Every year I am impressed and frightened even more by the description of Jewish history that appears in this week’s parsha. Ramban almost eight hundred years ago stated how wondrous and chilling the prophesies of Moshe were in their precise accuracy and clarity of vision and outlook. The description of the Jewish future that we encounter here is so frightening as to be disheartening. Who can withstand such enmity, persecution and genocide?
A cynical professor of mine once said to me that Jewish history is “books and blood.” This is a vast oversimplification but it does contain a kernel of truth. A large element that contributed to the abandonment of Jewish practice and faith, if not even Judaism itself in Western and later in Eastern Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was the unremitting enmity and persecution of the Jews by the general society. Put simply, many Jews were no longer able or willing to bear the burden of the tochachah – of the grinding poverty and violent bigotry that was the lot of European Jewry.
They opted out, hoping that they would thereby escape the Torah-predicted fate of the Jewish people. The irony to all of this was that the German annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust was not based on religion but rather upon race and ancestry. Thus Jews who converted to Christianity also found themselves standing on the railroad platform at Auschwitz. The tochachah hunted them down as well.
However a careful reading of this parsha will allow us to adopt a more hopeful and sanguine view of our future. The Torah guarantees us our survival as a people – not necessarily as individuals per se, but as a people. As a people, we are indestructible and eternal. Eventually, the Lord will not forsake us for we will return to treasure Him and His Torah in faith and practice.
The seven haftorot of comfort and consolation which lead us from the tochachah of Tisha B’Av to the greatness of the High Holy days and Succot all reaffirm the prediction of God’s mercy and redemption towards Israel. The Lord does not allow us to be vanquished physically or spiritually. “Will a woman forget her infant? So too, will I not forsake you,” states the prophet Yeshayahu.
A loving reconciliation between God and Israel is predicted by all of our prophets from Moshe to Malachi. The wait may be long and nerve-wracking, but the outcome is certain and sure. This is no less the message of the tochachah than are its most dire predictions. To paraphrase Rabi Akiva who saw the ruins of the Temple strewn on the ground before his eyes, we can also state: “If the terrible predictions have proven to be so unerringly accurate in detail and form, then we can rest assured that the prophesies of comfort and triumph are also true even as to their most minute detail.” This faith of Israel has sustained us throughout our long night of exile. It continues to sustain us now in the midst of our angst and travails.
Rabbi Berel Wein Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com