Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 25th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 25 –3rd of Iyar 5772
Parshat Acharei Mos/ Kedoshim
May Their Memory be Baruch (blessed)
One by one the cars pulled over to the side of the road. Many people get out of their cars and stand next to them in silence. It is 8:00 PM on Yom Hazikaron- Israel’s memorial day and I pull over as well. The radio station I had been listening to begins to recite psalms. Tehillim as a merit and in honor of the soldiers who perished in all of Israels wars and its civilian victims of terror. I listen to the numbers. 22,993 soldiers- 126 this past year alone, 2,477 innocent civilians, 10, 524, bereaved families, 4,992 widows and 2,396 orphans. That we know the exact number of each one and name is incredible. But even more touching and truly heart-wrenching is to hear the audio-biographies and memories of the loved ones that have been carved in my brain and heart as I listen to their stories as I drive home.
“Yishai was just a boy. He loved nature and animals. There was nothing he loved more then hiking through the hills and streams of the galile. I spoke to him at 7:16 PM and promised to cook him his favorite supper when he came home the next day. At 7:33 august 2006 we were told he was killed in Lebanon. Until today whenever I make that special rice stew I cry.”
“As I was sitting Shiva for my son Ilan, I went into the next room and put on some classical music and closed my eyes and imagined it was just the two of us sailing in our boat that he loved so much. I felt him next to me, smiling… laughing…I felt him there with me. I miss him so much.”
“My husband Yoram was so brave. Me? I am a scaredy cat. Maybe that was what attracted me to him. Whenever he would go out on Miluim I wouldn’t sleep. He would call me each night and reassure me. I still here his voice. ‘Don’t worry Danya, I won’t leave you alone’…Our boys are just like their father. The oldest one remembers him and now serves in the same brigade he did. He calls me as well. And when he does I pretend I am hearing Yoram again. ‘Everything will be alright…I will come home soon…”
In America Memorial Day was never somber. Sure we know that Soldiers died in wars and we should remember them. But the majority of the country went shopping or to the beach. In Israel it is personal. It is real. I have often noted how unique it is to Israel that when one goes to the graves of our sages and other holy sites to pray one can find an inordinate amount of secular Jews there davening/praying- places that in America one can’t possibly imaging the average secular Jews frequenting. Yet here it is different. For the prayers that are said by these sites are of mothers, fathers, brothers and children who have family serving in the army, perhaps on the front lines or in Gaza. They are prayers of families of soldiers to Hashem that their boys/men don’t become a number.
This weeks Torah portion of Achareis Mos-Kedoshim begins with the statement
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the deaths of the sons of Aharon when they came close before Hashem and they died.”
The commentaries note they seemingly needless repetition of the fact that they died; being that it already says a few words earlier that Hashem was speaking after their deaths. The previous Rebbe of Lubavitch comments that what the Torah is emphasizing in this statement is that the deaths of the sons of Aharon was because they were not able to complete the process of bringing that inspiration of drawing near to Hashem to its completion. ‘And they died-’ their lives of connection didn’t bring the fruits in this world that they were meant to have been.
I recently read a beautiful story from Yitta Halberstam’s book small miracles of the Holocaust (now on aish.com). Its message is one of death that bore fruit. The chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yonah Metzger noted how that one an Israeli soldier is killed the traditional Tahara (the body purification ritual) is not performed for those that fall and give up their lives for the sake of the protection of the Jewish People and because they are Jews. They are already pure. They are holy sacrifices whose death have meaning before Hashem and on behalf of the Jewish people.
I share with you the story of Baruch Shapiro…
Chaim Shapiro went through the seven levels of hell. He survived four concentration camps not to mention the ghetto and forced marches. He began the War with eight children and a wonderful wife, and in a little over a year, he lost his wife and seven of his children, without ever having the chance to even sit shiva.
He was finally liberated from Buchenwald with his only surviving son Baruch and they wallowed in the DP camps for nearly three years until finally, in 1948, they found place aboard an immigrant ship and arrived in Israel a week later.
Israel, in the midst of the War of Independence, was fighting a desperate battle for survival against overwhelming odds, so Baruch Shapiro volunteered to fight. With no previous training, he was taken to a ravine, handed a rifle, taught how to shoot a few bullets, and sent off to war. Meanwhile, with the stipend that he received from the Jewish Agency, his father Chaim rented a small apartment outside Tel Aviv.
Baruch Shapiro distinguished himself in battle. As part of the Harel Brigade fighting under Yitzhak Rabin to break the Arab siege on Jerusalem, Baruch received a field commission as an officer and was awarded a medal for bravery under fire.
And then, one day, as Chaim Shapiro was sitting in his tiny living room in Tel Aviv, he glanced out the window and saw one of those terrible delegations heading up the path to his apartment.
They say that Chaim Shapiro opened the door before they knocked, and they say that he never even read the telegram, just crumpled it over and over in his hands....
When a soldier in Israel is killed, the army takes care of everything, including the funeral arrangements. Chaim Shapiro had only one request: he wanted his son who had died fighting for Jerusalem to at least be buried in Jerusalem, on Mount Herzl, the National Military cemetery.
The next afternoon hundreds of mourners gathered at Mount Herzl. Most of them had never known Baruch Shapiro or his father Chaim, but they had heard of the terrible tragedy and wanted to pay their respects. After all, what Hitler had not finished in the crematoria had ended at the hands of an Arab bullet; this was the last Shapiro son; the end of a line.
As the coffin was being lowered into the ground, Chaim Shapiro began to sing.
Yigal Yadin himself, the IDF Chief of Staff (who would later discover Massada) stood by Chaim Shapiro's side.
And as the coffin was being lowered into the ground, Chaim Shapiro began to sing.
People thought he had lost it; Yadin put his arm around Chaim's shoulders and someone ran to get him some water. But he shrugged them all off, and again, began to sing. People had no idea what to make of it, so finally Chaim Shapiro looked at them and said:
"You know, I have been through a hell the likes of which most people cannot imagine; I lost over seventy relatives in a little over a year, including seven children, my wife and parents. I have no place to mourn them, no grave; they are ashes in the skies over Europe, and I have no idea why they had to die.
"But this son, at least this son, I know why he died. He died so we could have a home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and he has a grave, here on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. And that is not a reason to cry, it is a reason to sing."
When Chaim Shapiro finished speaking, he began to sing once more, and grabbing people's hands, to dance.
And as the flag-draped coffin of Baruch Shapiro was lowered into the ground, three hundred mourners began to sing and to dance against the setting sun of the Jerusalem sky...
The next time you visit Israel, go to Mount Herzl, Israel's National Military Cemetery, her Arlington. And when you walk through the wide stone gates, walk up and then down to the right where the graves from 1948 lie, and you will find the lonely grave of one Baruch Shapiro. Close your eyes there, and you will understand perhaps, why the Jewish people will never be destroyed.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Have a meaningful day, a festive Yom Ha’atzmaut and a spectacular Shabbos
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
Talmud Bava Basra 10b
Rabbi Schwartzes YouTube Yom Ha’zikaron clip of the week