Rabbi Miller on the Holocaust

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The following appeared in the February issue of Zman magazine:

American Jewry’s Advantage over Pre-WWII European Jewry

QUESTION

If the Jews before the Holocaust were in general much more religious than Jews today, is there any hope for our generation?

ANSWER

There’s great deal of hope. There’s a big difference between the status of American Jews and the status of European Jewry before WWII. I’ll quote to you from a great man who was once speaking about this when I was in Slabodka. I heard him say this:


American Jewry is going uphill; they’re getting better. Not all of them, of course. The great masses are going lost, but there is a core that’s improving — and improving in a way that never before was seen in America. It’s a great hope now. You find a lot of religious young families; people are having children and living in religious communities. There’s idealism that never existed before, including chumros, yiras shomayim and yeshivos. Of course it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s necessary for America, but it’s a tremendous explosion of Torah. There’s no question that there’s a going-up-the-mountain direction, and let’s hope that it will continue and finally maybe everybody will come back to the Torah in America.

In Europe, they were going down – and going down fast. They were rolling down the mountain at a rapid rate, getting worse and worse. Americans Jews are going up the mountain while European Jews are rolling down the mountain, but it will take a long time before they meet.

That’s what he said then.

In Europe, there were entire towns where most of the Jews had closed their stores on Shabbos. That’s how it was in Poland, Lithuania and Galicia. Most of the towns and most of the Jews closed their stores. When I say “most” you have to realize what a tragedy it was, because until WWI there wasn’t even a single store that opened up on Shabbos. If a storeowner decided to open on Shabbos in a Jewish town it was a terrible tragedy. The youth used to hang around that store, and it was like an infection for the whole town.

European Jewry was going downhill however. It will take a long time for American Jews to reach that stage, the stage where most of the Jews keep Shabbos. However, Hashem looks at the direction. Direction is of the greatest import. Where are you headed toward?

Here’s an unlearned man. He doesn’t keep much of the Torah and he doesn’t know much either. But he’s headed toward the Torah. He wants to get better. And there’s a learned man, who keeps almost everything, but he’s headed away from the Torah. His children do less than him.

Hashem doesn’t take into account so much what you do, but what you’re going to do. Where is your nose pointing? This man’s nose is pointing towards Hashem. This one is pointing away from Hashem. It makes a tremendous difference. American Jewry to a great extent is directing their steps towards Hashem, and therefore there is hope. Of course it doesn’t mean we can lean back and relax, but there is a very great phenomenon going on here.

If you remember, and of course most of you don’t, 30 years ago nothing like this existed. They didn’t even dream it would happen. And today there is a youth, a public and a lot of religious people that never existed before this way. This represents a tremendous change today in American Jewry.

And it is getting duplicated on a smaller scale in England, South Africa and Australia too. Of course, not as much as here (in America). But it’s a welcome phenomenon, and let’s hope that as a result of our faith in being directed towards Hashem maybe He will take that into consideration and give us long and happy years to succeed more and more here.

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