"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"How does G-d justify what happened during the holocaust? I feel He was there, but was very much hidden. I can see His reasonings for everything that He has done, except for this. I've asked several rabbis but no one has answered me satisfactorily."


I'm afraid I can't help you either. I'm not embarrassed though, because I don't think anyone can! We are still too close to it in time and emotion. Unfortunately, there is more than one holocaust in the Jewish annals--enough already!--and to dismiss previous ones by saying 2 million or 2 hundred thousand doesn't compare to six million would be extremely callous. For example, also during the Crusades 1/3 of the world Jewish population was killed: why don't we have questions and anguish about that?

The main difference is that the earlier tragedies are now so removed in time that we no longer can feel them personally. They have become "history." The Holocaust has not, yet. To expouse logical-sounding theories at this point in time is guarenteed to offend descendants of the victims and survivors, (unless, perhaps the answer-giver is also one of the survivors).

In addition to your Holocaust question, I found points of interest in your phrasing:

1) "How does G-d justify...?" As Jews, our basic starting premise is that G-d is good--is good and does good. Accordingly, there is no need for G-d to justify; it is upon us to accept, and then, whenever possible, to understand.

2) "I feel G-d was there, but was very much hidden." In the language of Chassidut and Kabbalah, we would say that G-d's attribute of strict judgement was dominant over his attribute of mercy. In other words, G-d's mercy was hidden but not necessarily G-d's presence. The extraordinary oppression-survival-oppression-survival history of the Jewish people over so many centuries is glaringly unique and in itself a clear indication of G-d's involvement in the world. No other explanation is rational! And that's the function of the Jewish people: to be a living demonstration to the peoples of the world that G-d exists and G-d cares. Sometimes we can see clearly how Jewish history reflects the principles of reward and punishment and sometimes we can't. But we don't allow our inability to understand prevent us from believing and accepting that G-d's thoughts are greater than ours and His supervision of Creation is good. If we can't bring ourselves to accept this in every detail of our experiences, at least we can do so for the overall picture, the Divine plan.

3) "I can see G-d's reasonings for everything that He has done, except for this." It is said of King Solomon that in his wisdom he wrote down a reason for each of the 613 mitzvot, except one: the Red Heifer [Num. 19]. He just couldn't comprehend it. So he tore up everything he wrote about the 612! He assumed that if one eluded him, that must be an indication that something was amiss in his understanding of the others. Just as "G-d is One and His Name is One," so too all His commandments must be unified as an interlocking, consistent whole.

Although we still have no satisfactory answer to your big question, there is a small lesson here. When we think we understand all of G?d's reasons except for one, that one must give us pause to consider that perhaps we have not fathomed completely any of the rest either.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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