Lecture #11b: The Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg's Teachings on Love of Fellow Jews and Relations with Irreligious Jews in the Wake of the Holocaust (Part 2)

  • Rav Tamir Granot



C.   "The Jews Did So to Their Enemies"


Later in the sermon we have been discussing, the Rebbe offers a further, fundamental justification for his social approach, likewise connected to the Holocaust:


It would seem that this is how we should interpret the verse (Esther 9:1), "And it was turned around, so that the Jews had dominion over their enemies." For when our righteous Messiah comes, may it be soon, and the time for redemption will have come, the "Other Side" will argue that the Jewish People are not worthy of being redeemed, since both these [the nations of the world] have worshipped idolatry and those [the Jewish People] have worshipped idolatry (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba 2,1), and each [Jew] will be accused of a different transgression.

But the Holy One, blessed be He, has "devised so that none of us will be banished" (II Shmuel 14:14). And for this reason He appointed wicked, cursed, murderous gentiles who [oppress all those] whom they know only that his ancient ancestors were Jews; and even though he himself has not conducted himself as a Jew already for many years, nevertheless they consider him a Jew, and murder and torture him with suffering amidst all Jews – as we saw during the years where we witnessed evil, during the recent Holocaust, when the defiled murderers made no distinction between one Jew and another. Rather, anyone who was known to be Jewish had the same death sentence, even if he did not conduct himself in accordance with the ways of the Jewish People.

And this being the case, the admission of the accuser is equal in weight to a hundred witnesses (Gittin 40b), for as at the time when they tortured with suffering, the "Other Side" itself acknowledged that they were Jews. Therefore, when the Messiah comes, too, the forces of impurity will not be able to bring a claim that those are not considered as Jews. And this is the meaning of the verse, "And it was turned around, such that the Jews had dominion over their enemies" – that at the time of redemption, the Jews will receive dominion, and the redemption will be for all the nation of Israel – even those who, because of exile and troubles, have become distanced from the source of holiness from which they were hewn. In any event, since anyway "the Jews [did so] to their enemies," their Judaism is recognized by their non-Jewish enemies when they tortured them simply because they were known to be Jews. Even those are considered to be included within the holy seed, and they too will be remembered when God returns the captivity of His people".[1]


Before the redemption, the Rebbe describes, the "Sitra Achra" ("Other Side"[2]) will argue that there are wicked people amongst Israel, and Israel is therefore not ready or worthy of redemption. It is for this reason that the Holy One, blessed be He, appointed the Nazis, who established a completely different definition of Judaism. Instead of the normative test, they introduced their racial laws. In the conventional terms of reward and punishment, this test is unjust, since it ignores the differences between the righteous and the wicked. However, the lack of distinction between the righteous and the wicked was no coincidence – as in the classic formulation, "Once permission is given to the Destroyer to effect damage, he makes no distinction between the righteous and the wicked" (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Massekhta de-Pischa, parasha 11). This definition arose from the main pillar of the Nazi theory of race. This means that Nazi anti-Semitism was not motivated by the principle of Divine reward and punishment, and we must therefore seek its significance elsewhere.


In homiletic style, the Rebbe explains that if the "Sitra Achra" was pleased with the fact that the punishment was hurting Jews simply because they were Jews and did not object or demand that the normative religious test be applied in order to justify the punishment, then it therefore acknowledged that every Jew – even a Jew by birth alone – is deserving of the Jewish fate. This being the case, every Jew is also unquestionably worthy of salvation. This represents the Rebbe's interpretation of the verse in Esther: "the Jews [had dominion] over their enemies" – that is, their enemies redefine them as Jews.


Let us now translate this sermon into historical and social terms. The biblical and rabbinical distinction between the righteous and the wicked based its traditional, halakhic perception of the right to be a Jew as a "conditional right" requiring some justification. Every Jew is deserving of the rights of a Jew on condition that he fulfills the requirements. It is this same perception that also produced the idea that various sorts of religious "deviants" have no part in the World to Come along with all of Israel, and that it is even permissible to indirectly bring about their death. Nazi anti-Semitism, quite unintentionally, provided a new definition of Judaism, thereby also transforming the right to be considered a Jew into a natural and absolute right, with no conditions.


From the point of view of divine justice, as the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg understands it, it makes no sense that a Jew may suffer as a Jew even though he is "innocent" of affiliating himself with Judaism – in other words, Jewishness is defined in "natural and absolute" manner in relation to suffering – while at the same time a Jew is not entitled to salvation as a Jew. This would be an impossible double-standard.


Admittedly, a degree of asymmetry arises between punishment and salvation. In the situation of punishment, the righteous suffer because of the very fact of their Jewishness – and for the very same reason the "wicked" are saved in a situation of salvation. At first glance this looks like an injustice in the dimension of personal reward and punishment: surely it is appropriate that those who have suffered undeservedly (the righteous) should be compensated. However, further consideration shows that the claim does imbue the fate of faithful Jews in the Holocaust with some meaning. By virtue of their suffering, the entire nation of Israel is worthy and ready for redemption.


This philosophical line of thought leads to the socio-ethical conclusion that there is no longer any justification for distinctions between Jews on the basis of their religious level after the Holocaust, and we should thus love and reach out to all Jews.


Further on, the Rebbe proposes that this may be the root of the commandment to "send portions of food, each to his neighbor." On Purim, every Jew is included in the category of one's "neighbors," for the wicked Haman hated every Jew. The same applies on Yom Kippur, when we declare it permissible to pray together with the sinners based on the "benefit of the doubt," maintaining that transgressions are merely the result of spiritual inebriation or blindness and nothing more.


