Yom Kippur night, 1945.
Feldefing DP Camp. Just before the beginning of Kol Nidrei. At the open aron kodesh, the Klausenberger Rebbe, zy”a, stood with his machzor in his hands, and he repeated, word by word, line by line, and cried bitterly:
Ribbono shel Olam heal us.
Ashamnu?!… Bagadnu?! …
Is all of that about us?!
Did we, chas v’chalilah, betray the Ribbono shel Olam when we were not loyal to him?
From whom did we steal?
Yes. Gazalnu, it’s me. And for this sin I have to pay. I am the ‘gazlan.’ Because one day when I came back from forced labor I landed on my ’bed‘, which was not more than two wooden pieces put together and I was not more than skin and bones. And my skin was caught between the two wooden pieces, and I couldn’t free myself. I pushed myself again and again, and then I got up, but my skin got torn somewhere. It started to bleed, I yelled … in a whisper … and I thought that nobody heard. But my cry was loud enough to wake up another inmate. …
Yes, Hashem, gazalnu, I stole sleep from an exhausted Jew.
Dibarnu Dofi? … Hirshanu? … Zadnu? … Chamasnu? …Maradnu? …
Against whom did we rebel? Ribbono shel Olam, against You? We accept it, all the German humiliation out of knowledge that it came from You, Hashem.
We sinned with the yetzer hara?
Did we have any physical senses to sin with? Maybe one physical yetzer hara we had. To get potato peels. The leftovers that not the Germans and not the watchdogs wanted to eat.
Did we sin in this gehinnom, Ribbono shel Olam? Yes, we did. When we wanted to die. When we didn’t have enough emunah and bitachon that an end will come to all our suffering. When we were jealous of the dead. …
And so we beg you Ribbono shel Olam: Selach lanu! Mechal lanu! Kaper lanu! Give us back the full emunah and full bitachon.
And now when we go to say Al daas hamakom v’al daas hakahal… anu matirin l’hispallel im ha’avaryanim, I want to ask you, my dear holy brothers, remnants of this fire, forgive wholeheartedly to every Jew, even to Jewish kapos, because under the circumstances that we endured it’s impossible to judge anyone. …”
Seventy years have passed since the same Yom Kippur 1945, when, all over Europe, survivors got together for Kol Nidrei. They were not too many; far fewer than we imagine today. But those few rekindled the flame of Yiddishkeit. They breathed on the coals of the remnants of the fire of “one from a town and two from a family” (Yirmiyahu 3:14). And they spread the light and warmth of the Orthodoxy we know today.
Seventy years passed. A generation goes; a generation comes. Orthodoxy was never so strong as it is today. Jewish centers around the world are flourishing, the voice of Torah is being heard around the globe. Yeshivos, Bais Yaakovs; tzedakah and chessed institutions flourish in every kehillah.
Seventy years later and it seems as though the Orthodoxy rebuilt itself and got even stronger, not less than in pre-war Europe, and some say even more.
We now stand after Yom Kippur, about to enter the sukkah. Every year, we go through the same drill: On Rosh Hashanah, we stand and we beg the Ribbono shel Olam for a good year. We know that there are still 10 days until the verdict. And we also know that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins bein adam lachaveiro. And so we try to do good: We ask forgiveness, we give tzedakah, and we depend on it that Hashem, Hu Av Harachaman. And if we will daven very well on Rosh Hashanah, He — the Av Harachaman — will give us a good new year.
We convince ourselves that we’re taking care of all the issues and the problems in our community. We convince ourselves that there are no issues that we swept under the rug. But our rugs are so bumpy that we cannot walk on them anymore.
We look at them and wonder, “Do all these bumps belong to us?”
Is this our fault that the less than average student doesn’t have a school/yeshivah to go to?
Is this our responsibility to take care of all the girls and boys waiting for a shidduch?
Was it so bad the lashon hara that we spoke? We tried so hard to watch. We were so careful. Until it came to financial situations of various people in our community.
We understand that we have to have rachamim on the young almanah. But do we remember the young divorcee? Did we ever think about the children of the divorced couple that did not do any wrong and are being treated by us like second-class citizens?
Are we so delusional as to believe that we have insurance “for life”, a comprehensive plan? And our children will be the best, the learners, the most successful ones. That at-risk children exist only among our neighbors; illnesses are suffered by somebody else. And we find it cathartic to read about tragedies in the paper, shake our heads and
say ”nebech” … as if feeling bad were equivalent to doing good.
So let us remember that the world is round. It keeps turning. Today we may be on top. Tomorrow we may be somewhere else. Let us remember that after Yom Kippur comes Sukkos. Indeed it is a Yom Tov of simchah. But let us also remember that toward the end of Sukkos, Hashem gave us one more day. One more special day. In the Jewish tradition we call it Hoshana Rabba, and we believe that it is the day when the final verdict comes. And so, we wish each other git kvittel. Like those notes we put in the Kosel to secure our tefillos, the kvittel of Hoshaha Rabba is our last-chance plea.
As Shlomo Hamelech said “One’s heart knows the bitterness of his soul” (Mishlei 14:10). None of us is blameless. Even editors. So if we — all of us — want Hashem to give us the yearly good final verdict, as we wish each other, we all have to keep in mind that bein adam lachaveiro is a never-ending avodas hamiddos.
Chag Sameach and a git kvittel.
Ruth Lichtenstein, Publisher