Question: Where I live, I see Chabad shluchim offering Jewish passerby to put on tefillin, is this of any value if they are otherwise non-observant, additionally is doing so in a street – a public thoroughfare proper kavod for the tefillin?
Synopsis: We previously cited the Mechaber who explains the mitzvah of tefillin as to be worn the entire day, but due to the constraints of the human condition whereby one might not be able to always be in the state of cleanliness of one’s person – guf naki – in our time we only wear them as we pray [the Shacharit prayer]. We enumerated the blessings and reward as they relate to this mitzvah as Poshe’a b’gufo – one who sins with his body. We also noted the importance to the performance of this mitzvah of purchasing tefillin from a G-d fearing scribe who writes beautiful tefillin that are to last for many years.
We then noted Esav’s marriage to the daughter of his uncle Yishmael as a single momentary opportunity to repent his many sins, including his marriage to the evil Canaanite wives. Unfortunately, he and his new wife Mochalas did not take advantage of that opportunity and continued in their evil ways. Nevertheless, our Sages derive from this that a chatan and kallah fast on the day of their wedding, as they are forgiven all their prior sins. We also noted that such is repentance in the eyes of Hashem that if even for but a solitary moment, as the prophet Yonah is commanded [and he does so reluctantly], to save the gentile city of Neneveh from destruction. Surprisingly, they heed his call and repent their evil ways. We further cited the incident of R’ Idi, who would spend six months in travel – three months each way – just to spend one day in the academy. We also cited as regards the matter of punishment that one day in a year is considered as an entire year. We followed that with the story of Keti’ah b. Shalom, who was able to secure his eternal reward with one single action, referring to which Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nasi proclaimed: “One may acquire eternity in one moment, while another may acquire it only after many years. Citing Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, we noted as well the special recognition Hashem accords Caleb, for his momentarily silencing the fears caused by the evil report of his fellow spies as to what they saw in the Land of Canaan. Even though his doing so assuaged their fears for but a moment, it was viewed on High with great admiration. That followed the halacha that we save a person on the Sabbath [and the festivals] even if such effort only renders a momentary measure of life – chayyei sha’ah.
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Answer: I now wish to share with you the following that I saw in the Sefer Meireish Amanah, a collection of addresses by the Gaon Rabbi Eleazar Menachem Man Shach, zt”l, (Rosh Yeshivas Ponevezh, Bnei Brak, Israel). I am sure that you will agree that this tale so poignantly relates to your question. This particular address was delivered as the introductory remarks at a Yarchei Kallah in the yeshiva back in 18 Menachem Av 5738 – 1978, when the topic of the Holocaust was still so fresh.
Rav Shach relates; “One of the stories I saw relating to the Holocaust is that of a group of young Jewish boys who were being transported to the gas chambers. Subsequent to their arrival at the concentration camp they were sent to a room where they were ordered to remove their clothes prior to their entering [the showers which were really] the gas chambers. It suddenly came to them that it was Simchat Torah.
Suddenly they all forgot [or disregarded] what they were ordered to do and each said to the other; “Is it not Simchat Torah today, indeed we have no Sefer Torah with which to dance, however, we have our Creator and we can dance before Him. Thus, they went out with the joyous dancing of Simchat Torah to honor their Creator. [This was obviously to the consternation of the Nazi guards, those inhuman beasts, who then proceeded to gas them to death.]
Rav Shach continues; “My friends, now I ask you: did they die al Kiddush Hashem – while sanctifying Hashem’s name or did they live al kiddush Hashem – while sanctifying Hashem’s name? Was it that they died with great self-sacrifice or that they lived with great self-sacrifice?
“At that very moment they had before them both this world and the coming world. I have no idea what you are thinking, but I will share my thoughts on this matter. My entire life would I give for the opportunity of those moments of happiness and pleasure, for those few short moments before their death! Its value can’t be measured in monetary terms! Its value is worth all the money in the world! Such is the Jew!
Now Rav Shach continues: “I have also seen told over about an incident relating to those being transported to Auschwitz, Poland, that there was a group being sent to be killed who were waiting for the train. This happened to be Shabbos afternoon at Mincha time. Suddenly the time of the day came to them as they exclaimed: ‘Woe! Today is Shabbat and we have as yet to partake in the seudah shlishit – the third Shabbat meal. Each one took out a bit of their [meager amount of] bread and washed their hands with some of the small amount of water that they had and they ate and sat [probably on the ground] and proceeded to sing the zemirot for the seudah shlishit before they entered the cattle cars. Is it possible for us to picture them and their pleasure [at that moment]? Are there any in the world who can comprehend this?
“These stories, Rav Shach concludes, “Best express the uniqueness of the extraordinary people – the am segula, that reflect that not only do we as a people [and each and every one individually] die for the sanctification of Hashem – Kiddush Hashem but we also live for the sake of sanctifying Hashem’s name.
It is worth for one to give his entire life in order to merit those precious few moments of those Jews who [have the ability to] dance with the Creator of the World before their passing from this world to the next.
To be continued…