Message to Jews

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin* tells the story of a tailor who is given some very fine material and asked to make a pair of pants. After a week the customer comes back, but the pants are not ready. Two weeks later, they are still not ready. Finally, after six weeks, the pants are ready. The man tries them on – they fit perfectly. Nonetheless, when it comes time to pay, he can’t resist a dig at the tailor. “You know”, he said, “it took G-d only 6 days to make the world, and it took you six weeks to make just one pair of pants.”

            “Ah,” the tailor said, “but look at this pair of pants, and look at the world.”


We greatly appreciate the unique ability of Jews to carry pain, and transform it into humor ... even when it articulates a gentle joke toward G-d – as Woody Allen did when he said, “If only G-d would give me a clear sign of his existence. Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank account.” Or Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, asking “Would it destroy some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”


But sometimes, like the Jewish poets and prophets of the Bible itself, the justifiable questions posed to G-d get downright bitter. “Who is like You among the dumb?” laments the School of Rabbi Ishmael after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, while G-d remained silent**. As Isaiah lamented in 45:15, “You are indeed a God who concealed Himself...”


Rabbi Telushkin also quotes a Hasidic rebbe in Auschwitz as telling his followers: “There is a possibility that the Master of the Universe is a liar.” “How can that be?” they protest. “Because”, he replied, “When G-d looks down from heaven at what is going on here, He says, ‘I am not responsible.’ And that’s a lie.” Telushkin explains that G-d would have to bear responsibility for man’s misuse of the free will which G-d gave him.


Our reply to these things is that the Master of the Universe takes full responsibility for what is going on here. Nor has He been silent about what He is doing and why. The Bible acknowledges the fact of human suffering, explains how G-d has taken responsibility for it and why G-d has permitted it....  and gives clear statements about what He intends to do about it, and when. We don’t need to be Kabbalists or even particularly imaginative to read and understand the specific information which the Bible offers about the timing and extent of human suffering and redemption, and Jewish tribulations in particular.


G-d accepts responsibility

First of all, we must distance ourselves from the mainstream Christian concept which says that G-d simply made man free, and that it’s our fault that we’re in this mess. We’ve even heard it said by Christian speakers that we all deserve hell – meaning, to them, an eternity of conscious torment. This is nonsense, as attested by Hashem’s protest against the superstitious religious rites of Baal-worshipers who submitted their children to flames: “They have built shrines to Baal, to put their children to the fire as burnt offerings to Baal – which I never commanded, never decreed, and which never came to My mind.” Jeremiah 19:5. The L-rd of the Bible uses trouble as a means of teaching lessons, and declares death to be the end, not the beginning, of suffering.

The goal of history is repeatedly spelled out by the holy prophets: trouble and death will end, and then resurrection will bring life again. Life in a climate of judgment in which good deeds will be rewarded, dark dealings will be exposed, and everyone will learn from their previous actions. (Isa. 26:9). Judgment and justice will prevail. The poor and downtrodden of earth will have their fortunes reversed. A beautiful earth, restored and redeemed, will be guided by the anointed ruler of earth God will pick – the Messiah. This is the consistent vision of a golden age presented for our hope and comfort by the prophets of Israel.*


*For a brief review of Bible promises, see the following: Isaiah chapters 25, 35. Micah 4:1-4; Jeremiah 31:27-36; Amos 9:11-15


But in the meantime, there is trouble. Plenty of it.


How does the Master of the Universe accept responsibility for human suffering?

First let’s look at the book of Job, possibly Moses’ first work: there, the Adversary is presented as a sort of prosecuting attorney who wants to expose Job’s purported weakness. G-d grants him permission to bring adversity. After Job’s children have died and his wealth has been lost, G-d states, “Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil. He still keeps his integrity; so you have incited Me against him to destroy him for no good reason.”(Job 2:3) G-d does not blame the Adversary, but accepts the obvious fact that since G-d could have vetoed any action by the Adversary, clearly troubles that are permitted must be laid at Hashem’s doorstep.


