Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Alon Goshen-Gottstein – The Question of God and Auschwitz

Strona: 5

Text 2: Esh Kodesh, Mattot,
Numbers 30:2–32:42, July 11, 1942

It is impossible to achieve prophecy in a state of depression. The Talmud (Shabbath 30) says: “The Divine Presence rests upon a person only through simcha (joy), and similarly in matters of Halachah (law).” You can only arrive at the proper ruling of the Law based on joy, not through sadness. This also affects a person’s ability to take some homiletical teaching from painful experience, for even this is impossible if a person is grief-stricken and spirit-crushed. There are even times when it is impossible for a person to force himself to say anything, or to interpret events because of the immensity of the breakdown and decline, may the Merciful One protect us.
Listen to this situation. Everything is breaking down. People are dying, people are sick, people are hungry. They come to him, and they want the interpretation. We are back to the whole question of whether or not we can offer the interpretation. He says: “I’m too broken. From where do I take the power to explain, from where do I take the power to interpret?” You can’t provide meaning if you are crushed. To provide meaning you need strength. If you don’t have that strength, how do you provide meaning?
You can hear his situation: You are so grief-stricken. You have lost your family, you have lost everyone. You can’t draw any lesson. This brings me back to my earlier introduction about the difficulty of drawing lessons and providing meanings.
With what can he strengthen himself, at least a little, so long as salvation has not appeared? And with what can the spirit be elevated, even the tiniest bit, while crushed and broken like this?
Powerful questions grow out of his situation. What is the answer?
Firstly, with prayer and with faith that God, Merciful Father, would never utterly reject His children. It cannot be possible, God forbid, that He would abandon us in such mortal danger as we are now facing for His blessed Name’s sake. Surely, He will have mercy immediately, and rescue us in the blink of an eye – but with what shall we gather strength over those, the holy ones, who have already, God protect us, been murdered – relatives, loved ones, and others, unrelated Jews, many of whom touch us like our very own soul? And how will we encourage ourselves, at least somewhat, in face of the terrifying reports, old and new, that we hear, shattering our bones and dissolving our hearts? With the thought that we are not alone in our suffering; God, blessed be He, who bears it with us, as it were, as it is written, (Psalm 91:15) “I am with him in distress.”
So there is no ability to draw a lesson, there is no possibility to give meaning. What is the religious response? The realization that we are not alone in our suffering. So you see that the teaching of suffering with God functions as the way of being present to God even in the midst of the situation.
 And not with just this thought but with another additional reflection: There is suffering we endure individually for our sins, or pangs of love that soften and purify us. In all of this, God merely suffers with us. But then there is suffering in which we suffer with Him, so to speak – suffering for the sanctification of God’s name.
The reversal is not just that we suffer with Him, but that we suffer for Him. Our suffering is taken as a form of martyrdom for God’s name.
So you see this text bringing forth again the idea of suffering with God. You see it contextualized, you see the tension between trying to find legitimate meaning, and what is not legitimate meaning, and you see the new idea of sanctification of God’s name as one more nuance in how to make sense of it all.
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