שבת טעם החיים וישלח תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5771
We Must Beware of the Wicked Amongst Us
ויותר יעקב לבדו ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו, Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him. (Bereishis 32:25)
In this week’s parasha the Torah records the struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav. It is said (Bereishis 32:25) vayivaseir Yaakov livado vayeiavek ish imo ad alos hashachar; vayar ki lo yochol lo vayiga bikaf yireicho vateika kaf yerech Yaakov biheiavko imo, Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him. The conventional explanation of these verses is that the angel of Esav struck Yaakov and caused him to limp temporarily. The Torah Shleima, however, cites a Medrash Avkir that states: HaShem said to Michael the archangel, “did you do a good thing by rendering my Kohen, Priest, defective?” Michael responded, “Master of the World! Am I not your priest?” Hashem responded to Michael, “you are my priest in the heaven and Yaakov is my priest on land.” Immediately Michael called to Rafael and requested that Rafael heal Yaakov from his blow. How are we to understand this Medrash? The Medrashim and the Gemar all understand that the struggle was between Yaakov and the angel of Esav. What does it mean that the angel Michael struck Yaakov?
Michael striking Yaakov reflects the wicked amongst the Jewish People
In order to understand this Medrash, we must closely examine the struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav. The Torah states that the angel could not overcome Yaakov so he struck the socket of his hip. One must wonder regarding the meaning of this. If the angel could not overcome Yaakov, how was he capable of striking his hip? The answer to this question is that while the angel of Esav, i.e. an external force, was unable to overcome Yaakov, an internal force, represented by Michael, was able to strike Yaakov a blow. It is said (Yeshaya 49:17) miharsayich umacharivayich mimeich yeitzeiu, your ruiners and your destroyers will leave you. The commentators (see Radak Ibid) interpret this verse to mean that your ruiners and destroyers will stem from you. This means that the worst enemies of the Jewish People are deviant Jews. Thus, the Medrash Avkir is teaching us that HaShem had Michael strike Yaakov a blow so he would realize that our worst enemy can be our own brethren. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3) states further that the blow to Yaakov alludes to the generation where the gentiles sought to eradicate the practice of Judaism. In the prayer of Al Hanisim on Chanukah we recite the words vizeidim biyad oskei sorasecho, [You delivered] the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah. I heard from Reb Yehudah Leib Bakst, Shlita, (Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Ateres Mordechai in Oak Park, Michigan) that the wanton ones do not refer to the Greeks who persecuted the Jews. Rather, it refers to the Hellenists, those Jews who threw off the yoke of the Torah and rebelled against HaShem.
The angel of Esav has various names with which to fight the Jewish People
We now have a better understanding of the struggle between Yaakov and the angel, or perhaps more accurately, the struggle with the angels. Yaakov was not only fighting a battle with the wicked gentiles of the future. Incorporated in the struggle was Yaakov’s battle with his own future generations, and these are the wicked Jews who have joined with the enemy in their attempt to undermine HaShem’s Torah. The incident of Yaakov struggling with the angel contains many allusions to Chanukah, and the battle itself reflects the battle that the Chashmonaim waged against the Hellenists. It is worth noting that I once heard from my Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller, Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe in Chicago, that when Yaakov encountered the angel of Esav, Yaakov inquired as to the name of the angel. The angel responded, “Why then do you inquire of my name?” The obvious question is, why did Yaakov inquire of the angel regarding his name, and why did the angel refuse to divulge his name? The answer is that Yaakov was not merely seeking to validate the name of the angel. Yaakov was saying to the angel, “you are the evil inclination, and you are my enemy. I need to know your name, i.e. your nature, so my descendants and I can know how to do battle with you throughout the generations.” The angel responded, “You cannot fight me, because I always appear with a different name, i.e. in every generation a new group arises that attempts to topple the citadel of Torah and its observance.” It is critical that we identify our true enemies and protect ourselves from their diabolical schemes.
