Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Sidder for Bread

I would like to conclude with a story that the famous Nazi-hunter – Simon
Wiesenthal – told when he once spoke at a conference of European
Rabbis in Bratislava in Slovakia. The rabbis presented the 91-year-old Wiesenthal
with an award, and Mr.Wiesenthal, visibly moved, told them the
following story.
It was in Mauthausen, shortly after liberation. The camp was visited
by Rabbi Eliezer Silver, head of Agudas Harabonim (Union of Orthodox
Rabbis of North America), on a mission to offer aid and comfort to the
survivors. Rabbi Silver also organized a special service, and he invited
Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in prayer. Mr. Wiesenthal declined,
and explained why.
“In the camp,” Mr. Weisenthal said to Rabbi Silver, “there was one religious
man who somehow managed to smuggle in a siddur (prayer book).
At first, I greatly admired the man for his courage -- that he’d risked his
life in order to bring the siddur in. But the next day I realized, to my horror,
that this man was ‘renting out’ this siddur to people in exchange for food.
People were giving him their last piece of bread for a few minutes with the
prayer book. This man, who was very thin and emaciated when the whole
thing started, was soon eating so much that he died before everyone else
-- his system couldn’t handle it.”
Mr. Wiesenthal continued: “If this is how religious Jews behave, I’m not
going to have anything to do with a prayer book.”
Wiesenthal turned to walk away, Rabbi Silver touched him on the shoulder
and gently said in Yiddish, “You silly man. Why do you look at the
Jew who used his siddur to take food out of starving people’s mouths?
Why don’t you look at the many Jews who gave up their last piece of bread
in order to be able to use a siddur? That’s faith. That’s the true power of the
siddur.” Rabbi Silver then embraced him.
“I went to the services the next day,” said Wiesenthal.

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