It is impossible to fully comprehend and process what we have seen in the past week. While we walk through a camp where hundreds of thousands of our people were murdered, intelligible and logical thoughts do not fill our minds. We cannot give a coherent explanation of what we see. There is some tangible gap, a permeating sense of emptiness.
Each moment of horror is frozen in time because we cannot fit it into the greater context of our lives. The pits, gas chambers, and barracks contain some dark and enigmatic quality, one that manifests in permanence. The screams from within the darkness echo forever. It is all ״תהו ובהו״ — an emptiness and desolation not limited to time.
However within the void is buried a oneness. From the depths of nothingness is a remnant of completeness. Packed into a gas chamber with no space between each other, hundreds of Jews cried שמע ישראל as one. Their unified final word אחד is forever beneath the nothingness as a piece of illuminated oneness.
The idea of oneness is central to Judaism and our relationship to God. Hashem is not just the only God, but He is One. This is the true but hidden essence of Hashem. Our role is to view the world as something that is all a manifestation of God’s will. We can elevate the physical to the divine by acting with one motive and driving force — Hashem. As we say every day throughout davening ״ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳ אחד ושמו אחד״ “on that day Hashem will be One and His name will be One.” We yearn for God to reveal his unity in this world.
The Germans strived for the opposite of this divine unity. Instead of recognizing that there is one higher power and our existence is nothing without His, they attempted to glorify themselves as the highest power. They worshipped their own evil wills and filled the world with chaos. Therefore, the Germans attempted to shatter our divine unity — the timeless connection to the Infinite.
Over the past week we have visited fragments of oneness forever covered by the horrors of the Holocaust. At each camp after feeling the total emptiness, we stood in a circle, linking arms and sang with all our hearts in complete unity. In the gas chamber of Majdanek where Jews’ final breath was ״אחד״ the breath of our song emanated oneness.
As we internalized the cries of 800 children being dumped into a pit and buried alive, we cried as one. No voice was distinct or separate, each was subsumed in the greater, united cry. Where there was once an everlasting void, now exists an everlasting unity.
As we return to Israel we understand that the vibrant Judaism of Europe did not disappear in the pits of Chelmno or through the chimneys of Auschwitz. European Jewry lives when we remember the horror they endured and is glorified when we act in oneness in their name.
Living in the Old City, the holiest place on earth, gives us a tremendous opportunity to take the inspiration we feel and use it to actualize our divine potential. We are not living in our separate and independent Jewish communities in America, we are living with the rest of אם ישראל. Every time we see another Jew, no matter whether they are religious or secular, Zionist or Haredi, we have the ability to act in a manner that promotes unity. When we act with kindness, dignity, and love towards every Jew as if they were our Rebbeim, we build on the legacy of European Jewry.
Our devotion to Hashem cannot simply be present while we are learning in Yeshiva. It must be a constant and singular drive in every facet of our lives. With this mindset the Jewish people are not just ביחד – together, we are also אחד – one.
In order to never forget the over six million who were murdered, all 50 of us understand that it is our mission to fulfill God’s will and approach each moment of life with a true perspective of אחד.