PARSHAS LECH LECHA 5775
The Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira zt’l, was one of the revered Torah leaders of the previous generation. He was also a survivor of the horrors and travails of the Holocaust.
One day during the war when still a prisoner, the Rebbe was chopping logs in the forest when he saw a new train pull into the camp’s station. As the new inmates were quickly unloaded, he noticed that there were many young mothers clutching infants. A Nazi officer demanded that all mothers holding infants immediately assemble in a public square. It was clear to all that they were going to be sent off for immediate extermination.
Suddenly, the Rebbe heard a woman cry out, “A messer, a messer (A knife, hand me a knife)”. The Rebbe quickly ran over to the woman. He tried to persuade her that despite the grim situation she should not resort to unacceptable acts, such as taking her own life or that of her child. The Rebbe gently but firmly explained, “A child is granted to us by G-d, but it still belongs to G-d. No one, not even a parent, has the right to jeopardize that child’s life. Ending someone else’s life is a breach of trust.”
Before the Rebbe had a chance to finish a Nazi struck him on the head and barked, “What conspiracy are you a part of, you Jewish dog?” The Rebbe calmly replied, “I am neither a traitor nor a conspirator. This woman requested a knife and I explained to her that it is forbidden for her to take her, or her child’s, life”. The Nazi looked suspiciously at the woman, “Why did he think you were about to commit suicide?” The woman corroborated the Rebbe’s words, “Because I requested a knife.”
An evil smile spread across the Nazi’s face. He relished the opportunity to watch a woman who had given up hope kill herself and her child. He took out a sharp knife he was carrying from its case and handed it to the accepting mother.
The woman clutched the knife and, without a trace of fear or sorrow, she opened her baby’s diaper and exclaimed with deep emotion: “Father in Heaven, you have given me a Divine gift, a pure soul. The only thing that I, as a simple woman, know is that you have granted me a holy unblemished soul and I must return him to you as a holy soul. G-d has given and G-d has taken, may His Holy Name be blessed forever and ever.”
With that she fervently proclaimed the appropriate blessings and circumcised her son. Then she handed the blood-stained knife back to the dumbfounded Nazi.
October 30, 1988 (16 MaCheshvan 5749) marked the fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ominous night that served as the prelude for the Holocaust. It was the final warning of the imminent destruction of European Jewry, and all the horrors endemic to it.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l, leader of the Jewish-German community in Washington Heights, New York, gave an address in his renowned synagogue, Khal Adath Jeshurin, in commemoration of that night.
Rabbi Schwab questioned why the night has been immortalized as “Kristallnacht” which, although is loosely translated as “The night of broken glass”, literally means, “Crystal night”. It is certainly true that during that night hundreds of Jewish stores were ransacked and the glass from the front windows were shattered and littered the streets. However, that seems like a trivial detail in comparison with the other ghastly events that occurred. Hundreds of synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were torched, including hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of holy books. Scores of innocent Jews were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night, in full view of their families, and many were brutally killed. The broken glass that lay strewn on the streets was insignificant compared to the other atrocities that occurred. Glass could be swept up and cleaned, but the lives and synagogues that were destroyed were irreparable.
Rabbi Schwab explained that by calling this night Kristallnacht we unknowingly express a profound truth. Crystal is a precious white diamond, and it resembles the glittering glass used for fancy vases, chandeliers, and expensive vessels. It is also most fragile and, when not handled with utmost care, can shatter into a thousand pieces.
The Jews who lived in Germany during the decades prior to World War II felt deeply connected to German culture, and even its people. For over one hundred and fifty years, from when they were emancipated, the Jews blended with their neighbors.
“Most of them felt that they wished to be part and parcel of “the Fatherland”. They were enthralled by the poetry and philosophy of Schiller, Goethe, Kant, and Schopenhauer. They were enamored of the Deutsche punctuality, music, order and other traits. However, all this was just pure glitter, a beautiful illusion. But then the synagogues were set aflame and innocent people were hauled away, and there was no active response from the disciples of Schiller, Goethe, Kant, and Schopenhauer, or by any of the European nations which subscribed to western culture. This magnificent glass was smashed to smithereens, and Germany became again the land of darkness… Kristallnacht was the night that these false illusions burst.”
In the year 2047 from Creation, Avrohom Avinu was ninety-nine years old. Avrohom had already established himself as the great believer and champion of monotheism. He had multitudes of disciples and had withstood every challenge and test that had been posed to him.
G-d appeared to Avrohom to establish a new covenant with him. He informed Avrohom that he was to become, “Av hamon goyim- a father of a multitude of nations,” and then permanently altered his name from Avrom to Avrohom.
G-d continued, “I will sustain my covenant between Me and you, and between your descendants after you throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant… I will give to you and your offspring after you the land of your sojourns- the whole Land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a G-d to them.” The revelation concluded with G-d commanding Avrohom to circumcise himself and all of his future male offspring when they are eight days old. Despite Avrohom’s advanced age and the difficulty involving undergoing such a procedure, Avrohom did not waver and fulfilled G-d’s Command dutifully.
The Netziv of Volozhin derives from these verses profound and fundamental ideas regarding the role and destiny of Klal Yisroel, the ‘Chosen descendants’ of Avrohom. He explains that Avrohom was to become, not only the progenitor of the Chosen People, but also a shining example for the entire world. Although his mission was not to transform everyone into members of the Chosen People, he still had to infuse all of mankind with an understanding and belief that there is but One True Eternal G-d. In this sense Avrohom was deemed “the father of a multitude of nations”. Just as a father guides his son along the proper path so would Avrohom teach the world the truth.
Immediately after G-d instructed Avrohom about the unique role he would play vis-à-vis all of humanity, G-d commanded him to circumcise himself. The Netziv explains that this commandment symbolized a vital distinction that Avrohom and his descendants had to comprehend. Despite the fact that Avrohom was to be an example for the nations he still had to maintain a level of separateness from those nations. Being the ‘lodestar for the world’ did not entail that Avrohom equate himself and mingle with all of the heretical nations. Rather, by maintaining his uniqueness and by remaining steadfast to the laws commanded to him, that alone would allow Avrohom to become an example of divinity and the representative of G-d, as it were, in the world.
G-d also then reiterated His assurance that Avrohom’s descendants would inherit the Promised Land. Although G-d already pledged Canaan to Avrohom during the “Covenant between the pieces” (b’ris bein hab’sarim), when Avrohom was commanded to be an example for the nations, he may have worried that he would then be forced to live among the nations in order to fulfill his role. Therefore, G-d repeated that Avrohom and his progeny would merit the land. When Klal Yisroel lives in their homeland and abides by the laws of the Torah, that alone is a symbol to the rest of the world of the Eternity and Oneness of G-d.
Rabbi Schwab explained that the ‘crystal’ shattered on the heinous night of Kristallnacht in Germany represents the obliteration of their fragile sense of trust and false ideologies. On that night the lies they had come to believe as truth came crashing down before them.
We can contrast that with Avrohom whose entire life was “Kristalleben- a crystal life.” Avrohom, the example for the whole world, was to be the crystal which would reflect the iridescent glow of its prism upon the entire world. Wherever Avrohom went he left behind him a trail of ‘shattered crystals’, of destroyed illusions in the belief in idolatry and polytheism. Through Avrohom’s life and daily conduct his message resonated, espousing that there is a Creator, a Master who stands behind His work and oversees it all.
“A father of a multitude of nations”
“An everlasting covenant… the whole Land of Canaan”
Please keep in mind:Elimelech ben Basya in all of your tefillos.
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