Moses in Deuteronomy outlines the whole course of Jewish and world history, and presents the heavenly Father as fully in charge, fully the master of the situation. “When the Most High gave nations their homes and set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples in relation to Israel’s numbers. For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment.” Later, after predicting a whole litany of failures that Israel will commit because of G-d’s favor and special blessing to them, Moses turns his attention to the rest of the world, and explains why Hashem will not give up on Israel. “I might have reduced them to naught, made their memory cease among men, but for the fear of the taunts of the foe, their enemies who might misjudge and say, ‘Our own hand has prevailed; none of this was wrought by the Lord!’”


G-d, speaking through Moses’ pen, muses about the Gentile enemies of Israel: “For they are a folk void of sense, lacking in all discernment. Were they wise they would think upon this, gain insight into their future: How could one have routed a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight [in other words, how can the Jews, G-d’s chosen people, have been routed by puny human forces, as Moses has warned that they will from time to time] unless their Rock had sold them, the Lord had given them up?” Any time in human history that the Jews lose, fail or suffer, it can only be when the Master of the Universe has chosen to permit it to be so. If Jews suffer at the hands of Gentiles, whether it be Popes, or Spanish queens, or Russian czars, or Nazi storm troopers, or French magistrates, or Arab mullahs, or Palestinian homicide bombers, they are all the short-sighted attacks of people who are “void of sense”, who do not have much insight into their own future. They are tools G-d is using “to be My vengeance and recompence” upon Israel. But there is a promise behind all of this. At the time when it seems bleakest for Israel, for the foes of Israel “their day of disaster is near, and destiny rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)


Moses continues: “For the LORD will vindicate His people and take revenge for His servants (the nation of Israel who anti-Semitic enemies have attacked). When He sees that their might is gone, and neither bond nor free is left, He will say “See then, that I, I am He; there is no God beside Me. I deal death and give life; I wounded and I will heal.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)


And so Moses reassures all Jews with the promise from Hashem himself: “O nations, acclaim His people! For He’ll avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and wipe away His people’s tears.” (Deuteronomy 32:43)


Yes, it is understandable that Jewish people would hesitate to embrace these words; partly because to do so, to claim them as true, could smack of arrogance. To think that the Creator of the Universe has taken what could be called a chauvinistic preference for the Jewish people!


And to embrace these words of Moses also could imply a bitter unpleasantness. To think that all the ugly, untoward, cowardly, crazy, criminal and evil acts committed against the Jewish people are somehow G-d’s will, or even worse, G-d’s judgment and “recompence” upon Israel! That is too much! That is too bitter a pill to swallow – to essentially blame the Jews for their own troubles.


No, that is not Moses’ point, nor is it a fair reading of the Bible. The Jews in Jerusalem as Titus marched in, the Jews in the dark ages, and the Jews in the Holocaust, were not suffering because of their own sins. The words of G-d agree with the facts of history which should be obvious to fair minded people: that the Jews have suffered primarily because of the wicked zeal of their enemies – but the entire amount of suffering has been permitted by God for the long-term benefits it will bring to both individuals and the nation as a whole. The L-rd explains the matter to Amos: “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth – that is why I call you to account for all your iniquities.” Amos 3:2.


Surely G-d, if he is as powerful as the sacred texts which claim Divine authorship say he is, could have prevented Satan from inciting rebellion, or Pharaoh from chasing Moses, or the Amelekites from attacking Hebrew villages, or Nebuchadnezzar from sacking the Temple. He could have kept Titus from destroying Jerusalem and crucifying thousands of Jewish innocents. G-d could have kept dark-age Christians from being so ignorant that they blamed – and killed thousands of – the Jews for the plague that was brought on by the Christians’ own filth and squalor. G-d could have kept the Czars from repeatedly destroying villages in the Pale of Settlement, or could have caused Luther to see the light before he taught modern Germans to hate and fear the Jew. G-d could have caused Hitler to get wiped out by an errant bullet during one of his early riots, or allowed one of the assassination attempts against him to be successful, or caused the Hungarians to oppose Eichmann instead of cooperating with him, etc. etc. But the Master of the Universe allowed the worst imaginable nightmares to rise up against the Jewish people, and prosper. Why?


