שבת טעם החיים פינחס תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pinchas 5771
Tragedy and HaShem’s Names
ראובן בכור ישראל בני ראובן חנוך משפחת החנכי לפלוא משפלת הפלאי, Reuven the firstborn of Israel – the sons of Reuven: of Chanoch, the Chanochite family, of Pallu, the Palluite family. (Bamidbar 26:5)
What does it mean when we use the expression “HaShem’s Name?” We are certainly not referring to HaShem’s essence, so what do we mean? In this week’s parasha we find a subtle reference to the concept of HaShem’s Name. The Torah records that HaShem instructed Moshe and Elazar to count the Jewish People. It is said (Bamidbar 26:5) ראובן בכור ישראל בני ראובן חנוך משפחת החנכי לפלוא משפלת הפלאי, Reuven the firstborn of Israel – the sons of Reuven: of Chanoch, the Chanochite family, of Pallu, the Palluite family. Rashi writes that the nations of the world were denigrating the Jewish People, wondering, “Why are the Jews tracing their lineage according to their tribes? Do they suppose that the Egyptians did not take their wives in Egypt? If the Egyptians were able to dominate their bodies, certainly they were able to dominate their wives!” For this reason HaShem inserted His Name on their names, with the letter ה’ on one side and a י’ on the other side, as this Name testifies that they are the true children of their fathers. One must wonder, however, what novelty we learn from this statement. The Ramban in his introduction to Chumash writes that the entire Torah is a series of letters that comprise the various Names of HaShem. Is there significance in the fact that HaShem chose to add letters of His Name to the tribes of the Jewish People?
At first I thought that I would have to leave this question unanswered, as the entire discussion of HaShem’s Names has serious Kabalistic undertones, and this essay is not geared towards Kabalah. This week, however, world Jewry was traumatized with the brutal murder of Leiby Kletzky ob”m. While we can never truly fathom HaShem’s conduct in our finite world, we are obligated to explore the lesson in everything that occurs in our lives. If this was not the case, a believing Jew would not be able to continue living, as this tragedy does not make sense in the physical realm. Let us take a closer look at what perhaps HaShem is teaching us through this most tragic event.
We are now in the month of Tamuz, historically known as a month of tragedy and calamity. The word Tamuz, surprisingly, is based on a verse that states (Yechezkel 8:14) והנה שם הנשים ישבות מבכות את התמוז, and behold, there were women sitting, causing Tammuz to cry. The commentators write that תמוז refers to an idol (Rashi Ibid writes that Tamuz was an idol that was fashioned in a manner that created an optical illusion as if it was crying. This being the case, it is perplexing that we call a Jewish month after the name of an idol. What distinction is there between the month of the Jewish calendar and the cities in Trans-Jordan, which are referred to in the Torah as (Bamidbar 32:38) מוסבות שם, other names? Clearly we are exhorted not to associate in any manner with idolatry, so why do we refer to this tragic month by the name of an idol?
When tragedy strikes, our first reaction is that this is terrible, horrible, a calamity. Upon calming down, however, we begin to say things like, “HaShem is good, He has his reasons, and the like. What is happening here? Humans tend to view tragedy in stark terms, and it is difficult to reconcile the Good, Loving G-d with what appears to be bad and evil. Yet, in our heart of hearts we all know that the same G-d Who gives life to the entire universe is the One Who is the Cause for what we call tragedy. The Jewish People know that it was HaShem Who liberated us from the Egyptian bondage. The nations of the world, however, wish to dampen our faith, and they mock us by declaring, “how can you think that the Egyptians didn’t take your women in Egypt, thus defiling the entire nation?’ We may think that these words are those of people who are cruel and sadistic, and who would dare to torment us after all the suffering we endured in the Egyptian exile. Nonetheless, the Torah is teaching us that the words of the nations make an impression upon us, as it is said (Devarim 29:15-16) כי אתם ידעתם את אשר ישבנו בארץ מצרים ואת אשר עברנו בקרב הגוים אשר עברתם ותראו את שקוציהם ואת גלליהם עץ ואבן אשר לבבו פנה היום מעם ה’ אלקינו ללכת לעבד את אלהי הגוים ההם פן יש בכם שרש פרה ראש ולענה, and you saw their abominations and their detestable idols – of wood and stone, of silver and gold that were with them. Perhaps there is among you a man or woman, or a family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from being with HaShem, our G-d, to go and serve the gods of those nations; perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood. When we live in a secular world, we are automatically influenced by secular and foreign concepts unless we resist the influence and counter with acts of kindness and holy deeds. This week we heard of a calamity of epic proportions, and it is the secular influence that leads us to believe that what occurred was an outright tragedy. If, however, we invoke the Name of HaShem in everything that happens in our lives, we will slowly come to the realization that HaShem, in His lovingkindness, is sending a message to His beloved children. HaShem, of Whom it is said (Tehillim 145:9) טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו, HaShem is good to all; His mercies are on all His works, is forever seeking our welfare, and, to quote the Gemara (Brachos 5b, “is HaShem suspect to mete out justice without a reason?” While we cannot understand why HaShem chose an eight-year old Jewish boy to be the victim of a deranged person’s machinations, we do know that HaShem does everything for our good, as He loves every single one of us and seeks our prayers and repentance.
In a similar vein, we refer to the month that we are in as Tammuz, the name of an idol. This name demonstrates that while we as humans may view the month as an unpropitious time of the year, HaShem is sending us a message that in essence, this is the month that can be transformed from sadness to joy and from mourning to becoming a festival. All that is required of us is to incorporate HaShem’s Name in the month, and we will see an outpouring of compassion and lovingkindness from our Loving G-d.
We can now better understand why the Torah chose the lineage of the Jewish People as the appropriate venue to have His Name reflected in the names of the tribes. HaShem loves His Chosen Nation, and He demonstrated this love for us when He liberated us from Egypt, in what was a physical and spiritual liberation. HaShem ensured that the women in Egypt were protected from the Egyptians, and this safeguard allowed for the Jewish People to remain pure and holy. This pristine state was the catalyst for us to leave Egypt and receive the Torah.
We must always be cognizant of the fact that the exile and all that we have had to endure is for our good. This is akin to the six days of the week, when we must toil to earn our livelihood, and then we can indulge in the delight of the Holy Shabbos. This Shabbos, when we read in the Torah the names of the Jewish tribes, we should reflect on HaShem’s Names, which are the Names of Compassion, Kindness, and Eternal Love for His Chosen Nation. In that merit we should not know any more sorrow and we should witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu and the Resurrection of the Dead, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in Action Through the Prism of the Parshah
It is said (Bamidbar 26:11) ובני קרח לא מתו, but the children of Korach did not die. Rashi writes that the children of Korach were initially involved in their father’s dispute with Moshe, and subsequently they contemplated thoughts of repentance. Although they were also allowed up by the ground, they received an elevated place in Gehinnom. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 65b; See Rashi Ibid) states that on Shabbos, the fires of Gehinnom abate, and the wicked are granted a respite. These two statements teach us that Shabbos is a time of peace, and if the fires of Gehinnom do not function on Shabbos, certainly we should cool off from the fire of discord and strife and enjoy the Holy Shabbos.
They Called Him Mike
Elimelech “Mike” Tress was a hero of American Jewry during the first half of the 20th century. He fought tirelessly for Jewish education, and was at the forefront of the effort to save Jews from the Holocaust. Here is one glimpse of his greatness and self-sacrifice to help the Jewish people.
The war years were one long fundraising campaign by the Youth Council on behalf of the Jews of Europe. It would be impossible to detail the seemingly endless series of fundraising campaigns, dinners, and “nights”…
In the end, the most powerful testimony to Mike’s fundraising is not captured by gross receipts, but rather in hundreds of stories of simple Jews who were moved to reach into their pockets to give money they did not have: Rabbi Shlomo Weiss pawning his entire set of Talmud (apart from the tractate he was then learning); another Jew, not even remembered by name today, giving his life savings of $1,000; Berel Belsky selling his car and contributing the proceeds to the Refugee and Immigration Division; “persons with large families and small earnings” borrowing $500 to $1,000 to contribute.
No contribution was too small to be disdained — even contributions of a quarter were answered with a thank-you note.
The most dramatic of the fundraising campaigns was triggered by letters received in late November of 1943 and signed by various rabbis, describing the possibility of saving thousands of Jews hiding in the forests on the Polish-Hungarian border by bringing them to Hungary. The price was put at $250 per Jew. Funds collected in America were wired from the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. to the Polish Embassy in Zurich.
