The essay was originally published by R' Elchonon to give perspective on the events of his time, and how they were seen and foreseen by chazal. Although it first appeared in Yiddish in 5699-1939, eighty years ago, its message is still fresh and vital.
R' Elchonon's son, HaRav Simcha Wassermann, tried very hard to give this essay as wide a circulation as possible. We originally published it in 5753-1993, within the year of mourning for HaRav Simchah, le'iluy nishmosoh. Now, after the 80th anniversary of its original publication, we are republishing it here, online as part of our series of essays on basic issues of Hashkofoh.
We are adding the references to the pesukim and ma'amarim mentioned, as per his request.
HaRav Elchonon Wassermann, zt'l
In the introduction to his Hebrew translation, Rabbi Moshe Sheinfeld wrote (in part): "To those of our readers who will find in the words of the Gaon a blatant tendency towards extreme zealousness (kano'us), it should be said: Before we examine gedolei Yisroel against the charge that they may have been gripped by kano'us, it were better that we examine ourselves, lest we have been gripped by a tendency to be lukewarm and to compromise the Holy of Holies and the highest of the values of Yisroel."
The period through which we are now passing is one unique of its kind, especially on the stage of Jewish life. We are eye- witnesses to happenings which we have never before experienced. Sensations burst upon us with astounding, lightning force and we stand smitten with wonder, and uncomprehending, before these events. "And you shall be mad from the visions of your eyes." (Devorim 28:34).
When does this apply? As long as our approach derives from and is based upon mortal wisdom; but if we delve deeply into the Torah we shall find everything clear and certain. All the events in Jewish History, both past and present, were foreseen from the very beginning by the Torah and traditional "Agodoh." Everything in the Torah is fact, absolute and irrevocable. Thousands of years ago we were told, "And G-d will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other" (Devorim 28:64). This prophecy has become reality. If there were, up to now, scattered corners on the face of the globe which were empty of Jewish habitation, today refugees have reached even there.
If we want to interpret contemporary events, we must search for verses and statements which deal with the period known as the "Epoch of Messiah" (Ikvesa DeMeshicha), that is, the period of transition from exile to redemption. If we compare the Scriptures with events, we shall see in the Torah a clear vision of all that happens to us and also of the causative factors. Everything spoken in the verses has become real and all events were prophesied in advance.
Let us look in the Torah.
The Era of The Messiah
In the story of the Jewish people we can distinguish several well-defined periods; the period of the tanoim; the period of the amoraim; of the saborai; of the geonim; and of the later rabbis. The latest period is known in holy writ as "end of days" (Yeshayohu 2:2, Yirmiyohu 30:24) and the gemora calls it "The Epoch of the Messiah." (Sotah 49b). The expression "End of Days" refers to the immediate period before the Redemption and also the Redemption itself, whereas "Epoch of the Messiah" refers only to the last days of exile. Maimonides states in reference to this period that "all the words of the prophets are full of references to this period." (Hilchos Melochim 11:2)
In truth, in the Pentateuch as well as in the prophets, the state of Klal Yisroel, both spiritual and material, is described. In Doniel (12), it is written that the oppression of those days will exceed anything experienced by Israel from the day it became a nation, that is, it will exceed even the oppression at the time of the destruction of the Temple. This thing is also mentioned in Yirmiyahu 30. The Rabbis who foresaw the terror of the epoch of the Messiah declared "May it come, but let me not see it." (Sanhedrin 98b).
The Gaon of Vilna wrote (Even Shleima 11:5): The Redemption is called Rebirth. "Zion hath ailed and born" (Isaiah 61): the Hebrew people will then be reborn and just as the pains—the birth pangs—herald the birth and develop as the time of birth approaches, so also will the Messianic pangs precede the Redemption, and towards the approach of the Messiah they will increase in severity from day to day.
This same sequence of events was experienced in Egypt. At the beginning of the last phase of the Egyptian subjugation Pharaoh decreed: "Let the work be heavier" (Shemos 5:9); "Straw is not given and we are told to make bricks (Shemos 5:16). In our day too, countries are to be found which deprive the Jews of all means of livelihood and at the same time increase their burden of taxation.
The Song of Ha'azinu
The Song of Ha'azinu is the only portion of the Torah which opens with a special introduction (Devorim 31:19- 21) and finishes with an epilogue (Devorim 32-46). This serves to emphasize the great significance of this section.
What is said therein?
Everything which will happen to Israel until the coming of the Redeemer. A few verses, which we will here recount according to Rashi's explanation, relate exclusively to the Epoch of the Messiah.
