, it means that Torah is being studied.) Going for a walk is one small example of the kind of pleasurable activity in which people engage. It refreshes both body and spirit and opens the heart and the soul to both new, elevated and original ideas. That was one way of combining the pleasant with the useful and it would increase the enjoyment of the Shabbos. There were endless other possibilities.

Our teacher thought for a short moment and his expression showed that he was grappling with something. He then began approximately as follows, "The children of Avrohom Ovinu inherited their forefathers' character traits. They are bashful -- reluctant to deal falsely or cruelly with others. They are merciful and are unable to enjoy themselves at the expanse of others' suffering. This is the first time," he continued, "that I am travelling by boat. Therefore, before I came up on deck, I first went down in order to see how the boat is built and how it works. Ever since, I have been troubled by the following question: we are sitting here in comfort, enjoying the fresh, invigorating air, while the stokers are toiling away in the hold, almost being roasted alive, were it not for all the grease with which they are smeared. Most of mankind's pleasures operate on the same kind of pattern. The Torah did not intend us to engage in pleasures such as these, at least not on Shabbos!

"Furthermore, society is composed of several classes. The status of each class in society is determined by the kind of work in which its members engage and their financial standing. On one day a week, all are equal. The Torah was given to our forefathers on Shabbos and, as on that day, when all Jews stood united, like one man with a single heart, so it remains for all future generations. All are aware of G-d's closeness, which renders all equal. [On Shabbos] there is no such thing as one person working and another enjoying himself at the first one's expense.

"And the main thing, that we were taught by our ancient sages, `Man is beloved, for he was created in the Divine image' (Ovos 3:14). Man was given human emotions, with a soul in order to understand and to comprehend the purpose of his existence. When man is enslaved, lowered and downtrodden, his human attributes seem to disappear. He seems soulless, like an animal. However, with the advent of Shabbos, his day of rest arrives, and with it, his soul stirs and human thoughts awaken in him, as the posuk says, "And the son of your maidservant and the stranger shall be refreshed," (Shemos 23:12). On this day, even a servant proves that he has a soul, that "the soul of a living spirit is in his nostrils" (Bereishis 7:22). [After warning us about Shabbos, the very next posuk tells us that] the result of this should be that, "You shall not mention the name of other gods" -- You, bnei Yisroel, preserve your faith and your observance wholeheartedly so that, "it should not be heard on your lips." Don't listen to worthless thoughts and ideas of the gentiles; also, understand how to separate yourself and maintain your distance from their corrupt ways (see Rashi Shemos 23:13).

Mankind's history is full of suffering, because men have failed to learn the lesson of Shabbos, namely that men are equal -- not because of the dictates of human logic but because the Divine influence arouses us and forces us to this conclusion, based on the teaching that, "Man -- every man -- is beloved for he was created in the Divine image" ' (recorded from memory).

As a footnote, Thomas Mann left Germany at the beginning of the reign of terror. He did not even return to the land he loved and to the people who were so close to his heart when the war was over. He settled in neighboring Switzerland, turning his back on his people, who had spurned democracy and human values.


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