Every year, as my father’s Yahrzeit approaches, around the time of Shabbat Shirah, which commemorates the Jews crossing the Red Sea, I reflect on the powerful parallels between the Jewish slaves in Egypt and the Jews during the Holocaust. The famous biblical story is not just a phantom tale or a great movie, but is rather a blueprint for Jewish destiny. The parallels between Hitler and Pharaoh, both evil and stubborn rulers who ultimately destroyed their own empires from their irrational paranoia and hatred for Jews and their false sense of superiority, are striking.
Like the Jews in Egypt, the Eastern European Jews during the Holocaust were beaten, starved, and forced to work as slaves. The Jews in Egypt were eventually freed after years of torture and misery, only to find themselves sandwiched between the water in front of them and the Egyptian army behind. The brutalized and emotionally drained Jews needed the strength to forge ahead, and they found it through the examples of hope and resilience set by figures like Miriam and Nachshon ben Aminadov.
Miriam convinced her parents to continue having children despite the heinous genocidal decree from Pharaoh to kill all the Jewish baby boys. This act of hope and resilience, in the face of great danger, was the very source of strength that allowed the Jews to continue as a people and pass on their heritage to future generations. Miriam was also remembered as bringing tambourines for musical celebrations as they crossed over into freedom, another example of her optimism and belief in the future of the Jewish nation.
Nachshon ben Aminadov was another source of inspiration for the Jews at the Red Sea. According to the midrash, Nachshon was the first person who began walking right into the water, showing his complete faith in G-d’s promise of liberation. This act of bravery and faith inspired others to follow, and the sea eventually split, allowing the Jews to escape slavery and move towards freedom.
These examples of hope and resilience serve as a reminder of the strength and spirit that carried my father and other Holocaust survivors forward after their liberation. It could be said that their miraculous survival and the ability to thrive, rebuild and move forward was just as miraculous as the splitting of the sea. The trauma and scars of starvation and murder never escaped my father, but miraculously he still became the warm, loving, generous husband, father, and grandfather we all loved so much. Like his ancestors before him, he always maintained a strong connection to his roots and believed in hope for the future.
We are commanded each day to remember our redemption from Egypt which includes the lessons of strength and resilience. The legacies of Miriam and Nachshon are just some examples of the roots of these lessons, and inspire us to maintain hope and faith, even in the darkest of times. My father’s life will always be an inspiration, a testament to the power of hope and the human spirit. Our roots, and our legacy is the secret to Jewish survival.