"For the Lord will judge His people and repent Himself for His servants," that is, after the Lord judges Israel with the chastisements which are predestined for them, the promise "and will repent Himself for His servants" will be fulfilled, i.e. will come the Redemption. When? "When he seeth that their stay is gone, and there is none remaining." When the Almighty sees the powers of Israel ceasing for a lack of a deliverer and savior, then will He send His rightful Messiah.
So also, says the Prophet, "And I looked and there was none to help and I beheld in astonishment and there was none to uphold, therefore Mine own arm hath brought salvation unto Me." (Yeshayohu 63:5). "And he saw that there was no Man." (Ibid. 59:16), that is, there is none even to pray for them. And it is said "Where are their gods, the rock in whom they trusted?" G-d will ask "Where are the idols whom you hoped would be a shield to you, who did eat the fat of their sacrifices, to whom you have offered the best of your sacrifices? Let them rise up and help you."
All the above verses affirm that before the Redemption, the Jews will err after various forms of idol-worship and from time to time will transfer their hopes from one to another.
What is the nature of the idol-worship to which they have given allegiance?
First, we must understand the meaning of the concept "idol-worship." Any matter which appears to man as a controlling factor, independent of G-d's will and able to do good or evil, is included in idolatry (Sanhedrin 61b).
Let us now review all the "idols" which were worshiped in the last hundred years. The "Enlightenment of Berlin" (or better, foolishness) promised a great salvation. As soon as the breeze of Liberalism began to blow, the Jews hastened to stand in the front rank of its exponents. After Liberalism had made its exit, they turned to Democracy, Socialism, Communism and to the other "isms" which have come down upon our generation in such great profusion. To these idols they made sacrifices of blood and money — and were betrayed by all of them. Not even one justified the faith that had been pinned on it. Not only that: but all these "isms" died a sudden death and vanished abruptly.
How can this be explained?
In Yechezkel (Chap. 29) it is said that Egypt will be punished "Because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel," that is, because Israel put their trust in them. If so, the question arises: What is the transgression and sin of the Egyptians? One of the principles of the Torah is that all idolatry has one end—annihilation. "And in all the gods of Egypt will I do judgment" (Shemos 12:12). "And the idols shall utterly vanish." (Yeshayohu 2:18). Once Israel placed their hope in Egypt, it became an idol.
Our eyes have witnessed an amazing happening: Sixteen million Socialists in one land disappeared literally overnight, hardly a memory remaining of them. This also was idolatry for which the Jews were not loath to make sacrifices, to give their lives. They believed in Communism, for freedom and equality were in its wake. The Red Government has given a practical demonstration of what this hoped-for "freedom" and "equality" are. We have been given to know that every idol in which we put our faith has disappointed and deceived us, and G-d says "Let them rise up and help you." (Devorim 32:38) "See now, that I, even I, am He." (Devorim 32:39) The time has arrived for you to understand that, besides Me, there is no savior.
But they refuse to understand. They still clutch at the skirts of dying Democracy. This also will not help, this also has no real value.
Apart from those "isms" which are shared by all the nations, we are blessed with an exclusively Jewish "ism", that is, a Nationalism which aspires to bequeath to the people of Israel a redemption: material and especially spiritual. Its aim is to set up a new Hebrew people which will know how to "shake off from itself the dust of the preceding generations" and to proclaim, "Hush! do not mention the name of G-d." (Amos 6:10) Its plan of action is also very simple: to drive G-d out of the house of Israel, and from the hearts of the children of Israel.
And if you ask: who will stand up for us in time of trouble? Comes the reply: We ourselves, "My power, and the might of my hand." (Devorim 8:17) Who are the "we?" These are the leaders, our "National" youth, the heroes who brought about a state of war between the Hebrew people and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Will these bring us the Redemption? They fancied that it would not be impossible for them to drive G-d out of our boundaries, that it was not even difficult.
G-d's power is greater than theirs and we stand now like smitten fools. We are not merely fools, but "fools among fools who are taught and do not learn." (Yoma 57a) We are taught, we are chastised, and our ears are still closed to reason. It is written, "And the Redeemer shall come unto Zion and to those who return from sin <(pesha) in Jacob." (Yeshayohu59:20) (Pesha means rebellion as it is written "then shall rebel (tifsha) The City of Livno." (Yoma 36b) That is, it is a prerequisite for salvation that the rebels will repent and as long as our leaders do not cease to rebel against the Kingdom of Heaven, salvation is impossible.
End of Part I