Hashem articulates his own attitude toward the enemies of Israel in the prophecy of Isaiah:

“I was angry at My people, I defiled My heritage; I put them into your hands, But you showed them no mercy....” (Isaiah 47:6) Therefore, “Coming upon you suddenly is ruin of which you know nothing.” (Verse 11)


Isaiah thus confirms some of the details which G-d broadly promised to Abraham himself: “I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you. And you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2-3)


Why was G-d upset with Israel, causing their temples to be destroyed and, in Roman times, the diaspora? The holy prophets outline specific grievances that G-d had against the Jewish people – principally, the idolatry on one hand, and corrupt formalism on the other, which characterized their collective religious attitudes during late Bible times. “Pride, fullness of bread, abundance of idleness, and not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy” were the sins of Sodom, which Ezekiel applied to Israel as well ... adding a willingness to “sell themselves”, spiritually speaking, to the indigenous peoples of the Land. Too much fraternization with the other nations, adopting their ways and diluting the Jewish gene pool.


Hashem’s response was to generate a state of affairs in which the Jews would feel isolated, and which would require them to pull together, keep their divinely-given law covenant, and resist their earlier tendencies to pick up the ways of their neighbors. History shows that the Jews rose to the occasion, and became distinctively faithful to their roots and their Rock. Though the time of their exile was painful beyond words – the torture of an entire nation – the fullness of time finally arrived over a century ago, and the olive branch penned in advance by Isaiah was finally waved for the Jewish people: “Comfort, oh comfort My People, says your God.. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)


For over a century, Bible Students have been publicly stating that these words were due of fulfillment beginning in 1878. Bible prophecies, too detailed to enumerate here, had given the impression to members of this descendant of various Adventist movements that the time had come for Israel to return to the Land. When the Zionist cause first began to be proclaimed, it seemed laughable – except to the few pioneering Jews who were already buying land in Palestine, and had established their first settlement – the “Door of Hope” in the Valley of Achor, established in that very year – 1878. The Berlin Congress of Nations, also in 1878, had moved the geopolitical chess pieces far enough to allow England’s role to increase, and the German and Muslim influence upon Palestine to diminish. Slowly, cautiously, Jews began to return, spurred by growing hopes that the promises to the holy prophets were indeed eternal and trustworthy – Hashem really did intend that the Land should be occupied by the Jews.


World War 1 set the stage for the next great step – the elimination of the ancient Ottoman control of the Land, and the installation of a briefly pro-Jewish administration in England, leading to the Balfour Declaration: “Her Majesty’s government looks with favor upon the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People.” Jews and Gentiles alike should remember the words of Moses quoted above: “Were they wise, they would think upon this....” These things were not accomplished by the arm of flesh. They are the quiet, stately steppings of the Most High as He works to accomplish His will in the earth.


Quiet miracles, but miracles nevertheless have accompanied each advance step of God’s great plan for the resettlement of the Jews. Just as HaShem promised Amos: “I will set up the fallen booth of David; ... I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them....nevermore to be uprooted.” The land, contrary to revisionist Palestinian propaganda, was nearly empty of people. The Jews came first, rebuilding the land and creating a vibrant economy. Then came an influx of Arabs and Palestinians, attracted by the job opportunities and better living conditions which Jewish settlements afforded. Faith and sweat and blood and the quiet power of G-d have rebuilt the waste cities, just as Hashem promised.


Israel is God’s First-Born Son

Israel is the Son of God according to the Bible, and Israel is also predicted to undergo incredible suffering. We’re embarrassed by the terrible record of those who claim to follow Jesus for the past 2000 years. But there is one striking parallel between the Jewish people and Jesus. Both were crucified – tortured and left for dead. The early Christians were the ones who believed the eyewitness accounts which said that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. But today there are many more eyewitnesses testifying to another resurrection – also on the third day – Israel has returned from its national grave, just as Ezekiel said it would. (Ezekiel 37). According to Moses, (Psalm 90) a thousand years is a day in HaShem’s eyes – and Israel died as a nation over two thousand years ago – two full days. And Israel as a nation is being reborn now – early on the third day. In our opinion, Jews should not concern themselves with the written records of what happened in the first century. Focus instead on what has happened in this generation. The resurrection of the nation of Israel is a huge miracle. It is happening in spite of Roman (Catholic) opposition. It is witnessed, not by a few, but by the entire world. And it brings glory to HaShem, because it fulfills prophecies He caused to be written thousands of years ago.


But what about the Holocaust?

The Holocaust is the greatest crime of human history, and if there is any event which should cause a person to lose hope, this would be it. The Shoah reveals a depth of human depravity that was unimaginable before it occurred. And it expands the scope and sadness of Jewish suffering a thousand-fold. How, in the face of this unspeakable disaster, can we still say that the 20th century is actually the time of God’s returning favor to the nation of Israel?


The Prophet Isaiah seems to be referring to this time when he speaks the words of HaShem: (51:12ff)


“I, I am He who comforts you!...

You live all day in constant dread

because of the rage of an oppressor

who is aiming to cut you down.”


Yes, the Nazis aimed to completely destroy the Jews. But though they killed half – a terrible toll – the other half survived, and the Nation of Israel was reborn with the help of very temporary world sympathy.


“Quickly the crouching one (Jews who were hiding) is freed;

He is not cut down and slain,

And he shall not want for food.

For I the Lord your God...

Sheltered you with my hand;

I, who planted the skies and made firm the earth

have said to Zion, You are My people!

Rouse, rouse yourself!

Arise, O Jerusalem,

You who from the Lord’s hand

(here is G-d taking responsibility again – but He assures us that all Israel’s enemies will indeed be punished)

have drunk the cup of His wrath,

You who have drained to the dregs

the bowl, the cup of reeling!...

These two things have befallen you:

Wrack and ruin – who can console you?

Famine and sword – how shall I comfort you?

Your sons lie in a swoon

at the corner of every street –

Like an antelope caught in a net –

Drunk with the wrath of the Lord,

with the rebuke of your God.”


Yes, we can fully understand how damaging the Holocaust has been to the faith of young Jewish people. Like Elie Wiesel, who wrote that the Holocaust took away his capacity to believe in God, many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust have indeed been caught in a net, immobilized by their grief, guilt, and torment. With their own personal cup of suffering full to overflowing, wonderful, sensitive, people like these must be respected for choosing to give up on the notion of a powerful and just Master of the Universe ... How fully understandable it is that even the words of G-d would be ineffective at consoling this national, soulful shiva of the Jewish people.


But HaShem continues:


“Therefore, listen to this, unhappy one,

Who are drunk, but not with wine! (As we stated, the Jewish people are largely incapacitated by their terrible drinking of the dregs of the “cup of reeling” mentioned above)

Thus said the Lord, your Lord,

Your God who champions His people:

Herewith I take from your hand the cup of reeling,

The bowl, the cup of My wrath;

You will never drink it again.

I will put it in the hands of your tormentors,

who have commanded you,

“Get down, that we may walk over you” –

So that you made your back like the ground,

Like a street for a passersby.”


Yes, the Nazis and their modern-day ilk will be given the cup of the dregs of God’s anger, and the Jews will never have to drink from that cup again. The ones who hate Israel will henceforth be forced to suffer for their opposition of Zion. Never again will Jews need to lay down so that other people can walk over them, as the Nazis did literally and figuratively.


We know that our words are inadequate, but we hope the sentiment expressed by Isaiah will prove to be a blessing as happiness, victory and hope gradually become more tangible to the pragmatic and honest eyes of the children of Israel.


