In the introduction to his Hebrew translation, Rabbi Moshe Sheinfeld wrote (in part): "To those of our readers who will find in the words of the Gaon a blatant tendency towards extreme zealousness (kano'us), it should be said: Before we examine gedolei Yisroel against the charge that they may have been gripped by kano'us, it were better that we examine ourselves, lest we have been gripped by a tendency to be lukewarm and to compromise the Holy of Holies and the highest of the values of Yisroel."
"Rejoice not, Israel, with the gladness of the peoples." (Hoshea 9:1) It is not for the Jew to indulge in pleasure in the way the Gentiles do. Gentiles have free time when their work is done and look for amusements and sports with which to pass the time. The Jew has no spare time; after he has finished his work, it remains his duty to occupy himself with the study of the Torah. He who is incapable of studying by himself, must find a Rabbi to teach him. The Jew is also required to dedicate some of his time to the fulfillment of the divine precepts and of good deeds to help others to the best of his ability. The Torah demands such a way of life from the Jew. "Be ye holy" (Vayikra 19:12); the Jew must be holy, his house must be holy, and his whole heart must be holy.
"And I have separated you from the nations to be Mine" (Vayikra 20:26)—if you are separated then you are Mine. In recent times they have ceased to learn the Torah; and, consequently, there is time to spare. What do they do with it? Jews go in their masses, and fill the amusement places and theaters, and return home steeped in unholy thoughts; thus the Jewish home also becomes defiled.
G-d's answer does not hesitate; the Jews are driven like lepers from their pleasure-houses. "Jews away from here! This is not your place!" This is right. The Jew's place is in the house of learning, there to meditate in Torah, or to pour out his heart in the Psalms. We have been warned of this: "if you are not separated from the nations, then you are in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his associates." (Rashi on Vayikra 20:26)
Nowadays, the Jews have chosen two "idols" to which they offer up their sacrifices. They are Socialism and Nationalism. The new gospel of Nationalism can be defined very briefly as: "Let us be like the nations." (Yechezkel 20:32, Shmuel I 8:20) All that is required of the Jew is national feeling. He who pays the shekel and sings Hatikvah is thereby exempted from all precepts of the Torah.
It is clear that this idea is considered to be fundamentally idol-worship from the point of view of the Torah. These two forms of idol-worship have poisoned the minds and the hearts of Hebrew Youth. Each one has its tribe of false prophets in the shape of writers and speakers, who do their work to perfection.
A miracle has happened: in Heaven these two idolatries have been merged into one: National-Socialism. There has been formed from them a fearful rod of wrath which hits at the Jews in all corners of the globe.
The abomination to which we have bowed down strike back at us. "Thy sin shall punish thee." (Yirmiyahu 2:19)
The prophets warned that a disaster would come upon Israel the like of which had not happened since their becoming a nation. The Gaon of Vilna writes (Even Shleima 11:5): The sufferings of the Golus are likened in Scriptural verses to the pains of pregnancy of a woman. The era of the pre-Messianic sufferings is likened to the birth pangs themselves. Just as the pains during pregnancy cannot be compared to the pangs of childbirth themselves, so cannot the ordinary sufferings of the Golus be compared with the sustained agony before the coming of the Messiah.
There is a definite plan to the troubles of Golus. This is indicated in the section of Golus (Vayishlach 32:8) where it is said "the camp which is left shall escape." (posuk 8) When the Jews are hunted and tortured in one land, there was always another which served as a place of refuge. During the expulsion from Spain, Turkey, Poland and Holland opened their gates to the exiles. In the pre- Messianic sufferings it will be different. The Jews will be persecuted everywhere, without rest. They will be driven out from everywhere, and will not be allowed in at any place.
"And put a space betwixt drove and drove." (posuk 16) In the Golus-period a breathing space will be given between each fresh evil decree. In the days before the coming of the Messiah, the sufferings will not halt but will flow on like a river. (Sanhedrin 98a) Apart from this they will grow worse from day to day. "In the morning thou shalt say: `Would it were even'— the evening before (Rashi Devorim 28:62).
