Photo Credit: Magnes Press

Title: Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira – Sermons from the Years of Rage
By Daniel Reiser, Edited by: Amos Geula
Publisher: Magnes Press

 

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Sermons From the Years of Rage is a two-volume set of Hebrew books containing the writings of Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Shapira discovered in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. This work has appeared previously under the title Aish Kodesh, but the Herzog Academic College, in conjunction with Yad Vashem and the World Union of Jewish Studies, has produced a detailed analysis and presentation of the original documents.

There is no way one can appreciate Sermons without being somewhat familiar with the author’s story. Rabbi Shapira was actually from Piaseczno, a small town on the outskirts of Warsaw. He followed a distinguished line of chasidic leaders when he assumed the position of Rebbe of Piaseczno, but that ceased to exist when Jews from surrounding areas were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. The first volume of Sermons details the horror of Nazi persecution along with Rabbi Shapira’s personal tragedies; his son and daughter-in-law were killed by German bombs, shortly after his mother passed away.

Although the manuscripts of the Rebbe’s writings were brought to Israel many years ago, this publication reveals extensive new information on the details surrounding their burial and discovery. After a lengthy introduction, the sermons are then presented in their entirety. Each chapter contains the Rebbe’s thoughts on the weekly portion, and on Yomim Tovim, the sermons are usually a bit longer. Sermons spans more than two years of the Holocaust, until the last entry of Shabbos Chazon, 1942.

Each of the sermons begins with a verse of the weekly parsha, but invariably the message contains some reference to the situation in the Ghetto and beyond. While the pieces are often written on a basic level, there are occasional entries that are replete with Kabbalistic ideas and teachings, rendering the message inaccessible to the vast majority of readers.

The second volume contains the actual copies of the original documents in the author’s handwriting on each page, with the printed version on the facing page. This is where the research and analysis is most evident. Because Sermons spanned several years, the author would revisit his previous entries for editing. The Rebbe had a specific system for adding notes both on the margin and on the bottom of the page, and he also crossed out certain sections. All of this is not discernible to the casual reader, but this work allows us to unlock these secrets. There are literally layers of history on each page, and this volume reveals how the Rebbe’s thoughts changed the face of the pages as the war intensified.

Sermons From the Years of Rage has something for the layman and expert alike. It is a gem unearthed from the ruins of war and polished to perfection. But if there is one thing that stands out is the visual impact of the authors own handwriting from year to year. The entries from 1940 are inscribed in precise lines of beautiful script. Compare that to the later entries, and the difference is striking. By 1942, the writing is clearly labored, slanting downwards and marred by cross-outs. It is as you can feel the author’s pain screaming from the page. This, I believe, is the most powerful sermon of all.

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