On April 18th, we will commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“If my parents and your parents
hadn’t migrated to Eretz Yisraeyl in 1936,
we would have met in 1944
there, on the platform at Aushwitz,
I at 20
And you, at 5.
What’s your name?
Hanneleh?” (Yehudah Amichai)
What IF our parents, our grandparents hadn’t gotten out in time?
What if they had stayed behind in Europe?
Yom Hashoah makes us think about all the “what if’s” there could have been. We have just celebrated the holiday of Pesach, and we were commanded to re-tell the story as though each one of us had personally been led out of Egypt. What if?
In many synagogues, on Yom HaShoah, we read about the Prophet Samuel, who warned the Israelite people of the sufferings that they would endure if they were ruled by a king. But the people would not listen, and they said, “We must have a king over us, that we may be like all the other nations.” At God’s command, Samuel conducts a lottery, which selects Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, as King. Saul became the first King of Israel and, had he obeyed God’s word, the kingdom presumably would have remained in his family instead of being transferred to David and his descendants. Saul was instructed by the prophet, Samuel to launch an all-out war against Israel’s historic enemy, Amalek, by destroying their property and wiping them out. Instead, when the battle ended, Saul violated God’s command and spared Amalek’s murderous king Agag, most likely out of respect for a fellow monarch. Samuel, outraged at Saul’s flouting of God’s command, informs him that the kingdom will be taken from him. Saul then summons Agag, and says: “As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women. As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” Samuel then kills Agag himself. From this point on, the king too “tender hearted” to kill Agag, becomes merciless. Fearful that the kingship will pass to David, he murders 85 men in the city of Nob when he learns that they had given David a night’s lodging. Jewish tradition contrasts Saul’s behavior towards the murderer Agag and his killing of the innocent men of Nob with the comment “he who is merciful when he should be cruel, will in the end be cruel when he should be merciful.” Obsessed with the threat to his kingdom from David, Saul hurls a spear at his own son, Jonathan, for remaining friendly with David and accuses his closest advisors of conspiring against him. He goes into his final battle against the Philistines robbed of all hope. The night before, Samuel had prophesied to him that he and his sons would die the next day. But Saul does not leave. Apparently, death has come to seem preferable to life. In the end, Saul is wounded and, fearing that the Philistines will capture and humiliate him, he falls on his sword and dies, along with his three sons. (I Samuel 31:4)
In 1960, Israeli agents in Argentina captured and brought to Jerusalem Adolf Eichman, the chief administrator of the Nazis “Final Solution.” His 1961 trial became a turning point in Israel’s history. After being sentenced to death, Eichman asked for clemency. Citing these words by the prophet Samuel before killing Agag, the murderous King of Amalek, Israeli President Yitzchak ben Zvi rejected Eichman’s petition for mercy, “As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women, As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.”
It is up to us to create some beauty in this world….to give meaning and hope to the battle. We have an opportunity to take action to make our voices heard and to prove that we have survived our nightmare. We have an obligation to stop acts of genocide all over the world, and to send a message to our new generation that what has been done in the past must never happen again. We must not betray them. We must not betray each other and our children. We must remember what human beings can do to each other. We are our future and the future of humanity.
So, ask yourself…
What if? The answer is because you were hated, and you must love the stranger as yourself. You were victims of others’ callousness and apathy, and you must never look on bloodshed with indifference. And even though things might seem totally absurd, we must try to invent reason, we must try to create beauty, and never stand idly by.
Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Jewish Literacy”. William Morrow and Co. New York. 1991.JPS HEBREW-ENGLISH TANAKH. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia. 1999.