Acharei Mot 5779
Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16-18 )
Perhaps the greatest resistance of the Jews during the Holocaust was their efforts to retain their humanity towards others, to do acts of kindness and to help others.
GOOD MORNING! Our hearts go out to the victims of hatred and anti-Semitism in the Poway California Synagogue shooting. As we just read in the Haggadah, "In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us." It is so sad.... May they ... and all of us be comforted by the Almighty for this and other hate murders in the world.
Thursday, May 2nd, is Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, created by the State of Israel to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust. People ask, "Why was there so little resistance by the Jews?" If one actually does the investigation and the reading, it is amazing how much resistance was put forward in so many places by so many people in so many ways. Here is one intriguing story.
Elmer Bendiner was a navigator in a B-17 during WW II. In his book The Fall of Fortresses he tells this story of a World War II bombing run over Kassel, Germany.
"Our B-17, the Tondelayo, was barraged by flak from Nazi anti-aircraft guns. That wasn't unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a 20 millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple.
"On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but 11 had been found in the gas tanks. 11 unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. A near-miracle, I thought.
"Even after 35 years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn. He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer. Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were as clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them! One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawled message in Czech.
"The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note read: 'This is all we can do for you now.' " Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea!
There is a wide misconception that Jews went to their death "like sheep to the slaughter" with virtually no resistance or fighting back. Many people know of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but few know that it took the Germans longer to conquer the Warsaw Ghetto (27 days) than it took them to conquer all of Poland (18 days). The might of the German nation against a few hundred starving and poorly armed Jews.... They even awarded the General in charge an Iron Cross First Class for his momentous "victory".
In the face of a largely hostile society with little outside support, starved, worked nearly to death -- Jews organized resistance in approximately 100 out of 400 ghettos. They revolted in the Sobibor death camp which led to the Nazis destroying the camp, plowing it under and planting it with crops. Seven hundred Jews rebelled in Treblinka killing guards, setting buildings on fire and making their escape -- though few survived. In Auschwitz-Berkenau the Jews smuggled dynamite from a munitions factory and blew up one of the four crematoriums.
There are many books on Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. There is one, I Escaped from Auschwitz, about two Jews who brought to the world a 50 page report detailing the workings of the death camp.
However, perhaps the greatest resistance of the Jews during the Holocaust was their efforts to retain their humanity towards others, to do acts of kindness and to help others. In a time when seemingly the whole world had gone insane, when human life appeared to many as worthless, when one was struggling for survival -- the stories of caring for others, sacrificing for others are legendary. I highly recommend To Vanquish the Dragon by Pearl Benisch. It is the true story of women who were students of the Beth Jacob school who kept their humanity in a time when so many had lost theirs.
At the end of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC there is a little amphitheater playing short clips. In one, a man relates that while in a death camp he saw his friend praying at a time that was too late for the morning service and too early for the afternoon service. He asks his friend what he is praying. The friend responds, "I am thanking God." For what?" enquires the man, "Look around you! What do you have to be thankful for?" His friend replied, "I am thanking God that I am one of us and not one of them."
Though "In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us" they do not succeed in wiping us out or destroying our humanity. Why? As the Hagaddah concludes that paragraph -- for "the Holy One Blessed be He rescues us from their hand." We continue to be a light unto the nations. The Jewish people are eternal!
Acharei Mos, Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30
Acharei Mos includes the Yom Kippur service where the Cohen Gadol cast lots to designate two goats -- one to be sacrificed, the other to be driven to a place called Azazel -- after the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest) confessed the sins of the people upon its head. Today it is a phrase in the vernacular in Israel in the heat of an argument to instruct another person to "go to Azazel." I don't believe the intent, however, is to look for the goat....
The goat sent to Azazel carried away the sins of the Jewish people. This, I surmise, is the source of the concept of using a scapegoat. One thing you can truly give credit to the Jewish people -- when we use a scapegoat, at least we use a real goat!
The Torah then proceeds to set forth the sexual laws -- who you are not allowed to marry or have relations with. If one appreciates that the goal of life is to be holy, to perfect oneself and to be as much as possible like God, then he/she can appreciate that it is impossible to orgy at night and be spiritual by day.
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"For on this day (referring to Yom Kippur) you shall receive atonement to purify you for all your transgressions, before the Almighty you shall be purified" ( Leviticus 16:30).
Does Yom Kippur atone for ALL transgressions?
The Sages in the Talmud (Yoma 85b) clarify that Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between man and the Almighty. However, with regards to transgressions between man and man, Yom Kippur can only atone if a person first attains forgiveness from those whom he has offended or harmed. This includes returning what was taken and possibly financial recompense as well as asking for forgiveness.
From this principle, we see the importance of being careful not to cause other people harm, either financial, physical or emotional.
It is proper to forgive those who sincerely ask for forgiveness; however, it is not always easy to forgive. One has to be able to forgive with a full heart for the person to receive atonement from the Almighty. Therefore, since this is difficult for a person to do, we should be even more careful not to wrong or hurt someone.
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Courage is not having the strength to go on ...
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-- Theodore Roosevelt