Rabbi Lau March of the Living
Rabbi Lau March of the Living Photo: Courtesy of the March of the Living

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Today is the fast of the 10th of Tevet, and I was privileged this year to hear a new perspective on it.

I came to the home of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau to broadcast the zoom workshop "Nifgashot" from there. Rav Lau explained that on the 10th of Tevet the siege on the walls of Jerusalem began, which signaled the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple.

In our generation, this is also "the day of general Kaddish" for all those who perished in the Holocaust whose date of death is unknown.

By chat, a young participant asked, "How could this be?" The rabbi explained that today this truly sounds illogical that someone could die and no one would know where and when, but this is exactly what happened during the Holocaust to millions. The dates of their deaths are unknown and they have no graves. There are individuals and even entire families from whom no memory remains. And the meaning of this day has been expanded especially for them, to light a memorial candle for them, to learn Torah in their merit, and to say Kaddish.

But following this somber message, the conversation suddenly took off in a different, optimistic direction. One of the girls asked when the rabbi said "Shema Yisrael" during the Holocaust. He smiled a bitter smile and said: "I was two years old when the war broke out, and I was eight when it ended. Why do you think I knew how to say the Shema? Who taught me? The German officers? I was preoccupied with survival. I did not know how to read or write in any language. I immigrated to Israel as an orphan of my two parents. At the age of eight, I did not know how to open a prayer book. I did not know how to say a single Hebrew sentence."

I looked from the side at the man who would one day become the Chief Rabbi of Israel and who is today considered one of the outstanding Jewish spokesmen in the world. And I saw how it's possible to rise and build oneself up from out of the ruins.

And then a young girl asked what gave him strength. "Words from the prophets describe everything," he answered. "The terrible destruction of our people, but also the building and rehabilitation, the capacity to fulfill our dream. Read; it's all there."