Lecture #08b: Rabbi Teichtal's Perception of the Holocaust (Part 2)

  • Rav Tamir Granot


B. Meaning of the Holocaust, Version 2: Footsteps of the Messiah


In the mist of the terrible war years, based on sources that he quoted from memory, Rabbi Teichtal attempted to imbue the horrifying destruction of European Jewry with religious meaning. He views this event from the standpoint of philosophy of history, with his answers addressing the meaning of the Holocaust as a stage of history, rather than the issue of theodicy (Divine justice).


One understanding of the Holocaust arises, as we have seen, from the concept of two types of redemption. If "they are worthy," redemption will proceed smoothly.  However, if "they are not worthy," redemption will include, by definition, crises, suffering, and considerable friction with history until it is able to progress. The reason for this would seem to be that God cannot bring redemption without judgment. Had the Jewish people repented, there would have been no need for suffering. The suffering or punishment is a sort of final judgment by God before the process of redemption can embark on a smoother, more positive path of development.


The second understanding of the Holocaust arises from an idea cited in the name of Maharal and Rabbi Yaakov Emden. This metaphysical theory maintains that any new reality is preceded by an absence, or deficiency, which is necessary for two reasons.  First, the absence "makes space," as it were, for the new reality or "form" to occupy; second, the good that is introduced by the new reality can only be discerned and appreciated against the background of the preceding lack or deficiency. Rabbi Teichtal quotes as follows:


The Maharal of Prague explains the reason for our troubles.  The pangs of Mashiach serve as "the absence before the existence" (ha-he'eder kodem ha-havaya(.  The extent of "the absence" corresponds to the extent of "the existence" that HaShem will bestow upon us at the time of the redemption [Netzach Yisrael 26].  I also found this idea in the siddur of the brilliant Ya'avetz:[1]


Greatness and prosperity generally develop following the despair which is caused by enormous calamity.  The same is true of "existence," for one of its four causes is "the absence" which precedes it.  Accordingly, Chazal state, "[The chick] grows when [the egg] decays" (Teruma 31a).  This explains how we, the Chosen Nation, have declined so drastically in the exile before reaching a state of tranquility and security.  The last descent has been extremely difficult, proportionate to the absolute and everlasting good that will sprout after it.  Hence, the Talmud (Megilla 16a) states that when the Jews descend, they descend to the dust, but from there they ascend, as it says, "He lowers it to the dust" (Yeshayah 26:5), and, "Our soul is bowed down to the dust… Arise, assist us" (Tehillim 44:26-27).[2] 


According to this, it is natural that there be a great "absence" before our great "existence," as is the case with all existence.  (p. 95-96)


In historical terms, the Holocaust was a nullification of the reality of life in exile – in fact, an absolute loss of life – in order that a new form of existence could arise, namely, national existence in Eretz Yisrael.


This explanation is formulated by Rabbi Teichtal in practical terms. God wants all Jews to go to Eretz Yisrael. Based on the well-known principle of the Ari z"l, which was further developed and elaborated upon by the Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciples, redemption must include all the souls of Israel. Not even one soul should remain outside the process, for this would represent a deficiency in the redemption itself. According to Rabbi Teichtal's interpretation, joining the process of redemption entails aliya and physical participation in building up the Land of Israel. Obviously, during the relatively tranquil period that came before the lead-up to the Holocaust, most of the Jewish nation – the truly wealthy as well as the average established householders – would not leave everything and move to Eretz Yisrael just because some abstract antisemitic threat hung over them. The Holocaust was perhaps the definitive, unequivocal fact that would cause all Jews to recognize the necessity of moving to Eretz Yisrael:


There is another reason why the Holy One Blessed be He brings troubles and terrible persecutions before the coming of Mashiach.  I found it in the words of the godly Kabbalist, the author of Sha'arei Orah, Rabbeinu Yosef Gikatilla.  (He was one of the great Kabbalists of the past; even our mentor, the Beit Yosef, quotes him several times.)[3]  In his commentary on the Haggadah, called Tzofnat Pa'ane'ach, he writes:


Indeed, we must make a great and proper investigation into the reason for the Egyptian exile, for it contains a deep secret.  HaShem (may He be blessed) chose the seed of Avraham, and He placed them in exile in order to enable them to receive the Torah.  Had He increased them and made them prosperous without exile, and had they taken possession of the Land - and been successful upon it - without receiving any Torah from the Almighty, how could He have prohibited them from doing so many things to which they were accustomed, be it with regard to foods, martial relations, or anything else? If someone, today, is restricted from eating meat or drinking wine, he is greatly grieved, because he has become so accustomed to these things.  This is certainly true of the 613 mitzvot that pertain to all future generations.  Is there anything more difficult for a man's drives?


Therefore, HaShem was compelled to exile the Jews to Egypt… They were not permitted to leave, for they were subjected to the bondage of exile… And when the Holy One Blessed be He sent Moshe Rabbeinu a"h, He said to him, "Go forth and tell the Jewish people, 'You must accept 613 mitzvot; if you do so I will redeem you, but if not, you will stay where you are.'"  This was the agreement in Egypt, as it says, "When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain" (Shemot 3:12).  This entire secret is hinted to in the verse, "This is My name forever" (ibid. 3:15).  Thus, the purpose of the Egyptian exile was to enable us to receive the Torah, and it is the cause for the great reward that HaShem bestows upon us.[4]


We learn from his holy words that the secret of the exile was to generate a desire to go out into the desert and receive the Torah.  Had they been contented, they would have refused to go out into the wilderness, receive the Torah, and accept prohibitions against things to which they were accustomed.


This also helps explain the afflictions that will befall us before Mashiach arrives.  It is well known that this last redemption will be eternal; there will be no exile or subjugation following it.  Furthermore, the Holy One Blessed be He does not want even a single Jewish soul to be lost among the nations, as it is written, "And you will be gathered up one by one" (Yeshayah 27:12), "So that none of us be banished" (II Shmuel 14:14).  Now, if the redemption would occur while we live prosperously and tranquilly among the nations, there would be many, many of our Jewish brethren who would not want to leave.  What are they lacking here in exile?  They are wealthy and prominent officers among the nations, like the Rothschilds and the Jewish Barons, who attained distinction and honor, rising to positions of authority and prestige.  Why should they care about Mashiach and Eretz Yisrael?  They have a Mashiach and a Jerusalem right here.  They do not need a better Mashiach than the one they have.  (pp. 96-97)[5]


Elsewhere in the book, Rabbi Teichtal compares the process of the initial movement to return to Zion, and the Holocaust that followed, to two forms of "acquisition," as explained by the Kedushat Levi of Berditchev.  There is a type of acquisition involving pulling an animal towards oneself; how is this accomplished? One calls to it, and it comes. And there is another type of acquisition, accomplished by striking it with a stick. The beginning of Zionism was an attempt on God's part to "acquire" the Jewish people by "calling to it and it comes." When this attempt failed, God was left with no choice but to acquire the nation through "hitting with the stick" – i.e., through suffering.



Translated by Kaeren Fish


[1]     Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Emden zt"l was born on the 15th Sivan 5458, and died on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5536. One of the Torah giants of his generation, he demonstrated interest in and familiarity with many branches of culture and science. He wrote works on all areas of Torah and printed them on his own printing press. He acquired renown for his harsh criticism of Sabbateanism and various other phenomena affecting Jewish society in his times. (Editor's note)

[2]Siddur Ya'avetz, Ma'amadot LeYom Sheni, p. 445a, s.v. levarech.

[3]     Rabbi Yosef ben Avraham Gikatilla lived about 700 years ago. He was a disciple of Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, one of the greatest of the medieval kabbalists prior to the revelation of the Zohar. He is known principally for his work explaining the fundamentals of Kabbala, Sha'arei Ora, which became a primary source in this area of study. (Editor's note)

[4]             Peirush HaHaggadah, (Salonika), p. 3, s.v. baruch shomer havtachato leYisrael.

[5]     As we know, even after the Holocaust, most of American Jewry, as well as many of the Jews of Europe, remained in their countries of residence. Rabbi Teichtal's theory, according to which historical experience has the power to bring people to change their positions and make different decisions, does not stand the test of reality. Still, we may accept his view on the national level – as Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook did. (This will be discussed in a future lecture.)