This is my first writing since the barbaric Hamas attacks and atrocities on Oct. 7 perpetrated by ruthless savages on our beloved Israel, and on innocent men, women and children.
Where does one start? It is so hard to watch the videos and still harder to absorb the reality. People are calling it the worst day for Jews since the Holocaust. Holocaust comparisons are odious but, tragically, here there is something to them.
This weekly sermonette is usually based on the parshah of the week. This week, we begin again, starting over from the very beginning of the Torah with Beresheet—Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
I don’t think Israel or the Jewish people are quite ready for new beginnings yet. Our armed forces are still trying to finish what our sworn, savage enemies have begun. We are still burying our dead, healing our wounded and praying for the safe release of those abducted.
I am, however, reminded of two stories I was told personally by the foremost chronicler of the Holocaust, the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. I believe they are relevant now.
The first was about his philosophical discussion with the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson—at their very first meeting. Facing a revered spiritual leader, Wiesel posed the obvious question: “Where was God during the Holocaust?”
The Rebbe responded: “And where was man?”
“The world knew exactly what the Nazis were doing,” he said. “Did a single nation try to stop them? Did [U.S. President Franklin D.] Roosevelt bomb the railway tracks taking Jews to Auschwitz as he was begged to? No! No one was home! You ask where was God, and I ask where was man.”
Wiesel was still in a dark place in his personal life at that time. Much of his family had been wiped out in the Holocaust. He was brooding and could not bring himself to think about marriage. He was writing and working as a journalist in the United States. In all their encounters, the Rebbe always encouraged him to rebuild his life and his family, arguing that the only response to Hitler was to rebuild Jewish families and Jewish communal life. But Wiesel couldn’t imagine it.
On another occasion, he came to one of the Rebbe’s famous farbrengens at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and stood at the back listening to the Rebbe speaking. Then the Rebbe noticed him, called him to the front and offered him a l’chaim.
Wiesel, with no small measure of chutzpah, said to the Rebbe that he came from a family of Vishnitzer Chassidim, “and in Vishnitz, one doesn’t say l’chaim alone.”
The Rebbe smiled and took some wine in his own cup to say l’chaim with Wiesel.
Again, Wiesel interjected, “In Vishnitz, when we say l’chaim, we also give a blessing.”
“Very well. With what shall I bless you?” asked the Rebbe.
“In Vishnitz, the Rebbe knows what blessing to give.”
Whereupon the Rebbe smiled again and said: “In that case, I bless you with a new beginning!
Indeed, when Wiesel married his wife, Marion, in 1969, the Rebbe was one of the first to congratulate him.
Most of the civilized world today is standing with Israel. Long may it last. But there are still too many nations and movements who, incredibly, are blaming Israel instead of Hamas, including in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress!
Where is man, indeed?
How heartwarming it is to see our own people’s unbroken spirit of unity, of shared fears and hopes, worries and dreams. How citizens of all persuasions are bringing food and other supplies to our brave soldiers on their way to the front.
How heartwarming to see the prayer and solidarity meetings around the world with tens of thousands of Jews singing “Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael,” a prayer for the wounded and the abducted, and for all those still under threat.
Thank God, Israel’s political parties are coming together in unity. May all of Israeli society come together too. May we heal internally while protecting ourselves from the external threats still before us.
Beresheet is a time for new beginnings. For Israel and for all of us.
While it may be premature now to speak about new beginnings, the time will surely come. Please God, may it be very soon indeed.