D. "Forced" Heresy


Thus far, we have examined two theoretical structures developed by the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg that explain his position obligating love and action on behalf of every Jew and negate any distinction between those who observe the commandments and those who do not, or between the righteous and the wicked.


A third argument that he offers in many of his sermons justifies the "benefit of the doubt" and the love extended to all Jews with the claim that heresy and assimilation have their source in the belief held by some Jews that it is possible to liberate the Jew from his unbearable fate through a normalization of his life. These Jews think that cultural intermingling and the nullification of the difference between Jews and gentiles will bring an end to anti-Semitism. Clearly, the Rebbe believes that this belief is mistaken, and history proves this, but he perceives this mistake as a "transgression out of coercion." When the suffering exceeds its boundaries, one can understand a person who seeks to escape – even if he does so in an irrational way. This is the approach that the Rebbe takes in interpreting the midrash of Chazal (Esther Rabba 9,4):


After [Haman] had made the gallows, he went to Mordekhai and found him sitting in the study hall, with children sitting in front of him, wearing sackcloth, and engaged in Torah, and crying out and weeping…[3] They all groaned in their weeping until their cry rose to heaven, and the Holy One, blessed be He, heard the sound of their weeping for two hours of the night. At that moment, the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, unfolded, and He got up from the Throne of Justice and sat on the Throne of Mercy, and said: "What is this great noise that I hear, like goats and like lambs?" Moshe stood up before God and said: "Master of the universe, they are not goats and lambs, but rather the children of Your nation, who have now been fasting for the past three days and three nights, and tomorrow the adversary wants to slaughter them like goats and like lambs."[4]


The Rebbe explains this strange midrashic dialogue. According to many midrashei Chazal, the people of Mordekhai's generation were assimilated, and were certainly ignorant when it came to prayer. From this perspective, they were like goats and lambs, bleating in their distress:


The blessed God gave them the benefit of the doubt… Although it is nothing more than the sound of bellowing, such as of animals, nevertheless I have pity on them, just as I am compassionate towards sheep that are being led to slaughter… The blessed God wanted Moshe's answer, saying that they were "the children of Your nation…" – that is, they are weeping because of their suffering. Because of the great subjugation and the length of the exile, they have lost their knowledge; they do not know how to pray properly, and even if they prostrated themselves to some idol, they did so only outwardly, so as to save themselves… And so, they should be treated compassionately, in keeping with their limited consciousness.[5]


The supplications of the Jewish People are accepted before God even when those praying are not altogether innocent. When they are suffering and crying out, accusations should not be hurled at them; rather, they should be shown empathy and should receive help. A distinction must be made, says the Rebbe, between normal times and times of suffering:


Admittedly, so long… as everything is as it should be with them, but they still do not conduct themselves properly, then there is room to rebuke them with harsh words, etc… But when, heaven forefend, it is "a time of trouble for Yaakov," it is forbidden to call to mind and make mention of Israel's sins… when they are at the very lowest level. For no matter what, the Jewish People are a holy nation… and even in one's thoughts one should not [at a time of suffering] think any evil thought about any Jew….


The Rebbe concludes his discussion with the assertion that if a Jew chooses to be a Jew, despite the suffering that he expects to have to contend with, he is worthy of glory and praise, and "we are forced to conclude that in their very innermost being they are loyal Jews, and they have a spark of holiness…"




In the teachings of the Rebbe of Sanz, the defense of all Jews, including those who have strayed from the path of Torah, and the belief that every Jew is worthy of love and salvation, rest on three main arguments:


1.      God's "concealed face" transforms a decision to live by one's faith into a wager devoid of any rational justification. Therefore, a person who does not believe – in a generation of such concealment – should not be regarded as a heretic or as having strayed.

2.      Nazi anti-Semitism redefined the right to be part of Jewish destiny as a natural and absolute right.

3.      At a time of extreme suffering, we can understand a Jew who attempts to evade his fate by blurring his identity. Unquestionably, at such a time we should judge every Jew favorably.


In the next lecture, we will continue our exploration of the attitude towards fellow Jews of all stripes in the teachings of two Rebbes whom we have not yet encountered in this series: Rabbi Shalom Noah Berezovsky of Slonim, author of "Netivot Shalom," and Rabbi Barukh Yehoshua Rabinowitz, who served as the Rebbe of Munkacz and later the Rabbi of the Israeli city of Cholon.


Translated by Kaeren Fish



[1]   Shefa Chayim – Divrei Yatziv Le-Yareach Ha-Eitanim, part II (derashot from 5743), 115-116.

[2]  It should be noted that, in general, the Rebbe was opposed to popular use of kabbalistic symbols, and in one place (Divrei Torah 1052 – Matot), he states that one should not believe in the Sitra Achra at all as an independent entity. The use of this term here is close to its biblical and rabbinical use in the form of the accuser “Satan,” representing a negative view of Israel.

[3]   The omitted portion reads: "And he counted them and found there 22,000 children. He cast chains of iron upon them and appointed guards over them, saying: 'Tomorrow I will kill these children first, and then I will hang Mordekhai.' But their mothers brought them bread and water, and told them: 'Children – eat and drink before you are due to die tomorrow, that you do not die of hunger.' Upon which they placed their hands upon their books and swore: 'By the life of Mordekhai, our teacher, we shall not eat, nor shall we drink; we shall die fasting.'"

[4]   Shefa Chayim – Divrei Yatziv Le-Yareach Ha-Eitanim, part II (derashot from 5743), 209-210

[5]   Ibid.