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The Rebbe on the Holocaust

The Rebbe on the Holocaust

What the Rebbe Said (and Didn't Say) About the Holocaust

Detail from ''Pogrom I'', a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman
Detail from "Pogrom I", a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, is widely recognized as one who played a singular role in defining post-Holocaust Jewry. But what did the Rebbe say and teach about that event itself?

Like millions of his generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was personally touched by the Holocaust. His younger brother, DovBer, was shot to death and thrown into a mass grave, as were tens of thousands of other Jews in a series of massacres conducted by the Germans shortly after their occupation of Dnepropetrovsk in the fall of 1941. A beloved grandmother and other family members were also killed. The Rebbe's wife lost her younger sister Sheina, who perished in Treblinka together with her husband and their adopted son.

In his writings and discussions on the subject, the Rebbe rejected all theological explanations for the Holocaust. What greater conceit -- the Rebbe would say -- and what greater heartlessness, can there be than to give a "reason" for the death and torture of millions of innocent men, women and children? Can we presume to assume that an explanation small enough to fit inside the finite bounds of human reason can explain a horror of such magnitude? We can only concede that there are things that lie beyond the finite ken of the human mind. Echoing his father-in-law, the Rebbe would say: It is not my task to justify G‑d on this. Only G‑d Himself can answer for what He allowed to happen. And the only answer we will accept, said the Rebbe, is the immediate and complete Redemption that will forever banish evil from the face of the earth and bring to light the intrinsic goodness and perfection of G‑d's creation.

To those who argued that the Holocaust disproves the existence of G‑d or His providence over our lives, the Rebbe said: On the contrary -- the Holocaust has decisively disproven any possible faith in a human-based morality. In pre-war Europe, it was the German people who epitomized culture, scientific advance and philosophic morality. And these very same people perpetrated the most vile atrocities known to human history! If nothing else, the Holocaust has taught us that a moral and civilized existence is possible only through the belief in and the acceptance of the Divine authority.

The Rebbe also said: Our outrage, our incessant challenge to G‑d over what has occurred -- this itself is a most powerful attestation to our belief in Him and our faith in His goodness. Because if we did not, underneath it all, possess this faith, what is it that we are outraged at? The blind workings of fate? The random arrangement of quarks that make up the universe? It is only because we believe in G‑d, because we are convinced that there is right and there is wrong and that right must, and ultimately will, triumph, that we cry out, as Moses did: "Why, my G‑d, have you done evil to Your people?!"

But the most important thing about the Holocaust to the Rebbe was not how we do or do not understand it, nor, even, how we memorialize its victims, but what we do about it. If we allow the pain and despair to dishearten us from raising a new generation of Jews with a strong commitment to their Jewishness, then Hilter's "final solution" will be realized, G‑d forbid. But if we rebuild, if we raise a generation proud of and committed to their Jewishness, we will have triumphed.

[Editor's note: The 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet is a most tragic date in Jewish history. On Tevet 10 of the year 3336 from creation (425 BCE), the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem -- a siege that resulted in the conquest of the city, the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the exile of the people of Israel from their land. To this day, Tevet 10 is observed as a day of fasting, mourning and repentance. More recently, it was chosen to also serve as a "general kaddish day" for the victims of the Holocaust, many of whose day of martyrdom is unknown (Jewish law stipulates that if the day of a person's passing is unknown, an appropriate date is selected on which to say the kaddish prayer in his or her merit). On one occasion, the Rebbe devoted a significant part of a Tevet 10 address to speak about the Holocaust and convey some of the ideas expressed in this article.]

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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Discussion (109)
October 26, 2016
Willa from henrico
Just read your feedback very pragmatic reading
Thank you
August 12, 2016
God did not do this evil. Men did.
Myrtle Beach
August 12, 2016
Absolutely fascinating article.
Analesia cassels
March 28, 2016
Morenu ve Rabeinu
I would very much like to hear the opinión of our Master and Teacher Rabbi Tsvi Freeman. I believe his insights will be more than helpful.
Rabbi: can you shed light for us please?
Reuven green
March 25, 2016
Rebbe of righteous memory on the Holocaust
What our Rebbe had to say about the Holocaust is perfect. He is absolutely right. What I would like to add is perhaps imperfect and I am truly not trying to run for first place in any competition but one has to inquire how so many upstanding citizens of an enlightened and educated populace managed to perpetrate a crime against Humanity. Specifically a life unexamined. By shielding people from the danger of examination of conscience it teaches them to hold fast to whatever the prescribed rules of conduct be at a given time in a given Society. Thou shalt not kill becomes mass murder is OK, thou shalt not bear false witness, becomes tear down anyone who dares to stand against us. Good is bad and bad is good. No good deed goes unpunished. No Law will stand in the initiation of lawlessness. Including the Courts. Which is what happened in Germany. The complete lack of personal accountability is indeed striking and yet most of them managed to get away with it. As if it never was.
November 29, 2015
And yet...
And yet today, these very atrocities are still being committed all over the world. Look to Herzegovina/Bosnia in the 90's, Somalia, (both the first and second civil wars), Tibet, Rwanda, Uganda, Brazil, North Korea and Dafur... and the list goes on and on. It is not for us to question G-d why, but instead, for us to stand up against these horrific atrocities and demand that those who are able to stand. This is the lesson we must take away from the Jewish Holocaust, where so many other countries and peoples are in the midst of their own holocausts today. It is the responsibility of the righteous, to make a stand against those who do evil, and would wipe whole peoples off the face of this earth.
February 25, 2015
Yes, that is so true! Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a leading light in Christian theology, was murdered by the final orders of Hitler. Many Christians lost their lives in the death camps as well as Jews, because they were seen as sympathetic to the Jews - indeed many Jews owe their lives to Christians who risked their own lives to save them. To question why this insanity happened is, perhaps, as the Rebbe said, not a valid question at all. Why is their such insanity - doesn't this beg the question of why is their sin? That's a tough one - why is there an evil inclination in most of us? What is the purpose of this? It's a really tough question.
February 24, 2015
While it is true that Jews were the main target of the naxi madness, thousands of non-Jews suffered the same atrocities in the concentration camps. So it is correct to speak of common suffering. Moreover, I think the Holocaust was a crime against humanity as a whole, and as such it touches anyone. And by the same token, the lessons it teaches are for all humans, now and in the future.
Marco Galbiati
London, UK
September 14, 2014
Holocaust - to anonymous Sept 10
While I do not understand every thing you wrote, you said something about the non-Jew's interest in the subject because of "common suffering".

What " common suffering?" The non-Jews never suffered anything even remotely similar to what the Jews went through. Perhaps you should read up on the Holocaust and find out what it was all about.
Shoshana - Jerusalem
September 10, 2014
Some sort of a paradox
What could be the reason for a non-Jew by which the holocaust attracts so much his attention. May be, perhaps, because Holocaust partakes a common point with suffering. Whenever it's spoken of Holocaust horrors the interior mind mirrors those horrors with its own horrors. This of course is a magnifying process but as well a spiritual process of strengthening. May be that all this is as it is because the more thinner the dog, more the fleas he can carry.