by Tova Joy | November 12 2020
I was born only a few years after Hitler was defeated and the concentration camps that he built to annihilate us were liberated. While I was still in diapers, my older brother, my older sister, and I were constantly reminded to never forget what had happened. We were taught that Hitler was only the most recent of those, from every generation, who would rise up to destroy us. Therefore, we knew that we needed to stay united in being Jewish, be wary of goyim, be ever mindful of preserving the memory of those we lost, and actively seek the preservation of our people by being “good.” We thought that it could never happen in America, but today, antisemitism is not only on the rise all around the world, it’s even growing in New York City!
I always wondered, Why would G-d allow such horrible things to happen to our people, His Am Yisroel? Were we really chosen for suffering as some have suggested? Were the rabbis right when they suggested that we bring suffering on ourselves because of our disobedience to G-d’s commands?
Many of our ultra-Orthodox rabbis today hold to the view that much of our suffering is directly related to our disobedience to G-d, as was also prominent in the Jewish community of the first century. They believe, therefore, that our response should be to come back into obedience to G-d’s commands and in some way “merit” G-d’s continued care and protection. When tsuris comes, it is presumed that we have done something to “cause” it, and we must work to appease G-d’s judgment. Perhaps our women’s observance of tznius needs to be stricter. Perhaps our men should put in more hours of Torah study. Perhaps more prayer or reciting more Psalms would work.
Is it true that all suffering can be traced back to our “wrong” observance of the rules? Is it true that our rabbis were really even given the authority by G-d to determine the “rules” that would bring us merit? And do these “rabbinic decrees” actually align with G-d’s will as given in Torah?
While it might be true that some of our suffering is caused by our misdoings, when we disobey a doctor’s orders, we might end up with negative results. For example, it is not always true that suffering is caused by disobedience. If it were true, how would we explain the martyrdom of our heroes of the faith?
It is a fact that the Talmud (Oral Law) teaches (Pirkei Avos 1:1) that G-d passed down His Torah directly to Moses, who in turn passed it down to Joshua, who passed it down to the elders, and so on to the Sanhedrin, and ultimately to our current rabbinical leaders. The Midrash further clarifies where the principle of “rabbinic authority” and “majority rule” originated. I would suggest, however, that the idea of an “oral law” given by G-d at Mount Sinai does not align with what we see in the Tanach (Exodus 24:4). There we discover that “Moses wrote down all the words of G-d,” and there is no indication of G-d authorizing any oral tradition that would ever take precedence. In the Torah, very often it is the majority that actually led Israel into disobedience (e.g., the 10 spies in Numbers), and only a minority urged the people to seek after G-d in the correct way.
The rabbis are right that G-d desires His people to follow His commands. His desire is that we each turn our eyes and hearts to Him, seek Him, and love Him with our whole heart. G‑d cares about the heart more than following external rules designed by men, which can often lead us to focus more on the deed and lose our focus on the spiritual connection.
It is my hope that this gives you some food for thought. I would love to hear your comments. You can send me a message here ›
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