| Sometimes Silence is the Answer This past year I had the opportunity to be part of a group who visited Auschwitz. That evening, we stayed in a hotel across the street from one of the oldest and most renowned synagogues in Poland, the Rema’s shul in Cracow. Over 40 years earlier, in 1979, Professor Yaffa Eliach was in the Rema’s synagogue on erev Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, with a group of Holocaust historians. They had just come from visiting Auschwitz. One of the members of the group walked up to the bimah and demanded that G-d be summoned to judgment for the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust. He then walked over to Dr. Eliach and asked her to say a few words. She writes: Was I being called as a witness by the prosecution? I declined. No, not I. I have no quarrel with G-d, only with men! I, too, want a trial, but not at the Rema’s synagogue, not at Nuremberg nor at Frankfurt. I would put on trial each Western university and library, for harboring millions of malicious words written against an ancient people, words like murderous daggers hidden beneath the cloak of science and truth — the propaganda of conceited little men. I want to bring to trial the pulpits of countless churches where hate was burning like eternal lights … I want to bring to trial a civilization for whom man was such a worthless being. But to bring G-d to trial? On What charges? For giving men the ability to choose between Good and Evil? (Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust pp. 212-213) “Where was G-d during the Holocaust?” is a challenging question. Many deal with it each year on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls a week after the conclusion of Passover, the holiday representing G-d’s rescuing from persecution. There is an obvious tension created in that transition and different people will deal with it in different ways. Some, like Dr. Eliach, are not asking questions and others are still asking questions. In 1941, the Nazis came into the town of Kamarna and murdered many Jews there. R. Baruch of Kamarna gave a drasha (‘sermon’) quoting a verse from this week’s Parsha, noting that after the death of Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu, Moses comments to Aaron:Moses said to Aaron, Of this did G-d speak, saying: “I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me, and I will be honored before the entire people”; and Aaron was silent. (Lev. 10:3)What was Moses telling Aaron? Moses and Aaron, who were close to G-d and had a better understanding of Him, didn’t have questions. They realized that if they understood everything G-d did—then they would be G-d! They knew He had a plan and that everything He does is just. But the rest of the people weren’t on that level. They were going to have a difficult time dealing with the deaths of Aaron’s sons. R. Baruch told his Chasidim that seeking out answers would not give them the closure they craved, it would only lead to more emotional turmoil. G-d is either everything or He is nothing and difficulties will always remain. R. Baruch’s message was that they would get through the difficult times by emulating Moses and Aaron by trying to be close to G-d. His approach might sound simplistic or even intellectually vapid, but understanding that some things are too far-reaching for us to understand is a reality all of us have to accept at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a small child dying of cancer, the death of a mother run over by a drunk driver, or why the wicked continue to prosper, no human will ever be able to give definitive answers. But lack of answers doesn’t mean the world doesn’t have a kind Creator, it just means we don’t understand everything He does.
R. Baruch’s approach is one of many ways to deal with the questions of the Holocaust and calamities in general. Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do for someone dealing with personal (or a national) tragedy is simply to listen and, as Aaron, remain silent and realize that some things are simply beyond us.