The Rav zt'l on Boneh Olamos U'Machrivam (God Built Worlds and Destroyed Them)
The Midrash relates that God created and destroyed many worlds before He allowed this world to remain in existence. Some of the earlier worlds were even more beautiful than the present one, but the Creator eliminated them. He then went ahead and created this world, which has endured.
What are the rabbis teaching us? What does it mean that God created and destroyed worlds? After all, He could have made this world to begin with, so why did God experiment with the earlier creations?
This Midrash conveys a very important concept to us. A person must know how to continue building and creating in life, even if his previous efforts are demolished. He cannot lose hope and must not give up. He must go ahead and build again. Perhaps the new world will not be as beautiful as the earlier one; nevertheless, he must continue to rebuild. God was able to say about His final world: "Behold it was very good". That it, the final, permanent world is very good, even though some of the earlier ones may have been more beautiful. They are gone, and we must maximize what we have now.
Today, we must judge the Torah world we are reconstructing after the Holocaust as "very good," even though earlier ones may have been more beautiful. I am very proud of the Maimonides Day School in Boston. Many times I test the students on the Humash and Rashi that they are studying. I am impressed by their knowledge and inspired by their achievements. Then I ask myself why I am so excited by such small accomplishments. After all, I saw the giants of European Torah Jewry before the Holocaust. I discussed talmudic topics with my topics with my grandfather, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk. I visited with Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinski in Vilna. I debated with Reb Shimon Shkop concerning the explanation of certain talmudic passages. I spent entire nights with Reb Baruch Leibowitz of Kaminetz attemptin to comprehend difficult rulings in the Code of Mainmonides. Why am I so impressed that American youngsters can master a little Humash with Rashi, the rudiments of Torah study?
This is the message of the re-creation of destroyed worlds. A Jew has to know how to emulate God, and, like God, to continue to create even after his former world has beem eradocated. True, what I have in Bostom may not be as beatiful before the Holocaust. Nevertheleess, it is the world we now have. We have to continue to buid it and not look back. We must not be cynical, and we should direct our atttention and efforts to the future. We must look ahead.
The Rav may not have answered the big "why the Holocaust?" question in this drasha, but he was able to extract a profound insight from a maamar chazal that no doubt brought comfort to an audience that in 1957 still hadn't even fully come to grips with the enormity of the tragedy.
What the Rav did again and again in his derashos is as important as answering the big theological questions of our time, something Rav did not do (and it is ironic that the Chazal in question is often used by apologists to explain how the fossil record is consistent with the Torah). The Rav showed that the Torah is a relevant, living thing. This very notion -- that the Torah contains sophisticated messages that speak to a modern generation -- no doubt gave enormous comfort and chizuk to his followers perhaps more than the content of those messages themselves.