The trial of g-od

Friday, 5 August, 2022 - 5:56 am

At age fifteen, Eli Wiesel was already in Auschwitz, so writes Robert McAfee Brown in his introduction to The trial of god, a play written by Eli Wiesel. A teacher of Talmud made friends with him in Auschwitz and insisted that every time they meet, they should study together – Talmud without writing instruments, Talmud without paper, Talmud without books. That will be their act of religious defiance.

One night, the teacher took Wiesel with him back to his barracks, and there, in the presence of the young man as a single witness, three Torah scholars – learned in the Talmud, halacha and Jewish law – sued G-d, having formed a Torah court of law.

The court case lasted a few nights. Testimonies were taken, evidence gathered, conclusions reached, and in the end all of these culminated in a unanimous decision: The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Creator of heavens and earth, was found guilty of crimes against creation and humanity. And then, after what Wiesel describes as a “deathly silence”, the Torah scholar looked up at the sky and said, “It’s time for Ma’ariv,” and the members of the court went to pray the evening prayers.

My friends, this meeting point between the pain and mourning of a Jew in Auschwitz, and the firm belief and hope for a better future expressed in prayer, is most fully experienced this Shabbat, the Shabbat when we read Parashat Devarim.

Shabbat parashat Devarim is the last Shabbat before Tisha B’av, and this year it actually falls on the ninth day of the month of Menachem Av, with the fast postponed to Sunday. We have been mourning for three weeks already – not having haircuts, not listening to music, and, from the beginning of the month of Av, not eating meat, not drinking wine. But then Shabbat comes, and mourning is forbidden on Shabbat. On Shabbat we make kiddush on wine as usual, and eat the usual Shabbat foods, as if we are not in a period of mourning. 

It is a mixture of pain and joy.

It is called “Shabbat Chazon” – for two reasons: One, because the haftara from the book of Yeshayahu opens with the words “Chazon Yeshayahu”, and in it Yeshayahu laments the sins of the nation and its leaders and rebukes the people for their lack of integrity in their bringing of offerings. He also warns the people of the terrible punishment that awaits them: “Your land is laid waste, your cities consumed by fire.” The other reason for calling this Shabbat “Shabbat Chazon” is because on this Shabbat the upper levels of every Jew’s soul can view (chozeh) the future Beit Mikdash (Temple).

Past destruction and future building reign together.

And maybe – maybe – this is an integral part of our essence as a nation. We will always connect past and future, destruction and rebuilding, mourning and joy. Perhaps this is part of the secret of our survival and existence as a nation; we have never wallowed in pain and mourning, but rather always knew to lift our heads, grit our teeth, and move forward. 

Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem!

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski



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