Gershon Hepner
Gershon Hepner

Praying in a ruin

The Talmud tells us how once in Jerusalem a rabbi, Yossi, prayed
inside a ruin. Jews in Warsaw’s ghetto asked their rabbi, Holy Fire,
Kalonymus Kalman Shapira: “Why was he of danger not afraid?”
Their Rabbi said that even if afraid he hoped the ruin would inspire
his heart to feel as broken as the Temple which the Romans had destroyed,
because God treasures prayers made by the broken hearted. Their affliction He
heals faster than of those who waste their time — and His time too! — always annoyed because their lives seem to them far less pleasant than they think they ought to be.

The Holy Fire ended murdered by the Nazis like six million Jews,
but six years after he was murdered quite miraculously people found
his hidden, buried writings where he’d sent us messages with timeless clues
how to survive this earth once it’s a living space that’s dark and far from sound.

Rabbi David Wolpe wrote on 7/16/20:

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.

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 broken hearted. Today, in a time of 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
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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