The Shabbos connection
Throughout the week we are faced with internal struggles, both from our own Evil Inclinations and from Jews who have unfortunately forsaken HaShem and His Torah. Nonetheless, the Gemara states that on Shabbos even the wicked that are punished in the fires of Gehinnom are granted respite. This should teach us that there is hope for every Jew to repent from his evil ways. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that even one who worshipped idols like the generation of Enosh, if he observes the Shabbos properly, he will be granted atonement for his sins. HaShem should allow all of us to observe the Shabbos properly and merit sitting amongst the righteous in Gan Eden.
[I must add that in no way am I explaining the Medrash to mean that Michael is a wicked angel. Rather, Michael striking a blow to Yaakov alludes to the idea that the deviant Jews inflict harm on the righteous Jews.]
A Fire in his Soul!
Irving M. Bunim was a visionary lay leader of 20th century Judaism. He fought tirelessly for Torah education in America, and led the effort to save Jews from the Holocaust. The following is a chilling account of Bunim’s rescue efforts during World War Two. The key characters in this story include:
- Yitzhak Sternbuch, a Belgian Jewish businessman
- Heinrich Himmler, Nazi S.S. Chief
- Jean-Marie Musy, pro-Nazi former president of Switzerland
- Rabbi Aharon Kotler, leader of Orthodox Jewry in America during the war years
- Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Roosevelt
By 1943, all attempts at creating a unified American Jewish Rescue Committee had collapsed. This compelled the Vaad (Bunim’s rescue committee) to re-double its efforts, moving toward a daring, desperate mission: negotiating with the Nazis to ransom their Jewish captives…
As Rabbi Eliezer Silver wrote, “We are ready to pay ransom for Jews and deliver them from concentration camps with the help of forged passports. For this purpose we do not hesitate to deal with counterfeiters and passport thieves. We are ready to smuggle Jewish children over the borders, and to engage expert smugglers, rogues whose profession this is. We are ready to smuggle money illegally into enemy territory to bribe those dregs of humanity, the killers of the Jewish people!”
The Vaad activists trembled when they learned that, in 1944, the Nazis were willing to sell their human cargo.
Jean-Marie Musy seemed like the last person to whom Yitzhak Sternbuch might turn [to for help in rescuing Jews]. He was an avowed fascist who had published La Jeune, a notoriously anti-Semitic newspaper… (Yet) in early November, 1944, Musy met with Himmler and brought him the Sternbuchs’ initial offer of one million Swiss francs ($250,000) for 600,000 Jews. Himmler replied that he preferred trucks to money. Later that month, however, he made a counter offer: 300,000 Jews for 20 million francs ($5 million). The Sternbuchs knew that Roswell McClelland, the War Refugee Board representative in Switzerland, would never sanction the ransom of Jews. Still, they asked him for WRB money. McClelland refused.
Simultaneously, the Sternbuchs sent Himmler’s terms to the Vaad via their secret Polish diplomatic cable. It was the kind of communique Bunim had never dared dream of. The Vaad’s executive committee was convened for an emergency meeting. A hush fell across the room when the cable was read aloud. The plan was electrifying: Every month for twenty months, they would pay $250,000 and the Nazis would release 15,000 Jews. It came roughly to $17 a person.
…Bunim implored Vaad members, business colleagues and friends, raising funds as quickly as he could. Some refused, saying that they could not give money to Nazis, especially when their own sons were fighting in the war. “This money,” one man said sadly, “might buy the gun that kills my child.” But Bunim was magnetic, persuasive and successful, convincing people to give more than they might have. Rabbi Joseph Rudman, inspired by Bunim’s appeal, emptied his bank account.
“That Friday afternoon,” Vaad activist Herman Hollander recalled, “I proposed to my wife that we sell our very comfortable three-story home and give the difference between the mortgage and the selling price to the Vaad Hatzala for the release of the ransomed Jews. My suggestion meant we would have to move into my in-laws’ house until we found other accommodations. My wife readily agreed. After my in-laws also consented, we sold our house and gave the money to the Vaad.”