[At] Mike’s appeal, Jewish day schools for boys and girls everywhere were closed. Some of these youngsters manned the telephones for 72 hours. Others organized hundred of teams of boys who searched the streets for money with spread-out tablecloths, not mere pushkas. The subways, apartment houses and housing projects resounded with the music of the appeals of children everywhere. They attended every meeting of any Jewish organization, from the tip of the Lower East Side to Washington Heights and the Bronx.
Mike himself stood on the corner of Delancey Street shouting for ransom money to save Jewish lives, a sheet spread out at his feet to gather the coins and bills thrown in his direction. Over the space of a few short weeks, the various Agudah groups raised nearly $100,000 to be sent to [Switzerland].
[In July 1944], another major campaign was underway. That campaign was the outgrowth of a complex series of negotiations involving Adolph Eichmann and a variety of Jewish groups in Hungary. In May 1944, Eichmann proposed to Joel Brand, a Hungarian Zionist leader, the release of one million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks and large amounts of various foodstuffs and non-strategic commodities such as soap.
With that offer in hand, Brand traveled to Aleppo, Syria to discuss the offer with Moshe Shertok of the Jewish Agency. There he was arrested by the British and subsequently incarcerated in Cairo.
Meanwhile Dr. Rudolph Kastner, another Hungarian Zionist leader, informed Eichmann’s agents in June that he had received word from Turkey that the Allies agreed to his proposal in principle, and requested that the Nazis show their good faith by permitting a train of 750 Zionist leaders — including large numbers of Kastner’s friends and relatives — to depart for a neutral country.
Philip Freudiger and Gyla Link, two leaders of the Orthodox community of Budapest, managed to bribe Eichmann’s chief deputy, Dieter Wisliceny, into adding another 80 prominent Jews to the transport, including the Satmar Rav, the Debreziner Rav, Rabbi Yonason Steif, and Adolph Deutsch, head of the Budapest Agudah. By the time the train was scheduled to leave Budapest in late June, it was carrying almost 1,700 Jews.
The Nazis meanwhile had become skeptical of the intent of their negotiating partners to deliver on their promises and refused to let the train depart. Here Rabbi Weissmandl intervened with a daring gamble. Using the pseudonym Ferdinand Roth, he had a cable sent from Switzerland that 250 trucks were immediately available in Switzerland. The cable was passed on by Freudiger to Wisliceny. At the same time, Freudiger contacted Isaac Sternbuch and instructed him to immediately purchase at least 40 trucks or tractors at a cost of 700,000 Swiss francs.
Sternbuch, however, had only 150,000 francs at his disposal. He first approached Saly Mayer, the Joint Distribution Committee’s Swiss representative, who not only refused his request for additional funds in the mistaken belief that the transport consisted exclusively of rabbis, but also informed Roswell MeClelland, the War Refugee Board representative in Zurich, who opposed all such ransom plans. Mayer expressed the view that it was inappropriate for rabbis, as captains of the ship, to save themselves while their followers remained behind.
The funds at Sternbuch’s disposal were inadequate to purchase enough trucks to secure Nazi agreement to let the transport proceed to neutral Spain, and the train was diverted to Bergen-Belsen.
In desperation, Sternbuch cabled New York on July 20 that he must have another 550,000 francs immediately. Within a week, Vaad Hatzala transferred $100,000 to Sternbuch, much of it borrowed in great haste in recognition of how crucial every moment was. Included in this amount were $5,500 from the Youth Council directly and other monies that Mike had raised through Rabbi Herbert Goldstein. Mike also played a role in arranging the wire transfer of money from the Vaad to Sternbuch.
Using the funds he already had and those sent by the Vaad, Sternbuch was able to deposit a letter of credit for 10 tractors. As a consequence, 318 of the 1,684 Jews in the Kastner transport were released from Bergen-Belsen and arrived in Switzerland on August 21, 1944. In that first group were the leading rabbinic figures whose release from Hungary had been negotiated by Freudiger and Link.
In early December, the remaining Jews from the original transport arrived in Switzerland, thus concluding one of the few chapters of Holocaust rescue work with a happy ending. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pinchas 5771
is sponsored in memory of Yehudah ben Nachman ob”m. May his tragic passing serve as atonement for the entire Jewish People and may HaShem comfort his family and bring us the redemption immediately
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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