A few days ago we remembered the countless millions who perished at the hand of the nazis and their collaborators. Unimaginable millions with their talent, potential, goodness and dreams were gone like chaff. But many other incredible individuals survived, such as this exemplary Mench (I believe it looks like Cantor Moshe Kraus but not sure).
In this stirring clip (gotten from non other than Rabbi Zajac, via Edo), he speaks (in a little English sprinkled in his Yiddish) about how he got 1000 dollars to Rabbi Baruch Rabinovicz, the Munkaczer Rebbe who was being taken on a train bound to the Ghetto of Kamenets-Podolsk, from where no one was returning (The Rebbe of Munkacs survived the war, perhaps due to this help).
The clarity of the Rebbe’s reply to a young Moishele is beyond human… it is a reply that is deep, wise and poignant to us now, looking back the better part of a century. But to have spoken it in that situation requires qualities hard to fathom. People are naturally very much concerned with and consumed by what is immediately around them, even when its trivial and banal. When it is of catastrophic and enormous proportions, they are all the more so and with good reason, and yet the Rebbe of this illustrious dynasty spoke during the Shoah, and saw beyond it, as if he was reading about it in a history book decades later. It is no wonder that Mr. Kraus held on to these words so deeply.
The words were about a breira… a choice, which so many did not have then, and how kidush hashem is not possible without it. And today we remember the brave and the fierce, the ones who had a choice, and chose to never again let our enemies murder us in comfort, but rather to stand like lions between them and our families and our people, and in doing so paid with everything they had, till their last breadth.
Often we hear that they laid down their lives, or gave their lives, but we must never forget they did no such thing. They went to make the enemy lay down theirs before harm comes to Israel. Sure, they were willing to lose their lives rather than endanger their people, dishonor their nation or abandon their brothers in arms, and so they did lose their lives, but they laid down nothing… we remember that they chose to fight, and chose kidush hashem when they lived and when hashem in his infinite wisdom took them from us, from their families far too young and far too soon.
The Breira that all Jews had after the war, led to the establishment of our Jewish state… from the ashes came life fiercer and brighter than ever, and it continues because the of the good breiras enough Jews still make to safeguard it. Fittingly, BH we celebrate the state’s 70th birthday tomorrow.
I am ever so proud every year to see our nation honor our fallen, to see a a whole country stand still, streets highways and all, if only for a brief moment to honor and remember the heroic lads, and the innocent victims of our more murderous enemies.
But as their list grows ever longer, and their deeds are told, it is more and more difficult to bear. The very best among us keep leaving us, those that jumped on the grenade, and those that charged first into the fire, and those who drew the fire onto them to save their friends… and some among us so much less worthy remain. And sometimes some of us fall so short, that we could not possible do justice to the sacrifice the brave paid and continue to pay, so that we may all live free and safe. On other fronts, ironically and tragically we often act in ways that would complete the work of our murderers during the Shoah…
If I may borrow from the Saxons, who borrowed from the Romans, I take some comfort in the timeless words of Horatius, the Captain of the Gate
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.”
But we must do better, the reward for loyalty, courage, and ultimate selflessness and ahavat Am Israel cannot be only the glory of heroics, which may be enough for said heroes but says little of us. The glory requires the poet to sing it and the awed audience around the fire to marvel in it. Those lines, nor anything like them, were not written recently.
What matter is what we do. So let us not only complain about the shoah while we sink into assimilation into what’s left of the western world (itself self destructing due to similar forces), but heed its lessons.
Let us remember our warriors, let us never forget them, and let us honor them, their families and their sacrifice by being better, stronger and nobler, let us try to live for them and let us use our Breira, guaranteed and safeguarded by our lads in uniform, well, for good, and for as Rebbe Baruch said, for a life of kidush hashem.