Below is an adaptation/translation of one of the essays in the fourth volume of the שרידי אש. These essays by the great and unusual Gaon, Rav Yechiel Yakov Weinberg, the student of איק Alter of Slobodka, and the dean of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, are breathtaking in their penetrating analysis of Jewish history, and the Mussar movement.
In this essay, he describes a conversation that takes place in a summer before World War I in a resort as the Alter and he are strolling along the sea. The Alter, begins to discuss the Halachos of the Three Weeks. He then explains the depths of the events of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. He shows the depth of Sinas Chinam that a person can sink to, and the need to examine one’s self so carefully to be sure there is no inkling of bad Middos, that can cause a person to reach such depths. He then explains why of all the events at that time, Chazal chose this as the reason for the Churban.
The Alter then challenges Rav Weinberg, to declare he is free of such tendencies. He explains who is able to fulfill the Mitzvah of hating evil, and brings from the Semak how it is a Mitzvah that only the most righteous individuals can take upon themselves. He then ends by showing how Mussar is the key to bringing the Geulah, by each person eradicating this tendency from themselves.
The second part of the essay was written by Rav Weinberg after the horror of the Shoah. He continues the idea of the Alter, and discusses how all the philosophies of history ignore the individual, and only concentrate on the movements of history. He shows how only through Mussar can an individual perfect himself, and through that one by one, bring the world to perfection. The last paragraph ends:
And only this process will bring us and the world to redemption; a personal redemption and worldwide redemption. A redemption of the nation, the land, and a redemption of the soul and the spirit. The redemption of the Jewish nation is the beginning of the renewal of human history. So long as that redemption does not come, we are to remain in mourning, keeping the customs of mourning.
There are two striking parts to this essay that commend it to being read now. One, is the analysis of Sinas Chinam and hatred of Reshaim. Who is obligated in each one, and how to perfect oneself in this Midah.
The second, in terms of history is the power of the evil Midos of an individual to change the history of the world. We live in a world, where the ego of various people affects the politics of the entire world. This overshadows the movements and philosophies and shows the power of the individual, just as one individual -Bar Kamtza, caused the Churban.
Both of these are timely, to be studied during this time. To read in its entirety, please click on the link below. One is the original Hebrew, and the other is the adaptation I wrote.
(In the original Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel ZT”L of Slobodka is referred to as the Saba. I refer to him as the Alter, as my Rebbeim referred to him. The spoken words of the Alter are in bold, the spoken words of his great student, Rav Yechiel Yakov Weinberg ZT”L are in italics.)