May 9, 2024
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May 9, 2024
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The Power of Remembrance

Sivan with her grandmother Ada.

Strengthening Others in a Big Way

Eden is the sister of IDF Sergeant Roi Dawy, who fell in battle in Gaza. She made sure that everyone who passes through the entrance of Jerusalem will see this huge billboard with a message from her brother: “Just be strengthened from everything.”

Eden shared that when she contacted the Mega Media company to order the billboard, they unexpectedly offered to give her the first two days free of charge. “My hope is to find a way to keep the message up until after Yom Ha’Atzmaut!” she said.


Post-Pesach Inspiration

“My Seder was nothing special and I was irritable and stressed out during the entire holiday. I feel like I missed Pesach.”

After reading this message, I was reminded of a quote I once heard:

“Our feelings are not the measure of the value of our mitzvah observance.”

Regardless of whether we did or didn’t feel anything special at the Seder, we all received a significant spiritual infusion that affected us and the whole world. As long as we ate matzah and maror, drank four cups of wine, and heard the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, even if we didn’t feel the holiness, our ancestors’ Pesach experience became part of us and was absorbed into our souls. Within every crumb of matzah and every drop of wine there was a dose of faith and hope and meaning.

And now, as we go back to our everyday routine, let’s try to find joy and elevation in the mundane. Most of life is not made up of the dramatic Ne’ilah prayer on Yom Kippur or the Seder night. As Yechezkel Hanavi stated: “Does anyone scorn little things?” He was telling us not to minimize the little things in life. The days that follow a holiday are also holy and full of meaning.

Our Power of Choice

Rabbi Eliezer Silver, a leader of American Jewry in the 1940’s, was the president of the Vaad Hatzalah, the committee established during the Holocaust to rescue Jews from Europe and to help the survivors.

A short time after the war ended, Rabbi Silver arrived at one of the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. He organized a prayer service and invited one of the survivors to participate. This man adamantly refused to take part in the prayers, explaining his position by way of the following story:

“In the camps, there was a religious man who had somehow managed to smuggle in a siddur which he gave other prisoners to use. At first, I admired him for his courage and compassion for others, but I soon found out the rest of the story: This man would “lend” people this siddur in exchange for food, thus taking advantage of them in their weakened state. Starving Jews would hand him their last morsel of bread in exchange for a few minutes with his siddur. If this is the way Jewish people act, I will never open a siddur again!”

Rabbi Silver listened to this story, thought about it for a moment, and responded gently: “My dear Jew, I understand how you must be feeling. It is difficult to judge a person in such horrific circumstances, and you are correct that he should not have used his siddur this way. But I have only one question for you: Why do you focus on the man who used his siddur to take food away from starving Jews? Why not focus, instead, on those starving Jews who were willing to give up their last piece of bread for a chance to pray from a siddur? And, now, how can we not continue to do that for which they were willing to sacrifice their lives?”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I heard this story for the first time this year. Because even after we have come face to face with absolute evil, we can still choose what to focus on, how to respond, and how to interpret events.

We can easily point to the mistakes made (on October 7), the horrific slaughter of innocents, oversights and failures yet to be analyzed—all the horrors of that Simchat Torah. Or, instead, we can choose to focus on the triumph of the human spirit, on the will to carry on, on the outpouring of love and caring, and on the incredible faith and strength that have emerged since that day.


Five Guests for Holocaust Remembrance Day

This week in Israel we commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. A mere three years after a third of our people were exterminated, the Jewish nation emerged from the ashes of the concentration camps to declare an independent state. Today, our focus must be on revival. We need to learn and teach how to rise from the ashes of Be’eri, Nahal Oz and all the other communities attacked on Simchat Torah. We must heal the hearts of the wounded and the mourners, and together write a new inspiring chapter in our collective history.

I’ve chosen to honor the memories of certain individuals who have excelled in inspiring hope. Take, for instance, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate who educated millions and became a symbol of Jewish resilience. Wiesel once wrote: “Because I remember, I despair. But because I remember, I am obligated to push despair away.”

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, developed his theory not from the comfort of his study but through his harrowing experiences at Auschwitz. In his view, the question is not about what others do to us, but about how we respond and the meaning we attach to our experiences. Even amidst absolute evil, individuals can choose their attitude and act accordingly. We must choose life, goodness and meaningful pursuits.

Regarding the Holocaust, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks often said that we cannot base our identity solely on the designs and actions of external enemies. He begged us to remember that we are ultimately defined by our greatness and the message we impart to the nations—not by our persecution and suffering. The world, he said, is not interested in how forlorn we might be, but waits expectantly to hear our unique voice. In other words, we are not meant to stand out among the nations solely through the horrors of the Holocaust or Simchat Torah, but to be distinguished through the light of Torah that we utilize to illuminate the world. If, in every generation, we represent the enemy of absolute evil, we must strengthen our resolve to attach ourselves to absolute good.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose mission was to revitalize the Jewish world after the Holocaust, taught: If Hitler (or Sinwar) wanted to reach every Jew, no matter how distant from his faith, in order to eliminate him, how much more so must we reach every Jew, no matter how distant from his faith, in order to embrace and revive him. This is the message that reverberates in the Chabad movement: We will find each and every individual that the Nazis wanted to burn in their crematoria, even if we need to comb the globe, from Kathmandu to Alaska, in order for that soul to kindle Shabbat candles and be renewed in the glow of their life-affirming flames.

Finally, I’d like to honor my grandmother, Ada Rosenstruch, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. She didn’t write books or give lectures; she simply made aliyah to the Land of Israel, building a life for herself and bringing life into the world. It is in her merit that these words have been written.

*Translated by Yehoshua Siskin, Janine Muller Sherr

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