31 Aug 2023 Ki Savo 5783: And Your Children Will Be Given Over
At the end of this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, the Torah informs us of the terrible klalos, the curses and Divine retribution, that will befall the nation when it does not go in the ways of Hashem. After recording a series of beautiful brachos that will be bestowed upon the nation when it goes in the ways of Hashem (Devarim 28:1-14), the pasuk introduces the curses by telling us:
וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמַע֙ בְּקוֹל֙ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לִשְׁמֹ֤ר לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָ֣יו וְחֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם וּבָ֧אוּ עָלֶ֛יךָ כָּל־הַקְּלָל֥וֹת הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֽוּךָ – And it will be, if you do not listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe to fulfill all His commandments and statutes which I am commanding you this day, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… (28:15).
There is a long standing custom to read this portion of the Torah quickly and quietly, to demonstrate that we do not want to ever know of such travails. Furthermore, there is a tradition that we read this parsha before Rosh Hashana so that tich’leh shana v’kil’kilo’se’ha – let the year and its curses end; tachel shana u’virchoseha – let the new year and its blessings begin.
Amongst the klalos are two pasukim that seem redundant. One pasuk tells us: בָּנֶ֨יךָ וּבְנֹתֶ֜יךָ נְתֻנִ֨ים לְעַ֤ם אַחֵר֙ וְעֵינֶ֣יךָ רֹא֔וֹת וְכָל֥וֹת אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם כָּל־הַיּ֑וֹם וְאֵ֥ין לְאֵ֖ל יָדֶֽךָ – Your sons and daughters will be given over to another people, and your eyes will see and long for them all day long, but your hand will be powerless (28:32); while another verse tells us: בָּנִ֥ים וּבָנ֖וֹת תּוֹלִ֑יד וְלֹא־יִֽהְי֣וּ לָ֔ךְ כִּ֥י יֵֽלְכ֖וּ בַּשֶּֽׁבִי – You will bear sons and daughters, but you will not have them, because they will go into captivity (28:41).
Why do we need two pasukim to seemingly relay the same message: in a time of destruction, desolation and utter chaos, your children will be given, or sent, away? Quite a number of years ago, my father-in-law, Mr. Naftali (Norman) Horowitz, suggested a very powerfully beautiful, albeit very painful, understanding of these verse.
בָּנִ֥ים וּבָנ֖וֹת תּוֹלִ֑יד וְלֹא־יִֽהְי֣וּ לָ֔ךְ כִּ֥י יֵֽלְכ֖וּ בַּשֶּֽׁבִי – You will bear sons and daughters, but you will not have them, because they will go into captivity – this verse (28:41), my father-in-law suggested, refers to the consequences of destruction and exile. In such times, the children will be captured by the enemy R”L and taken away (see Gittin 57b for the narrative of 400 boys and girls being taken to Rome by ship, in the aftermath of the churban, for purposes of promiscuity).
On the other hand, בָּנֶ֨יךָ וּבְנֹתֶ֜יךָ נְתֻנִ֨ים לְעַ֤ם אַחֵר֙ וְעֵינֶ֣יךָ רֹא֔וֹת וְכָל֥וֹת אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם כָּל־הַיּ֑וֹם וְאֵ֥ין לְאֵ֖ל יָדֶֽךָ – Your sons and daughters will be given over to another people, and your eyes will see and long for them all day long, but your hand will be powerless (28:32), refers to a different situation entirely.
Perhaps, my father-in-law suggested, this refers to the tragic, beyond painful situation when Jewish parents needed to give over their own children – to farmers in the country-side, to nuns in the convent, to former employees who would save these children in barns, cellars, or attics. This curse, then, is perhaps more profound than the first one (G-d forbid, may we never know of either). Whereas in v.41, the enemy captures and takes away the children, in v.32, it is the child’s own parent who chooses, R”L, to give over the child to a foreign religion, to an enemy nation, to foe instead of friend, in order to save the child’s life.
In 1993, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau shlita met with the pope in Rome. “I asked the pope’s permission to tell him a story I had read in The Holocaust: A History of the Jews during the Second World War, by Sir Martin Gilbert. I was interested in hearing the pope’s reaction to the story. The pope nodded his head in acquiescence.
“A young Jewish couple in Kraków, David and Helen Hiller, had a two year old son named Shachne. When the Nazis arrived in Kraków in 1942 and transferred some of the Jews to the slave labor camp of Płaszów and some to Auschwitz, the Hillers left their baby with Catholic neighbors, the Jachowicz family, until they could come back for him. Unfortunately, the parents never returned.
“The child grew up. By age four, he had memorized the Sunday prayers that he heard in the Catholic Church. When he turned five, Mrs. Jachowicz contacted the local priest and requested to have the boy baptized as a Christian. The young parish priest asked her if she could imagine the reaction of the child’s biological parents to such an act. She answered that she had to be honest with him. ‘I remember the scene exactly,’ she said. ‘As I held the child in my arms, my good neighbor Helen stood by the door and waved good-bye to her son. She requested of me, ‘Mrs. Jachowicz, if I do not come back, please try to return the child to the Jewish people.’ ‘If that is what she wanted,’ the young priest replied, ‘I am not willing to baptize him under any circumstances.’
“I addressed the pope with great emotion: ‘This priest, sir, was named Karol Wojtyła. It was you.’ Then I asked if he remembered this specific incident. For a moment silence filled the room. Then, with a warm smile, the pope said, ‘That boy, Shachne Hiller, is today a religious Jew in Brooklyn. By the way, this is not the only incident of this type. I did the same thing in all similar cases.’ His reply surprised me. I made a quick calculation and discovered that 48 years had elapsed from 1945 until our meeting in 1993. For all these years, the pope had followed the path of that Jewish boy from Kraków whom he had refused to baptize” (Out of the Depths, p.295-296).
While this true account is moving and inspiring, and certainly this young parish priest, as well as Mrs. Jachowicz, would be considered Righteous Amongst the Nations, how many children given over to other religions were not returned after the Shoah? How many parents, like David and Helen Hiller, had to tragically leave their Jewish children in the care of other nations? How many parents had to hope and pray they would return to claim the child, while knowing they might never live to see that day…? How many times in our bitter history of exile have we witnessed the fulfillment of בָּנֶ֨יךָ וּבְנֹתֶ֜יךָ נְתֻנִ֨ים לְעַ֤ם אַחֵר֙ וְעֵינֶ֣יךָ רֹא֔וֹת וְכָל֥וֹת אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם כָּל־הַיּ֑וֹם וְאֵ֥ין לְאֵ֖ל יָדֶֽךָ?
May the old year and her curses end, may the new year and her blessings begin.
בברכת שנה טובה ומתוקה,