This week we present a multi-layered letter dealing with a number of topics – including: protestation against G-d as proof of belief in Him, why prayer and the case of “Acher” . But it is the topic of the resurgence of Nazism that is of particular interest – as the topic of renewed antisemitism today is again making headlines. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
15th of Teveth, 5727
New York, N.Y.
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your two letters.
The matter of the name has placed me in a somewhat awkward position, for I noted, indeed, that you omitted your signature on one letter, and only signed your surname on the other. Needless to say, I had no Intention of embarrassing you when writing to me; nor was any stricture implied. I only hoped that you would accept my suggestion (which I considered important) – but not with any feeling of “defeat “as you mention, but rather out of your own conviction. However, if you are not yet ready to do so, then surely, as I have already indicated, every person in master of his own name, and no one, myself included, could possibly take offense.
It seems to me that one of the reasons which stands in your way of making the change is how to explain it, should you be asked, ‘Ma yom mi-yomayim?” Hence your inclination to connect it with a trip to Eretz Ytsroel, in order to have an explanation. If this is the only reason, or the main reason, surely you already have two substantial explanations: First, the occasion of your son’s recent marriage the most important occasion for any mother; especially as your son has in fact used the name publicly. Secondly, there is the resurgence of the so-called “Neo-Nazism” in Germany.
The fact that Nazism has brazenly reared its ugly head again should have logically evoked a fitting protest, and not merely mild “declarations” of regret at opportune occasions, declarations which are promptly countered by other declarations made by differently orientated political leaders with a view to deflating their opponents by making light of the whole matter. In the face of the real danger, real action is called for, or at least a tangible protest. The rejection of a German name in a demonstrative manner would be a form of expressing such a protest. And let no one underestimate the importance of even a single act by a single individual – a principle reflected, like everything else, in the Torah and Jewish way in the well known teaching of our Sages. Indeed, it is of such practical importance that the Rambam quotes it in his Code (Hil. Teshuva 3:4) to wit, that a person, whatever his station and standing, should earnestly consider even a single mitzvah as a means of tipping the scale of merit in his favor and in favor of the whole world; and vice versa.
In passing I may add that the indifference shown by the various powers towards what is happening in present-day Germany, writing it off as “Neo-Nazism” or similar phase, is most astonishing. There is nothing new in this Nazism or general German policy. It is the same old story of history repeating itself, which, I believe, is common knowledge, but no one wishes to admit it publicly, arid perhaps there is good reason for this. It is the repetition of the Versailles Treaty in a different setting, and it is not surprising that the developments are following the same course which in the past led to such disastrous con sequences. May G-d grant that the danger be averted in good time, and that “affliction shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9).
…I will not extend this discussion further… only conclude with the observation that, in your position, if you were to make this gesture and give up a Germanic name and accept a Hebrew name instead, it would have a telling effect.
Turning to the other topic of our correspondence, namely, my suggestion that one’s protestations against G-d are in themselves proof of belief in the existence of G-d, perhaps I did not make myself clear that it is not the negation which I consider as proof, but rather the manner in which it is expressed. For, when one declares his atheism once and for all and henceforth has no place for G-d in his thoughts, lexicon and daily life, then the matter is settled. However, when one claims that G-d does not exist, yet every time he sees an injustice in the world he experiences pain and promptly demands, “Where Is G-d?” – his returning to the same theme again and again is proof that deep in his heart he believes in G-d, which is precisely why he feels so hurt and outraged. More importantly still, not only does he believe in a Supernatural Being in general, but in One Who has all the attributes which Jews attach to Him, namely, that He takes an interest in human affairs, although “If thou be righteous, what gives thou Him,” etc. (Job 35:7). Furthermore, He intervenes in the daily life of each individual to such an extent as to listen to prayer. And the Jewish concept of prayer is not that of a tranquilizer or a form of emotional relief which even a psychiatrist could approve; for such deception is contrary to the spirit of any religion, particularly to our Torah, Toras Emes. Our tefilo includes the prayer for “wisdom, understanding and knowledge” from the One “Who bestows the gracious gift of knowledge,” just as it includes the prayer for healing from the One “Who heals the sick of His people Israel” in the plain sense of these words. Of course, I do not need much convincing that our prayers include profound meaning and esoteric allusions in the realm of Kabbala, etc. But primarily the plain meaning of our prayer is first and foremost, namely, our dependence upon G-d for our elementary needs, “bread to eat and raiment to put on.”
I am, of course, aware of the contentions raised against the above, some of them mentioned in your recent article, and before. Specifically it is asked, how is it possible for a Being Who is not a body, nor a form, nor subject to change, etc., to be swayed by prayer to give rain where no rain came before, and so forth? But the fact that the human intellect cannot comprehend something proves nothing but just that it is incomprehensible, and, we have already been told long ago that “He is incomprehensible to those who comprehend by the senses.” There is no need to belabor a problem with which Jews and gentiles have wrestled since days immemorial to this very day. I am certain that it is not because of this bothersome question that the unbeliever lost his faith, but rather to the contrary: having lost his faith, he seeks to appease his conscience by means of this problem.
1n your letter you have mentioned several times the case of Elisha ben Avuya (“Acher”). However, our Sages of the Talmud have generally been concerned with practical. halacha, and whatever references we find about him, they were not intended to give us a complete picture of the man. But from the available material we gather that it was rather a case of the problem of “duality” (two “reshuyos”) which bothered him (cf. Chagiga 15a), and not that he became and remained a convinced atheist.
With regard to my attitude toward college attendance for Jewish boys, I need only cite your own reasoning in support of my position. You illustrate your point by saying that where a person contracts a contagious disease, there must be someone ready to take the risk in an effort to heal him, rather than abandon him altogether. I will use this same analogy to give you my answer. Indeed, as is customary among Jews, I will put my answer in the form of a question in reply to your question: Have you met any mother who tried to persuade her son to choose for his career the field of contagious diseases and none other, when he wishes to choose some other means of parnosso not fraught with danger? To make my point even stronger, what would you think of a mother who, pressing her son to choose that dangerous career, insists upon his getting started right away by mixing with sick people already infected with dangerous and contagious diseases, coming in contact with them daily, on the assumption that he would somehow learn how to take the necessary precautionary measures not to be infected, and in this way might someday become a specialist in this field and bring relief and cure to the unfortunate sufferers? I believe any mother can realize that in this case the danger is certain and immediate, while the chances of becoming a specialist are, at best, years away. The analogy is obvious.
As you can see from the way this letter has been addressed to you, and to conclude on the note with which it started, I will take the liberty of addressing you by your Hebrew name, as it appeared on the wedding invitation – until you will advise me otherwise. But, to repeat, you are master of your name, and the final word is yours.