"You Have Loved us and Desired Us"
ASARA BE-TEVET 5772
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“You Have Loved Us and Desired Us”
Based on a sicha by Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l
Translated by Kaeren Fish
[What follows are Rav Amital’'s remarks at an event held in 2002 in honor of the publication of a book by Moshe Maya, later published in English as A World Built, Destroyed and Rebuilt: Rabbi Yehuda Amital’s Confrontation with the Memory of the Holocaust.]
It is difficult to speak after the moving words of my friend Elie Wiesel. I did not experience what he experienced. I wasn’t at Auschwitz. I was in a labor camp, and I remember only one day, the day after Yom Kippur, when I didn’t have anything to eat. I went looking for food together with my cousin, until we found a piece of moldy bread, a few months old; we made do with that. For many years afterwards, when I would sit down to eat and I saw bread on the table, I would think about how many Jews could have survived on those slices.
Who am I and what am I, in contrast to what Elie Wiesel lived through? Or in contrast to my friend Mr. Avraham Gesundheit, who secretly – and at great risk – managed to lay tefillin every day in Auschwitz?
Nevertheless, I wish to say a few words. In his “Epistle to Yemen,” the Rambam wrote that since God gave the Torah to Israel, the nations of the world have fought against us and against the Torah in two ways. One way is through the use of power, using the might of the sword. The other way is through philosophy, using the might of logical argumentation.
In his encouragement to the Jews of Yemen, the Rambam writes that neither approach will succeed. The prophet Yishayahu already stated, “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and any tongue that arises againt you in judgment – you shall condemn” (54:17). All arguments against faith will eventually be overcome and rejected.
The Rambam – and even the prophet Yishayahu, we may assume – never imagined that a day would come when there would no longer be answers. Not only are there no answers about the great question of the Holocaust; there cannot be answers. The question is so unfathomable that no answer in the world could suffice.
As Elie Wiesel just remarked, nothing in the world can justify the cruel murders of hundreds of thousands of children. Nothing can justify it – not the State of Israel, not the coming of the Messiah, not the mass repentance of the Jewish People. Nothing!
The Rambam says that there will be an answer to every question, but to this question there is no answer. I want the Rambam to know that we have lived through questions of the sort that are unanswerable.
Once I met Abba Kovner, the famous poet and the leader of the Vilna Ghetto Revolt. He asked me, “As a believing Jew, how do you deal with what you lived through in the Holocaust?” I answered him, in typical Jewish fashion, “How do you deal with it? I believe in God, Whom I don’t pretend to understand. But you believe in man – can you still believe in man after the Shoah?” He didn’t speak, as Elie Wiesel does, about the “Cain” in man. He believed in the goodness of man. So I added, “Your problem is greater than mine. For me, the ways of God are hidden.” “Well, then,” Abba Kovner replied, “Each of us has a problem.”
Even though there is no answer, there are those who try to propose explanations for the Shoah; this approach is fundamentally wrong. Others take a different approach: since they cannot explain the Holocaust, they repress its memory. Some people speak of the “hiding of God’s Face.” What does that mean? Is God a human being, who can hide his face and not see? We cry out, together with the prophet Chavakuk (1:13):
You have eyes too pure to behold evil, and You cannot look upon wickedness; why do You look upon those who deal treacherously, and remain silent while the wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?
I turn to the Master of the world and plead: Look upon Your children; after all this, they still continue to pray! Believe me, on the yamim nora’im it was difficult for me to say, “You have chosen us from all the nations; You have loved us and desired us.” But I said it, and I continue to say it.
It seems that the time has come, in the face of millions of Jews who continue to say, “You have loved us and desired us,” for God to love us and desire us. “You shall arise and have mercy upon Zion, for it is time to favor her, for the time has come” (Tehillim 102:14).