Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - What Our Eyes Have Seen

"...With trials, signs and wonders, with war and a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm and awesome manifestations, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt -- before your eyes!" (Passover Haggadah)

The Midrash HaGadol explains that the plagues were "measure for measure" punishments -- midah keneged midah -- and then discusses how this was the case in detail. However, the fact that the Jewish people witnessed divine justice was particularly important -- for it removed the bilbulei emunah, doubts in matters of faith, that had assailed them during their afflictions at the hands of a remorseless oppressor.

I recently met a Holocaust survivor in the local mikveh, who mentioned a terrible incident he had experienced as a young man in the concentration camp. While lying on his bed in the barracks, a gypsy inmate suddenly entered the room and for no apparent reason clubbed him in the head with a piece of wood. He said that he suffered from dizzy spells as a result of this near-fatal blow for months afterward. (This attack was particularly surprising because as a rule, gypsies and Jews were friendly with one another.) But he never sought vengeance.

Then the day of liberation finally arrived. Allied troops entered the camp, and the prisoners were freed. He leisurely strolled through the grounds, watching what was going on, when he noticed a few Russian soldiers near a fence. One of them broke of a thick wooden slat and, for no apparent reason, approached a nearby inmate and smashed him over the head, knocking him unconscious. Then he picked the man up and tossed him into a shallow pool of water, where he drowned.

Drawing closer, the Jewish inmate saw that it was the very same gypsy who had so viciously clubbed him long ago. Thus, he lived to witness God's midas ha-mishpat, divine justice, "as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt -- before your eyes!"


At March 25, 2009 at 9:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

Interesting story.

The poster is geographically incorrect (but probably correct from design point of view).

At March 26, 2009 at 11:12:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife thought the story was mean spirited. Maybe the gypsy had simply lost his mind?

At March 29, 2009 at 5:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

loved the poster. propaganda imagery is powerful and emotive not geographic. the story is awesome and not mean spirited. there is a Judge who all answer to sooner or later
thanks Rabbi

At March 30, 2009 at 12:42:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Dovid Sears said...


Did she also think the destruction of the Egyptians before the eyes of Israel, whom they had enslaved and tormented, was "mean-spirited?" Please also note that in both cases, it was Hashem who took vengeance, not the victims.

Does she feel sorry for the perpetrators of such villainous acts?

Chazal state: "Rachamei resha'im achzari."

The point of this story was / is that part of the ge'ulah is the undoing of our sense of "cosmic injustice." The victim finally sees that the oppressor doesn't "get away with it."

However, this is one Stage One. The spiritual ge'ulah is the restoration of our lost da'as, our perception of the Divinity that underlies everything and animates everything and in which all is incorporated -- including ourselves.

At March 30, 2009 at 8:17:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Ploni said...

Rabbi Sears, your thesis assumes what it purports to prove.

The Egyptians, Nazis, etc, were clearly the villains. This gypsy - for all you and I know - was simply been a hapless victim, who *may* have lost his mind.

For us Jews to judge concentration camp victims like this gypsy seems to me presumptuous. If there was some context to this story, like the gypsy being a kapo or having a history of violence, then things would be quite different> However you clearly wrote that the violence he perpetrated was "for no apparent reason ".

Having read some of your books, I am frankly a little surprised by your attitude.

Am I missing something?

At March 31, 2009 at 2:39:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Dovid Sears said...


I think I am not succeeding in understanding you, either.

This Jew did not take vengeance on the man who brutally attacked him. He didn't even pray for Hashem to take vengeance, from the way he told the story.

But on the day of liberation, he witnesed this extremely unusual act of violence on the part of the Russian soldiers, and understood that Hashem -- b'hashgachaso ha-nora -- was showing him this for a reason: that the divine justice that had been so hidden during the Nazi ordeal -- and which still was largely hidden, even after the prisoners were liberated -- was not truly absent.

And that's what the Jewish victims of the Egyptians who had enslaved them witnessed during the Exodus, too. And we mention this every year when we recite the Haggadah.

I guess it is possible that the gypsy was not responsible for his actions, and that his murder was another seeming injustice. But why do you make this highly unlikely assumption?

The plain sense of it was that he was a vicious and murderous individual, who would take out his rage on anyone weaker than himself, especially Jews -- and whose fate was like that of the famous skull Hillel saw floating down the stream, and remarked, "Because you drowned others, they have drowned you; and those who drowned you will be drowned in turn..." We contemplate the same thing when we sing "Chad Gadya" at the end of the Seder.

This vicious cycle, I agree, is tragic.

PS: Were you ever beaten up for being a Jew? Do you feel that the people who attacked you responsible for what they were doing? Do you understand how this Holocaust survivor felt? I can answer "yes" to each of these questions (although only partially to the one about the Holocaust survivor, whose suffering admittedly far exceeds anything I have known).

Maybe this is where we are failing to connect.

At March 31, 2009 at 9:46:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Ploni said...

"The plain sense of it was that he was a vicious and murderous individual, who would take out his rage on anyone weaker than himself, especially Jews"

If that WAS the case, then I agree with you. It's just that the story you told did not provide details to necessarily make that conclusion.

"Were you ever beaten up for being a Jew?"

BH, no. Seems I must have grown up in a more civilized place than you ;) But I understand your pint, and I completely understand the attitude of your friend the survivor.


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