Chodesh Nissan: The Month of Redemption

Once again, Chodesh Nissan is upon us.  Nissan is the month of Nissim (miracles), the month of Redemption, the month of Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt), the month in which we celebrate and commemorate Chag ha’Pesach, the festival of freedom.

It is an auspicious month for geula, as the Sages teach: In Nissan they were redeemed, in Nissan they will be redeemed (R”H 11a). 

And yet, after two hundred and ten years in Egypt, and one hundred and sixteen years of slavery, the Israelites had lost their power of voice, their ownership of time, their very dignity and very selves… They were slaves, their fathers were slaves, and their grandfathers were slaves… Would those famous, hoped for, longed for words – פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹקֹים אֶתְכֶם – And G-d will surely redeem you from here, which Yosef swore on his deathbed (Bereishis 50:25), ever, at last, come to fruition!?

The chances were slim, their hope was remote, their pain was enormous.

And it was in those great days, and the king of Egypt died.  Rashi teaches: נִצְטָרַע וְהָיָה שׁוֹחֵט תִּינוֹקוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְרוֹחֵץ בְּדָמָם – Pharaoh was stricken with tzara’as and (as a remedy for his affliction) he would slaughter Jewish babies and bathe in their blood (Shemos 2:23 w/ Rashi there). 

If we were not well-versed and well-educated in regard to our long history and sojourns through exile-after-exile, we might think this Rashi is exaggerated.  However, we know all too well that the Sages speak the truth…

My grandfather, Yitzchak Kaftan, Yitzchak ben Moshe a’h, wrote: “(On) a certain Sunday, one day after Pesach in the year 1942, the great catastrophe began (in Krashnik, Poland).  I remember everything, as if it has just happened.  All that I have set down in writing – I have seen with my own eyes.  About noon, shooting broke out in all the streets.  A placard was displayed that all Jews – men, women, children, must be present in the marketplace by 2 o’clock.  Whoever will be found later in the houses – will be shot.  I hid several Jews, as well as my father, in our house.  Risking my life, I lay on the floor and witnessed the entire hell that occurred at that time to half the city’s Jewish residents.  Jews were running from every street, women with children.  The villainous Germans photographed this horrendous picture.  And our neighbors of a thousand years, the anti-semitic Poles, stood in the street delighting in our overwhelming misfortune.  Four hours later, I saw a picture which is forever present in my memory: a lineup of 2,000 Jews, men, women with children, all of whom I knew personally.  I remember, when one young man, a student in the Lublin yeshiva, stood beside Yaakov Mendeles (Bohmblit) and cradled his new born child in his arms, quieting the child’s crying.  Just then it began to rain and the cries of the child were heart rending.  But no one was able to help. I also saw how a boy who was familiar to me, Moishe, one who from birth was a cripple and the renowned Dr. Soloveitchik from Warsaw healed him free of charge and straightened his crippled leg so that he could walk with the help of a cane – just then in the chaos a hateful SS man aimed his rifle as he (Moishe) was not able to follow the column quickly.  I also heard, how one of the murderers came out of the house of Reb Peretz Shochet (Goldberg) and asked a superior what should be done with the man who is lying in bed and is unable to get out.  ‘Make him well’ – was the significant answer.  I immediately heard a shot which was told (sic) to Reb Peretz’s son.  The next day I saw him in bed and he had been shot in the throat.

“On the second day, we, those who were left, gathered together (the remains) of over one hundred Jews who had been shot, women and men, who were not able to go the 4 kilometers to the train station, and their burial was a mass grave.”

And not one alone arises to destroy us, שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, rather in each and every generation they rise up against us

And through time and space, from generation to generation, through the millennia, Pharaoh became Haman, Haman became the Spanish Inquisition, the Inquisition became the Cossacks, the Cossacks became the wicked accursed Nazis, the Nazis became our enemies today, who R”L are spread around the globe. 

And yet, despite all odds, despite the natural way of the world, despite their attempts to bathe in our blood in each and every generation, we are still here!

Is there any greater miracle of redemption than the fact that the Jewish people live, from generation to generation, from place to place, from time to time… וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם, and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Genuine geulah, genuine redemption, always comes suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when people are ready to give up hope.  Sometimes historical situations keep deteriorating; people pray and cry, begging for mercy – but there is no answer to their prayer, only silence.  At that moment, when the crises reaches its maximum and threatens the very existence of the community, when people begin to give up, the geulah suddenly comes and takes them out of the land of affliction.  It comes in the middle of the night and knocks on the door when no one expects it, when everybody is skeptical about it, when everybody laughs off the possibility of redemption.  This is what happened in Egypt; וַיֵּאָנְח֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מִן־הָעֲבֹדָ֖ה וַיִּזְעָ֑קוּ – the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, וַתַּ֧עַל שַׁוְעָתָ֛ם – and their cry ascended to G-d from the labor (Shemos 2:23).  G-d did not answer at that moment, and the people had no knowledge that G-d saw… and G-d knew (2:25).  When the crisis reached its climax, and the Jewish people were on the verge of complete assimilation and disappearance, Moshe came.”

As we usher in the month of Nissan, the month of nissim, as we prepare for the yomtov of Pesach, the holiday of redemption, as we embark on our journey to once again leave Pharaonic Egypt this year, let us not forget the miracle of miracles: despite all odds, our nation is very much still here. 

And just when no one expects it, when everybody is skeptical about it, when everybody laughs off the possibility of redemption, just then, the redemption comes.

May we merit the ultimate, final and everlasting redemption, immediately and in our days, amen v’amen.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,

Michal

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