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The following Holocaust story originally appeared in Besheva Hebrew Magazine, a sister publication of Arutz Sheva, in the Holocaust Day edition. The story was researched and written by Oded Mizrachi.
Rabbi Shapira placed the logs in an orderly pile to transfer them to the Nazi Officers' quarters to heat their rooms in the cold of winter. All around, everything was frozen. His hands were frozen chunks of ice. He was elderly, tired, and fatigued from hard labor, but he had no choice but to continue his work, or else, meet his end.
Suddenly, he heard screams and crying from the women's barracks. Mothers and their children were being led by Nazi officers to trucks which would transport them to the gas chambers. They knew that these were their last minutes. The hollers and cries were terrifying.
Rabbi Shapira was sure that the cries would reach the heavens, and momentarily, fire and brimstone would rain down and wipe out the camp and its cursed leaders from the face of the earth.
But it didn't happen.
One of the women in the group being led to sure death recognized Rabbi Shapira and ran over to him and asked for a knife. He understood that her intent was to commit suicide, and he explained to her that it is better that the Nazis kill her than for her to take her own life. "G-d gave, and G-d took," he quoted explaining that only the One who gave a soul to man could take it from him. He told her that it was forbidden for a Jew to kill herself.
The woman was not convinced and insisted that the Rabbi give her a knife. When she realized that Rabbi Shapira would not cooperate, she glanced behind her and saw a German officer standing some 50 yards away with a knife protruding from his belt. She ran over to the German officer, and Rav Shapira followed behind her pleading with her, "No, no! Don't commit suicide. It is wrong."
When she ran up to the German officer, he cocked his rifle and asked, "What's going on here?" Rabbi Shapira explained that the woman wants to commit suicide, and that according to Judaism, it is forbidden to do so even if a Jew is facing sure death, and therefore he is trying to convince her not to.
The woman's face shined with light, and Rabbi Shapira couldn't tell if it was an illumination of holiness or of insanity. He had never seen a face with such a light.
"Please give me the knife," she said.
The German officer was entertained by the thought of a Jewess stabbing herself to death and saving him a bullet. He pulled the long knife from its holster and pointed his gun at her warning her not to try something stupid.
The woman took the knife in her shaking hands and then lowered the small basket that she was carrying on her shoulder to the snow. She began to remove one rag after another from the basket until…
Rabbi Shapira and the German officer were taken by surprise at the sight in front of them: At the bottom of the basket was a white pillow and on it, a baby who was gently whining. The woman raised her eyes to the sky and said, "Master of the Universe, you gave me a healthy boy, and I ask of you one request: when my son dies, he should die as a Jew." She then grasped the knife, and recited the blessing: Blessed art thou O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us to perform circumcision!"
She bent over and circumcised her son.
A squirt of blood emanated from the small body. The baby cried, the mother cried, and Rabbi Shapira who couldn't believe what he was witnessing, wept with them. The Nazi stood frozen.
The mother covered her son with the rags, picked him up in her hands, and continued reciting the blessings: "Blessed art thou O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who has commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our forefather." She added the shehechiyanu blessing.
The blessings that the mother recited echoed in the frozen expanse, and she returned to the line of women and children who were being led to the gas chambers. After a short while, the mother and her circumcised son were no longer amongst the living.
Rabbi Shapira survived the holocaust. At the end of WWII, he emigrated to the United States, and told this story on many occasions.
The Ask the Rabbi section of the Bet El Yeshiva site has become the main venue for secular Israelis to reach out for rabbinical guidance, in a comfortable anonymous fashion. The letters are an amazing read, as a quiet revolution is underway: Israelis seek the spiritual roots of the Jewish nation.
We are a happily married Israeli couple, living together for ten years and married for seven. We have two children, and we live in Brazil.
Recently I feel a strong inner drive to become religious. I am trying to pray and keep Shabbat according to my understanding. My husband is not opposed, but he is not joining along.
Life in galut (outside of Israel) has become difficult for me, despite it being a high standard of living and a venue of extraordinary natural scenery and serenity. I am starting to understand that my place is in the holy land, and that Jewish education for my children is a must. In the village that we live in, there is no Jewish education.
But my new path does not resonate with my husband – yet. Returning to Israel in his view, is like returning to jail, unfortunately.
I am torn inside.
