Judgement on Perceptions
"For, the nations whose land you will possess listened to diviners of
auspicious times, and diviners. However, G-d, your G-d does not make you
do this. G-d, your G-d will produce a prophet from amongst your brothers
from within your midst, like me. To him you must listen." (Devarim
Those were the good old days, when, for the first 1,000 years since
leaving Egypt, prophecy was common amongst the Jewish people. After all,
the entire nation heard G-d speak at Mt. Sinai, and as Rashi points out
based upon the Mechilta, “A handmaid at the sea saw that which Yechezkel
ben Buzi never saw” (Rashi, Shemot 15:2).
Among other things, this meant that G-d communicated directly with the
Jewish people in order to let them know what He wanted them to know, both
the positive and the negative. Nevi’im—the Book of Prophets—is a
collection of many of the latter.
However, when the majority of the Jewish people stopped listening to the
real prophets, and instead followed after the false ones, prophecy ceased.
As the Talmud points out, if the people aren’t fitting, prophecy will not
return even if the prophet himself is capable of receiving it (Sanhedrin
Nevertheless, even after the cessation of prophecy, the Bat Kol, the
Heavenly Voice, continued. It was still a supernatural form of Divine
communication, though far less authoritative (Shabbat 56b), especially
since the Talmud states elsewhere that “the chacham is greater than the
prophet” (Bava Batra 12a).
Today, after thousands of years and countless exiles, terrible
persecution, and wide-spread assimilation, we don’t even have the Bat Kol
anymore. Instead, people talk about “Ruach HaKodesh”, a kind of
intellectual intuition that seems somewhat out of the ordinary.
Ruach HaKodesh, which literally means “Holy Spirit”, but which is usually
referred to as “Divine Inspiration”, amounts to what is commonly
called “Siyita d’Shemaya”, or “Heavenly Help”. Such Divine assistance can
take many forms, including the addition of an extra soul in the person to
help him perform a mitzvah that he otherwise might be able to achieve on
his own (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 5).
Many adherents to particular groups of religious Jews often maintain that
their leaders are imbued with Ruach HaKodesh. As such, they maintain, they
have their finger on the pulse of Heaven, and can also perform great
miracles, resulting in countless stories of such miraculous feats.
However, true as this may be, it is not a powerful enough source of
information to unify the Jewish people, and to provide concrete
information as to what G-d wants us to do at this late stage of history to
hasten the redemption with the least amount of casualties. Not on one
occasion have we been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and
though everything G-d does is for the good, and in order to expedite the
Final Redemption, still, any form of Divine communiqué that can allow us
to know what G-d wants us to do next as “partners” in Creation is most
Apparently, there is one more way to know what Heaven is thinking. It is
certainly not the preferred method, but it can be painfully accurate. It
is the mouth of the enemy, often the only way for us to know if what we
are doing is right or wrong. When the nations of the world, amongst whom
we have been exiled, act hospitably towards the Jewish people, then we can
assume that Heaven has cut the Jewish people some slack, giving us some
more time to rise to the call, whatever it may be at the time.
"Let us search and try our ways, and return to G-d." (Eichah 3:40)
However, when anti-Semitism arises, it is time to pay close attention to
what the nations are saying about us, for unwittingly they are telling us
where we are missing the point. Just like you can learn how Bilaam
intended to curse the Jewish people by how he blessed us (Sanhedrin 105b),
you can learn where we are weak by what the gentile nations attack us with.
For example, though analysis of the Holocaust is complicated, and to many,
taboo, there are certain issues that seem prominent, for those who dare to
address them and contemplate what they might have meant. One such idea
that keeps recurring in connection with the Nazi, ysv”z, attempt to
exterminate the Jewish nation, was that of concentration.
Why did the Germans not just kill all the Jews in their home towns? Think
of the time, trouble, and expense they could have saved had they done so.
If they wanted a work force, they could have saved those Jews and taken
them to a smaller camp. If they wanted to perform medical experiments,
they could have done the same with a smaller group. The greater number of
Jews was rounded up and transported for the sake of killing them, at great
cost and organization.
What might the Divine message have been in all of this? Some will answer,
we can’t know that now, so forget about it until such time as we can.
However, the bigger question is, is it that we cannot learn anything from
the Holocaust on this side of history, or do we choose not to learn
anything from the Holocaust for fear of what such lessons might imply? Is
pain from the past a reasonable excuse to ignore lessons that might save
us from pain in the future?
As much as guilt is associated with Judaism, Judaism is not about guilt.
It is certainly not about wallowing in it. Rather, Judaism is about trying
to live the most productive life possible as per the Torah’s mandate,
realizing that everything is a function of Divine Providence, and
therefore learning from what goes wrong to get back on track when Heaven
tells us that we are not.
The whole reason why G-d “punishes” measure-for-measure (Sanhedrin 90a),
is so that we can learn from our mistakes. As the Talmud points out, pure
punishment, just like pure reward, comes at a later date in history, after
this part of history is already finished (Kiddushin 39a). Then, in
Gihenom, it is not a matter of learning anything anymore, just of removing
the spiritual tarnish built up over the years from sinning. However, in
this world, while it is still relevant to improve and make things better,
punishment is yesurim, from the word “mussar”, which means to teach for
the sake of making spiritual improvements.
