It is important to recognize from the outset the limitations of what is possible to accomplish in a discussion on the Holocaust. The most that we can hope to achieve is an intellectual framework of essential principles, not an emotional resolution. Our goal should be simply to come to some greater understanding of the Torah perspective on this horrific period of death and destruction.
Some feel that it is wrong to attempt to intellectually grapple with the Holocaust. There are three basic problems with this thought.
First of all, it goes against a number of classical Jewish sources. The Torah (Devarim 32:7) instructs us:
“Remember the days of the past, understand the years of each generation, ask your father and he will declare it to you, your elders and they will tell you.”
This stresses the importance of studying history and learning lessons from the past. And the Rambam (Hilchos Taanit 1:1-3,9) similarly writes that it is essential to learn practical insights from the various challenges and difficulties we face in our lives, both individually and communally.
Secondly, while we may never have complete clarity in understanding the tragedies that occur to individuals, when it comes to the Jewish community, the Torah tells us that there will be a correspondence between their behavior and the consequences that occur to them. We shouldn’t allow our fear of finding what may be painful or uncomfortable to stop us from honestly looking to try to understand our communal difficulties.
And finally, we owe it to the memory of the six million to at least attempt to derive lessons from what we know of the Holocaust. If we refrain from articulating a Torah perspective on the Holocaust, then the only ones who will be left to speak about it will be those with a non-Torah perspective, or possibly even an anti-Torah perspective.
A critical qualification for this process of thought and analysis, however, comes from Hillel in Pirke Avot (2:5), “Don’t judge another until you have been in his place.”
This tells us that it is not merely wrong to judge others; it is actually impossible to do so. Only G-d Himself is capable of passing judgment on people. Therefore, particularly with the Holocaust, our goal must simply be to learn what we can from it, but not to judge any of the millions of Jews that suffered from it.
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Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. Olami & NLEResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com.