Latznu. “But we were so serious in the camps. There was no scoffing; no such thing as smiling or making a joke.”
Maradnu. “Rebelled? Against whom should we have rebelled? Hashem? We weren’t able to rebel at all. If we had tried to rebel against the Nazis it would have been our last rebellion.”
And so the Klausenberger concluded with the Ashamnu prayer and turned his attention to the more detailed Al Chait. Once again, he concluded, with the pride of one whose greatness of being supersedes the nullity of being, that the recitation of sins enumerated in Al Chait hardly applied to the worshippers in Feldafing Block 5A.
Al chait she’chatanu lefanecha b’ones uvratzon – for the sins that we have sinned before You under duress and willingly. “We certainly did not observe the mitzvot in the camps because we were forced to.”
Bevili daas – for the sins that we have sinned without knowledge. “Our minds were in such a state that we did not have knowledge of anything.”
B’tipshus peh – for the sins that we have sinned with foolish speech. “That’s gelechter [funny]. Who spoke foolishly or lightheartedly in the situation we were in?”
B’yetzer hara – for the sin that we have sinned with the evil urge. “To sin with the yetzer hara you must first have possession of your physical sense of touch. We were skin and bones. Incapable of touching. The only thing we could feel were the corpses we carried out every morning.
“We heard only one thing, the commands of our guards. We had ears for nothing else. Our eyes were only looking around to see whether our guards were watching when we wanted to take a rest. Otherwise we were as blind men seeing nothing. Smell – yes, we had a sense of smell. The unforgettable stench of death was constantly in our nostrils making us nauseous. Taste – the only taste we knew was the thin soup they gave us so we could have enough strength for another day’s work…. I forget, we did have the yetzer hara for food, for the slop that we saw thrown to the pigs. What the SS officers would not eat they threw to the pigs. How we envied the pigs.”
And so the rebbe eliminated the Al Chaits one by one, emphasizing how all of these transgressions did not apply to his congregation.
Seeing the rebbe close the Machzor, Lieutenant Birnbaum was certain he was finished speaking. But then the rebbe asked again his original question:
Who wrote this Machzor? I don’t see anywhere the sins that apply to us, the sins of losing emunah and bitachon….Where is the proof that we have sinned in this fashion? How many times did we recite Krias Shema on our wood slats at night and think to ourselves: Ribbono shel Olam, please take my neshamah, so that I do not have to repeat once again in the morning “I’m thankful before You who has returned my soul to me.” I do not need my soul. You can keep it. How many of us went to sleep thinking that we couldn’t exist another day, with all bitachon lost? And yet when the dawn broke in the morning, we once again said Modeh Ani and thanked Hashem for having returned our souls.
None of us expected to survive. Every morning, we saw this one didn’t move and that one didn’t move, and as we carried the dead out we looked upon them with envy. Is that emunah in Hashem? Is that bitachon in Hashem?
So, yes, we have sinned. We have sinned and now we must klop Al Chait. We must pray to get back the emunah and bitachon that lay dormant these years in the camps. Now that we are free, Ribbono shel Olam, we beg You to forgive us. Forgive everyone here. Forgive every Jew in the world.
Rav Soloveitchik taught that every confession expresses itself in the outcry “I am black, and I am beautiful, oh daughter of Jerusalem.” For when we fail to see the “beauty” we cannot hope to discern the “blackness.”
Genuine repentance demands that the sinner view himself from the seemingly two antithetical viewpoints, the two fundamental truths of his being – from the nullity of being and the greatness of being.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of Communications and Marketing.
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