In a letter to a disciple, Maran HaGaon R' Elchonon
Wassermann Hy'd wrote: It is very worthwhile to gather
all the holy writings and sayings from Chazal and the sources
in Chumash, like Parshiyos Nitzovim and
Ha'azinu, and to organize and register them just
according to their obvious meaning, and then afterwards to
review them in the light of historical events of the present
day to see how they were fulfilled, indeed, to the letter.
Anyone thus examining the text will find that he is gazing
into an enlightening looking glass (aspaklaria
In a compilation of his essays, R' Elchonon quotes the
following: "Remember the days of old; consider the years of
many generations. Ask your father and he will recount it to
you, your elders and they will tell you" (Ha'azinu).
He points to these verses as specific instructions for all
generations. Whatever takes place in the world has a reason,
and we must study the events to learn from them, just like a
chapter in the Torah. This is based on the rule, "For
throughout the earth are His laws." All current events are an
edict of Hashem which emanates from the Torah. If so, then
just as we must study and delve into the Torah in order to
understand it, we are also bound to examine all of the events
that take place in the world in the light of the laws of the
Torah and to discover their causes and roots. Binu shenos
This study and quest is also included in the exhortation of
the following posuk: "Ask your father and he will
recount it to you, your elders and they will tell you."
One cannot make sense of a period in history by just studying
the facts, just as one cannot fathom a subject in Torah
without guidelines. In Torah one must resort to the
rishonim and acharonim, commentaries that
explain each topic with insight.
Similarly, puny man cannot fathom divine intellect. In order
to understand the reasons governing earthly events, we must
refer back to the commentaries: "our fathers and our elders,
who will tell us." They will relay the message underlying the
happening, for only they can interpret it correctly through
their wisdom and experience.
HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l expands on this thought
in Emes LeYaakov. He quotes the words of the gemora
in Bovo Basra which states that Megillas
Rus was written by Shmuel Hanovi.
He explains: The content of Megillas Rus is composed
of two parts. The first describes the actual events as they
occurred, while the second part interprets these events. They
place a finger, so to speak, upon the reason behind them.
The Megilla does not go into the details of every single
stage and scene, of what led to what. But the fact that the
events are presented in a certain order which combine to form
a single puzzle composed of various events, and the fact that
they create a sequence and correlation between all of the
components is, in and of itself, a clear commentary. Rashi
and the commentaries offer their explanations based on the
midroshim, intertwining all the details into a tightly
woven fabric, showing how they determined the final outcome
of all the isolated events that make up this Megilla.
In this same manner, says R' Yaakov, in order to explain the
events that make up a period in history that spans many
years, one needs to be a prophet. Only a prophet can join the
signs and scattered events so that they become a single
tapestry in his able hands. This is why it took a Shmuel
Hanovi to write this work. A simple man is not permitted to
postulate his own commentary on history or current events.
One must "consider the years of many generations." How? By
"asking your father, who will relate it to you, your elders,
and they will tell you."
R' Elchonon himself, in his essays, serves as one of the
great commentators of this topic, as he learned it from the
holy mouth of the Chofetz Chaim. He reviews the entire length
of Parshas Ha'azinu and focuses on the events of an
eternal nation marching through the pages of history. He
bases his commentary upon the motif of the ancients who
taught that the song of Ha'azinu encompasses all of
Jewish history in a nutshell, from its genesis to the final
"When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance;
when He separated the sons of Adam. He set the bounds of the
people according to the number of the children of Yisrael.
For Hashem's portion is His people; Yaakov is the lot of His
inheritance (Ha'azinu)." In these verses, says R'
Elchonon, the Torah provided us with a mighty key to know the
axis upon which the providence of the world revolves. This is
the Jewish people. For it is self-understood that all the
creatures on this world are here to do Hashem's will. And of
all creations, the choice, the select one, is Yisroel. They
are Hashem's portion in this world.
Therefore, whatever happens anywhere on the globe is
connected to Yisroel and is for their sake. An earthquake in
Honolulu affects Yisroel; it is for their sake. "I have cut
off nations; their pinnacles are desolate. I have made their
streets waste so that none passes by, . . . I said: Surely
you would fear Me, you would accept correction"
(Tzefania 3:6-7). Chazal infer from this that "No
disaster comes to the world if not because of Yisroel."
Every local battle and, to be sure, every global war, is
followed by geographical changes in borders -- all for the
sake of Yisroel. Even before the warring parties sit down to
formulate the delineations of their new borders, these have
already been signed and sealed by the Heavenly Court. "He
establishes the borders of nations -- according to the
numbers of Yisroel." Why? "Because His nation is Hashem's
And only the Jewish people are considered His portion, His
close possession. Therefore, all conduct of national issues,
all manipulation of countries, is for the sake and needs of
you, Yisroel. And if your understanding is limited and falls
short of grasping what correlation there is between the needs
of the Jewish people and the defined borders of islands at
the farther end of the world, know that Hashem, Who
determines the generations [history] before they come about,
knows that those borders will apply to Israel at some time in
the present or future.
R' Elchonon writes further: The Torah warns, "Lest there be
amongst you a man . . . a root that bears gall and wormwood.
And it comes to pass when he hears the words of this curse,
that he bless himself in his heart saying: I shall have
peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to add
drunkenness to thirst. Hashem will not spare him" (Devorim-
Nitzovim 29:17-19). In previous generations, sinners were
ashamed of their deeds and sinned under cover while inventing
excuses for their behavior. But now, not only are they not
ashamed of their deeds, but they even exult and are proud of
them, blatantly and brazenly going against the Torah. [They
consider it heroic to "come out of the closet" and openly
proclaim and identify their degenerate acts.] All this is
even when the sinners have no illusory benefit from their
deeds. They have banded together into gangs of freethinkers,
hedonists, epicureans, deviants, crass atheists.
The Chofetz Chaim used to say that this is alluded to in
Parshas Nitzovim: "For I shall walk in the
stubbornness of my heart." [The word used here for
stubbornness, shrirus, derives from the root to see,
shur.] They base their sins upon false ideologies,
what they see fit. They proclaim their degenerate deeds as an
ideology. The Torah explains that if a person propounds a
system, a shita, a rationale, for transgressing the
Torah, Hashem will refuse to forgive him for it is much worse
than any other sinner.
These are but a few examples but they show how our Sages look
at world history and current or past events. Whoever looks at
and contemplates them will find himself gazing upon an
enlightening looking glass -- concludes R' Elchonon.
And these words exactly describe his own words, as well.