Signs of Hope
In January, 1945, Musy met again with Himmler, who wanted assurances that these negotiations were genuine… He represented Jews of means, Musy told Himmler, but their assets had been tied up and $5 million for ransom was unmanageable. Himmler countered with a more reasonable demand: $1.25 million, to be placed in a Swiss bank. In return, he would authorize the release of all Jews at a rate of 1,200 a week.
On February 5, 1945, as a sign of his good faith, Himmler released 1,210 Jews from Theresienstadt.
There was more. Instead of receiving the remaining $3.75 million, Himmler wanted the influential Jews to create positive reports about the Nazis in the worldwide media. After their losses at Normandy and Stalingrad, the German High Command sought to paint itself in as positive a light as possible, with an eye to the postwar period. Himmler and the Nazis had reeled under negative world opinion after the Auschwitz Protocol, the 1944 report exposing their death camps…
On February 7, 1945, after the safe arrival of the Theresienstadt train. Bunim asked major newspapers, including The New York Times, The New York Sun, and The New York Herald Tribune, to carry the story. They complied, highlighting the story with pictures.
[Yet there was still the issue of raising the ransom money. So the Vaad went to meet the leaders of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to ask for a million-dollar loan.]
Rabbi Kotler said that the loan would be put to good use, for Himmler had kept his word: An entire trainload of over 1,200 Jews from Theresienstadt had already been saved.
“Jews?” [Joint president Moe] Leavitt asked contemptuously. “Is that who you think you rescued from Theresienstadt? A lot of them were apostates (Jews who converted away from Judaism). You did not save religious Jews.”
Rabbi Kotler could no longer control himself. “Who knows why they did it,” he shouted, his face turning red, “or under what circumstances they were compelled to [convert away from Judaism]. They are still Jews, even if they have sinned. It is our obligation to save them!”
Later, Bunim grasped the irony of that moment. An acculturated Jew was writing off scores of apostate Jews, while a great Torah sage was defending them.
…Reluctantly, Leavitt agreed to the loan. The sole condition was that the United States government grant the Vaad a license to transfer the funds overseas to Switzerland and then, through their agents, to Himmler. It was a condition which Leavitt felt the Vaad could never meet.
The Vaad quickly accepted Leavitt’s terms. “But suppose you cannot get the license,” Paul Baerwald, a German-Jewish banker and top Joint official said, wagging his finger. “After all, what you are really asking for is permission to trade with the enemy. The government will ask you what you intend to do with the money. You will tell them and your request will not be granted. Because it is ransom, sending money to Germany in this way!”
“Mr. Baerwald,” Bunim answered, “We will get the license. If we have to, we will storm Washington. Rabbi Kotler and all of us will go, and we will use every contact we have. But we will get it…”
The Morgenthau Meeting
The Vaad leaders discussed strategy and used their best Washington contacts. They would go right to the top, to President Roosevelt himself. In February, 1945, with great trepidation, Bunim called the Oval Office for an appointment. He was referred to Henry Morgenthau (Secretary of the Treasury).
…Hundreds of thousands of lives depended on government approval to transfer $937,000 to American agents in Switzerland. Morgenthau was their last chance.
Once in Morgenthau’s office, Bunim explained the Musy Negotiations. Crisply and articulately, he told the Treasury Secretary what was needed.
Morgenthau’s reaction was predictable. “What?” he asked bewildered. “Ransom!” The Secretary’s hands sketched large arcs. “Surely you know that the motto of the United States is ‘Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.'” Morgenthau shook his head. “We can’t do it.”
Bunim usually translated for Rabbi Kotler and Rabbi Kalmanowitz, but this time the Secretary’s tone and facial gestures were self-explanatory. Bunim hid his disappointment while he framed a response, but Rabbi Kotler could not hold back his emotions. As he stood shaking, his blue eyes blazed and then he pointed a finger at Morgenthau. “Bunim,” he snapped in his rapid-fire Yiddish, his words coming in agitated bursts, “you tell him. Tell him that if he cannot help to rescue his fellow Jews at this time, then he is worth nothing, and his position is worth nothing, because one Jewish life is worth more than all the positions in Washington!”
