Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi FishmanINN: TF

The holy Tzaddik, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, a onetime leader of the Haredi community in Hungary and author of the famous book, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah” was murdered 78 years ago while being transported in a crowded railway car from Auschwitz to the death camp Mauthhausen. Once a fierce anti-Zionist, he realized his error when he was forced to go into hiding in Bucharest during the Holocaust.

Without any books whatsoever, he reviewed the entire Torah with his extraordinary photographic memory and reached the conclusion that, “The sole purpose of all the afflictions which smite us in our exile is to arouse us to return to our Holy Land….” In his treatise, an encompassing Halakhic examination of the mitzvah to live in the Land of Israel, he concludes that the horrors of his time were the result of the failure of the Jewish People to heed the Torah’s call to return to the Land of Israel.

He mentions fifteen times in the course of “Eim HaBanim Semeichah” that he doesn’t have any books to substantiate his sources, then goes on the quote the source exactly, or almost exactly; not only the texts from the Torah, Tanach, or Gemara, Rishonim, and Achronim, but all the commentaries on them as well. He writes: ‘The purpose of this work is to raise our Land from the dust and stimulate love and affection for it in the hearts of our Jewish brethren, young and old alike, so that they may yearn and strive to return to our Land, the Land of our forefathers, and leave the lands of exile... The essential point is that Hashem is waiting for us to take the initiative, to desire and long for the return to Eretz Yisrael. He does not want us to wait for Him to bring us there.”

Certainly one cannot equate the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the past year with the horror of the Holocaust, and I don’t want to imply that any kind of similar disaster is awaiting the Jews of the Diaspora today, but the outbursts of Jew hatred that we are witnessing weekly around the world can’t be denied and the writing, so to speak, is on the wall. While Rabbi Teichtal was hiding from the Nazis he realized that mass Aliyah was the only chance for escape. As painful and familiar it may be for us today, he presents a straightforward answer to why the Jewish leaders of his time did not call out to the Jewish masses to flee to the Holy Land. Self-interest, he says, brought about the tragic blindness and failure to act. He writes:

“Therefore, those who have a predisposition on this matter will not see the truth and will not concede to our words. All the evidence in the world will not affect them, for they are smitten with blindness and their inner biases cause them to deny even things which are as clear as day. Who amongst us is greater than the Spies in the Wilderness? The Torah testifies that they were upstanding individuals (Rashi, BaMidbar 13:3). Nonetheless, since they were influenced by their desire for honor and influence, they rejected the desirable Land and led others astray setting the foundation for the bitter exiles from the Land, as Chazal explain. Yehoshua and Calev began to argue with them and attempted to prove the authenticity of Moshe and his Torah, proclaiming, “Let us ascend at once” (BaMidbar 13:30). They even brought lengthy arguments and proofs to show that Israel would succeed [in entering the Land], as Rashi states. Nevertheless, they were unable to convince them [the Spies], for the Spies were prejudiced by hidden motives.”

The Zohar (Vayishlach, 3:158A) and the “Shelah” (Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Torah SheBichtav - Shelach, 2:68a, s.v. “be’inyan”) and the book “Mesillat Yesharim (Ch.19 on Hasidut) also explain that the Spies were afraid that they would lose their positions of authority upon entering Eretz Yisrael where a new type of leadership would be needed.

HaRav Teichtal continues:

“The same holds true in our times even among Rabbis, Rebbes and Hassidim. This one has a good rabbinical position; this one is an established Admor and this one has a profitable business or factory, or a prestigious job which provides great satisfaction. They are afraid that their status will decline if they go to Eretz Yisrael. People of this sort are influenced by their deep-rooted selfish motives to such an extent that they themselves do not realize that their prejudice speaks on their behalf.

“In my responsa, Mishneh Sachir, I cite our holy master, a man of G-d, Rabbi Yeshayah Muskat of Praga, from his eulogy for the brilliant Rabbi Meir Shapira, Av Beit Din of Lublin. He said that most of the time a person fools himself and thinks that he acts for the sake of Heaven, but in reality he is controlled by his deep-rooted motives, and even he does not realize it... Divrei Chayim on Hanukkah states that a person sees only what he wants to see. Therefore, one who is prejudiced on a certain matter can no longer judge truthfully. This is the reason the Torah prohibited a judge from taking a bribe.

“People of this sort will not be convinced to accept the truth, even if they are shown thousands of proofs from the Torah (just as occurred in the incident of Yehoshua, Calev, and the Spies). Therefore, this book (“Eim HaBanim Semeichah”) is intended only for those who wish to know the truth as it is; they will lend an attentive ear to my words. I do not allege that you must accept my view. Rather, I will provide halakhic analysis. Whoever wishes to refute me, let him come and refute, but only with absolute proofs from the words of Chazal, as I have done. Then, I will debate him to the best of my God-given abilities. But, those who come with mere fabrications, without any substantiation from Chazal, will be disregarded.

“Our master, a man of G-d, the Chatam Sofer, writes similarly: “Anyone who does not speak truth in his heart and who is not guided by integrity and righteousness, should be avoided. Remove your steps from his path” (Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 6:59).

Unfortunately, as Rabbi Teichtal predicted, his warnings were ignored. The English translator of “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman, explains:

“When the Final Solution of the Nazis finally reached Hungary, Rabbi Teichtal tried to flee with his family back to Czechoslovakia, hoping the situation was better there. They were captured and sent to Auschwitz toward the end of the war. Then, as the Russian armies drew close to the extermination camp, the Nazis transported the inmates deeper into Germany. During the train ride to Mauthausen, the guards threw crusty chunks of bread to their captives. When a Ukrainian prisoner grabbed a piece out of the hand of an old and starving Jew, Rav Teichtal protested. Others Jews warned him to mind his own business, but he demanded that the thief return the bread. A student, who was in the cattle car as well, says that Ukrainian prisoners and a Nazi guard beat Rabbi Teichtal to death.”

May his memory and the memory of the six million murdered by the Nazis be for an eternal blessing and an ever-burning flame for us all.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."