We can feel yet another difference between our time and previous eras. In bygone generations the Jews did not feel themselves forsaken and forlorn. They knew full well that they had a Father in Heaven, the Guardian of Israel who had promised them, "And yet, for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly." (Vayikra 26:44) They knew that they were suffering for their faith in G-d, and that in readiness for them was "everlasting life in which nothing in creation could stand within their allotted portion" (Taanis 18b).
The recognition of this fact did much to lighten their burdens. In our days, ignorance of the Torah has caused the extinction of faith among a large part of the Jewish people, so that the Jews are left the most unfortunate of men. They do not know the reason for their suffering; they have no one to turn to in time of trouble.
Who can imagine the extent of their despair and disillusionment? With no way, out, they take their own lives.
The Torah's Advice
What is there for man to do in such a difficult time? Can he not be aided? The Torah confers upon him its counsel. "Rabbi Eliezer's pupils asked of him: What can a man do to escape the pangs of the Messianic age? He replied to them: Let him employ himself with the study of Torah and with philanthropy." (Sanhedrin 98b) The Chofetz Chaim remarked: Rabbi Eliezer said: "Shall employ himself", that is, man shall apply himself to the study of the Torah and to philanthropy in the same spirit that he applies himself to his employment—with all his heart, and with all his power; only then can he hope for deliverance.
"What shall we do for our sister when she is spoken against?" (Song of Songs 8:8). The Jews in Exile have been likened to a sheep (Tanchuma Toldos 5, Esther Rabba 10:11) among seventy wolves. In such a position, the wisest policy for the sheep is to endeavor to become forgotten by the wolves. No good can come to the Jews unless the nations of the world apply themselves to other matters and pay no attention to them. At a time when the people talk increasingly about us, great is the danger which threatens. The angels asked: "What shall we do for our sister—the congregation of Israel— when she shall be spoken of?" (Targum Shir HaShirim 8:8) To this question came the answer of the Almighty: "If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver," i.e. if they are strong in their faith (Rashi), like a reinforced wall, and will not yield before any wind, we will build upon her a turret of silver—"Just as silver enters the furnace and emerges whole, so will Israel enter among the nations and come out unscathed." (Yalkut Shimoni on Shir HaShirim 5:4) "The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." (Shemos 3:2)
The Song of Song continues (8:9): And if she be a door—like a door which turns on its hinges—we will enclose her with boards of cedar (which quickly rots). If they are swayed in every direction like the door which turns, that is, if they are inundated by every temporal stream, allowing themselves to be influenced from every side, then they will be like the wood which wallows in damp places and rots.
Such is the advice which has been given us as to what there is for us to do in difficult times. The solution is for all time: to be rock-like in our faith, and not submit to our environment. Yet, we may ask, how can we possibly do this in our exceptional position? To this, also, an answer is given. "I am the Wall"—this, say the Rabbis— refers to the Torah. (Pesochim 87a) Only the Torah has the power to stabilize us, to make us firm as iron.
The history of Israel during thousands of years bears true witness to the fact that girded with Torah we have not perished, though we have been through fire and water. "When thou goest across water, I am with thee; when thou walkest in fire, thou shalt not be singed, and the flame shall not burn thee." (Yeshaya 43:2)
The same thought is expressed elsewhere in other words: "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon" (Song of Songs 1:7). Noon is the most difficult time of the day for the flocks; the heat is then greatest. The Congregation of Israel asked of its Shepherd—G-d—how will You sustain your sheep when they arrive at the grimmest periods of their exile; the sheep wander without knowing the way in which they must go. Came the answer: "If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock." Search in those ways for the footsteps of your ancestors; choose the path in which they appear. In any novel way which your ancestors rejected do not go, for though all paths are fraught with danger, new ones are especially so. (Yerushalmi Brochos 4:4)
What is the way in which our fathers went? The way of the Torah. This being so, we have a clear indication of what system and what means we must take up in our self-defense.
End of Part V
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To Read Part III
To Read Part IV