On the day prior to Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I received a precious gift, courtesy of the daughter of a recently deceased Holocaust survivor:
“Shalom Sivan, My name is Dina Womzer. This year we celebrated our first Seder night without my father, Yaakov Yehoshua, and today we will mark the first Yom HaShoah without him.
In the Bergen-Belsen camp, father was very hungry. He found a little silver spoon with the name ‘Rudy,’ that of a Jewish child who apparently had not survived, engraved upon it. Father kept the spoon and each day after they finished apportioning the murky soup to the prisoners, he would take the spoon and scrape the bottom of the pot with it. He would do this with all his strength in order to be rewarded with one extra drop of food.
Each year this spoon would be the focus of our Seder night. Father would tell his story and when we sang “VeHaKadosh baruch Hu matzileinu mi’yadam” (And the Holy One blessed be He saves us from their hand) he would wave the spoon and recall how he himself was saved. This year on Seder night we displayed the spoon and continued to tell the story ourselves for the generations to come.
Father left us another precious gift. On his 90th birthday that we celebrated only a few months ago, he formulated for us ten messages, a kind of ‘Ten Commandments’ you might say. As a Holocaust survivor and as someone who built his life anew, he left behind a guide for his descendants, how we should conduct ourselves in the world. We read his words together on Seder night, and on this Yom HaShoah, we would like to share them with the wider public.
- Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.” It cannot be that “his portion” refers to his material possessions since a person continually worries that he will lose his property or that it will be stolen, and it is even written in Pirkei Avot: “Increasing possessions increases worry.” Rather “his portion” refers to his spiritual portion, the money that he gives to tzedakah. This is a portion that can never be taken from him and in which he can rejoice and be happy!
- When we pray and ask for a good friend, Pirkei Avot suggests: “Acquire a friend,” meaning we need to check his qualities as we would anything else before acquiring it. We do not, heaven forbid, want to absorb others’ bad habits since friends can have a dramatic influence on us.
- In the business world, we need to check the truthfulness and reliability of the people with whom we do business. We need to play it safe: “Respect him but suspect him.” Check with whom you are “dealing” — in both senses of the word.
- Closeness to G-d or cleaving to HaShem is achieved through Torah study. Therefore, learning must be a daily constant. Otherwise, heaven forbid, there can be an interruption in our connection with HaShem.
- We should examine the words of our prayers intently in order that we do not recite them like chirping birds, but rather with deep focus and concentration, and pay close attention to the words that come from our mouths so that they should also come from our hearts. Similarly, in the words of praise to HaShem, we must understand and carefully focus on every quality ascribed to Him.
- Family unity is created by treating each child the same, without favoring one over another, in order not to repeat what happened with Yosef and his brothers.
- Not everything is good — but everything is for the best! Our task is to remember that in the all-inclusive Divine accounting, what happens is for the good of ourselves, our family, the nation, and the world, even if we do not see it with eyes of flesh.
- Purim — Megillat Esther — is a wonderful example of the previous point — how, in the end, everything flipped and turned out for the best.
- HaShem knows what he is doing. He does not punish anyone for no reason, his judgment is just.” These are words from a song that Fannie Ehrenreich z”l taught during the Holocaust. They resemble “He is a G-d of faith, without wrongdoing, He is righteous and upright,” and “The judgments of HaShem are true, they are righteous altogether.”
- A human being should know that life has a purpose. And its true purpose is complete redemption! As long as we have not gotten there, we are still on the road and cannot rest on our laurels! And so redemption becomes an inseparable part of our thoughts, words, and actions”.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin