Sign In Forgot Password

On Syria and our Sins - Never again

09/02/2013 03:22:04 PM


Almost exactly 75 years ago, as Nazi Germany swallowed up Czechoslovakia, the civilized world decided it would do its very best to avoid any sense of humanity or responsibility.

Neville Chamberlain declared that, to risk British lives “because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing” was nonsensical. The result was a year of peace, followed by the most terrible war the world has ever seen.

And at the end of that war, after Hitler’s, yimach shemo deeds had proven to be, not worse, but exactly what his words had said they would be –the whole world declared “never again”; never again will we stand by and wring our hands at genocide, at massacre, at the systematic destruction of people in their multitudes.

And now apparently, it is necessary to ask what exactly did we mean, what exactly did the world mean, when it said ‘never again’? If a regime, in full view of the international community, can, in broad daylight gas 1400 of its own people, including hundreds of children, in a conflict that has dragged on for years and already killed over 100,000 people, what exactly was never again supposed to mean?

I have no solution to the Syrian crisis – how can we possibly choose between Hezbollah and al Qaida? Who can possibly know what outcome is best? But the fact is that we, America, the civilized world, have allowed this to happen, have allowed tyrants and evil doers to understand that there are no real red lines, there is no real consequence for enslaving your people, for barbarism, for mass murder and genocide.
Chamberlain’s appeasement did not stop Hitler. It made the coming war worse. When evil is on the loose, it doesn't quietly give up – it destroys everything in its path until it is stopped.

What is happening in Syria is the result of our failure to stop it. Now the problem is nearly unsolvable. But that doesn't mean that it will go away.

This morning in shul we recited a prayer of Rav Cherlow asking for the protection of the suffering people of Syria – in doing so we echoed the words and the example of Avraham Avinu – who davened for the people of Sdom, even though they were his, in effect enemies, and he davened for the Almighty to spare their lives.
As we will say on Rosh Hashanah, al medinot yomar, eyzeh lcherev eyzeh lishalom – and about countries it is decided, which for war which for peace…

Rav Dessler wrote to a person who had turned to him in need of motivation, inspiration for Davening on Rosh Hashanah. “Imagine” - and this was in the 1930s - he said, “look back at all the events of this past year, the rising wave of terror that we are powerless to prevent, and understand very well my son that these were all decreed for the world last Rosh Hashanah.”

So as we see evil on the march, the most unstable situation surrounding Israel, our brothers and sisters queuing for gas masks – how do we approach these yamim noraim? Only one way – purposefully, seriously, prayerfully - understanding that so much depends on our efforts our Teshuvah.

I spoke a few moments ago about that now seemingly hollow phrase – “never again”
But what about ourselves – surely we said “never again”, many times, year after year – in the words of the Rambam, when we do Teshuva we make a heartfelt commitment that

ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה

I will never again repeat those deeds, that sin – and yet, here, once again, we find ourselves on Slichot night, with the same sins as before.

Why can’t we stop ourselves? What happened to our ‘never again’?

In a beautiful essay Rav Solovetchik pointed out that at the heart of teshuva lies one powerful idea:

That man, human kind is not weak, he is powerful. That our resolve to change can succeed. That we are powerful enough, we are not subjects, we can indeed change, change ourselves, obliterate our past, change our fate.

That is what lies at the heart of Teshuvah – the understanding, G-d's lesson that we can be, when we are determined, so very strong.

Sin comes from weakness. Refusal to do Teshuvah from despair. But Teshuvah requires a belief in our strength – that we can mold the world in the way we want it to be.

We excuse ourselves by saying that we are weak. But we are not.

It's an awesome task – we face it as a society, a civilization – to ensure, to see to the ending of shedding of innocent blood. We are not allowed to say ‘ we are powerless to help.’ Because we are not weak, we can be strong.

And we are strong enough to resolve to change, to do Teshuvah , to return to Hashem with all our hearts and with all our minds.

Wed, June 3 2020 11 Sivan 5780