Awesome warnings

Everything in its minutest detail did befall us.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism שקדיה

The warnings to the Jewish people as contained in this week’s Torah readings are awesome (how I despise that word as currently used in popular vernacular!) in their ferocity and cruelty. Unfortunately, they are also unerringly truthful and accurate. Everything in its minutest detail did befall us, not
It is one of the mysteries of nature that destruction is always part of rejuvenation and renewal.
only over the long millennia of our existence as a people but as an accurate description of our fate in the last century.

The eternal question that nags at our very being as a people is “why?” or perhaps better still “why us?” Though the Torah implicitly and explicitly puts the onus for all of this on the obstinacy and waywardness of the sinful behavior of the Jewish people, Jews throughout the ages have found it difficult to fit this punishment to the crime.

Even in Second Temple times already, the rabbis were hard pressed to determine the cause of the Temple’s destruction and resorted to explaining it in terms of baseless internal feuds and hatreds. As destructive as these traits undoubtedly are, they are difficult to pin down and identify as part of a national polity of a society of millions of individuals. We are therefore left to deal with the issues purely as a matter of faith and acceptance.

God’s judgment and policies are correct, exquisitely so, but completely beyond human understanding and rationalization. Though the Torah demands rational thought and analysis in interpreting its laws and value system, in essence it is obvious that it must be dealt with, in its authority and influence over human events, more as a matter of Heavenly understanding than human intelligence.

We have the great example of Rabi Akiva, who saw in the destruction of the Temple and the terrible scenes of cruelty that the Romans wrought against the Jews, the seeds of rebirth and resilience of the Jewish people. It is one of the mysteries of nature that destruction is always part of rejuvenation and renewal. The raging and most destructive forest fire somehow preserves and guarantees the growth of a new, greater and more verdant forest.

There is an interesting interpretation of the well-known verse in Kohelet: “A generation departs and a generation arrives and the earth survives forever.” Aside from the usual understanding of the verse in regard to human mortality and the unchanging state of the world and its challenges, the verse can be viewed as teaching us another lesson. Namely, that it is only because of the departure of one generation and the consequent renewal caused by the arrival of another generation that the world is able to survive and remain vital.

Now this begs the question as to why God created nature and the world in such a pattern. But, at least to me, it does signify the eternal path of the Jewish people through history as being in line with nature’s pattern of eternity itself. Just as nature with its very destructive forces nevertheless guarantees the eternity of the world, this parsha guarantees the survival of the Jewish people.