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A Light In The Dark

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 10/11/2019

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A Light In The Dark

We have a custom on the night of the Seder to eat eggs.[1] Among the various reasons offered is that the more an egg is cooked the harder it gets. The same can be said of us Jews that the more we have been persecuted and the like, the more firm we have been in our service of Hashem. Indeed, this is what is meant in our title עם קשה ערף, a stubborn nation.[2] In this light, we can grasp וכאשר יענו אתו כן ירבה וכן יפרץ[3]—the more we are afflicted the more we increase in our service of Hashem and the like.


A Russian boy who had his Bris performed at the age of 14 desired for his 12-year-old brother to follow suit. His father who was extremely anti-religious threatened his 14-year-old son that he would physically harm him if he would do the same to his brother. This 14-year-old at the time was learning in a Yeshiva which was a one day travel from his house. He asked a Mohel to let him know when he would be in the neighborhood of the home where his brother was. A few months later, he received the call from the Mohel that he will be there. The boy, unknown to anyone, left Yeshiva that day to go home. Upon arriving, he smuggled his brother out the window followed by the Bris being performed.


With this we can grasp why we are compared to stars—ככוכבי השמים[4]—since in dark times, we truly see the light of our people, just like a star that shines at night.


It was on Shabbos in a Siberian camp, when a guard approached the Zvhiller Rebbe who was with an older Jew and said that if he agrees to sign a paper, he will be let free. The Rebbe refused as he said for the older Jew he would sign since he wouldn’t be able to survive in such a camp, making the situation life-threatening for him. The Rebbe himself who was younger felt he had enough energy to survive and thus didn’t want to desecrate Shabbos. What was the outcome? The guard was so impressed that he released them both!


During World War Two, when R’ Yisrael Yaakov Lubchanski[5] was incarcerated in the ghetto, his face constantly shined with joy in addition to spreading words of hope.  R’ Efraim Oshry[6] (1914–2003) asked how he could be so happy in such a situation. R’ Lubchanski replied that by nature I am easily frightened. Why should others have to suffer because of my fears? I exert myself to remove any signs of fear so it should not cause anyone else to become afraid.[7]

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Orach Chaim 476:2, Rema.

[2] Shemos 34:9.

[3] Shemos 1:12.

[4] Breishis 22:17. Also 15:5. The Baal Shem Tov (Lech Lecha, 27) says that just as stars appear small but in the heavens they are very big, so too we Jews  in this world seem small (oppressed and downtrodden) but in the upper world we are big.

[5] He was the Mashgiach in the Yeshiva of R’ Elchonon Wasserman in Baranovich. He was a student and son-in-law of the Alter of Navardok. In Tamuz of 1941, he was murdered by the Nazis.

[6] Miraculously, he survived the war while his wife and children were murdered. He later remarried to a survivor of Auschwitz. For those seeking the Torah’s answers for their heart-wrenching questions during the holocaust, he was the address. When asked a question, he would write the details on scraps of paper, along with the responses he provided. He then hid these papers in cans which were buried in the ground of the concentration camp near Kovno. After the war, R’ Oshry unearthed the hidden cans, and then reviewed each question with Torah texts, as his original answers were based solely on memory. Once properly researched, he then compiled a five-volume work in Hebrew of the responses titled שו"ת ממעמקים. This was later translated in English into a one-volume work titled Responsa to the holocaust. After the holocaust, R’ Oshry founded the Yeshiva Me’or HaGolah in Rome for orphaned refugee children who had survived the Holocaust.

[7] Hamoros Hagdolim, p. 401.

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