Devotion and Determination
Over the Holiday I read a tribute to the memory of Rabbi Menashe Klein, a Chasidic Rabbi, the leader of the congregation of Ungvar, in Boro Park, NY, the same community where I was raised.
I would see this majestic and distinguished man from time to time; what I did not know, was that he was a Holocaust survivor.
During his lifetime, he wrote a memoir of the horrific days he spent in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
He included in this memoir a description of how he and others fulfilled Mitzvos even under the most inhumane circumstances.
While he was changing into his striped prisoner garb, he was able to conceal a pair of Tefilin; and he and his fellow inmates were able to don them every day.
He writes, “A day before Rosh Hashana, as we were heading to work, someone found a small Shofar in middle of the road. It was the exact size necessary to perform the mitzvah, not bigger, not smaller. He brought it back to the camp and we used it to blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana!”
The prisoners fulfilled the Mitzvah of Succah by dragging a bunk bed into the open air, removing the middle planks and covering its top with wood fragments.
“When I saw the Kosher Succah standing outside, I entered it and made a blessing on two pieces of bread I had kept since the morning and made the Kiddush and Hamotzie blessings over the bread and then the blessing over the Succah and the Shehechyanu!” The Rabbi continues, “I think that from the day I left my home (due to the war) until the day I entered the holy and sanctified shade of the Succah, I did not experience joy!”
This joy was short lived: “The Nazi guards began shooting to scatter the Jews crowding around the makeshift Succah.”
While on the topic of the incredible and astonishing devotion this man and others had to cling to their traditions under such conditions during the war, please let me share with you what happened in the ghetto of Lublin in 1941. Tens of thousands of Jews, were gathered together in the ghetto square awaiting their – Final Solution.
Among the group was a very influential personality, Rabbi Yehuda Orlean. Rabbi Orlean turned to Rabbi Yisroel Spira – the Bluzhever Rebbe and said, “Tonight is the Holiday of Shemini Atzeres. We don’t have a Sefer Torah with which to rejoice, but at least we can recite the prayers and verses that are a prelude to the dancing of Simchas Torah.” With that, Rabbi Orlean raised his beautiful, powerful voice and signaled the crowd to respond to the familiar introduction to Hakofos – dancing on Simchas Torah, which speak of G-d’s ways and attributes of mercy and justice, whether we understand them or not. Thousands of voices repeated after him in a crescendo of devotion. Tears flowed like a river – this was their last holiday.
When the prayers concluded, Rabbi Orlean had another thought; again he turned to the Bluzhever Rebbe, “The Nazi’s saw us and heard us, they think we were crying because we fear them. Let us show them the truth.”
He began singing a beautiful poem taken from the Rosh Hashana / Yom Kippur prayers that foretells the End of Days when everyone, including the most distant of nations, will pledge their devotion to G-d, serving Him, proclaiming Him as King and concluding with “and they will give You the crown of Sovereignty.”
As he sang, other joined. Hands clutched one another and feet began to dance. It was Shemini Atzeres and the Jews rejoiced. Under the muzzles of German rifles, they sang that even the hated murderers, the most depraved and bestial of all men, would one day acknowledge the Kingship of Hashem – the Almighty!
They sang and danced until the SS commandant arrived and the death march began. Hardly anyone survived that horrible night. The Bluzhever Rebbe was spared; and he also eventually settled in Boro Park where he rebuilt a family and established a Shul. The same tune sung to that sacred song of the Ghetto of Lublin is joyously sung at the celebration held at the end of each holiday in his Synagogue!
Over this Holiday of Simchas Torah, we will conclude the Torah and we will almost immediately once again start reading the Torah from the beginning. This demonstrates the eternal bond we have with our sacred and holy Torah. We have patented and an exclusive right to its practice and study and it is the hallmark of our survival, endurance and existence.
We, living in this wonderful country, where we have freedom of religion and expression, have incredible opportunities. We should genuinely declare and display our abundant gratitude to the Almighty for all our gifts that we at times take for granted.
Hashana Rabah – 7th day of Succos
Wednesday October 19th
The Land of Israel is very much dependent on rainfall. The Torah tells us that the Hand of G-d is always visible in Israel through the amount of rain that falls. The Talmud relates that G-d’s judgment for the amount of rainfall is conducted on Succos, just as Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for people.
In fact, during the times of the Holy Temple, a complex water drawing and libation service on the Altar was performed in the Temple as a supplication for G-d’s mercy to give water to the land.
On the Seventh day of Succos, the Judgment for water is sealed. This day is called Hoshana Rabah – the great plea for water. A longer prayer service is recited while we circle the Bimah in Shul with our four species, seven times. (On each of the other days we circle the Bimah only once.)
We then recite special prayers while holding five willow branches and they are then hit on the ground several times.
Shemini Atzeres – Thursday October 20th
The eighth day of Succos is actually not part of Succos. The Torah calls it the eighth day of assembly. There is no Mitzvah of sitting in the Succah or taking the four species.
The explanation for this is that during the seven days of the Holiday of Succos, the Torah relates that aside from other sacrifices, a total of seventy oxen be sacrificed in the Temple. The seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah. These offerings were brought as an atonement for the nations and to make them meritorious of G-d’s blessing for water.
As the Holiday season draws to a conclusion, G-d reserved a day between us and Him, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres as a day set aside as a special day between Him and His nation of Israel to the exclusion of all other nations, and said, “Please remain with Me for one more day, without a special Mitzvah, just to reflect on what we have gained spiritually during the Days of Awe and throughout the Holiday of Succos.”
We begin mentioning G-d’s power of providing rain in our prayers on Shemini Atzeres and Yizkor – the memorial prayer, is recited.
Simchas Torah, Friday October 21st
We celebrate the completion of the public synagogue readings of the Torah with great rejoicing in prayer, song and dancing in honor of the Torah. After the Torah is completed, we start anew from the beginning of the Torah. This indicates that the wisdom, knowledge and study of the Torah is never ending and also is a display that we are not satisfied with what we accomplished, rather we eagerly wish to begin again.
Wishing you a most joyous Holiday!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family