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21 Adar II, 5779 - March 28, 2019 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Yesodos Ne'emanim
Yesodos Ne'emanim

A Torah Approach to History: The Churban of European Jewry

By HaRav Yisroel Elya Weintraub zt"l

This is the first of a new series we will be publishing entitled "Yesodos Ne'emanim." These are articles originally published in the print edition of the Israeli Yated Ne'eman, that were selected because they explain basic ideas of Torah hashkofoh. This is a series of three articles that were originally published in 5752 (1992). This first was in the issue of parshas Terumah. HaRav Weintraub was alive then. This is a translation of the original Hebrew article.

Part I

We are again privileged to be able to present a discourse from HaRav Weintraub. In this essay HaRav Weintraub takes conventional discussions of the suffering of our people in Europe fifty years ago to task, and presents a Torah approach to the matter, as well as developing an understanding of the Fourth Kingdom that dominates the Jewish people up until the coming of Moshiach, a task he began in an earlier essay published in Yated. In this first part he clarifies the proper approach to understanding what happens to the Jewish people generally.

We live in a period when small-mindedness is continuously making new inroads in people's hearts. Even matters of great significance become set into small-minded conceptual frameworks and, as a result, trivialized. In this sad situation, the value of life, even though it is the most elevated of all revelations from Hashem, is brought down until it is transformed into petty notions.

There is no greater and more blatant example of this than that approach which regards the special set of principles governing Knesses Yisroel as mere "history." To do so is to take the loftiest of concepts, around which the entire Divine hashgacha is focused, and to drag it down and set it within the conceptual framework of those ideas that are found in the non-Jewish world. Although no one is able to grasp the farthest reaches of divine wisdom, we have nevertheless undertaken a thorough examination of this painful episode in order to extricate it from the small-mindedness that has dominated discussions of it. We will propose a view of the destruction of European Jewry of fifty years ago which will be based on Chazal and which will also shed light on our present state of golus.

"And you will know today, and take to heart, that Hashem is the Elokim in the heavens above...there is no other..." says the posuk in Devorim 4:39. We have to study hashgacha in a way that will enable us to internalize the way in which Hashem directs events and to thereby recognize that He is the power behind everything that happens to us. A lack of clarity in understanding the principles of hashgacha results in a corresponding lack of awareness of Hashem, an awareness that is necessary as a foundation for a life based on ruchniyus and kedusha. To the degree that one fails to see Hashem's presence in events, one will also fail to bring His presence into one's personal life.

Those who have written about the churban of European Jewry can be viewed as belonging to one of three groups. The first group have described at length, and in terrible detail, the dreadful blow which we were dealt and the character of the nation which inflicted it. Besides their failure to show (possibly intentionally) that the basis of everything which happened was the principle of "reward and punishment," the foundation of our belief in the divine origin of all that befalls us in this world (as the Ramban explains at length at the end of parshas Bo), they have also given the impression that there is a "natural" explanation for what happened. They make out as if the savage, animalistic tendencies of that wicked nation were the cause of the churban rather than the yad Hashem which was directed against us. This is the worst of the three approaches.

The second approach stresses how the holy members of our nation withstood the most fearful of nisyonos and we should certainly learn from their example. This is our glory when we are compared with the nations. While we can learn from this type of account how to strengthen ourselves during difficult times, the major, most painful issue is not explained at all.

The third group attempts to grapple with the central issue but the result of their inability to explain it is a kind of dismissal, with the sentence found in Chazal (Menochos 29:), when Moshe Rabbenu, after being shown R' Akiva's great attainments in Torah and his subsequent torture and death at the hands of the Romans, asked Hashem "Is this the Torah and its reward?" Hashem's reply was, "Be silent! Such is my intention." This they also apply to the churban in Europe, as though we have fulfilled with this our entire obligation to learn from these events. We will try, B'H to present some ideas which go further than this, while praying, in the words of Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 119:18) "Uncover my eyes, that I may see wonders from your Torah."

Since the period we are discussing took place during the time of the "fourth kingdom" (i.e. Edom, the fourth power to hold Klal Yisroel in golus), and since the events which befall the latter generations are of a different type than those which befell the earlier generations of the golus, and clearly too, the principle of "reward and punishment" has also undergone a fearful change in the way it operates, it then follows that the key to our achieving a deeper understanding of our subject, lies in clarifying 1] the essence of the "fourth kingdom" and 2] the special characteristics of the current period. We will do this, according to what Chazal have taught us on these subjects.

Before proceeding however, we have to make one extremely important point, from which the whole lack of understanding really arises, and the discussion of which ends with the "Be silent!" viewpoint. What troubles us most is that it appears to us that the punishment was far too severe. Aren't all punishments not more than midda kenegged midda, measure for measure?

