By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
Much has been made of the timing of Binyomin Netanyahu’s address to Congress. Delivered just two days before Purim (just over one day for those celebrating in Israel), it conjures up memories of a historic fight for survival against a nihilist enemy that was bent our national destruction.
The holiday of Purim celebrates a triumphant end to a harrowing saga, when Haman the Amalekite presented his Final Solution to Achashveirosh. Haman did not question God’s existence, but rather His willingness to intervene on behalf of a nation that “rebelled against its God (during the first commonwealth) and still have not changed their wicked ways.” (Esther Rabbah 7:13)
Haman sensed a weakness in the bond between God and His chosen nation when he observed its frivolous conduct at the royal feast in Shushan, and seized on the opportunity to permanently break that sacred link. Only through the efforts of Mordechai and Esther to focus their nation on the importance of reconnecting with its Maker (through fasting, prayer and repentance) were the Jews able to overcome the terrible decree of annihilation and emerge victorious over their archrival.
Of course, it was this same assault on the spiritual connection between the Jews and their God that inspired the Nazis, the modern day Amalekites, to attempt to achieve their goals.
Despite Hitler’s stated objective to combat attacks on German nationalism and racial purity, ideals that the Jews, in particular, had allegedly defiled through their corrupt modernistic and leftist leanings, the Nazis focused primarily on the Jewish religion, and aimed to completely debase the possessors of that special heritage.
As Emil L. Fackenheim expressed it in What is Judaism, “The whole purpose of the [Nazi] program was to reduce Israel to excrement. That program included the God of Israel.”
Historian Lucy Dawidowicz concurred:
The refinements of cruelty were reserved for pious Jews and rabbis, whose traditional Jewish garb and whose beard and side locks identified them as quintessentially Jewish. The Germans deliberately chose observant Jews to force them to desecrate and destroy the sacred articles of Judaism, even to set fire to synagogues. In some places the Germans piled the Torah scrolls in the marketplace, compelling the Jews to set fire to the pile, and dance around it. Another German pleasure was “feeding” pork to pious Jews, usually in the presence of an invited audience. [The War Against the Jews, pp. 201-202]
So focused were the Nazis on annihilating any last vestiges of the Jewish people and their religion that they willingly sabotaged their own war effort by diverting desperately needed personnel and equipment away from the front lines in order to expedite the murder of additional Jews.
Not surprisingly, countless thousands of Jews understood the deeper nature of the Nazis’ threat, and rose up in silent protest to solidify the eternal bond that linked them with their God.
Despite the severe danger associated with public prayer, “Jews prayed in thousands of secret minayim. They prayed in cellars, attics, back rooms, behind drawn blinds, with men on guard.” (Dawidowicz, p. 248) Countless other acts of spiritual heroism throughout these years have also been duly recorded.
Undoubtedly, in our attempt to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust, we must focus on the core facts, the technical information detailing the Nazis’ heinous quest to annihilate all of European Jewry. We must also honor the victims’ legacies by recounting their countless personal struggles and acts of heroism in the face of unimaginable suffering and despair.
But if we are to gain true historical insight into the Nazis’ plan for total extermination, we must understand the Holocaust as the latest attempt of Amalek to destroy the special bond that we enjoy with God and the moral responsibilities that accompany it.
Our war against Amalek is an enduring struggle of godliness versus cynicism, a battle between the holiness that emerges from a deep sense of spiritual connection and a defamatory nihilism that seeks to uproot the very essence of spirituality in this world.
It is for this reason that we are charged to completely eradicate any vestiges of such skepticism as a prerequisite for the building of the final Beis HaMikdash and the restoration, if you will, of God’s name and throne (see Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei 11).
Every generation has its Amalek. Today’s version is Iran (whom Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, recently branded as “a new Haman in Persia, threatening us with (their) nukes.”) The Iranian leadership vehemently hates the Jewish state, and their open denial of the Holocaust and oft-stated desire to eradicate the Jewish people make them a clear enemy of us all.
However, despite the correctness of Netanyahu’s position regarding the current Iranian leadership, we cannot accept his subsequent declaration suggesting that “the only guarantee for the protection of our people is the State of Israel and its army, the IDF.”
Nor can we rest with any real assurance now that Netanyahu has promised at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day five years ago, “as head of the Jewish state, that never again will we allow the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state.”
To make such assertions is to fall directly in Amalek’s trap, by removing God from the equation and placing the security of our future squarely on the shoulders of human frailty.
The true Protector of our nation has been and always will be the God of Israel. The question is whether we can recapture the requisite degree of faith necessary to usher in an era of true, everlasting peace, in which the memory of Amalek will be fully vanquished for all eternity.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Read his blog at ImpactfulCoaching.com/blog.