When in Rome

“Tishah B’Av is a very hard time for me,” a friend told me. “I spent the past two days watching endless hours of videos about the Holocaust.” What prompted this emotional comment? He had booked a getaway months ago in Hotel Alpen Karawarensera — which, interestingly enough, was frequented be Harav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, in his last four summers — in Saalbach, Austria. They traveled via Munich National Airport. “The absolute last place in the world that I wanted to be,” he lamented, “was Germany!” The land soaked with centuries of Jewish blood.

Another member of his group had a stopover in Rome. Then, a connecting flight to Munich. Just two days after sitting on the floor and reading Kinah after Kinah about what the Romans — and Germans — inflicted upon our People. He didn’t find the irony humorous. “What in the world,” he railed inwardly, “am I doing in these countries that reek with Jewish death and destruction?!”

A valid question, right?

I cannot help but wonder, though, if it’s similar to the confounding problem faced by Yirmiyahu and Daniel. Yoma 69b tells us that they could not employ the full expression, “Gadol, Gibor, v’Nora.” “Where,” Yirmiyahu wailed, “is the awesomeness of Hashem if the gentiles are wildly carrying on in His Beis Hamikdash?!” “And where,” lamented Daniel, “is the might of Hashem, now that His People are cast into exile, bent under the yoke of oppressors?!” These were not idle musings. Yirmiyahu actually omitted Nora from the davening. For all of Klal Yisrael! And Daniel omitted Gibor. The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah, though, reinstated the crown to its rightful place. “On the contrary,” they insisted, “Hashem withholding His wrath — despite the abominable actions committed in His palace — is an exquisite expression of His might.” So they reinstated Gibor. “And that’s precisely how we see His awesomeness,” they subsequently declared, “for how else could one nation survive scattered among so many others?!” They brought back Nora.

Appearances can be deceiving. At first glance, the Churban and galus look like a situation in which it is simply impossible to talk about the might and awesomeness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And, indeed, as Harav Moshe Twersky, Hy”d, emphasized, there is a facet of Hashem’s might and awesomeness that is only manifest when Klal Yisrael is sovereign in Eretz Yisrael with a Beis Hamikdash and the Shechinah among them; and Yirmiyahu and Daniel saw only that inestimably higher level of Gibor v’Nora. Nonetheless, the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah revealed to us that — even in our current, deplorable situation — if you look past the surface, a fantastic expression of Hashem’s might and awesomeness comes sharply into focus.

True, traveling to Rome or Germany seems to be awfully out of place — at first glance — straight away after Tishah B’Av. But step back and think about this situation for a minute. The Romans and Germans wanted nothing more than to crush us. Judenrein was not just a central ambition of Nazi Germany, it was a full-fledged obsession. Hitler, ym”s, acted similarly to an addict in his passion to kill as many of us as possible. Even in Germany’s death throes of World War II, the Juggernautish Jew-killing machine never let up. On the contrary, it only intensified. Hitler knew the war was lost. He saw the end coming, and he maddeningly sped up his extermination efforts while the opportunity was yet in his hands. And now look. It’s some 2,000 years since the Romans took their stab at it, and a measly 71 since Germany had their go. And here you have large numbers of Jews — obviously identifiable as such — freely treading the ground of those who so badly wanted nothing more than to ensure that no Jew should ever lay foot in their land again. Their descendants are avidly providing manifold services to frum Jews enjoying a vacation to refresh their energies to continue their meaning-laden Torah-true lives. Is that not a tremendous triumph? Is that not an inestimable mark of victory over our erstwhile oppressors?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, famously said that he visited the Alps so that he would have what to answer when, after 120, he would be asked, “Did you ever bother to go see My Alps?” Yes, Europe is eternally stained with an incredible amount of Jewish blood, but at the end of the day, laHashem haaretz u’meloah — it’s not their land; it belongs to the Borei Olam. And if Hashem sees fit to currently enable Jews to see His Alps, we can take that as an opportunity — even while recognizing the deplorable state of galus in which we continue to live, and intensely yearning for the Geulah — to see in such a situation a tremendous expression of consolation and affirmation of the eternality of the Jewish People.