This difficulty only arises, however, if we lose a sense of the true value of human actions and the extent to which they influence and shake all the upper worlds. If we appreciated the destructive potential of the misuse of the free-will given us, we would understand the severity of the punishment without any problem. Furthermore, as long as Hashem's hashgacha was accepted with simple faith, and as one of the facts of life, there was also acceptance of Hashem's methods of punishment. Since the fierce battle began several generations ago (against the seed of Amolek who infest us, as explained in our previous article) over our very yiras shomayim and our basic and deepest emunah, the enemy has been winning. Emunah has become tainted, yiras shomayim has cooled, and the importance of each individual, the influence of his actions and the choices he makes, have all shrunk in our estimation and become trivialized chas v'shalom to the level at which they are perceived by the rest of the world. When a catastrophic punishment befalls us, since it cannot be understood, a term like "shoah" (holocaust) is coined to describe it. In effect this is saying it is an unusual, chance occurrence, something which could conceivably take place as a result of strange and unusual circumstances. Obviously such a viewpoint completely divorces it from any connection with "reward and punishment," and assimilates it to the natural forces of the world, running along their own regular pattern. The word "holocaust" was first applied by our "weaker" brethren, not by the gedolim of the previous generation. We will now discuss the main issues.

The First Stage: The Nature of the Fourth Kingdom

In Ner Mitzvah, the MaHaRal quotes Chazal explaining the significance of Daniel's having seen the first three kingdoms in his dream of the first night, and the fourth kingdom in his dream on the second night (Daniel 7:7, and see Rashi there). The meaning is that the fourth kingdom is equivalent to the other three together. The MaHaRal says that a person has three different parts: the body, the nefesh and the intellect. Each of the first three kingdoms to exile us corresponded to one of these parts, whereas the fourth kingdom corresponds man as a whole, and holds the entire human being, in all aspects, in golus. The MaHaRal writes further (to explain why Daniel saw the fourth kingdom in the form of a destroying power): "But since the fourth kingdom sees itself as `all-encompassing, excepting nothing,' it therefore wants nothing else to exist, and so it destroys everything; this is pure destruction".

This encompassing characteristic of the kingdom of Edom is due to its being the embodiment of Eisov, who stands in opposition to Yaakov. Yaakov is described by Chazal as being "the select (best)" of the avos, and they also said that his beauty was reminiscent of the beauty of Odom Horishon (Bava Basra). It was therefore in Yaakov that man's uniqueness in the creation was most apparent. The reason that mankind originated with one individual was in order to show that each individual is sufficient as a justifying purpose of the creation. As the select of the Fathers of the Jewish people, and insofar as he recalled Odom Horishon, Yaakov was a powerful example of the singular importance of man. It follows that the opposition to this also includes a feeling of exclusivity in evil, and the conviction of having a right to everything. However, the way to this uniqueness on the side of evil is only by eliminating everything else, as a result of which, total power would be achieved. Since by its very nature that power tends to want to present itself as unique, it is most violently opposed to the truly singular members of creation. "You are called Odom", says the posuk in Yechezkel, "...and the nations of the world are not called Odom" note Chazal. The true bearers of the title "Mankind" are Knesses Yisroel.

We have noted that the fourth kingdom contains the elements of each of the first three and it therefore includes nations which possess each of the individual characteristics, each with its own particular kind of opposition to Knesses Yisroel in accordance with its national character. There is also a nation which represents the general characteristic of the fourth kingdom, the power of destruction.

The gemora (Megilla 6.) states: "R' Yochonon said, what is the meaning of the posuk (Tehillim 140:9) "Hashem, do not grant the ambitions of the rasha, do not realize his plot and elevate them, selah"?

Yaakov said before Hashem, "Ribono Shel Olam, do not grant Eisov Harasha his heart's desire. `Do not realize his plot,' refers to Germammia of Edom (the Ya'avetz reads it: Germania) who, if they come out, will destroy the entire world."

Here is revealed clearly that the unique power of destruction rests with this particular nation, who carry this distinctive stamp of the fourth kingdom. They have maintained both the claim that "they are all, with nothing besides them" and well as the greatest and most violent opposition to Knesses Yisroel. Their various schemes to lower the standing and the respect for Knesses Yisroel stem from the strength of their conviction that they are "everything," and from the complete contradiction which our existence poses to this claim. The days on which they took most pleasure in murdering our people were our festival days, as is well-known. This is because on those days in particular, the uniqueness of Knesses Yisroel is most strongly apparent, as we mention in the tefillah "Ata Vechartanu", "You have chosen us out of all the nations."


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