Month: August 2011

The Hidden Hand & The Holocaust

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Last year I spoke at the Holocaust Museum & Study Center in Spring Valley, NY, on Tisha B’Av. Feel free to download, listen and distribute this lecture entitled: Astor Tisha Bav 5770 Finkelstein Holocaust Museum.

National Tragedies on Tisha B’Av in History

“Then the entire congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.” (Bamidbar 14:1)

Rabbah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: “That night was Tisha B’Av. Hakodosh Baruch Hu, said, ‘They cried for no valid reason; I will establish for them [this night as] a weeping for generations.’” (Sotah 35a)

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On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the First and Second Temples were destroyed, Beitar was captured and the City [Jerusalem] was ploughed up. (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)

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  • Bnai Yisrael were told they would not live to enter the Land of Israel (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)
  • The First Bais HaMikdash was destroyed (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)
  • The Second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)
  • The City of Beitar was captured[1] (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)
  • The Temple Mount was ploughed[2] (Mishnah Taanis 4:6)
  • On Tisha B’Av — July 18, 1290 — Edward I (1272-1307) issued an edict of expulsion for the Jews from England
  • Tisha B’Av, 1492, was the deadline of the Royal Decree expelling the Jews of Spain on pain of death
  • World War I began on Tisha B’Av — August 1, 1914[3]
  • The Final Solution was unleashed in full force on Tisha B’Av 1942 as the first Jews of the Warsaw[4] Ghetto were gassed at Treblinka (see The Hidden Hand – The Holocaust by Yaakov Astor)

Healing through our Wounds

“I [Hashem] will heal you with your own wounds” (Yirmiyahu 30:17). Hashem not only heals us from our wounds but heals us with our wounds. By the same token, says the Midrash, Yosef fell into great misfortune because of his dreams, but dreams also brought about his salvation. If we are far-seeing enough, we will see that Hashem not only heals us from our wounds but heals us with our wounds.

Even more so, He prepares the healing in advance of the wound (Megillah 13b). Rabbi Berel Wein illustrates this via the events of Tisha B’Av, 1492:

OnAugust 2, 1492,Spainbecame a graveyard of Jewish hopes and lives. The Talmud teaches, however, that God provides the cure before giving the illness, and that black day had a ray of light in it; a ray of light borne on three small ships that many feared would fall over the edge of the world. OnAugust 3, 1492,Columbusset out on his historic voyage. He, in fact, writes in his log how he was delayed in the harbor by the traffic of ships evacuating the Jews….

The journey of Christopher Columbus across the frighteningAtlanticmust be reckoned as one of the turning points in the history of civilization….America, and all that it would later come to represent, would masterEurope, inexorably change it, and itself usurp the dominant role in the story of man. But all of this was not yet visible even to the most far-seeing savants ofEurope, in 1492….

Only later would the irony of the Divine plan be seen: on that very day when Spain chose to close out six centuries of intense and productive Jewish life on its soil, Columbus sailed to discover a new continent where there would be a safe haven for Jews (and others) and where the people of Israel would once again be able to rise to a preeminent role in general society. That black day in August 1492 had a ray of brightness to it. Pity that this did not become apparent for another four centuries. (Triumph of Survival, pp. 38-9)

Thus, the wheels of the Divine Plan were already in motion. As the epoch of Spanish Jewry was coming to a close, the seeds of American Jewry were to be planted. The healing was prepared before the wound.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed a deadline beyond which all Jews remaining in Spainmust either convert or die at the stake – a day that fell on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Templesin Jerusalem. To the tens of thousands of Jews crossing the border to lives of suffering and uncertainty, the date was a Divine omen, signifying that though God was angry with them, He had not forgotten them. (Triumph of Survival, p. 3)

Tisha B’Av teaches us that though Hashem allows the Jewish people to suffer, He is nevertheless with us. He wants us to learn our lessons and benefit from the knowledge won. We may not understand why Hashem allows national tragedies to occur, but we are comforted by the knowledge that He has a plan and ultimately it will be for our good… even if we cannot see it at the time.

(Excerpted from The Hidden Hand – The Holocaust by Yaakov Astor)


[1] [About 65 years after the destruction of the Second Bais HaMikdash, Beitar was] a city where tens of thousands of Jews lived who were led by a great king whom all of Israel and its Sages thought was Mashiach. The city fell to the Romans and all its inhabitants were killed. It was a catastrophe akin to the Temple’s destruction (Rambam, Laws of Fasting 5:3). Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed (Gittin 57a). The Romans not only slaughtered the inhabitants of Beitar, but they refused to allow them to be buried (Berachos 48b).

