Running Away!

During our recent trip to Israel, while in Shul, I met Mr. Bollag, an elderly man who is blessed with a youthful sprit and melodious voice. Mr. Bollag is from Zurich and I mentioned to him that during WWII my mother’s family left France and relocated to Switzerland, and that in fact my maternal grandmother is buried in a cemetery in Zurich. When I mentioned that her name was Faige Herzberg, he knew exactly where she was buried. Parenthetically, we just marked her 75th Yahrtzait.

I found out that during the war, the Bollag family, along with other families, would hide fellow Jews who had escaped the Nazis and entered into Switzerland without the requisite papers.

The Bollag boys kept an eye out for these families and if they saw the police stopping them and asking for their papers, which they did not have, the boys would walk by and begin to run away. The policeman would be distracted by the commotion and begin running after the Bollag boy. When he would catch up to him and ask for his papers, he would present them. The cop would ask, “Why were you running if you had the necessary papers?” He would answer that he needed the bathroom. The cop would then ask, why didn’t you stop when you saw me running after you? He would answer, well, I thought you needed the bathroom as well!

Of course, during this time, the person without the papers would vanish.

I recently read that in 1943, the Nazi’s began rounding up Italian Jews and deporting them. 10,000 people were sent to concentration camps. Sadly, most never returned. But in Rome, a group of doctors saved at least 20 Jews by diagnosing them with Syndrome K, a deadly, disfiguring, and contagious disease. When Nazis raided the area, a handful of Jews fled to the Catholic hospital where they were quickly given case files reading “Syndrome K.”

The disease did not exist in any medical textbook. In fact, it didn’t exist at all. It was a codename invented by doctor Adriano Ossicini, to help distinguish between real patients and healthy hideaways.

Rooms holding “Syndrome K” sufferers were designated as dangerously infectious—dissuading Nazi inspectors from entering—and Jewish children were instructed to cough, in imitation of tuberculosis, when soldiers passed through the hospital.

The Nazis thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled. Another doctor orchestrating the life-saving lie was surgeon Giovani Borromeo who was later recognized by Israeli Holocaust remembrance organization Yad Vashem as a “righteous among the nations.”

People come up with very creative ways to save others!

The name of this week’s Parsha is Kedoshim – Holy you shall be. It is host to many laws. We inherently understand from this is that the way we become holy is by following the directives of the Torah.

Right after the Torah instructs us to be holy, it mentions, “Because I, G-d am Holy.” The Medrash explains to us that when the Torah tells us to be holy, one may have thought that he can be as holy as G-d. This is why the verse concludes, “I am Holy,” – G-d tells us His holiness is beyond our reach.

What is striking is, how can a person ever think that he can ascend to the levels of holiness of G-d who is the source of holiness in the entire universe? Rabbi Gedaliya Schorr o.b.m. said that one could have only imagined the prospect of being as holy as G-d, because we are created in the image of G-d and our souls stem from a part of G-d.

Interestingly, we encounter people who have not had a solid background in Torah study, who blame unfortunate occurrences on G-d. However, the Torah teaches and trains us to think just the opposite. While we can never reach the levels of Kedusha/holiness of G-d, our inner soul and physical manifestation is to ascend and reach for the highest levels possible of appreciation of and devotion to G-d.

When the Torah sets the law that judges must judge righteously, it states, “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness you shall judge your fellow.”

Rashi quotes the Medrash that says, a judge may not come up with the following scheme. If the two litigants were a wealthy and a poor person, and the judge recognizes that the poor litigant is guilty and needs to pay the wealthy person, the following rationale might crop up in the judge’s head. Here is a poor person who is dependent on the charity of others. I can simply make the wealthy man guilty and the money that he gives the poor will be a consideration as charity that he is giving to the poor litigant. The Torah is telling us that when it comes to a judge’s ruling – as altruistic as the false arrangement may appear to him – the Torah demands him to judge righteously.

Interestingly, from that same verse, “with righteousness shall you judge your fellow,” our sages derive that in our common day to day personal involvements with others, one should give them the benefit of the doubt!