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Lech Lecha

In this week's parashah, our Patriarch Avraham and his future generations are chosen to be the Treasured People who will always serve Hashem and be a Light unto the Nations. Hashem made a "Covenant Between the Pieces" with Avram including symbolic acts and signs. The Torah says (Bereishis 15:9), "And He said to him, 'Take to Me three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a young dove'. He took all these to Him - He cut them in the center, and placed each piece opposite its counterpart. But the birds He did not divide."

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt"l explains the symbolism of the Covenant with particular insight. His marvelous words were reprinted in the Hirsch Haggadah, published by Feldheim publishers in 1988.

Rav Hirsch explains the significance of the birds as symbolizing Israel's ability to survive despite the persecutions of the Nations. "The bird is that creature which has neither strength nor power but which, nevertheless, by its ability to take wing, is able to escape man's sphere of power. Hence it symbolizes a timid, ephemeral but free form of existence for which snares are skillfully laid but which is able to avoid entrapment by means of its wings…. '…But the birds He did not divide.' This symbolized that Hashem allowed only the inner strength to take wing and soar above misery to remain unbroken."

Throughout two thousand years of bitter Exile, Jews have been able to survive by soaring above all of their suffering and not allowing it to overcome them.

Years ago, I watched a video about the Holocaust, produced by the Agudas Yisroel of America. The narrator, I believe, was Mr. Joseph Friedenson, editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort who was a young boy when he was taken to the Nazi concentration camps.

One of the very inspiring stories he told, which left an indelible impression upon me, concerned his experience on Simchas Torah. The Jews in his barracks decided to dance the hakofos although they had no Sefer Torah with them there. They began singing the words of the Holiday prayer: "Atah vechartanu mikal haAmim - You (Hashem) have chosen us from amongst all of the Nations." As they got more and more involved in their song and dance, and celebrated with gusto, they forgot, for a moment, where they were, and made a bit too much noise.

The Nazi guard was amazed at what he thought he heard. Singing and dancing in the Concentration Camp barracks? Could it possibly be? He went to inspect the enigma personally. Sure enough, when he arrived at the barracks he found a whole group of Jews celebrating as if they were free men. Startled at the sudden appearance of a very unwanted guest, the Jews immediately stopped singing and dancing. The furious guard demanded of young Friedenson to translate the words of the song they were singing. Frightened to do so, he turned to the right and to the left. Finally, he whispered, "You (Hashem) have chosen us from amongst all of the Nations."

Dumbstruck, the Nazi asked the boy if he still believed, in his situation, that he was part of the Chosen People. The boy was too scared to answer so the guard asked some older inmate the same question. He replied in the affirmative. The German asked another Jew and got the same answer. He asked every single Jew and received the same reply. Finally, young Friedenson joined the others and, he too, said that he firmly believes the meaning of the words of the song they were singing.

The shocked Nazi shook his head in bewilderment. Finally, he exclaimed his disappointment and said, "I have failed in my mission to break the Jewish spirit. Only the Fuehrer himself can deal with you People. Perhaps he can succeed where I failed."

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel