The Holocaust: Dwelling alone

At some point, after integrating into societies, the Jews are set apart, hated, murdered and even incinerated. For what?

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

This week we will be commemorating Holocaust Remembrance day. We painfully recall the most recent and one of the most  tragic manifestation of hatred and persecution. Again , as it has been throughout the long Galut-Exile of this people, we find that  after having succeeded in becoming integrated and super productive members of differing societies , the Jewish people are then set apart, hated, murdered and incinerated.

In the world there are many nations that offer explanations for this unusual and virulent strain of poisonous disdain. Jews are blamed for being too successful, or for being too parasitic. They are either too communist or too capitalist. They are blamed for rejecting one group's messiah and another group's prophet and all those beliefs simply enable and release unfettered hatred.

Yet according to our Jewish understanding, when confronted with such illogical venom and unexpected tragedy, one must focus less on "Why" ( LAMA  in hebrew) but rather "for what?( LEMAH in hebrew).

What can  learn, assimilate and refocus as a result of all that we must undergo in the convoluted path called life and destiny.

The Jewish people are returning out of a long and painful exile. The  healing that needs to  occur has been long and arduous. It is a process that will undergo many phases and changes, just as Ezekiel prophesied regarding  the return of “the dry bones “( Ezekiel 37).The challenges and changes of our people are mirrored in the lives and journeys of each individual Jew as well. Perhaps an exploration of the rituals and challenges facing an individual in the process of Spiritual Return in our Torah portion will  give us direction in understanding the challenges facing our people.

The Metzorah of this week’s Torah portion was also sent into exile;

”All the days the lesion is upon him, he shall remain unclean. He is unclean; he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”(Leviticus 13:46)

There are several causes of this tzaraat affliction, the foremost of them being the sin of slander. Yet all these reasons share one common source and cause. They are all rooted in the sin of arrogance and haughtiness. Those two attributes are usually a function of feelings of inadequacy or a loss of direction.

In order to ameliorate that self defeating tendency and bring about repentance and purification the Torah tells us that the metzora must dwell alone, "outside the Israelite camp." (ibid) .

What is true of the individual soul is true of the collective soul of the Jewish people.

The exile of the Jewish people throughout the ages is also a result of arrogance and haughtiness. The atrocities and persecution that then was inflicted upon them is a result again of the arrogance and haughtiness of the oppressors. The tractate of Sanhedrin tells us "Galut is atonement for everything," (Sanhedrin 37b) and it is in the solitude of this nation’s exile that its arrogant heart is softened and therefore achieves Atonement.

This enforced exile and solitude symbolizes both the metzora's separation from his own divine purpose and from his connection to his people. On the other hand, it is in the solitude of exile that the arrogant heart is softened. It is in the banishment and the loneliness that the sparks of the truly repentant heart can ignite and blossom into a true expression of teshuva/ repentance.

The ingredients of redemption and return are discovered within the laws and process of the Metzorah (sometimes translated as the Leper). The ritual that is used to purify the Metzorah includes instructive symbols and metaphors. This process of purification required two live birds, a stick of cedar wood, red-dyed wool thread and a branch of hyssop.

After one bird is slaughtered, the other live one is dipped in its blood and  is set free.  The strip of red crimson wool represents the sinfulness that will become whitened by repentance  , "though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18). They will be whitened when we confront them and repair them. Otherwise sins like “the sin of the spies” and “the division of the nation into two warring factions” will continue to haunt us.

In explaining the use of the cedar wood with the hyssop branch , Rashi points to its being symbolic of the  vanity and haughtiness that brought about the sin in the first place He explains quoting Midrash Tanchuma that " because he has exalted himself like a cedar... he should humble himself like a grass( the hyssop bush).

Yet the cedar wood  points in another direction as well.  King David declares  , declares, "The righteous bloom like a date-palm; they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon.( Psalm 92:13, )"

In the Song of Songs, the lover is described with the words, "He is majestic as Lebanon, Stately as the cedars" (Song of Songs 5:15).

The cedar wood was meant to symbolize to the returning  Metzorah not to lose his “sense of self”. The true meaning of humility is not about being broken and unworthy, but to be humble even as one stands straight and tall.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa said “A person should have two pockets in his coat. One should contain the saying " For my sake was the world created." (Sanhedrin 37a) In the second pocket he should keep the verse "I am but dust and ashes."(Genesis 18:17).

This is the vessel that G-d truly wants . That is the vessel that is created out of that period of enforced Aloneness. The vessel that would be worthy of His Name . This is the type of vessel that Hashem wants His people to become as well. To be humble and repentant, while at the same time being courageous and forthright. That will be the only way to combat the physical attacks of our neighbors and the political attacks of those who claim to be our friends. That will be the only way to truly rebuild out of exile.

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther