Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Shevat 5764 - February 4, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Ray of Light

By Y. Sofer

Based on a true story

On parshas Beshalach the Jewish people left Mitzrayim in the middle of the day. In this story, a Jewish family left Germany at twilight.

* * *

It was twilight, a time which is neither day nor night, a time when day still grips the universe, while night marches ahead with giant steps, beginning to spread its cloak over the earth.

In the home of Hamburg's rov, the quiet after the tempest prevailed.

* * *

The Rov's lively children had just gone to sleep, childish smiles on their faces. While Marina, the gentile domestic, was busy sweeping, their mother the Rebbetzin sat beside their beds and related stories filled with burning love of Torah. Then she recited Shema with them, kissed them and wished them a good night.

After the children were sound asleep, the Rebbetzin retreated to her porch, and thought about the day that had just ended.

Looking outside, she saw Hamburg's main shul, a sacred structure permeated with the Torah and tefillah of the great sages who, for generations, had studied and davened there. In this bayis shel Torah, her illustrious husband continued to transmit the golden chain of our mesorah to the youths who studied in his yeshiva. There, he sacrificed his lifeblood for the sake of his flock.

The last rays of light clung to the shul's cap protectively. Voicelessly, they called out to the Rebbetzin: "We will guard it." Then the darkness crept forth, and called out to her with a loud and terrifying fanfare.

"This interplay between day and night reminds me of our situation in Germany," she continued to muse. "The setting rays of the past generation of Germany's Jews are still clutching the corners of the mizbeiach.. But now night has vanquished day, and the Nazi darkness has begun to take hold of the Jews, singling them out, separating them, threatening them, pursuing them."

Then other thoughts flooded her mind and strengthened her He is the kehilla's moving force. He imparted his burning love of Torah to the cultured German Jews. Due to his efforts, many of them have become fragrant, fruit-giving trees, whose branches shade the entire area.

The students he sent to Lithuania to study under great roshei yeshiva are his pride. The letters these roshei yeshiva sent in praise of those students fill the credenza.

He has sown so many seeds here. He is so attached to the community. And we've grown too, since our marriage. We've learned the meaning of responsibility and dedication.

Then her thoughts veered to the early years of her marriage, when she'd left Germany and accompanied her husband to Lithuania so that he could study in its sacred yeshivos.

He so longs for Kaminetz and its gedolei HaTorah. If only my children could grow up in Lithuania's "Torah only" atmosphere."

But then the letters of the gedolei hador, pleading with them to remain in Hamburg because they were needed there, rose up before her eyes. A mixture of impressions -- family, students, community, Torah study -- fused in her heart, and tried to forge a clear path.

The ground is burning under our feet. Where do our obligations lie? In which direction should we turn?

* * *

Marina's blood-chilling shouts brought the Rebbetzin back to reality.

Breathlessly, the Rebbetzin ran into the room from which the shouts emerged -- the Rov's room.

A terrifying sight greeted her. The windowpane was shattered. Heavy stones lay on the Rov's desk and bookshelves.

The Rebbetzin regained her composure quickly and tried to calm Marina, and urged her to reveal what had happened in that room and who had been there.

After sipping the water the Rebbetzin offered her, Marina related: "As I was dusting the bookshelves, I heard cries of `Heil Hitler' coming from outside. I looked outside to see what was happening, and then someone threw these stones!"

Although Marina had calmed down a bit, she was still shaken and terrified. But the Rebbetzin did not permit herself to fall into the pit the Germans had dug for her. She didn't let fear overcome her. Mustering all of her spiritual stamina, she told Marina, "One of them was probably mentally disturbed."

But deep down she knew the truth. She knew that darkness was covering the earth.

Feeling somewhat better, Marina lifted a stone and said, "I'll take this to the police. They should be made aware of those derelicts' antics."

The Rebbetzin, who felt sorry for the naive Marina, didn't stop her. However, when Marina returned home upset that the police had laughed at her, the Rebbetzin understood that the end was advancing with giant steps.

Suddenly, the door opened, and the pale and trembling Rov entered.

"What happened?" the Rebbetzin asked him.

In a feeble voice, he described the horrifying event that had occurred as he was leaving the shul. "German soldiers," he said, "arrested the shammesh. Then they beat him and mocked him for being a Jew. His wife watched this scene from the window of their shack and wept uncontrollably."

"We have to do something to stop this," the Rebbetzin declared, with the last vestiges of her strength.

"Yes," her husband replied. "We have to try and release the shammesh, and to find a hideout where the yeshiva students can continue to study."

The Rebbetzin tried to explain that she had meant that they should save themselves and their children, but she was well acquainted with her husband and knew that she would be wasting her breath.

Neither the Rebbetzin nor her husband slept that night. He spent the entire night trying to free the shammesh, but to no avail. She tossed and turned in bed, thinking about the shammesh's poor wife.

At 3:30, though, the Rov began to prepare his morning shiur. Suddenly, the stones and the policemen were forgotten, and nothing mattered, except the sugya he was studying.

Before dawn, he bade the Rebbetzin farewell. Then he handed her a list which contained his students' addresses and said: "Tell Marina to inform each and every one of them that we will meet in Chaim the Carpenter's warehouse today to study."

The Rebbetzin tried to persuade him to remain home that day, and to cancel the shiur. However, he declared resolutely: "Torah study must not cease even for a moment. It is our strength, the sole guarantor of our existence and our deliverance."

She tried to object, but the Rov insisted: "Torah shiurim must not be cancelled.

The Rebbetzin parted from her husband with a blessing, and he in turn blessed her.

When he had left, she went over to the window and prayed that Hashem would pity his downtrodden, persecuted Nation -- Am Yisroel kedoshim.

From the window, she saw her husband walking down the path, placidly and courageously. Suddenly, she began to weep uncontrollably, her prayers piercing the Gates of Tears and entering the gates of Chesed and Rachamim.

Dawn broke and the first glimmers of light grappled with the darkness, as if trying to bring down an eternal light into a world of wickedness.

Once again, she reflected: "Dawn is also a time which is neither day nor night. The night has spread over Germany's Jews. May day break soon. Ribono Shel Olom, pity us, and save us!"

Then she returned to her precious children and to her numerous chores.

* * *

A radiant sun heralded the advent of a new day. Marina, who had awoken in the meantime, took the students' addresses and set out to inform them where the yeshiva would meet that day.

The Rebbetzin went into the children's room, in order to wish them a good morning, and to recite Modeh Ani with them.

Suddenly the doorbell rang, and two SS solders kicked open the door. Then they shouted: "The Rov."

Taking out a handkerchief, the Rebbetzin began to weep. Then she said: "My husband has abandoned me. Yesterday, when I saw that he hadn't come home by midnight, I fell asleep. Today, I didn't see him either. I guess he abandoned his family and fled. But don't hold it against him. That's the way it is during war."

"Okay, okay, lady. We don't have time for your stories," the impatient soldiers replied.

As soon as they left, she dressed her children. Although she had always tired to emphasize their Jewishness through their dress, this time she tried to dress them like non-Jews. Fortunately, they were blond, like the locals, lehavdil.

Marina returned home, happy that the children were dressed. "Take them to the park today," the Rebbetzin, who didn't want Marina or the children to see what she was planning, requested. Marina had barely left the house, when someone knocked on the door. The Rebbetzin's heart began to pound, but the familiar "Hello" of the postman calmed her.

"A telegram from Vilna has arrived," he announced.

When the postman had left, the Rebbetzin opened the telegram with trembling hands.

It was like a letter from Shomayim, approving her plan. Hashgochoh was guiding her.

* * *

Quickly, she sent a messenger to her husband, warning him not to return home. According to the telegram, his name was on the "black list."

The Rebbetzin put on her best suit and the sheitel she barely ever wore, so on the surface she appeared to be an upper-class lady. Then she headed for the Swiss consulate. Outwardly, she appeared calm and confident. Inside, she churned.

When she arrived at the consulate, she identified herself with a false name -- that of a friend who had moved to Switzerland a while ago and whose personal details she knew.

In a pleading, yet confident voice, she told the clerk that she had come to Germany with her children a few days ago in order to visit friends, and that she was scheduled to return home with her children that day.

"My husband is in America," she coyly said, "and no one can meet me at the border terminal. But now that war's in the air I'm afraid to cross the border alone. Can you ask a representative of the Swiss consulate, preferably a female, to wait for me there?"

She sounded so sincere, that the consulate's clerk readily agreed to her request.

With that promise up her sleeve, the Rebbetzin tried to arrange for a taxi to bring her to the German-Swiss border. But during those hectic times, no taxi was available.

On her way home, the Rebbetzin pleaded with Hashem to help her. As she neared her house, a cab pulled up beside her and its driver shouted, "Lady, where do you want to go?"

The Rebbetzin told the cab driver her "story" and he agreed to take her to her destination. However, he asked if he could eat a quick meal at the nearby restaurant, since he was very hungry.

Then, in order to compensate her for the delay, he said that he would park the cab in front of her house, so that she could bring out her luggage.

"Take your time," the Rebbetzin replied, as she tried to conceal her joy. "I'll be ready in half an hour. But don't be late."

With lightening speed, the Rebbetzin ran to fetch her husband, who had just finished delivering his shiur. When they arrived, she lifted the taxi's back seat, and told her husband to creep under it. After that she placed her sole valise, which contained only the barest necessities, in the baggage compartment. Then she ran to the park and told Marina that she was taking the children to visit a sick aunt.

"I'll be back soon, Marina," she said. "In the meantime, do the dishes."

Seated in the back of the car, she looked at the house she would never see again, and shed a tear. Moments later the driver appeared and thanked her for having allowed him to eat.

On the way, an SS soldier stopped the taxi and asked for a ride. The Rebbetzin's heart skipped a beat, and she began to recite Vidui.

"Where do you want to go?" the taxi driver asked the SS soldier.

"I have to reach the terminal before the border. I'll show you how to get there," he replied.

The soldier indeed got off at the last terminal before the border. Then he thanked the Rebbetzin for her services on behalf of the Motherland, and wished her and her children a safe journey.

Had he known that he had helped bring a Jewish family to safety, he wouldn't have been so polite, to say the least!

As she had arranged, a consulate car awaited them at the border. The driver who had brought them to the terminal got out of the taxi, and went over to a nearby inn for a drink. In the meantime, the Rov slithered out of his hiding place and crept behind one of the bushes, until receiving an all clear from his wife. With a prayer on her lips, the Rebbetzin neared the consulate's car, from which a female representative emerged.

The Rebbetzin told the woman her full story and asked to take them to one of the villages in the Swiss mountains where she and her family would hide until finding a more permanent arrangement. She then promised to apply for a visa so that she could remain in Switzerland. The woman, who pitied the Rebbetzin, drove them into Switzerland. When they reached a small mountain village, she dropped them off and wished them success.

It was twilight. The last impressions of light vanished, and darkness covered the earth. But they weren't afraid, because they knew that Torah's light can illuminate even the dense darkness of the Diaspora. And so, at a time which was neither day nor night, they uttered prayers of thanks to Hashem Yisborach for having saved them.


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