The square root of faith

A few weeks ago, someone left a pile of old magazines in the shul for people to take and read. The magazine was not one that I usually (ever?) read, but I decided to take a few in any case. As I thumbed through one of them, I came across a biography of a man who had passed away not long before the publication of that last issue. The man in the story was Reb Shaya Ungar, z”l, the gabbai of the Skverer Rebbe יבדל”א. He was not only the trusted gabbai of the current rebbe but had served in that position for over 50 years, including the tenure of the father of the current rebbe.

As I read it, I found it an interesting insight into a world I am not wholly familiar with–the Chasidic inner circle. But as I neared the end of the article, I read three sentences and suddenly drew in a breath, as I read one of the most remarkable statements I had ever read.

One of the “jobs” of the Reb Shaya was to be the one who took the matza out of the oven on Erev Pesach that were being baked for the rebbe’s seder. When he became to elderly and frail to stand and remove matza from the oven, he still came to the location where they were baking the matza and merely sat and watched as each and every matza was removed from the oven.

He was asked why was it that if he was frail and unable to actually remove the matza himself from the oven, why he would sit there “just” to watch them come out?

His reply sent shivers down my spine:

In the concentration camp, my job was to put the bodies into the crematorium. When I see a matza coming out of the oven, it is a tikkun (a spiritual act of “rectification”). In every matza, I see a face.


Wow…I sat there for a few minutes absorbing those powerful words. Here was a man who had perhaps one of the worst possible “jobs” on Earth, putting his fellow Jews into the crematorium, and yet, he was able to come to a point like this in his life and have such an amazing sense of Emuna/faith in Hashem! He saw the faces of the victims he was forced to put INTO the ovens on the matzo he REMOVED from the oven.

Reb Shaya, z”l, you taught me an amazing lesson of love of my fellow Jew. You have given me (and others around you) a deeper understanding of what true, unadulterated faith in Hashem is all about.

May your holy neshama find its resting place in Gan Eden.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.