Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5772
Rabbi Dovid Saks
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