I started re-reading the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942. It’s a collection of sermons Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe, gave in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. He hid the papers, along with other writings of his, with other papers about life in the Ghetto hidden by the Oyneg Shabbos group who tried to record life in the Ghetto. Rabbi Shapira was murdered by the Nazis, but after the War the papers were rediscovered and Rabbi Shapira’s books were published.
I’ve read the book before, but I read it as a sedra book i.e. all the sermons on one sedra or festival (it actually starts with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in 1939 and not Shabbat Bereshit several weeks later) and then all the sermons on the next sedra to coincide with those points in the Jewish year. So three sermons on Rosh Hashanah (1939, 1940 and 1941) and then three on Shabbat Shuva and so on. I’m now reading it as a work of Holocaust theology in chronological order of delivery (1939, 1940, 1941, 1942).
Already in November 1939, Rabbi Shapira is voicing bold ideas. For parashat Chayei Sarah he refers to the rabbinic tradition that Sarah died of shock when she heard that Avraham (Abraham) had nearly sacrificed their son, Yitzchak (Isaac) at God’s command:
The Torah may also be telling us that our mother Sarah, who took the binding of Isaac so much to heart that her soul flew out of her, died for the good of the Jewish people. She died in order to show God that a Jew should not be expected to suffer unlimited levels of anguish. Even though a person, with the mercy of God, survives and escapes death, nevertheless elements of his capability, his mind, and his spirit are forever broken and, as a result of his ordeal, lost to him. In the final analysis, what difference does it make, whether all of me or part of me is killed?
Here we see rabbinic chutzpah klapei shmaya, audacity towards Heaven, protesting that human suffering is unfair. What resonates with me is the image of being “forever broken” in mind and spirit and partly killed. I have not suffered like those in the Warsaw Ghetto, but there is the fear that I can never be whole, particularly in terms of making up for the years (decades, really) of life lost to mental illness, in terms of lost experiences, love, career progress etc. and in terms of the scars left by what I thought and felt.
In other news, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was an ordinary lockdown Shabbat. Eat, sleep, read, daven (pray), study Torah etc. I didn’t go for a walk today, mostly because I slept too long in the afternoon. That was it, really.
Matt Pritchett (“Matt”) is The Daily Telegraph‘s pocket cartoonist. I think he’s wonderful. We’re all big Matt fans in this house. We bought Dad the Best of Matt 2019 book for Chanukah last year. I flicked through it today and it’s still really funny, but it made me realise that we didn’t know how lucky we were when all we had to worry about was Brixit. To think that we used to say, “If only Brexit was over and we could talk about something else…”