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Ich bin eine Jude!

Friday, 3 July, 2015 - 4:38 am

His name was Peter, and he was a lawyer and a member of Vienna’s high society. His wife was not Jewish and neither were his children, but he was Jewish – and that was all that could be said for him. He did not attend services at a synagogue, not even on Yom Kippur.

A few weeks after the Anschluss, when Hitler annexed Austria to Germany (much to the delight of the Austrians), the Nazi SS soldiers walked through the city, street by street, with local officials, in order to make a registry of the Jews and where they lived. When they passed under the balcony of Peter’s large house, the local officials, who knew him to be a respected person and a member of the high society, motioned to him to go inside, as they intended to list him as being a pure Aryan, and so to save him the “honor” of scrubbing the city sidewalks with a toothbrush, and perhaps to preserve his life as well.

But then, it seems that a strong and illogical inner force moved him, and instead of withdrawing into his house and being saved, he stayed there and called out to the Nazis proudly: “Ich bin eine Jude!” – I am a Jew!

Those were the last words he ever uttered. Shots rang out and he collapsed, dying Al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying Hashem’s Name). (Heard from the Chief Rabbi of Holon, who heard the story from eyewitnesses.)

There is a name for that illogical inner force that drove Peter to announce his Judaism proudly; it’s called Ahava Mesuteret - “hidden love.” Peter’s love for his true source and roots was covered and hidden in his lifetime. He did not express the fact that he was Jewish in his behavior, deeds or diet. It is possible that he didn’t even know that this flickering but powerful love for his people and his G-d was there, inside his soul; he thought he was just another blond and blue-eyed Austrian. But then, when the moment of truth came, the flickering love came forth and became a burning, even roaring flame: You will take my body, but you will never be able to touch my soul. May the memory of this martyr be a blessing.

In Chassidism it is explained, that when Bilaam spoke about the Jewish People in our Parasha, saying, “Ki Meirosh Tzurim Erenu” (from its Rosh – head – I see it rock-like) he was speaking of that hidden love that permeates our souls. “Rosh Tzurim,” says the Tzemach Tzedek, is the hidden love, a love as strong and powerful as the head of a rock. The rock is the soul, and the head of the soul is the most concentrated and powerful part of it. This hidden love is what has caused so many Jews throughout the generations, wherever they were, to act completely illogically and to say: Ich bin eine Jude! I am a Jew – knowing that this might be the last thing they will say.

Bilaam defined it correctly. He recognized our power. He knew very well what we’re made of. He knew that mere physical and material strength are not enough to give us the ability and the power to be a nation that “will dwell in solitude and will not be reckoned with the other nations” for 4000 years. Because it is the inner, spiritual power, though sometimes illogical, that is necessary for our preservation. Only thus have we become the Eternal Nation.

And I add to this: if I already have this hidden love, but it is throbbing and flickering, why use it only at times of crisis and troubles?

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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