In Our Time of Pain, Lessons from the ‘Holy Fire’

In December 1950, a Polish construction worker unearthing the foundations of a building found a buried canister. Miraculously, the legacy of a great spirit was preserved in that improbable vessel. Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, who did not survive the war, posthumously gave his teachings to our world — inside the canister was the written record of the lectures he delivered in the Ghetto from 1939-42.

Known as the Esh Kodesh, Holy Fire, his is a mystical and complex Torah. They are lessons clearly wrung from the depths of suffering. As Nehemiah Polen writes, “That he did not allow himself to be crushed by the events of the war was surely his greatest teaching of all.” In darkness, writes the Esh Kodesh, we must “serve God with a broken heart and an outpouring of soul.”

Why does the Talmud teach that Rabbi Yose prayed in the ruins of Jerusalem? Why did he not pray in a synagogue? The Esh Kodesh answers that he wanted his heart to be even more broken over the destruction of the Temple. Our tradition teaches that God treasures the brokenhearted. Today, in a time pain and isolation, the Holy Fire reaches across time to teach us that pain can lead to prayer, and prayer can lead to God.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.