My father, z”l, had yahrzteit on 13 Sivan, the day that he lost 22 members of his immediate family in the Holocaust. His own father, the only one who merited to come to kevurah, was beaten to death by the Nazis, and his mother and 21 other members of his family died too, all on that one day. My father was never able to speak about what had happened in those years. When asked, his response was silence.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral and I heard from Reb Gavriel Sassoon what was possibly the most amazing lesson of my life. This was a practical, real message for every day of our lives — that is, that when we suffer, we surrender our will to the Will of Hashem and that is how we go on. I heard my father’s voice from Heaven while I was standing at the funeral. He said, “I picked myself up and raised children with silence. I accepted without understanding and went on, because that is what we do when we do not understand.”
Harav Schwab, zt”l, writes on Iyov that we are supposed to work to understand the ways of G-d in order to follow in His ways. However, sometimes we hit a wall in our understanding that we cannot break through. At that point, we retreat to what Avraham did at the akeidah. Harav Schwab says that Iyov, who suffered unbelievably, had a test of an akeidah of the daas — a surrender of his understanding.
Harav Elchanan Wasserman, zt”l, explained that there are two ways that Hashem judges the world. He judges individuals, and He also judges communities. When seven children are taken from a special family, it is clear that this is something that was aimed at the klal and not at them. It is a call for us to think seriously and to search for the message.
Reb Gavriel’s words are seared into my memory. “Yesterday I had everything and today I have nothing.” We plead that none of us should be put to this test, but we must learn what it has to do with our lives.
This Friday night there was a fire in another Jewish home in Flatbush. It was a trying ordeal for them. They lost their home and had to run elsewhere for Shabbos, but everybody escaped in good health. When they heard about the other fire that consumed the Sassoon home, they gained perspective on their own situation and said, “Baruch Hashem, we are all here.”
How often do we complain about little things in our lives? Nobody came back from the funeral and felt the pain of everyday life and said, “Hashem, why are you doing this to me?” The impression it leaves lasts for a while.
I know a woman in Flatbush who fixed up her whole home and drove herself crazy because she couldn’t find the right fixtures for her kitchen. She was in pain from this.
What happens when you complain? It starts with fixtures and then husbands and soon it’s parents and you are left with a miserable life. Instead of counting our blessings, we look at what we don’t have and at what the other person has.
Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, got a message during the Holocaust from Harav Michoel Ber Weismandl, zt”l, that he could literally save Jewish lives for $100 apiece — please help. He went into a retail store and told the shopkeeper the situation. The proprietor told him, “Go to the register and take everything that is there.” Reb Shraga Feivel felt awkward reaching into the cash register and asked the owner if he could take out the money. The man responded, “On the 20 feet to the register my feelings will cool off; you won’t get as much.” Feelings cool off very quickly. We have to take these feelings and focus on what we do have and not on what we lack.
G-d, don’t test me like you tested Iyov, my father, or the Sassoon family — but we are all tested in having complaints to G-d.
My father never went back to his old home. But in the last decade of his life, he traveled back to his father’s gravesite. He went back to say, “I still don’t understand, but I did what you wanted me to do. I raised a family and lived a life of Torah, avodah, and gemilus chassadim.” We need to do it on our own level and in our own lives.
Who could complain about their lot in life after a speech like Reb Gavriel’s? We need to be happier people. To be brave and smart enough to be happy with what we have. Sometimes we have to say, “I don’t understand.”
Hear the message and let it become part of you. We lived through a moment in our history that could be a defining moment. A speech like Reb Gavriel’s could be repeated by rebbis to talmidim and by parents to children for years to come if we choose to make it part of the personality of our community. We can give it wings and give this message years; the years that were taken from these children.
Let’s try to make that happen. It will make us happier and better people.