Monday, August 11, 2008

Seeing a Tragedy

During the period that led up to the outbreak of World War I, tensions in Europe were at an all-time high. The conflicting nationalistic aspirations of numerous groups threatened the stability of all of Europe, and many monarchies were on the brink of civil war at home, and war over territorial claims at their borders. During the summer immediately preceding the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Yugoslavia that began World War I, Europe was aptly compared to a powder keg, just waiting for the final spark to set it alight.
At that time, a number of gedolim proposed that a universal fast be declared over the Jewish community and circulated a petition to garner support.
When the matter became known, a certain communal leader declared that his vehement opposition. He publicly stated, “Right now, the Jewish Communists, Socialists, Zionists, and Bundists are presenting an unprecedented affront to G-d. Why should we, orthodox Jewry, have to fast because of their sins?”
The petitioners responded with an obvious answer. “The Medrash says clearly that since we are all in the same boat, it doesn’t matter if it is someone else’s fault that we are sinking because he has decided to drill a hole! To save ourselves, we have to undo the damage made by the other person.”
And, as for not waiting for disaster to strike but rather making an effort to pre-empt it, they had a perfect argument. “We find on Taanis 19a that Rabi Yosi said that the sages didn’t declare a fast because a tragedy had already happened. Rather, they declared a fast because they were able to see that a potential tragedy was looming on the horizon. ‘They declared a fast because wolves had devoured two young children on the far side of the Yarden. Rabi Yosi said: They weren’t eaten, they were seen…’ If the Chachomim felt that just spotting the wolves is enough of a reason to declare a fast, surely our situation is no less threatening! And we pasken like Rabi Yosi!”

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