Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira |
The Piaseczner Rebbe
The last Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto
Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Piaseczner Rebbe was the last Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto. Although he was offered the possibility of rescue at the outset of the ghetto, he refused to abandon his followers and the other inhabitants of the ghetto who sought his advice and solace. He addressed his followers on Sabbaths and on holidays, and these uplifting sermons always reflected what was transpiring at that moment in the ghetto, as well as what was in their hearts. He wrote down his teachings while in the ghetto and in the concentration camp, and his manuscript “EISH KODESH” was published posthumously.
(See “Fiery Pages” in TESTIMONIES and
“Sacred Fire” in BOOKSHELF)
…G-d’s worship requires strength and “simcha” (joy).This is especially true when the troubles carry on for a long time. For then, even someone who at first was able to brace himself and encourage others, also loses strength, becoming weary of comforting himself and others. Even if he tries to brace himself to console and bolster others, he cannot find the words. He has used and repeated them so often that anything he has to say is by now old and stale. It no longer has any effect, on either the speaker or his audience.
Incidentally, it seems that this is also part of the test. Although a person needs to hope at every moment to be saved by G-d, he must not depend entirely upon his hope that the outcome will be immediate salvation. For if he puts all his trust in this hope and, G-d forbid, time passes and rescue still does not come, he suffers what is described in the verse (Proverbs 13:12) “Expectation long deferred makes the heart sick.” This is especially so when people place all their faith in a prediction they were given or in some natural event, saying, “Ah! Now the salvation must happen.” When rescue does not materialize, the person’s spirit falls even further and he becomes more broken….
The entire world belongs to G-d. Even we belong not to ourselves but to G-d. We come to this world at the will of G-d, our existence is at G-d’s discretion, and we will go to the higher world at his blessed desire. The definition of “good” is what He, blessed G-d, desires. We have no right to flail, G-d forbid, at His will. He, blessed He, does not want to torture us, this we must also accept with love, hoping that he will not abandon us, but rescue us and draw us close to Him.
Consequently , if a person sustains himself only with his belief in imminent salvation, then his experience of agony and suffering remain unmitigated, and it is difficult for him to bear when, G-d forbid, salvation is delayed. This is not the case if together with the belief in salvation he also bows his head, saying, “He is G-d, and will do what’s best in His eyes” (I Samuel 3:18). This actually softens and absorbs the bitterest feelings, and lessens the sting of pain at what is happening. A person is then able to bear more, and his faith has more power to boost his spirits, even when, G-d forbid, salvation does not come as soon as he had hoped….
…In the past, when facing the challenge to conquer ourselves, we had to overcome our desires and evil inclination, as it says in the Mishnah (Avoth 4:1):
“Who is strong? He who conquers his desires.” Now, however, we have another, additional challenge: to conquer our despair and bolster our broken spirit, to take strength in G-d. Doing so is very, very difficult, because the agony is unbearable, G-d will have mercy. But while so many Jews are being burned alive for G-d’s name, when they are murdered and slaughtered only because they are Jews, then we must at least be able to withstand this test. With the very same selflessness that they display, we too must conquer ourselves and find strength in G-d.
This is hinted at in the verses with which we opened this chapter, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt. They met you on the road, cutting off those stragglers at the rear…” The Hebrew word “karcha”, “met you”, also translates as “chilled you”, meaning, “they were trying to degrade you.” The Hebrew words, “hanecheshalim acharecha”, “those stragglers at the rear” can also be translated as “those who had fallen into despair”, or as one might say in Yiddish, “Di vas fallen unter sich”, because it was their inner spirit that had collapsed. It was these stragglers whom Amalek was able to attack and damage. Moses taught us that even in the midst of war, even when Amalek is dominant – when according to all the evidence of our eyes, there is no hope of salvation – we must continue to look heavenwards, persisting in our belief in the supernatural ability of G-d to save us. Moses lowered his hands and allowed Amalek momentary victory in order to teach the Jewish people that even when Moses’ hands are lowered and Amalek is winning, they must still turn their faces heavenwards and hope. Not just this, but even when salvation is not forthcoming we must enslave our hearts to our Father in heaven, accepting everything with love. Then, our acceptance arouses the transformation of “Din” (strict justice) into “Rachamim”(merciful justice), as we said above, fulfilling the promise to “obliterate the memory of Amalek from beneath the skies.”(Deuteronomy 25:18).
From the sermon of the Piaseczner Rebbe , in “AISH KODESH”, Purim 5702