Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Once a Jew - Always a Jew!

The following story is one of many very moving incidents relayed about one very inspiring Jew who survived the holocaust. The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, was no ordinary Jew. He was the leader of a community in Hungary, with a complete devotion to Hashem and to inspiring and comforting his fellow Jew. The Rebbe had been married with eleven beautiful children when WW2 began. When Hungary was invaded, the Klausenberger Rebbe and his family were taken along with their fellow Jews.

Early on in this horrible journey, the Rebbe lost his wife and all of his children, yet he never gave up hope, prayer and dedication to Hashem. After tremendous suffering and affliction, the Rebbe survived the war and later moved to the USA. In the USA he founded various Torah institutions but is most famous for the establishment of the Sanz-Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel.

Bearing in mind this very brief outline of who the Klausenberger Rebbe was, let us return to the particular story of this article. A certain amount of time after being taken to Auschwitz, the Rebbe along with many of the Hungarian community, was moved to work in the Warsaw Ghetto sifting through debris for valuables that the Nazis wanted to claim. During this assignment, the Rebbe had occasion to get into conversation with a particular fellow Jew, a conversation that spanned several days.

It began with the Rebbe asking who the man was. The man was alarmed to find someone who did not know who he was. It turned out that the man had been the banker of the Hungarian Bank and through his hard work, had uplifted the poor economy to a strong one.

The Rebbe enquired as to whether the man had married, and when discovering that he had, asked where his wife was. It turned out that the man had married a non-Jewish woman. With great care, the Rebbe selected pertinent questions, thus guiding the discussion in a specific direction.

The Rebbe asked if the man had provided for his wife. When he answered that he had, the Rebbe asked again where his wife was. How could it be that a wife of 30 years who enjoyed good years with him, would not accompany him with the bad as well?

The Rebbe then asked if the man had any children. When the banker answered that he did have, the Rebbe again asked if the banker had provided for them. The banker assured the Rebbe that he had provided a very good education, the best of schools and provided for all their needs. Again the Rebbe asked where his children were.

Through the discussion the man became agitated as to why the Rebbe was asking such questions. As the hours passed, the banker reflected on the questions and comments of the Rebbe and finally came to the Rebbe acknowledging that he had made a mistake. It is forbidden for a Jew to marry a non-Jew. It is forbidden for a Jew to immerse him or herself in the life of the non-Jews to the extent that they put their identity of being a Jew as secondary.

Through his clever, pointed questions, the Rebbe helped the banker to recognise that once a person is a Jew, he/she is always a Jew. The banker might have had his picture on the money, might have made a major impact on the Hungarian economy but when the holocaust hit Hungary, his non-Jewish “friends” were no longer his allies. At the end of the day, he was still a Jew. As a Jew, if Hashem decrees Jews will suffer, no matter how one tries to hide ones identity, one is still singled out by Hashem to join the other Jews, and in this place, the non-Jewish “family” is not included.

Finally the banker realised the truth and confessed to the Rebbe. The next day the banker returned his soul to Hashem. The Rebbe’s comment on the few days of conversation and interaction with the banker was that he was grateful to have been in the position to assist him to do tshuvah one day before he died.

The Torah states that marrying a non-Jew is so great a sin, that a person who marries a non-Jew is no longer permitted to be called up to the Torah at the time of the reading of the Torah. Since we are taught that Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish people are one, this shows how greatly the error is viewed. By separating oneself from the body of the Jewish Nation, we in turn separate ourselves from Torah and from Hashem,
G-d forbid.

Yesterday we began the new month of Elul. Elul is the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and a time when Hashem is said to be in the field. We are taught in Pirkei Avot that one of the keys to prevent us from sinning is to think about the end of our days and to repent for our sins, the day before we die.

May this story provide us with the strength and inspiration to search for what it means to be a Jew. To find out how to live up to the example of the Klausenberger Rebbe and the other Tzaddikim of Am Yisrael, and to learn from the mistake of the banker. May we all be zoche to do complete Tshuva this Elul, every day of Elul – for we do not know when our last day will be. May the story also help us to see that when we are ready and willing to return to the ways of Hashem, Hashem can and does send the best messengers to help us to correct our ways. As we say in our morning blessings, Hashem opens the eyes of the blind to see where we have gone wrong so that we can confess our mistakes and return to the right path.

The life of the Klausenberger Rebbe is very inspiring and well worth reading about. To obtain your own copy of one of the books written in English about the Klausenberger Rebbe, please visit our Shopping for Goodness Store and go directly to our section 'Jewish Books'

In this section you will find two books about the Klausenberger Rebbe that will enhance your personal library.

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