I write this column during the month of Nissan, the month when we usher in the awesome Yom Tov of Pesach, and once again, I find myself on a plane en route to New York from Eretz Yisrael. This time, I am returning from an extended trip that encompassed programs in two large cities in France – Paris and Marseilles, then a hop over to Budapest, and from there to Yerushalayim, where I spoke in Binyanei HaUmah, as well as to a group of beautiful young people…students and professionals.
Throughout my journey, I once again discovered that spectacular magic engraved in every Jewish heart, which in Yiddish we call the Pintele Yid – a tiny Jewish dot – the letter Yud.
The letter Yud is truly amazing. It is the only letter in our sacred alphabet that can never be altered. You cannot make it longer and you cannot make it wider, for if you do, you change its character. Similarly, the pintele Yid that G-d engraved upon our souls can never be altered. Once one is born a Jew, one is a Jew forever…. he cannot “un-Jew” himself!
To be sure he can renounce his faith, he can forsake his people, but just the same, he remains a Jew, albeit a sinning Jew. There is no procedure that can remove the pintele Yid from his soul. The pintele Yid is timeless and I have seen its miraculous power, its ability to reinvent itself and come to new life in the most unexpected places, under the most unusual circumstances.
And now, before Pesach, as we celebrate our national anniversary, I feel a need to publicly proclaim praise of the Jewish people who, despite all odds, preserved this pintele Yid in their hearts. Knowingly and unknowingly, and sometimes even despite themselves, they clung to that pintele Yid, even when all outward vestiges of Torah seemed to have disappeared from their hearts.
As I mentioned, during this past week I spoke to our people in France and Eretz Yisrael. In Paris and Marseilles, as in Yerushalayim, the response was overwhelming. People came by the thousands from every walk of life…. young and old, religious as well as secular, and there would have been thousands more, but there was simply no facility large enough to accommodate them.
Why were they coming? What were they seeking? Not entertainment – nor were they motivated by curiosity. Their quest stemmed from their innermost souls, and as diverse as their backgrounds may have been, they were all united by a common yearning – to rekindle the pintele Yid, that Jewish spark from Sinai in their neshamos…. and that, in- and- of- itself, is mind-boggling.
Consider only that for almost 2,000 years we have been groping in the darkness of exile. We have encountered every force of destruction – from persecution – Holocaust, to assimilation and intermarriage. Our satanic foes have attacked us in every shape and form. Sometimes they waved a bloody sword, and sometimes they stretched out a friendly hand, but whether they came with fire or with an invitation to join their ranks, their end goal has been the same – to capture our souls, and to eradicate our faith. But our pintele Yid has proven to be more powerful than their swords or the blandishments of their society.
To be sure, there have been many among us who did succumb and fall, but there have been still many more who triumphed and against all odds remained Jews. I met these Jews – I saw them emerge from the embers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen. If there was just one survivor from a shtetl, he built a synagogue, a yeshiva. These houses of Torah dot Jewish communities throughout the world, and today, they boast multitudes of students who dedicate their lives to Torah and mitzvos.
These yeshivos have odd-sounding names that recall the shtetlach where the voice of Torah was once heard. Hitler’s, yemach shemo, armies were able to destroy the bricks and the mortar, but not the light of Torah that dwelled within. The parchment may have been scorched, but the holy letters of the Torah took flight and now, the pintele Yid is giving life to a new generation that lives by Torah.
But it was not only the fierce fires of the crematoria that we resisted and triumphed. We prevailed against the enticing flames of assimilation as well. And I, who have encountered both fires, can testify to this. As a child, my journey took me to Bergen-Belsen, and now, as a great-grandmother, my journeys take me to cities, universities and Jewish communities throughout the world, and on each journey I marvel in awe at the presence of that pintele Yid that I find in every Jewish soul.
And so, on this Pesach, 5770, I would like to declare praise to Hashem and proclaim with certainty that the pintele Yid that He engraved in every Jewish heart is as powerful as ever. It need only be awakened for its light to emerge.
Indeed, ” Mi ke’amcha Yisrael – Who is like Your people, Israel?” Is there any nation, which in face of so many calamities would have remained so loyal? Our prophets of old proclaimed in Your Name, “Zacharti lach chesed n’urayich – I remember the kindness and the love of your early youth [when you followed me blindly into a barren untilled desert].”
Thousands of years have since passed Almighty G-d, and we are still following You in the barren desert. Our forefathers have paved the way and enabled us to walk with You even in the most treacherous wastelands. Yes, we are still following You in their barren desert.
It is this miracle of our Jewish survival that I find so wondrous on each and every occasion that I go out to speak. It is this miracle that gives me renewed energy to trudge through yet another airport, to catch yet another plane, to go through yet another sleepless night and to embrace my people with love no matter how exhausted I may be. I have spoken on every part of the globe and I can testify that the light that You, G-d, have kindled in our souls still flickers. I have seen hardened hearts melt, and cold, indifferent eyes glisten with tears…. I have seen young and old come to new life. I have seen the pintele Yid in the Jewish soul.
Yes, I can testify to all that even as the fumes of the gas chambers snuffed the life out of our tortured bodies, we continued to follow You. And today, as a new anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, albeit packaged in the guise of anti-Zionism, we follow You. And we follow You as the 49 measures of Egyptian decadence and immorality, dressed in 21st century garb attacks us with renewed force. Yes, I have seen it all – the fires of the Holocaust, the fires of assimilation, but, throughout, I saw the flame of faith which enabled us to remain Your eternal people, bearers of Your Covenant, and that is the pintele Yid, the secret of the survival of our people.