In the Merit of Unconditional Love

We have just marked a mourning period for a Beis Hamikdash destroyed due to sinas chinam. As we prepare to be consoled with the eternal words of the Navi Yeshayah, we must bear in mind that it will be rebuilt through the merit of ahavas chinam, the unconditional love of all Jews.

Ahavas chinam isn’t about liking those who agree with us; in that case it can hardly be referred to as ahavas chinam.

Nor does ahavas chinam entail compromising on our principles or negotiating on our core beliefs.

Ahavas chinam means looking past all the issues that divide us, and seeing each other as individual Jews, fellow descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

Ahavas chinam includes listening to each other, and trying to understand the emotional anguish that is the cause of so much of the angry rhetoric pouring forth from various camps.

Through listening to each other we will be able to clear up much of the misunderstandings and miscommunications that are at the root of much of the bitter conflict that is dividing us.

Let us look at a remarkable example of this trait:

On the eighth of Av, 5603/1943, a group of prisoners was taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto and forced to march on foot toward Dachau. In fact, the Warsaw Ghetto had been annihilated the previous spring. These prisoners were actually inmates of Auschwitz who had been brought to Warsaw to help take apart the remnants of the buildings and to ship off any valuables to Germany, in the hope of contributing something to the war effort. However, as the Russians continued their relentless advance on German-occupied territory, the Germans decided to remove these Jews and force them to make this incredibly cruel march. On an unusually hot day  — it was a Shabbos — the men were sent off without any water supply toward an unknown destination.

The Germans forced them to walk 22 miles that day, under the constant threat of blows and bullets. Anyone who fell behind or out of line was automatically shot.

Chazal tell us that the worst of all deaths is to die of thirst, and life-threatening thirst is precisely what these men were being subjected to. Among the miserable victims was the Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l. Suffering as they all were, he spent his time giving his comrades constant encouragement, soothing their aching souls and parched spirits, even if he could not soothe their bones or quench their thirst. He showed unconditional love for all Jews, when he himself suffered no less than anyone else from the living hell of the march.

The Germans would not give the men a chance to rest. The men had pulled their gold teeth from their mouths to trade them for water from the peasants they passed, but the Germans never gave them a chance to make the trade, never allowed them to stop long enough to take a drink.

Night fell, the mournful night of Tishah B’Av. The marchers passed a river, but the Germans would not let them drink from it. Anyone who jumped into the water was shot. Only when it was completely dark were they told to halt and rest in a dry, thorny field.

One of the men told the Rebbe, “I cannot take any more of this!”

“So dig,” the Rebbe replied.

“With what?”

“With whatever is available — a spoon, your fingers … anything.”

The word spread, and soon the men began digging. One inch, then two, then four inches. Suddenly there was a spurt of flowing water. The men stretched out on the ground and quenched their thirst in the dark until the Germans discovered what had happened. They were furious, but it was too late for them to do anything about it.

Harav Moshe Weiss, the Rebbe’s mechutan, related that if he hadn’t been there himself he would not have believed the story.

This was not the end of this dreadful episode, however. The men continued on to Dachau and to other stations from Hell. The Rebbe continued to refuse to eat nonkosher food even when there was no alternative. He was tortured physically and emotionally, but he remained a Jew throughout. He was joyous on each special occasion — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Chanukah, Purim and Pesach — as much as the situation allowed.

The men were liberated on the 17th of Iyar, 5605/1945, at the very end of the war. They were subjected to the most intense cruelty until the final moment.

When the Rebbe was finally freed, what did he ask for? Kosher food, for one thing, and a vehicle to enable him to go and bury the bodies of his brethren who had not survived.

The Rebbe’s request for kosher food elicited protests of indignation among some of his fellow survivors. After all that they had suffered, they found his determined efforts to keep mitzvos inconceivable.

The Rebbe didn’t try to force his lofty level of emunah upon them; instead, he showered them with unconditional love and worried about their physical and emotional needs.

In time, many of them became some of his most ardent Chassidim.

After spending some two weeks burying victims who had died of starvation and diseases, the Rebbe was stricken with typhus.

He lay in his hospital bed, hovering between life and death, when he received the news that his son Lipa, the only one of his eleven children who had survived the war, died after the liberation. Widowed and childless, the Rebbe refused to be broken. Instead, he adopted thousands of children, young and old, and treated them as his flesh and blood. It didn’t matter who they were or what families they came from; he showered them all with ahavas chinam.

The Rebbe never sacrificed an iota on any of his principles; he remained faithful to his hashkafos in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. But this never prevented him from being a paradigm of unconditional love for Jews in all that he did, whether it was building Torah and Chassidus in America or Eretz Yisrael, including Kiryat Sanz and the famed Laniado hospital.

May we all have the wisdom to apply this living lesson to our everyday actions.

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