There is a par or basic difference between us, and it worries me. What is the right thing to do, when a wife suddenly takes interest in spirituality, prayer, learning Torah and reciting blessings, and the husband is still watching action movies? How can a couple overcome this growing abyss?
Our relationship is built upon mutual trust, excellent communication, friendship and love – and two great children!
He has watched a few lectures on the internet with me and doesn't completely reject it, but he is progressing so slowly. I know that I can't pressure him, and that he will progress at his own pace and in his own way. But what am I supposed to do in practical terms?
In my thoughts, I am already back in Israel, living in a Jewish community with Jewish education for my kids. On the other hand, all of our livelihood is in the galut.
I would be happy if you could advise me.
Shalom Dear Shoshana,
I was so happy to get your letter from distant Brazil.
It was very special reading about your feelings and your inner quest, as though Hashem [G-d] is calling from deep within you to return to your roots, to your true place, to where you will find joy.
Indeed, it is not always relaxed in Israel with so much going on, and some people choose to flee from all the turbulence to a serene place. This is a natural reaction. But it is important to know that sometimes this causes a person to lose many wonderful assets that are not so evident, but when one learns to look deeper, he discovers their importance and understands that it is worthwhile to weather the difficulties to reach true goodness.
Similarly, a hiker must climb the mountain to reach the plateau with a wonderful view.
The Jewish People have a great mission, and infinite joy and light await them when they succeed. But to reach our destination, we must go through developmental processes that are sometimes long and painful.
Each one of us must move forward, to hear the voice of Hashem calling within him, and to revive the connection with our Father in heaven that loves us so much, and never abandons us. Each person has his own path that he must traverse. One person feels a sudden awakening of strong feelings, while another must take a slower, intellectual approach. One person may have great difficulty severing ties with his former lifestyle, while another can't wait to take on his/her new path.
I have corresponded with numerous people who underwent a complete return to our heritage, and I learn from them the difficulties and challenges, and try to help them move forward, step by step.
One of the challenges that I have come across often is when one spouse wants to become religious and the other expresses no interest. The moment we are dealing with two people, it becomes complex. It is possible, but demands much more patience and investment.
From your letter, I can see that your situation is much better than many couples because your husband is not against you, and he gives you free reign. He even occasionally takes interest. These points are an important basis for your belief that you will complete this path together, even if it demands much patience.
It is important that your return to observance not encroach upon the wonderful husband-wife relationship that you have built. Your warm home atmosphere and the beautiful children that you have been blessed with obligate you to build without tearing down – to build your mutual future on the basis of what you have.
Know that the calling and awakening that you feel deep inside penetrate your husband as well, but it just takes him more time to absorb it. This is totally natural. It is the same with most couples, that the husband and wife progress at a different pace.
Try as much as possible to walk this path together, to listen and learn, to yearn and converse, and to advance step by step. Each small step is very important, and I believe that slowly but surely, you will merit to reach Israel and build and be built therein, and live in joy and holiness.
It is so easy, Shoshana, to destroy things, but afterwards we regret it. Therefore, have patience and invest in your family with correct judgement.
Invest in Torah study, in learning, and in conversation. Do so in a good, relaxed atmosphere with love, mutual trust, and verbal recognition of the positive things in each other. Advance forward and feel out what mitzvot, in accordance with your husband's willingness, you can introduce into your lifestyle and begin to live a true Jewish life.
I would be delighted to remain in contact and help you step by step. I think that together, we can make wonderful progress.
I wish you much success,
The Bet El Yeshiva website seeks a sponsor/donor. Contact: baruch@IsraelNationalNews.com
The Ask the Rabbi section of the Bet El Yeshiva site has become the main venue for secular Israelis to reach out for rabbinical guidance, in a comfortable anonymous fashion. The letters are sometimes astounding, and it is heartwarming to see a quiet revolution taking place, of Israelis seeking to return to the spiritual roots of the Jewish nation.
I am interested in starting to keep the Laws of Nidah. Can you give me a general explanation of how to count the days [that my husband and I are forbidden to have relations] and when I should go to the mikva (ritual bath)?
Shalom Dear N,
I got your letter was overjoyed to see your desire to observe one of the beautiful gifts that Hashem gave us. We are accustomed to calling these laws the Laws of Family Purity, because they infuse the whole family with purity, and raise the level of the husband-wife relationship, and open us up to becoming holier.
