Shortly before I married, I spent a Sukkos in a yeshivah for Russian boys in Copenhagen, Denmark. After Sukkos ended, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of nearby countries in Europe. One of the places we visited was Amsterdam. While there, we saw Anne Frank’s house, including the annex where she and her family lived until they were discovered and deported to Auschwitz in 1944.
In the gift shop afterwards (yes, there is a gift shop), there was a quote on the wall that said something to the effect of “The only reason we can go about our day is because there’s only one museum depicting the life of one cute girl. But if there were six million such museums and six million such diaries, we wouldn’t be able to function.”
Joseph Stalin quipped that if one person dies it’s a tragedy. But if a million people die it’s just a statistic.
My rebbi, Rabbi Berel Wein, noted that the Nazis didn’t kill six million Jews. Six million becomes one terrible, albeit digestible, number. Rather, the Nazis killed one plus one plus one, six million times. Each one was a child, spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, etc. Each one was an entire world snuffed out. When one begins reflecting on the Holocaust with that perspective, the tragedy becomes far more magnified and impossible to deal with.
When the calamitous accident occurred in Meron on Lag BaOmer in April 2021, our hearts broke for every one of the families of the 45 people who died there. The flyer that circulated bearing the pictures of all 45 faces and the knowledge that so many families were broken and in pain, shattered us. We didn’t see it as one collective tragedy, but as 45 individual and painful tragedies.
In the Shir Shel Yom recited on Wednesday (T’hilim 94), David HaMelech cries out to Hashem asking how long He will allow the wicked to prosper and gloat. “Your people, Hashem, they crush, and they afflict Your heritage. The widow and the stranger they kill, and they murder orphans. And they say that G-d will not see, and the G-d of Yaakov will not understand.”
It is noteworthy that David HaMelech does not say that our enemies create orphans and widows through their murder. Rather, he says that they murder orphans and widows. In light of the horrors of the massacres that took place on Simchas Torah, we can suggest that these individuals became orphans and widows at the behest of our savage enemies. Moments later, the enemies murdered the orphans and widows, as well.
In 2011, one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was returned from captivity by Hamas in exchange for 1,027 terrorists who had been in Israeli jails. Leaving aside all political and theological questions regarding the exchange, it was and is an incredible testament to the value we have for every single Jewish life. Our enemies are well aware of that and exploit it mercilessly.
The war being fought now is between two completely different worlds. Our enemies dance joyously and hand out candies when a Jew is murdered. We, on the other hand, danced and gave out candies when Ori Megidish, an Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas, was rescued and returned home. They celebrate murder and death, while we celebrate life.
In the Al HaNisim recited on Chanukah, we thank Hashem Who “gave the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the malicious into the hands of those who engage in Your Torah study.”
Many note the discrepancy between the first two contrasts – the strong and the many into the hands of the few and weak – and the other three. Why is part of the miracle the fact that righteous, pure, Torah scholars overcame wicked, impure, and malicious enemies?
These days, the answer to that question is painfully apparent! The righteous and pure supremely value life. Those who engage in its study internalize the Torah’s lessons about sensitivity, compassion, and love. For people of such noble character, it is challenging for them to seek the obliteration of their evil enemies without hesitation. Our enemies, however, glorify murder and death, and they therefore have no compunction to terrorize and murder. The fact that the forces of good overcame wantonly evil people is indeed part of the miracle.
The Torah teaches us about the inestimable value of human life. Other than certain circumstances of kiddush Hashem, nothing – even observance of Shabbos Kodesh – takes precedence over saving or preserving life. It is often noted that as great as it is for one to give up his own life for kiddush Hashem, it is far greater to live a life of kiddush Hashem.
Every soldier, every captive, every victim, every survivor, and every Jew is precious and beloved.
May Hashem protect each one. May our soldiers return home healthy and strong. May Hashem raise the pride of our nation, and may we merit to witness great days and the salvation that is coming.