Op-Ed: Out of the Valley of the Dry Bones
Rabbi Dr. Israel TabakThe writer (1904-1991) held rabbinic ordination from European Yeshivas,...
Pesach (Passover) marks the anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, an event that will live in the annals of Jewish martyrdom as an epic of unmatched courage. Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel is held the week after Pesach for that reason, as it is in the period during which the uprising continued.
What was the source of that indomitable courage?
As the hair-raising details of that tragic story were pieced together in retrospect, from eyewitness accounts and from other authentic sources, it becomes evident that it was the vision of the new Zion that roused those kedoshim [holy martyrs] from the brink of their graves and gave them the strength to hurl defiance at their foes.
The signal for the revolt on that unforgettable Pesach eve was a white and blue flag, which suddenly appeared on top of a tenement within the Ghetto walls. The sight of the flag was sufficient to electrify the martyrs and to instill into their hearts the unquenchable zeal to avenge the blood of the millions of their fellow Jews and to say, as did Samson, "Let me die with the Philistines."
On Pesach we say Yizkor not only for the departed of our own families and our own Congregations, but for the martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto and of all the Ghettos of Europe who died al Kiddush Hashem,[In Sanctifying the Divine Name] and who live on in the consciousness of the new Israel which they helped to resurrect.
Pesach is a holiday of diverse moods. The tragic and the heroic, the mournful and the hopeful, the somber and the sentimental are strangely commingled and reflected in its services and ceremonies.
Among the symbols of redemption that go to make up the Seder plate, there is the egg, a symbol of mourning, for it serves as a reminder that Passover and Tisha B'av fall on the same day of the week.
On Pesach we usher in the solemn days of Sephirah [The Counting of the Omer] which cast a pall on the mirthful spirit of this Yom Tov, and which recall the ill-fated revolt of Bar Kochba with its gloomy aftermath; and on the same night we open the door to the prophet Elijah, the harbinger of glad tidings of redemption in Zion.
On the day when we read the Haftorah of the "Valley of the Dry Bones" and we ask with the prophet "Son of man, can these bones live?" – on the very same day we read Shir Hashirim [the biblical "Song of Songs"] the song of youth and of hope and we affirm with gladness of heart, "The time of singing is come and the voice of Spring is heard in our land."
Likewise, the holiday of Pesach on which we observe the anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, is when, on the same festival, we prepare to mark the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism and to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, the anniversary of the establishment of the renewed State of Israel.
For out of the "valley of dry bones" to which European Jewry was reduced, there emerged the "Song of Songs" of the new Jewish state.
It is strange, indeed, that all the attempts that have been made in recent years to establish a fitting monument to the millions of our fellow-Jews who were burned and martyred by the Nazi beast, all these attempts have ended in failure. Somehow, not one proposal has captured the imagination of the people; nothing so far contemplated has equaled the enormity of the loss, nothing so far proposed could heal the wound or reduce the poignant pain that is still so keen and so fresh in the heart of the Jewish community, Klal YIsroel.
History, it seems, has already established that monument; it is nothing less than the State of Israel. Destiny will permit nothing less than that.
It has decreed that a people reborn, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the concentration camps, a people that has restored the ancient glory of Israel and redeemed its honor among the nations – only the reconstituted State of Israel can serve as that remembrance. Indeed, the "dry bones" have given birth to a new "Song of Songs".
Among the many legends which have survived the great Jewish tragedy, and which give us an insight into the mentality of the sainted martyrs of our generation, is the following:
A community which was ordered to report to the market place on a certain day was caught unawares, alas, and none of its members was able to flee to the underground. The Nazi hangman was so pleased with the results that he offered the leader of the unhappy community a chance to escape through the walls of the Ghetto.
"I prefer to remain with my people," the leader firmly declined.
"Then you will share their fate" the hangman gleefully answered.
"You can't destroy me, Nazi," said the Jew. "I have a son in Israel."
Rabbi Dr. Israel Tabak, whose 23rd Yahrzeit was observed on Iyar 3, 5774, held rabbinical ordination from European Yeshivas, as well as Yeshiva University in New York. He held a Doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University and was the author of "Judaic Lore in Heine", the first authoritative work on the many references to Jewish tradition in the writings of the German Jewish Heinrich Heine. He was the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Zion in Baltimore, Maryland for over 45 years and retired from there to live his last years in his beloved Jerusalem, Israel. He was the President of the Rabbinical Council of America at the time of the founding of the State of Israel, and headed a delegation of leading American Orthodox rabbis in 1949 to visit the new State of Israel and establish personal ties with its leadership, was a leading member of the Religious Zionists of America.
This article was first written on the occasion of the Tenth Yahrzeit of the martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1953, as published in "A Treasury of Holiday Thoughts" by Israel Tabak, Twayne Publishers, NY. NY, 1958, page 138.