Thursday night, June 10, the eve of 13 Sivan

Work ran late tonight. At a meeting with the other members of the Amstelveen committee, we prepared the material for the next issue of Baderech, the periodical of the Jewish community of Amsterdam-Amstelveen. With G‑d’s help, it will be a good issue. It deals with washing the hands before a meal, the blessing over the bread, the Shabbat meal, and the recall of the manna in the wilderness. I think we have expressed rather well the concept that manna is the food which shows us trust in G‑d:

What is the deeper meaning of the fact that we remember the manna on Shabbat?

Imagine that you are in the wilderness of Sinai, 3,300 years ago. You are there together with two or three million others. Food and water are vital. And then, fortunately, each and every day food miraculously descends. And there is enough for everybody. Yet nothing may be kept for the next day. You must demonstrate your faith in G‑d, your trust that He will see to it that tomorrow there will be food again... in the dry, barren wilderness... for two or three million people! Manna is the food of trust in G‑d. And years later, when the Jewish people confronted the Prophet Jeremiah, complaining that they could not devote themselves to Torah study because of the demands of earning a living, saying “who shall provide us with our daily bread?” he had an answer. He showed them a little jar with manna, which had been kept at G‑d’s command (Exodus 16:33) and replied, “Look at the word of G‑d, see the manna! G‑d can provide for us in many ways.”

This thought of trust in G‑d remains relevant for us every Shabbat when we abandon our business affairs and our weekday work — for He can provide for us in so many ways.

In this issue of Baderech, we considered it important to include the translation of a prayer which expresses the thought that it is G‑d who provides for everyone and everything. It is He who gives us children, health, and sustenance.

At the end of the issue comes a story out of our past, and of the rich history of our people. It involves Reb Pesach, one of the disciples of Rabbi Shmuel Schneerson, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe:

Reb Pesach made a living by traveling with all kinds of merchandise from the town of Homiel to the surrounding villages to sell it there to the shopkeepers.

For Rosh Hashana 5627 (1866) he came to stay with his Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel; and the Rebbe welcomed him with the words, “You can always fulfill the command Se-u marom eineichem, to lift up our eyes unto high, shema — that is Israel.”

One of the other Hassidim explained to Reb Pesach what Rabbi Shmuel meant: “The high windows in the synagogue are there not only to let the light enter, but also to make it possible for us to lift up our eyes unto high. When we lift up our eyes to heaven, we learn to honor G‑d. But you, not only in synagogue can you lift up your eyes, but also at work. Thus, you can always observe the command “to lift up our eyes unto high” whose first letters in Hebrew form the first word of the shema prayer. After this word comes the word Israel. By saying and experiencing the words of shema, you can reach the level of Israel, the name expressing the honor of the Jewish people.”

These words made a deep impression on Reb Pesach. With the help of his neighbor, the watchmaker Reb Hirschl, he began to study Torah little by little and became a warm, vibrant Jew.

In 1928, when he was about ninety years old, Reb Pesach said:

It is now sixty-two years since the Rebbe blessed me with those words, “to lift up our eyes unto high — shema that is Israel.” Every since that day, whenever I say the shema “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One,” I have this in mind. May G‑d grant that when my time comes, my mind will still be clear enough to know: shema — that is Israel.

Friday morning, June 11, 13 Sivan

It is too late to go to synagogue, and I say my morning prayers at home. That happens from time to time, as it is not easy for my wife to take care of the children in the morning all by herself. We have six children, and are expecting the seventh. We love children. We find nothing strange or wrong in having a large family, for my wife and I are both from families with many children. It is only natural for us since Jewish law allows birth control only in the case of an emergency. Children are a blessing from G‑d. May we always be aware of that, and the more blessing from G‑d the better. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Holocaust the Jewish people certainly need very many children.

Our four oldest children have gone off to school. Boruch, our three-year-old son, snuggles against me on the couch. He is a lovely boy, gentle and sweet. We are all fond of him. I pull him closer to me and begin to pray. I sing a penetrating chassidic melody which I have often heard the followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sing while they wait for him to appear. It is a melody which has no set words; but I sing the words of Lokeil boruch to it.

Lokeil boruch, neimot yitenu, lemelech keil hai vekayam, zemirot yomeiru vetishbahot yashmiu, ki hu levado marom vekadosh, po’eil gevurot, oseh hadashot, ba’al milhamot, zoreia tzedakot, matsmi-ach yeshu’ot.

