Beyond BT contributor, Yaakov Astor has just published his latest book, The Hidden Hand. Here is an excerpt.
1941, a week before Chanukah.
Hitler’s armies are only twenty miles from the Kremlin and German soldiers even joke about catching a bus to see Stalin. Stalin, no friend of the Jews, is nevertheless vital to the safety of Jewry, as well as the world. If the Soviet capital falls, then the two-front war the Germans feared becomes only a one-front war. If Germany has to fight on only one frontâ€¦ the implications are truly frightening to ponder.
Same date — almost dawn — thousands of miles to the east, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean: Six aircraft carriers have moved into position. On their decks and in their holds, some 350 modern fighter aircraft primed for action have received the go signal. Their target: Pearl Harbor.
7:40 A.M., Hawaii time. The Japanese achieve total surprise. In fact, surprise is so complete that even before the first bomb is dropped, Squadron Commander Mitsuo Fuchida radios back to the carriers the code words for victory: Tora! Tora! Tora! (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) In less than three hours his pilots will wipe out much of the American Pacific Fleet. It will truly be a day of infamy.
However, even more infamous and insidious events are occurring this day. In German occupied territory, hundreds of miles behind the front lines, in the tiny town of Chelmno, a diabolical experiment is taking place. The hierarchies of Nazidom have already ordered the â€œfinal solutionâ€ to the Jewish question. But, practically speaking, can it be done? Can you get masses of people to walk into a death camp? Can you then exterminate them using a minimum amount of ammunition and soldiers?
In Chelmno on December 7, 1941 the Nazis find out the answer to both questions: Yes. They transport scores of Jews under the guise that they are merely being relocated east. Then they gas them in specially made vans. Historian Martin Gilbert marks Chelmno as the beginning of the Final Solution. To be sure, the Wannsee Conference in early 1942 would set the bureaucratic wheels in motion, and the wheels of the cattles cars transporting Jews to the death camps would not be rolling for several months. Nevertheless, December 7, 1941 is a particular day of infamy of the infamy known as the Holocaust, because on that day the Nazis knew their plans for making Europe Judenrein could become reality and were within their grasp.
Of Historical Moments
We are helpless, hapless creatures in the absence of divine perspective. Our helplessness is even more pronounced during momentous events. Most people are impotent to realize what is happening. And the few who do realize are at a loss to understand. And the rare individual, who perhaps understands the historic moment as it occurs, nevertheless is almost sure to lack detailed comprehension of all the implications.
Caught up in the myopia of life, historic moments cannot be fully appreciated. Time, though, is a kind of divinity in that it affords us that superhuman perspective. Even the layman armed with â€œtimeâ€ can perceive patterns and forces the most learned, perceptive person trapped in the myopia of the moment does not have the slightest inkling of.
When divergent threads of historical movement, dancing and bobbing without seeming rhyme or reason, converge into a single moment such as December 7, 1941 even the ardent secularist is hard-pressed to call it coincidence. Coincidence has been described as a letter from God delivered anonymously. Judaism employs a specific term for such coincidence: hashgachah â€” â€œDivine Providenceâ€: the acknowledgment that everything that happens happens because there is a Master Weaver expertly spinning a perfectly patterned tapestry. Sometimes the pattern is not immediately apparent. But we who know the Weaver have faith that the final design will be awe-inspiringly evident.
The truth is, however, though people invoke â€œDivine Providenceâ€ for every good occurrence, we often shy from invoking the term when events work against us. Is that fair? If God is all-powerful enough to manipulate events for our good does He lose His omnipotence when events work against us? Perceiving Divine Providence in good events is valuable; however it is relatively easy when all the parts fall into place. Knowing that Divine Providence is in full effect during bad events, though, is a higher level. It requires faith. It requires believing that there is much more happening than what meets the eyes. Therefore, Judaism teaches that Divine Providence — the Almighty’s absolute power of manipulation over every little and big detail of our lives — is every bit in operation to bring about events such as the rise of a Hitler as it is in bringing about his fall.
It should come as little surprise, then, that although December 7, 1941 looked to be the bleakest of times, in reality the reverse is true. Though President Roosevelt himself called it â€œa date which lives in infamy,â€ nevertheless in the perfect 20-20 hindsight of history we can say that the dark historical moment that was December 7, 1941 was not completely dark. In fact, like the tiny flask of uncontaminated oil discovered by the Kohanim on Chanukah it contained within it the most sublime luminescence.