Jews put a lot of focus on the past. We just concluded Pesach where we read, discussed, and even sang about what happened to our people over 3,300 years ago. Every Shabbat we read portions of the Torah, about Noah’s Ark, Yosef and his multicolored coat and even about Moshe hitting the rock. We celebrate Chanukah (which happened around 2,200 years ago), Purim (2,500 years ago) and are getting ready to celebrate Shavuot – the day our Nation received the Torah… 3,333 years ago (yes, I did the math!)
If you simply look at these holidays as historical events in the Jewish calendar, you are missing a very serious point about being Jewish. The same applies to the stories in the Torah. If you view them as “old tales”, you have dropped the ball on a key element to our existence. Every word in the Torah has a message and the stories are not old at all… they are relevant to each Jew, in every part of the world at every moment of his/her life. Our challenge is to dig deeply into these stories to uncover the lesson that HaShem is sending us; from Rachel and Leah to King David and all the way to Jonah and the whale.
This concept is called “living in the present while learning from the past” and it is at the center of a Jew’s life. My Rabbi – HaRav Meir Kahane ztz”l – taught me that this even applies to reading the newspaper! “A Jew doesn’t simply read the newspaper”, he said… “a Jew learns the newspaper!” With this is mind, I have a powerful question to ask: With Yom Ha’Shoah being commemorated this week, what lessons did we learn from that tragic era? We all know what happened – and we need to remember and teach that to our children – but what is the message for us, 76 years after the Holocaust ended?
One can write a doctoral thesis on answering this question, but for the sake of brevity, allow me to focus on the two most important lessons... even though they are really just one. The first is that the friendly non-Jewish neighbor, friend, colleague, business partner or government can turn against the Jew - in a second - for no reason at all. Throughout history, Jews helped almost every country in the world succeed. We built industries, created jobs, made medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries. Jews were leaders in banking and finance and many countries became fabulously wealthy because of their Jewish citizens. Spain, Portugal, France, England, Switzerland and Italy were just some of the countries where Jews made a major impact yet – at some point in history – were expelled from those very countries! And need I remind you what our father Yosef did to Egypt? He made them the richest county in the world, and yet… “A new king arose in Egypt, who did not know Yosef” (Shemot 1:8)
Germany was no exception. Jews were loyal Germans and they contributed in many ways to the success of that country. The Jews of Germany were leaders in every industry and millions of Germans were employed, with good paying jobs, because of Jewish businessmen. Life was good in Germany for the Jew and he had it all. He was free to practice his religion, he made nice money and was also very connected politically to many government officials. Lesson #1 from the Holocaust? It all came crashing down in a very short time. Jewish life quickly turned to Jewish death. Big homes with fancy artwork were replaced by ghettos and extermination camps… and what do we have today to remember those “good ‘ol days”?? Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and numbers tattooed on the elderly.
Lesson #1 teaches us that no matter how comfortable we are, as long as that comfort is in a foreign land, it can – and probably will – change. Take a look at what is happening around the world – not in 1941 - but in 2021. Anti-Semitism is at a post WWII high and Jewish men are afraid to walk with kippot in modern countries such as France, Belgium, South Africa and Holland. In the USA and Canada, Jew hatred on college campuses is out of control and anything can happen… This is Holocaust lesson #1.
The second lesson – is really the flip side of the first one: The only place a Jew can ultimately be safe in is Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel. Unfortunately, we have had our share of wars and terror attacks, but when all is said in done, this is our home. Jews run it, Jews finance it, Jews protect it and our Father in Heaven watches over it. Is life perfect in Israel? No, it is not but the difference between Jewish life in Israel vs Jewish life anywhere else in the world is that “the keys to the house” are in our hands!
Throughout history we were guests. Yes, we were often treated well, but eventually, every guest is asked to leave. In Israel, we are not guests… we are the hosts. This is our home, our army and our country. Holocaust lesson #2 taught me that no matter how nice the non-Jew is, he will always be jealous of your home, your bank account and your life and the day he can grab it… he will.
Dearest friends; this year don’t just commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah by watching Schindler’s List or singing Ani Ma’amin. Make sure you learn the lessons from the Holocaust and do whatever you can to make sure they won’t be repeated. Come home now and help us build a strong and proud Jewish state!