Although Morgenthau did not understand the words, there was no mistaking the intensity of Rabbi Kotler’s fury. After an awkward moment of silence, he asked Bunim to translate.
Sensitive to the protocol involved in speaking to top-level officials, Bunim decided to take the edge off a difficult situation. He cleared his throat and told Morgenthau that Rabbi Kotler had said “Perhaps because of your high office in government you cannot force the issue. But please understand that in this case there are mitigating circumstances. Perhaps something might be worked out.”
When Morgenthau looked relieved, Rabbi Kotler realized that his powerful message had not been conveyed accurately. “No, no!” he shouted in Yiddish. “Bunim, tell him exactly what I said!”
Morgenthau looked quizzically from Rabbi Kotler to Bunim.
Bunim paused and exhaled slowly. He knew their chance to save countless Jewish lives had all come down to this moment. It all depended on what he said. He spoke slowly, deliberately, never taking his eyes from Morgenthau’s face. “Rabbi Kotler thinks that you may be unwilling to help us because you are afraid of losing your position in the government. He wants you to know that one Jewish life is worth more than any office.”
Morgenthau looked at Rabbi Kotler’s fiery stare, Rabbi Kalmanowitz’s anguish and Bunim’s quiet determination. He put his head down on his desk. Minute after minute went by in the silent room until Bunim began to fear for the Secretary’s health.
Finally, Morgenthau looked up and stood before Rabbi Kotler. He looked directly at Rabbi Kotler and asked Bunim to translate. “Tell the Rabbi that I am a Jew,” Morgenthau said with great dignity and emotion. “Tell him that I’m willing to give up my life – not just my position – for my people.”
Bunim breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed as if the license would be forthcoming. It looked as if thousands of Jews would be spared…
The End of the Story
The end of this story is sudden and tragic.
Certain Jews, who were opposed to the ransom plan, succeeded in publishing negative press reports about the Musy Negotiations. Then, Kurt Becher, a Nazi officer who faked sympathy and was ostensibly involved in similar negotiations to save Jews, took the press clippings to General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of Reich Security, who in turn showed them to Hitler. Hitler became so enraged that he ordered the cessation of all further releases.
This effectively ended the Musy Negotiations and sealed the fate of thousands of European Jews.
(Although this story has a sad ending, I felt it worthy to record because of the heroic efforts of Irving Bunim and HaRav HaGaon Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l on behalf of European Jewry. The story also reflects well on the Dvar Torah cited above regarding Jews who hate Hashem and His Torah.]
Voices in the Silence
During Communist-era Russia, learning about Judaism was a dangerous, illegal activity.
…Although all we did was get together in one of our homes to talk and study Torah and the Hebrew language, in Russia that was a serious crime, so it was either secrecy or Siberia. Actually, we knew perfectly well that no matter how careful we were, keeping our doings secret was next to impossible. Everything was under surveillance, and KGB agents might pop up out of anywhere…
We never met except in a building that had a back door, so that we could escape in case of a raid. We concocted our own dictionary of code words. For instance, if the next meeting was scheduled at seven in the evening on Shakovitzkaya Street, in our code that would be “at two in the afternoon on Fedorovskaya Street.” This way, even if someone were listening in, through a hidden microphone or a telephone tap, he would still know nothing.
We came up with endless schemes and ruses — there is nothing like necessity to stir your imagination. We couldn’t use a ploy more than once; you never knew if the KGB had been watching, and if they had been, they wouldn’t be fooled twice. But then, there were a million innocent reasons why I might have to make a trip to a certain street on a certain day. Once I was there and approaching my friend’s house, I would scan the area thoroughly before actually stopping and going in. Of course I had to avoid making it obvious what I was doing; but that sort of thing was part of every Russian citizen’s survival skills.
