Monday, May 5, 2008

True Martyrs

What is a "martyr"? Plainly stated, it's a person who dies for G-d. Judaism does not ask for martyrs. We're generally told (except for three specific instances) to live for G-d and keep the commandments and not to die for G-d. But sometimes we're not given a choice, and the choice is made for us.

The Holocaust was an awesome event. Six million Jews were murdered. One and a half million of them were children - the next generation gone. We were singled out and destroyed.

These martyrs - who were they? They were ordinary people, who in normal times were mothers and fathers, businesspeople, lawyers, students and children. Not unlike us today.

These martyrs did extraordinary things even living within the hellholes called the Camps. Mothers performed brit milah/circumcisions on their sons knowing that at least their baby would die as a Jew. Shabbat candles lit. Shofars blown. Assimilated Jews saying the Shema on their way into the showers - professing in the one and only G-d. Those being carried to the cremetorium singing their own Kaddish, praising G-d.

These are martyrs. These are people to aspire to be.

We are the living. But what are we living for? For ourselves? For immediate gratification? The physical or the spiritual?

Do we take advantage of everything at our fingertips? Kosher food? Shabbat? The Jewish holidays? Do we appreciate any of it? We have it all. Our martyrs only dreamed of it.

As we approach Shavuot, the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we need to look back at Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and see not only destruction - but also life. These people lived for something bigger than themselves. They saw the big picture.

The Nazis were bent on destroying the Jewish People. But they can move to the back of the line. There were others as well interested in the same goal. As we say in the Passover Haggada, "in every generation" there are those who came to destroy us. However, G-d in His mercy didn't let that happen. We are an Eternal People when we hang onto Eternity.

To paraphrase Mark Twain. The Jews have seen the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, and the Nazis all rise to great heights. We have also seen them all crumble into the dustbins of history. Who are we? We are the Jews. We have Eternity. We have the Torah.

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