When does survival become a crime? What is the nature of Evil? Where was God during the Holocaust? What are the limits of human responsibility in the face of overwhelming coercion? These are just some of the question faced by Jews—particularly religious Jews—during the Shoah. This guide explores these questions and more through a series of dialogues between Ovadya ben Malka, a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando and the rabbi to whom he turned for judgment.
The Exodus from Egypt is a story of miracles from beginning to end. But the greatest miracle of all is hidden in plain sight. God tells Moshe that Pharoah will not listen to him, and will inevitably bring about the next escalation, until finally, the results can no longer be reasoned away. By highlighting the institutionalization of the slavery, the eventual emancipation is shown for the miracle that it is.
Following are my contributions to Rabbi Cardozo’s Purim-themed “Thoughts to Ponder“. I hope they will be a worthy addition to the weighty matter of getting thoroughly silly on Purim. Enjoy!
This week’s Parashah, though couched in a terminology that may seem unfamiliar to modern ears, deals with issues that are topical for every age–issues of guilt and redress, wrong-doing and atonement. What is especially striking is that these issues are first brought up in the Torah in the context of unwitting transgression. The focus throughout this first parasha of Vayikra is on mistakes and cases of doubt. There is an important message in this: we seldom know for sure if what we’re doing is wrong. And yet, only one who can acknowledge responsibility for his past actions is in a position to change his future actions.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Jewish tradition has tackled the question from both the halakhic and the hashkafic aspects. The halakhic view of it uses the concept of g’mul to express the way our actions in the world rebound upon us. Meanwhile, the hashkafic view assumes that, regardless of how it may look to us, Justice is in fact a conserved quantity.