Another thing I watched for when I got to the house was our private danger signal. You see, even if I had there without arousing suspicion, there was always a chance that the government had a surprise waiting for us inside. So If I saw a doll sitting in the window frame, that meant that I had better walk away — slowly, and looking innocent…
Doll in the Window
One of our meeting places was an apartment owned by an elderly couple in a large apartment building. The gentile children who played in the yard had been trained to spy on everyone, and it didn’t take them long to notice the big, beautiful doll in the old couple’s window. That’s funny, they thought; those old people don’t have any children at home, so what do they need a doll for? So they started keeping an eye on that window, and soon noticed how the doll would sometimes appear and disappear several times in an evening. That was enough for these loyal, patriotic children to go down to the police station and betray their neighbors.
You might laugh at the picture of policemen solemnly listening to a child’s story about a doll in a window, but the KGB didn’t laugh. They wrote it all down and sent out some men to keep watch on the apartment. They spotted us gathering for our next meeting, and burst in right in the midst of our Torah study. All the time, they found nothing suspicious anywhere in the apartment.
You’re wondering why? Because we were ready for them.
Everyone in Russia knew that the police might descend at any time, day or night, hell-bent on finding “evidence.” It was simply a survival tactic to be ready for them at all times. That is why there was no Jewish educational material in the house, not even a single scrap of evidence. Even on the table where we sat, there was nothing but yesterday’s edition of Die Sovietisch Hevniand, a government-authorized Yiddish newspaper. (Naturally it trumpeted the official government views, and finding it on our table was for the police what finding a kashrut stamp is for a Jew.)
No books, no pencils and pads, no notes. How did we learn, then? By word of mouth. I taught my friends all the Torah that I had learned, and reviewed it with them until they too knew every word by heart. We learned a smattering of Hebrew the same way. And of course we exchanged news and chatted together over a cup of tea, and kept each other up to date with our various doings. But we never wrote anything down.
We had been careful, and although the agents searched the entire apartment they found nothing incriminating — that is, nothing they could conceivably twist into evidence of illegal activities. But all the same they could smell that something was going on here — and the KGB had keen noses for underground organizations, especially for Jewish ones. So they decided to hold us there under arrest while a team was sent around to search our parents’ houses for incriminating material.
When I heard that, I almost died of fright. For just then I had at home a list of refuseniks, which I was supposed to send on to Israel. If that was found, not only was I done for, but all the people on the list were, too. Still I put all my strength into keeping a stiff upper lip. Who could know? They might not find it. But if I showed even the slightest sign of being upset, they would be down on me like a pack of wolves, and that would certainly be the end.
We sat there for hours, not knowing what was happening to our parents. Then suddenly the agents told us that we could all go home. For me it was a double relief — I understood that somehow they hadn’t found the list. All the same I went home puzzled. How could they have failed to find it? I knew how these searches were done. They wouldn’t have left a single inch of our house without turning it upside down.
Worse yet, while one man searched from place to place, the other would hold his hand over your pulse. The idea was that when the searcher got “warm,” your pulse rate was bound to go up, and then the man holding you would call to the searcher to check especially thoroughly there. It’s a well-tried method, utterly diabolical, and quite effective.
Where was the list hidden? I had wrapped it in plastic and pushed it down to the bottom of the jar of chocolate syrup. Oh, perhaps you wouldn’t think of looking in a place like that, but I was quite sure that the KGB would. What wonderful luck that Mama didn’t know anything about the list! If she had, her pulse would surely have given us away.
When I got home, I found Mama lying half-conscious on the sofa, shaking like a leaf, with an ice bag on her forehead, while a neighbor sat by her trying to calm her down. As for the house, it looked as if a pogrom had just passed through.. (http://www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5771
is sponsored by Howard Greenstein in honor of the birth of Aliana Emalya to Reuven and Aliza Lerner of Southfield, Michigan. May they have much nachas from her and all their children.
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5771
is sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Barry Blaustein of Chicago in honor of the birth of their grandson to Mr. and Mrs. Nossie Kadin of Skokie, Illinois. May they have much nachas from all their children and grandchildren and the bris should be biito uvizmano.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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