Tonight at Yeshivah, immediately following the Maariv (evening) prayers was a special Tekkes (ceremony) for Yom Hashoa- Holocaust Day. The Tekkes was filled with moving words and personal experiences from presenters, coupled by heartfelt supplications in honour of the memory for all those who perished.
Most notably, the act that universally defines all commemorations for Yom Hashoa is the lighting of six Yizkor (remembrance) candles. These candles represent the estimated six million Jews who perished in the Shoah (Holocaust).
Yet, as I watched each of the six candles being lit, I realised an inherent flaw in this act. When the normative human mind is visually presented with six candles and invited to remember and indeed comprehend the death of six million people, such a task is in truth impossible. I will be the first to admit that I have a very hard time understanding the sheer magnitude of the loss of life that occurred to the Jewish people during the Shoah. For me, the six candles alone cannot do this. Therefore, I use other means such as forcing myself to shockingly realise that six million people is equal to the entire Jewish population of Israel at present and that the Shoah killed almost 2/3 of European Jewry at the time.
However, despite these statistics providing an enlightened understanding of the enormity of the Shoah for the common human mind, which craves comparison and relativity, the only manner in which one can begin to even attempt to grasp the enormity of the Shoah is by understanding a simple fact. Namely, that six million individual members of the Israelite nation, all of whom were each created Beztelem Elokim- “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27); had their lives horrifically ended through manmade evil.
Unfortunately by lighting six candles it is easy to forget that each of these six million had an individual personality. Each person had a name, a heritage and their own stories. Therefore, as we light those six candles, we must strive above all else to honour the individual neshama (soul) of each of the six million and in doing so realise the enormity of the loss to not only the Jewish world but indeed humanity in its entirety. As the Talmud states, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”(Babylonian Talmud, Sandhedrin 4:9)
In losing the six million, we lost the wisdom that these lives would have imparted on the world. Imagine the scientific discoveries that would have been made, the books that would have been written and Torah knowledge that Rabbinic leaders would have brought to Judaism. But most importantly, we lost generations and generations of future Jewish families.
Since the liberation of the concentration camps and the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, many figures within the Jewish world have attempted to explain why the Shoah occurred. For example, the most well known (due to the controversy that surrounds its theological conclusion) was that of the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitlebaum who despite himself escaping Nazi Europe through the help of Zionists, declared that the Shoah was a punishment for Secular Zionism’s wish to create a modern Jewish state before a Messianic age. Yet, put simply, the rational human being understands that such responses, regardless if they are based on theology, are attempting to explain the unexplainable. No man, regardless of his intellect or piety can explain why six million Jewish souls perished, or why over 1 million Jewish children, including newborn babies and infants were sent to the gas chambers and murdered at the hands of the Nazi’s.
However, it must be stressed that man can begin his journey of recognition towards the number six million by understanding the power of one life in its own right. Through an appreciation for each and every human life lost in the Shoah, we can begin to truly understand the meaning of the six candles that we will light today – candles that continue to honour the six million Jewish souls of blessed memory.