Choosing Life: Some Thoughts on Torah and Children

The last time I walked by that place on David Yellin Street a few months ago, there was just a massive hole in the ground surrounded by a really high fence. But when I walked by the construction site this past Shabbat morning I discovered in its place a towering yeshiva of the Gerer Chassidim built of gleaming white Jerusalem stone. The dedication on the building’s façade explained that the yeshiva had been built by two brothers in memory of their parents and three siblings. And every name mentioned was followed by the letters HY”D, Hashem Yikom Damo, may G-d avenge their blood.

It took me a moment to comprehend how these brothers could have so many murdered family members… But only a moment. We’ve heard this story so many times before. Family after family, unfathomable tragedy after unfathomable tragedy.

One by one, I imagined, these young boys’ family members were taken from them. Their father, and then their mother, and then their sister, and their two brothers. And by the time Hitler had shot himself in the head while biting a cyanide capsule in a Berlin bunker, these boys were left completely and totally alone in the world.

Tears started streaming down my face as I thought of these murdered children and mother and father and then the two young brothers left to face life on their own, and, in turn, their tremendous response to evil incarnate, to the senseless killings of the people who were closest to them in the whole world.

These brothers decided to spend what I assume was their life savings, many millions of dollars, in order to honor these destroyed and extinguished lives, by creating a place of Torah—a place where hundreds of students will soon dedicate their days and nights to Torah Chaim.

And what better way could there possibly be to honor these lost lives than with Torah—the essence of life itself?

And then I remembered a story.

After the Shoah, a group of survivors was celebrating their first Simchat Torah as free men. They danced and sang with great emotion and joy, until they opened the Torah Ark and discovered that it was empty. A heavy, mournful silence fell over the crowd.

With all of the torture and starvation and threats of death the Nazis had inflicted upon them, they hadn’t been able to extinguish these Jews’ love of Torah. But they had, it appeared, managed to take away their holiest belonging, their Torah scroll… How could these Jews possibly celebrate Simchat Torah without a single Torah scroll? Tears of disappointment and defeat filled the eyes of several of the survivors.

But then the rabbi of the group noticed two children on the edge of the crowd; two orphans who had grown up in the camps, and could no longer even remember the final Simchat Torah that they had spent singing on their dancing fathers’ shoulders. The rabbi walked over to the children, and picked one up on his shoulders, and signaled for another man to pick up the other boy, and the crowd began to sing and dance again with even greater joy than before as they circled around and around with the boys in place of the lost Torah scroll.

Because the Nazis had taken away their Torah scrolls, but there were still Jewish children left in the world.

And what better way could there possibly be to honor the Torah than with children—the essence of life itself?

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