These laws, which are complex and very personal, are usually studied in person, in a one-on-one encounter with a bridal counselor. A bridal counselor is a woman who underwent special training, and learned the laws in depth to a level where she is able to teach others how to observe the laws according to Torah in the best way.
Therefore, if you would like, I can refer you to a bridal counselor in your area, with whom you can learn the subject in a relaxed, serene manner, until you feel comfortable with the laws, so that they are in no way a burden upon you, but rather elevate you and make you feel wonderful.
In the meantime, you can start reading about the laws of family purity at this site: http://www.neveh.org/morgan/nidah/default.html [Hebrew site given in original letter: http://www.taharat.com/teharat/dinim.asp ]
I am happy to stay in touch and be of assistance in any way I can. Regarding the topic of family purity, or any other topic, I am here at your service, so feel free to contact me, to ask questions, clarify issues, or seek advice.
The Bet El Yeshiva website seeks a sponsor/donor. Contact Baruch@IsraelNationalNews.com
Got Married By Accident
A Shabbat Table Story
The following is a true story which appeared in Besheva Hebrew Magazine, a sister publication of Arutz Sheva, in the 18 Adar 5770 edition. The story was researched and written by Oded Mizrachi.
Naomi, a 28-year-old, talented girl who studies at a religious college, was driving to visit her parents. Thank G-d, everything was going her way. She was about to get her B.A. and already had an excellent job.
But, in essence, things were not going so well for Naomi: she had not yet found a husband – no lifelong friend with whom to build a family. Almost all of her friends were married, yet she had no propositions on the horizon.
She had grown sick of going out on shiduchim (arranged dates). Time after time, each encounter ended in disappointment. As time passed, despair increased until a horrific thought began to sink in: "maybe I'll never get married!"
Naomi rolled down the car window and in came a rush of Jerusalem air. Some traffic congestion brought her to a stop. She lifted her eyes to the blue skies and began to speak from her heart:
"Master of the Universe. You are all benevolent and don't subject any person to a trial that he cannot pass. So why am I totally stuck in life? Why don't you send me a nice guy who I will love, and he will love me. I know that I am not a total tzadika (righteous person), but I do try hard to do your will. You help me in all walks of life, but in the most important area, you have abandoned me to the darkness of Egypt. All of the good things that I have - my job, my degree, my friends and wonderful parents – what are they all worth if I have no husband and no home of my own? How many more times will I spend the Sabbath with my mother and father who are so filled with anxiety because I am still single?"
Naomi glanced at the next car over and noticed a couple engaged in conversation and smiling. Her despair deepened:
"Master of the Universe. I doubt that the couple in the next car over thinks about you or prays to you or runs their life according to your dictates, yet you enabled them to get married. Look at how happy they are. But I, who try so hard to do your will, live alone with no love and nothing. I have no problem with your granting them happiness and health, but please bestow the same upon me…"
The traffic cleared up and Naomi pressed on the gas pedal. But her inner turmoil caused her to press a bit too hard…
Boom! She hit the car in front of her. Holy Macaroli! An accident. Naomi pulled over and felt that she had sunk into a deep pit. Here, she had just poured her heart out to the Holy One Blessed Be He asking for a husband, and what she got was a car accident. As though this was what she was missing in life… She had no strength to get out of the car and instead began to cry.
Turning again to G-d, she said: "What are you doing to me, Master of the Universe? I asked for a groom, and instead you gave me a wreck. So many people in the cars around me don't even recognize your existence, yet they travel in peace, and you single out me to get entangled in damaging another vehicle? Who knows what the other driver is like?"
A young man aged 30 wearing a yarmulke came out the car and approached her. She continued crying in confusion and despair, and hardly glanced at him. The young man saw the state she was in and spoke gently to her:
"'The tin was wrecked and we escaped' (quote and play on words from Psalms 124:7). It's OK. It's not a serious accident. You can calm down. Thank G-d, there's hardly a dent. We just need to take each other's contact info, you know, for the insurance…"
Naomi began to regain her composure. She opened the glove compartment and reached for the car documents. She stepped out of the car, and the two exchanged contact info including their phone numbers. The guy, whose name was Shlomi, was very gentle and courteous.
"What a nice guy," Naomi thought to herself. "Instead of screaming at me like so many other drivers, he calmed me assuring me that nothing happened, and everything would be OK. How I wish I could meet someone like him," she daydreamed. She shook her head and asked herself, "Are you crazy? To meet a groom in an accident?"