[2] Employing an army of slaves, the Roman Emperor Hadrian lowered the Temple Mount almost 1,000 feet. He simply plowed it. When one goes to Jerusalem today, the mountains around the Temple Mount (such as the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus) are taller. Before Hadrian, however, Mount Moriah (the mountain upon with the Bais HaMikdash stood) was the highest mountain there. Hadrian literally reconstructed the landscape in order to prove to the Jews that it would never be rebuilt again. (Rabbi Berel Wein, Travels Through Jewish History, Lecture 12, “The Destruction of the Second Temple”)

[3] In many ways, World War II was simply the continuation of WW I, since the treaty that ended it (the Versailles Treaty) was the direct cause of World War II (and, ultimately, the Holocaust).

[4] Birthplace and home to some of the greatest Torah giants over the centuries, Warsaw boasted by far the largest concentration Jews, and, therefore, more than any other city, symbolized European Jewry. The deportation and extermination of its population in the death camp of Treblinka can be seen as a microcosm of the entire Holocaust itself. If so, the “Final Solution” – the term commonly used to signify the systematic extermination of Jews in death camps ─ can be said to have been fully unleashed on the ninth of Av 1942.

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Zman – Av: “I had 3 million Jews in my hands and they were torn away”

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"I had 3 million Jews in my hands and they were torn away."

In This Issue

Striking It Rich… In The Catskills?

You’ve heard of Texas oil magnates. Now, allow us to introduce you to… Catskill gas magnates. Yes, you’ve heard right. Beneath the soil of our beloved Catskill Mountains, the yearly summer refuge for thousands of Jewish vacationers, lies a hidden treasure – a large reservoir of natural gas that can possibly spawn a new generation of Jewish tycoons and Torah philanthropists. How will this affect the myriad religious summer camps and bungalow colonies across the Catskills?

On the Trail of the Tylenol Terrorist

In 1982, a coldblooded murderer slipped cyanide into bottles of Tylenol, resulting in seven deaths. The entire nation was thrown into a panic that nearly spelled the end for Tylenol and many other medicines — and spawned “copycat” incidents that killed more. After 29 years with no convictions, is the FBI at last “On the Trail of the Tylenol Terrorist”?

 “The World Is Coming To An End!”

On May 21, 2011, the world almost stopped – well, not really. However, that was the day the world was supposed to stop according to a famous American Christian preacher. Of course, May 21 came and went, and so did the millions of dollars his supporters had donated to advertise the end of the world. In the year 1524, millions of people were also convinced that the world was about to come to an end. Read about the Great Panic of 1524 and other strange panics that teach us more about human psychology than the apocalypse.

The Dark Side of FDR

While America and her allies deserve great credit for ending the hellish reign of the Nazis, and thus playing a crucial role in the survival of the remnant of European Jews, they failed to act and even at times prevented actions that could have saved countless Jewish lives! Shockingly, it was one of America’s most beloved presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was responsible for bureaucracy and decisions that resulted in countless preventable deaths. Even more shockingly, he did so with the full backing and even the proactive involvement of some of America’s most prominent Jewish “leaders”!

Soul on Fire

Already a legend in his lifetime, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl rose to even greater heights when the circumstances of the Holocaust forced him into the role of rescue worker. Often maligned by the secular world, efforts to refute his claims and minimize his efforts have been disproven time and again.Zman had the privilege of an exclusive interview with one of Reb Michoel Ber’s sons, who undertook to uphold his father’s legacy, defending him against those who sought to diminish the undeniable influence of his fiery father in the field of wartime rescue.

A Ride with Ohio’s State Police Aviation Unit

They are not your typical state police traversing the highways for speeding drivers. Rather they are a division of the police that do their work from 1,500 feet or higher. Find out what a day in the life of an airborne Ohio traffic cop is like, how they work and what the type of driver behavior they are looking for that will trigger a ticket.

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Smoking

When Columbus sailed from Spain in search of spices and gold, he hardly expected that among his most treasured finds would be… tobacco. A Marrano Jew traveling with Columbus was the first European to take a puff of tobacco. Seven years later, smoking had become common in Spain. Zman presents this important and informative article, authored by a highly respected oncologist, that covers not only on the history of smoking, but current information about its medical and halachic aspects (the latter reviewed by our Rabbinic authority).