An interesting title perhaps – and maybe a bit misleading. But I believe there is an important parallel in the lives of the Republican presidential candidate and the martyred chassidic rebbe who perished in the Holocaust. Before I lay out my case, allow me to introduce to you Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Shapira, of blessed memory. It is really a moral responsibility to know the life of this saintly individual. (The biographical information below was adapted from Esther Farbstein’s Hidden in Thunder and Nechemia Polin’s The Holy Fire.)

The Rebbe (May 20, 1889-November 2, 1943) was a dynamic chassidic personality whose talents belied his relative young age. Originally located in Piasaczne, he moved to Warsaw where he founded the Da’at Moshe Yeshiva which offered a unique style of chassidic education, emphasizing both the spiritual and physical.

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“The Rebbe’s personality and leadership methods – his meticulous, fervent devotion to the principles of Judaism, combined with emotional warmth and love for all Jews – as well as his sermons and especially his book (Hovat ha-Talmidim) quickly brought him the trust and esteem of people from many ideological groups,” writes Farbstein.

But life for the rebbe, as for the rest of Europe’s Jews, did not remain one of tranquility. The Nazi hordes attacked and overran Eastern Europe, first driving the Jewish population into ghettos, then into concentration camps where most of them were killed. Even though the Rebbe lost his entire family he continued to shepherd his flock, answering questions, teaching Torah and remaining the beacon of a flickering light for his chassidim who needed to hold onto their holy Rebbe to keep their spirits alive.

As it had been throughout his life, Shabbos remained the centerpiece of his world. Whatever the pain and the horror of the six days of the week, the Rebbe tried to bring his chassidim with him into the “menuchah of the heilige Shabbos.” He created original droshos, which he even managed to transcribe. These manuscripts, covering the years 1939-1942, were placed in a container and buried in the ground of the Warsaw Ghetto. After the war a construction worker amazingly found it and followed the written plea of the author to forward it to Israel where it was published under the title Aish Kodesh.

What finally happened to the Piasaczne Rebbe? How did his life end? The following is from Nechemia Polin’s The Holy Fire; Polin is quoting someone who was involved in rescuing people from the work camps:

 

In June or July 1943 we reached the camp where the Piasaczne Rebbe was….We found out that a group had formed of about twenty people – artists, well known physicians, communal figures, leaders of various parties and among them the Rebbe (I did not know that the Rebbe was in the camp until we made contact with them.) We were told that they were mutually committed to a pact they had made (teki’at kaf) so none of them left…This caused us great anguish; you can imagine what it involved to send someone to the camp and to prepare hiding places…We could have taken out two or three people at a time but not twenty…. in view of the pact they had made, they did not agree to leave separately, so it was impossible to save them.”

 

The Rebbe had made a pact. To him there was no other choice. Hashem Yinkom Domo.

So what is the connection to John McCain? Allow me to preface it with a lehavdil. In no way do I wish to suggest that the holy tzaddik and the Arizona senator are cut from the same cloth. That is not my intent at all. What I do intend will, I believe, be quite clear when I relate an important chapter of McCain’s biography.

A graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, McCain was a pilot in the Vietnam War. On his 23rd mission, his plane was shot down and he became a prisoner of war in a North Vietnamese camp where he was subjected to painful interrogation and torture.

After two years, his captors told him he was to be freed. He asked about the release of his fellow prisoners, especially those who had been there longer than he was. They told him only he would be let go because he was the son and grandson of American admirals. McCain knew the enemy would score huge propaganda gains by releasing him. He said his code of conduct required that he not go until those who had been held in captivity longer were released. His captors withdrew their offer in disgust. McCain remained a prisoner of war for three more years — three years of unremitting pain and torture.

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