Paying the Price of the Land

There remains much that needs to be done in Israel. Every day, new terrors lurk, threatening every bus-ride, every cup of coffee, every step outside the house or near a window. Sometimes it seems like the suffering of the Jewish people will never end.


As we consider how to console, how to encourage our Jewish friends, our minds go back to Abraham, to the struggle that he began, which earned him the name, “Father of the Faithful”


What did Abraham do?


Well, he never owned the land of Israel. But when Sarah died his Hittite friends offered him a piece of their land for her burial. (Genesis 23:1-20)


Though he could have received the land as a gift, Abraham was quite insistent. He wanted to own the land that his wife was buried on. And he wanted to pay the whole price. So he weighed out the payment – 400 shekels of silver, “the going merchants’ price.”


What is the lesson for today? We believe that the ongoing agony of Israel is the final phase of the saga that Abraham began. God has given the Land to Abraham and his children. But people cannot. We believe G-d has arranged for this situation so that the Jewish people will finally come to see that they must be willing to pay the full price of that land. He wants them to insist on taking title, and He wants them to pay the going rate – to part with as much silver, sweat, and yes, blood as it will take to secure that land and make it fully their own.


Never again should Jews try to trade that land for peace. They must believe God, that the land of Israel is like their right hand. They must find the price that needs to be paid for the Land, and pay it. They must stay there and tend it; and they must believe the promises of the One who led them there. Never mind the sirens song of geopolitical power struggles, of “humanitarian” concerns, of American aid or U.N. approval or Arab “peace”. There is only one blue chip in this poker game, and it is the Land that G-d gave to the Jewish people. It must be held, never traded away for any human promise or geopolitical advantage. The truth is stated by HaShem: all Israel’s “lovers” will forsake her whenever it is in their interests to do so.


Israel has only one Rock, but it is a Rock that can be leaned on reliably. Never again will the Jewish people be plucked from the Land that G-d has given them.


Hear the words of Isaiah, taken from the 45th chapter, already in process, yet awaiting their complete fulfillment in the coming generation:


“Fear not, for I am with you;

I will bring your folk from the East,

Will gather you out of the West;

I will say to the North, “Give back!”

And to the South, “Do not withhold!”

Bring My sons from afar,

And My daughters from the end of the earth –

All who are linked to My name,

Whom I have created,

formed, and made for My glory –

Setting free that people,

Blind though it has eyes

And deaf though it has ears.”


All the nations assemble as one,

The peoples gather.

Who among them declared this,

Foretold to us the things that have happened?

Let them produce their witnesses and be vindicated,

That men, hearing them, may say, “It is true!”

My witnesses are YOU

–declares the Lord–

My servant [Israel], whom I have chosen.

To the end that you may take thought,

And believe in Me,

And understand that I am He;

Before Me no god was formed,

And after Me none shall exist –

None but me, the Lord;

Beside Me, none can grant triumph.

I alone foretold the triumph [of Israel, in spite of incredible odds and all the conventional wisdom]

And I brought it to pass;

I announced it,

And no strange god was among you.

So you are my witnesses

–Declares the Lord –

And I am God....

I am your Holy One, the Lord,

Your King, the Creator of Israel....

It is I, I who – for my own sake --

Wipe your transgressions away

And remember your sins no more.”


“It is I who say of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited.’

And of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,

and I will restore the ruined places...’

And to the Temple, ‘You shall be founded again.’...


When people trust in Him,

all their adversaries are put to shame.

It is through the Lord that all the offspring of Israel

have vindication and glory.”                   


And Isaiah’s words in 49:6 amaze us with the grandeur of the opportunity of the Jewish people:

“I will also make you a light of nations, that My salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”


These are the words of the G-d of Jacob. Our message to all Jews, everywhere, is – you can, you should, and in due time with G-d’s help, you will, trust these words.


* Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Humor: What the best Jewish jokes say about the Jews. 1992, William Morrow & Company, New York p. 143

**As quoted by Rabbi Telushkin, ibid, p. 144


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