Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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Faith in the Veil of Tears

A first hand account by the Rebbe of Bluzhov from the Holocaust...

One morning in the Janowska slave labor and concentration camp, I was standing and sawing wood with another prisoner. To humiliate us as much as possible, I was given as a partner a very short man and am a tall man myself. It made the sawing both a difficult and a laughable sight. With each pull of the saw my partner would stretch out and stand on the tips of his toes, and I would bend down till my aching, swollen feet were bleeding. And the Germans stood by and watch our misery and suffering with delight.

One morning, on Hoshana Rabbah, as we were sawing wood, the wind carried in our direction piercing tormented cries such as I had never heard before, even in the Janowska hell. The desperate clamor was coming closer and closer as if the weeping was filling up the entire universe and drowning it with painful tears.

"It's a children's Aktion, little angels from the entire vicinity of Drohobycz, Borislov, Lvov, Stryj, Stanislav, and others were brought here to meet their maker" said another prisoner who passed by, pushing a wheelbarrow and not even glancing in our direction. We continued sawing the wood as our eyes became heavier and heavier with tears.

Suddenly, just next to us, I heard the voice of a woman. "Jews, have mercy upon me and give me a knife." In front of us was standing a woman, pale as a sheet. Only her eyes were burning with a strange fire. I thought that she wanted to commit suicide. I said to her, "Why are you in such a rush to get to the World of Truth? We will get there sooner or later. What difference can one day make?"

"Dog, what did you say to that woman?" A tall young German who appeared from nowhere demanded an answer, while swinging his truncheon above my head. "The woman asked for a knife. I explained to her that we Jews are not permitted to take our lives. For our lives are entrusted in the hands of G-d." I hastily added, "And i hope that you too will spare our lives." The German did not respond to my words. He turned to the woman and demanded an explanation from her. She answered curtly, "I asked for a knife."

As she was talking, she kept examining the German with her feverish eyes. Suddenly her eyes stopped wandering. The shape of a knife was clearly visible through the pocket. "Give me that pocket knife!" she ordered the German in a commanding voice. The German, taken by surprise, handed the knife to the woman.

"She bend down and picked something up. Only then did I notice a bundle of rags on the ground near the sawdust. She unwrapped the bundle. Amidst the rags on a snow white pillow was a newborn baby, asleep. With a steady hand she opened the pocket knife and circumcised the baby. In a clear, intense voice she recited the blessing of circumcision... "Baruch Ata Hashem, Elokaynu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kidishonu b'Mitvosav, Vitzivonu Al Mitzvah Milah" - Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to perform the mitzvah of circumcision.

She straightened her back, looked up to the heavens and said, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, you have given me a healthy child. I am returning to you a wholesome, kosher Jew." She walked over to the German, gave him back his blood stained knife, and handed him her baby on his snow white pillow.

Amidst a veil of tears, I said to myself then that this mother's circumcision will probably shake the foundations of the heaven and earth. Next to Avraham on Mount Moriah, where can you find a greater act of faith than this Jewish mother's?

Excerpted from the book, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, by Yaffa Eliach.

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