That night, her mobile phone rang. It was Shlomi. Her heart skipped a beat. Why was he calling so late at night? What was so urgent? After a short silence, Shlomi said that he wasn't calling about the accident.
"When I saw you crying behind the steering wheel, it touched my heart," he confessed. Naomi was speechless. Maybe her crying was not for naught…
"You saw that I am religious. I have never called a girl directly to ask her out," he explained feeling baffled, "but I can't stop thinking about the encounter with you today. Do you think it's OK for us to meet?"
They set up a meeting and within a short time, they were under a chuppa.
BeSheva Magazine, Israel's third largest circulation newspaper, is owned and operated by the Bet El Yeshiva Center.
The Bet El Yeshiva Website's "Ask the Rabbi" section has emerged as the leading venue for secular Israelis to ask their first questions about Judaism. Dozens of intriguing inquiries come in each month from the non-religious sector, and a yeshiva rabbi, Yitzhak, answers them daily with love, warmth, and patience.
The letters are personal so I have changed the name in the refreshing exchange below. Enjoy!
Shalom. My name is Sharon. I am 17-years-old and live with my parents.
I live in a house which is totally secular, and I want to start keeping Shabbat, bezrat hashem.
I have a few questions and would be very happy to get some answers, because I really don't have anyone else to turn to.
1. Is it possible to keep Shabbat in a house where everyone else is not religious? How do I start?
2. How do I make a blessing over the food if I am the only one in the house keeping Shabbat? I ask because I saw on your site that there are special foods for religious people on Shabbat, and I really don't know how to relate to this issue.
That's basically it. I don't know what to do and where to start, but since your site rocks and is so nice and you allow people to write in, I am turning to you in the hopes you will answer me and guide me on how to start.
So thanks. I await your reply,
Shalom Dear Sharon,
I was very happy to receive your letter and am happy to help you in any way I can.
In addition to spreading Torah knowledge, our site strives to help people who turn to us and answer, guide, and help them build their spiritual world and be more fulfilled. This is my job on the site staff – to give direction on questions which require personal attention.
Usually, I also try to help establish contact with a suitable person in your area, someone who will be happy to help. This way, spiritual development is fostered with greater ease. A connection with the right person can help solve many difficulties, and enable you to learn more and advance quicker. So if you want, I can connect you with someone in your area. Just let me now.
And now to your questions:
It made me so happy to read of your wonderful desire to keep Shabbat. The Shabbat is a treasure, and the more one keeps it, the more one realizes what a beautiful treasure it is, how much light it illuminates, and how much joy and warmth Hashem gives us when we observe it.
In order to feel the great joy of Shabbat, it is important to advance step by step, because sometimes rushing too fast causes pressures and difficulties.
The first thing to start with, in my opinion, is the positive commandments, that is, Kiddush, the Shabbat meals, and the Shabbat prayers. Each is a special experience, and they give strength to continue learning and advance to refraining from the prohibitions of Shabbat.
The prohibitions of Shabbat are not there to weigh us down, but rather to assist us in sensing the specialness of the Shabbat, like a diamond which is important to safeguard, and only if your guard it, will you merit to enjoy its splendor.
Beloved Sharon! Make Kiddush on Shabbat, and feel how special the gift of Shabbat is, and how sweet it is, and how it elevates us from the mundane day-to-day routine. If you want more specific guidance, exactly how and what to do, I will write you in detail.
Remember that growing into Shabbat is dependent upon you. Even in surroundings where no one keeps Shabbat, you can reveal the beautiful light of Shabbat and be uplifted. Make no demands of your family, but rather the opposite, let them sense your happiness and love. Continue to advance and develop yourself, and eventually, they will also want to follow in your path.
On Shabbat, you can eat regular food, though we try to eat special food made for the Shabbat in honor of the Shabbat. But you don't have to do that from the outset. The special food increases the Shabbat feeling, but if it presents too many difficulties, don't start with that now.
On Shabbat food, we make the same blessings as food on weekdays, with one small addition. I can send you a small booklet about the blessings before and after eating.
Orli, I am happy to maintain contact with you so get back to me soon. If you want help in establishing contact with someone in your area, tell me a bit more about yourself, and I will find someone for you.
Much much success,