To G‑d, the Blessed One (Who lets Himself be drawn close to His world) they chant pleasant melodies. For the King, the living and eternal G‑d, they utter hymns and sing praises (What concepts are expressed in these songs and hymns?). For He alone exists (G‑d’s existence is a uniquely true existence: His existence is not dependent on any outside source, but rather stems from His essential being. The worlds are manifestations of G‑d, existing “within” G‑d, and forever dependent on Him. They have no existence of their own.) He is exalted and holy (on the one hand G‑d is supremely above the world, above creation, but at the same time it is He alone)

Who performs mighty deeds (within the world). He makes new things He is the master of battle. He sows righteousness. He makes salvation grow.

While the melody still sings within me, I reflect on these words. What do the terms “sow” and “make grow” mean in connection with charity and salvation?

Chabad Chassidism explains that the phrase “to make salvation grow” refers to Divine help that emerges in the wake of a seemingly negative event. Though, at the time, we may view the event as negative, it is, in actually, only an intermediate, transitory phase, a “passing through” period which is a necessary preparation for a more favorable end.

It is beyond our power to see this process as it is planned by G‑d. At best we can understand it in retrospect.

I once heard an amusing parable (which is perhaps not entirely accurate) which, although told from a scientific point of view, clearly illustrates this concept of “making grow” (causing growth). We included this “Parable of the Worm” in Baderech:

Once there was a worm. True to his nature, he dug a way through the soil in search of food for himself and his family. And Father worm was lucky. He found a beautiful, perfect potato. Quickly (or as quickly as a worm can go) he returned home and told his wife and children of the precious treasure he had found. But alas his emotions overcame him. The excitement and the exertion were too much for him, and he died.

Now his son began to search for the potato, for he was now the legal heir to it. He crawled along and found it, but was greatly disappointed when he saw that the potato had decayed. “Was Father mistaken?” he wondered. When he returned home he related the sad news, but those words were the last he ever uttered. He too died — of the exertion and the disappointment.

A worm of the third generation then crawled out to see it and found the potato in an even worse condition than the one his father had seen. It had become entirely waxy. And so the story of the potato became a family tragedy passed on from one generation to the next.

And then, after generations of worms, a bounty of new potato plants had sprouted forth from this single, rotten potato. This process of growth, which the worms could not see, was well-known by the farmer who had planted the original potato so many worm-generations ago.

Is it a coincidence that Boruch is sitting here with me while I meditate about the meaning of He sows righteousness, He makes salvation grow”? For, there is a connection between Boruch and this idea of redemptive growth. Boruch was named after a little brother of mine, who was born in Westerbork, the transit camp (“transit-lager”) to which Dutch Jews were brought on the way to the concentration camps. He lived only a few weeks, and then he died. Yet even his short life may give us an insight into G‑d’s plan of “growth” of salvation.

As I mentioned, my mother of blessed memory gave birth to a child in Westerbork, and my parents called him Boruch Nehemia. Boruch Nehemia lived less than one month. Why? Why was he not allowed to live longer? And if he was not to live longer, why did G‑d put him in this world at all?

I think that the following may be an answer:

The commanders of the Westerbork transit-camp were so “humane” as to postpone the deportation of the mother of a newborn child for a certain period. Instead, the commanders would assign the mother of a newborn to a later transport, together with her husband and other children; and this is what happened in our case as well. Now, from the transport which was to have taken us “to the east,” nobody ever returned. Eventually we were deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. My mother died there, but my father and the four children returned from that hell alive.

Thanks to the birth of Boruch Nehemia?

My mother breast-fed her newborn baby; and then, after her son passed away, she breast-fed other children, whose own mothers could not provide milk. Thus, my mother saved the lives of a number of children.

Thanks to the birth of Boruch Nehemia?

From this point of view, my father, his children, and other children owe their lives to Boruch Nehemia. And so will the children of these children, and their grandchildren, until the last of the generations. Was my little brother’s short life, thus, not very meaningful?

The Ba’al Shem Tov said that sometimes a soul descends to this world and remains here seventy or eighty years merely to do a single good deed for another person. How much good Boruch Nehemia produced in his lifetime of less than one month!

I am convinced that my little brother’s life was very meaningful. I am no less convinced that the reasoning described above can also apply to the stories of other children who died at an early age, even if the intricacy of G‑d’s ultimate plan remains hidden.

Thus it was that on this Friday morning that I sang the words zorei’a tzedakot matsmi-ah yeshu’ot — He makes salvation grow. while our dear Boruch, the child named after Boruch Nehemia, sat next to me.

That same Friday, our little Boruch was hit by a car. He died in the hospital, barely three years old.

Shema, that is Israel...