For an individual to analyze why he is undergoing suffering is part of
being Jewish (Brochot 5a). To analyze why another Jew is suffering, or has
suffered, is only something G-d can do, and therefore off-limits. However,
to learn something from how the nation as a whole is being treated by the
nations is not only permissible, it is imperative, since doing so can save
so many lives.
Therefore, if the Nazis, ysv”z, were obsessed with concentrating the Jews,
gathering them together to a few locations from all across Europe, we have
to ask ourselves, “What holy concept is that a perversion of?” For, just
as you can learn what the curse was meant to be from the blessing Bilaam
was forced to pronounce, you can learn what the blessing was meant to be
from the curse that came instead.
The answer: Kibbutz Goliot—the Ingathering of the Exiles.
"G-d, your G-d will place these curses upon your enemies, and those who
hate and persecute you. You will return and obey G-d, and do all His
commandments, which I command you today." (Devarim 30:7-8)
If we learn anything from Jewish history, it should be this: it is not
about appeasing or quelling the anti-Semites, for that NEVER works. That
would only make sense if anti-Semitism was just another form of racial
hatred, which the Talmud says it is not (Shabbat 89a), and history
verifies it is not. It is G-d and His mandate for Creation that we need to
At the end of the 1700’s, just after 5500 in the Jewish counting, the
Vilna Gaon began his movement back to Eretz Yisroel. This was not based
upon a whimsical longing for the Jewish homeland, but upon extensive
Kabbalistic knowledge that, historically, the time had come. And though
the GR”A’s aspirations of making aliyah died with him, his movement did
not, and it wasn’t long before settlements began to appear in Eretz
Yisroel, and others back in Russia and Europe began to heed the call.
From that point onward, aliyah became a real issue once again, after
almost 2,000 years of only dreaming about it. It would take another 200
years before an actual Jewish state would exist, but Jews were definitely
coming home, albeit at first in trickles, and only much later on, in
waves. We’re we doing this on our own, or was G-d engineering this, in
advance of the Final Redemption?
That there has been tremendous resistance to all of this is not
surprising, and in fact, it is to be expected. Kabbalistically, the Final
Redemption means an end to all evil, and therefore the Sitra Achra (Succah
52a). Resistance to any aspect of redemption, for the most part, comes
from him, no matter through whom it is manifested, including ourselves.
The Sitra Achra can be o, so subtle, and it is not beyond his ability to
dress up his design as a mitzvah, and not beyond us to see it that way. It
is absolutely amazing how many arguments, and even wars, began “L’Shem
Shamayim”, for the sake of Heaven, and only later, after the damage is
done, are seen in a far less holy light.
Thus, it is no coincidence that just as the religious community was
becoming more serious about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Kibbutz
Goliot that the Zionist Movement emerged, and for the most part, derailed
the drive of many to return home to Eretz HaKadosh, until this very day,
just long enough for the Jewish community to build itself up in the
Diaspora, making life in Eretz Yisroel undesirable once again for millions
Thus, instead of Eretz Yisroel becoming populated by the Jews of pre-war
Europe, or at least a significant amount of them, the Jewish homeland
instead was officially recognized by the nations of the world, as per the
mandate of the Talmud and the teachings of the Vilna Gaon, as a result of
the ashes of the Holocaust.
That is a painful statement to make, a much more painful statement to
hear, extremely controversial, but historical fact nevertheless.
This is the last week I will be writing Perceptions, b”n. It’s been over
13 years since I first began writing it (it was one page then), thank G-d,
and writing it and posting it has been a big highlight of my life. I have
enjoyed it tremendously, in spite of the stress of coming up with new
material each week, and writing about 5-7 pages worth of Divrei Torah
weekly, aside from the other writing and teaching I do. I thank G-d for
the opportunity to have done so.
It was not an easy decision, and I have thought about it now for at least
one year. I have heard over the years from some loyal readers that Shabbos
is not the same without Perceptions. Such kind comments have often been
the source of encouragement for me to continue over the years, but I know
there are so many parshah sheets available “out there” that the void, if
any is created by the lack of Perceptions, will be quickly filled.
For the time being, I will be maintaining my own web site
(www.thirtysix.org), b”H. However, my main focus from this point onward
will be writing books and teaching, so that I can generate income that
will allow me to keep writing.
In closing, I want to thank the staff of Torah.org for posting and sending
out Perceptions each week. There is no question that Torah.org has been a
major vehicle for me to reach many people who otherwise would not have
known I even exist. I also thank anyone else who has helped distribute
Perceptions in one form or another, whether we know about each other or
not. A very special thank you goes to Miriam Tova Weinberg, who each week
for the last couple of years has edited Perceptions purely as a chesed,
and on time, even when time was tight.
Last, but certainly not least, I thank you, the reader, for taking the
time to read Perceptions, and especially those who made a point at some
time of making contact with me, letting me know that they appreciated the
work. I appreciated the feedback.
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.