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ב"ה

CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Thursday, 19 January, 2023 - 10:01 pm

A few one-liners by Woody Allen:
I was thrown out of there during my freshman year, for cheating on my metaphysics final. You know, I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.
Moses knew all along it would not be easy. That is why he tried to get out of it.
Thus, when G-d summoned Moses, at the Burning Bush, to embark on a mission of setting his people free, he rejects the invite.

“Behold, they will not believe me, and they will not listen to me. They will say, 'The Lord has not appeared to you.'”

What does G-d do? He gives Moses three signs to perform for the people.

And the Lord said to him, "What is this in your hand?" And he said, "A staff." And He said, "Cast it to the ground," and he cast it to the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch forth your hand and take hold of its tail." So, Moses stretched forth his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand so that they would believe…

And the Lord said further to him, "Now put your hand into your bosom," and he put his hand into his bosom, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow. And He said, "Put your hand back into your bosom," and he put his hand back into his bosom. When he took it out of his bosom, it had become again like the rest of his flesh…

You shall take of the water of the Nile and spill it upon the dry land, and the water that you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry land."
Are these just cute Divine magic tricks, or is there a deeper meaning behind them?
In this week’s portion, Vaeira, it becomes apparent. How so?
Why did Moshe refuse the mission? As he is daunted by three major concerns.
First, the people. “Behold they will not believe me,
Second, he isn’t suited for a task of such magnitude.
Third, Moses was afraid of Pharaoh.
As it turns out, Moses was correct on all three counts.

Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh to renew their request. They perform a sign – they turn a staff into a snake – but Pharaoh is unimpressed. The Israelites are still slaves.
But how can I take on the mighty and seemingly indestructible Pharaoh, Moses wondered.
For this G-d gave him the message. You shall take the water of the Nile and spill it upon the dry land, and the water that you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry land.
This, of course, is also the first of the ten plagues to befall Egypt. Why was this the first plague?
Small wonder, then, that the Ancient Egyptians prized and venerated the Nile River. It was their god. It single-handedly saved their civilization.

How did the Nile allow the Ancient Egyptians to live and farm on dry desert land? The answer is that the river flooded every single August! And when it did, all the nutrient-rich soil carried in the water spread across the riverbanks, leaving a thick, moist mud, perfect for growing crops. From its cooling waters came perch fish bigger than the fisherman. From its loamy riverbanks came mud used for bricks and papyrus for books and boats.

The river and its banks became home to lots of extraordinary wildlife, too – including many diverse fish and birds, as well as turtles, snakes, hippos, and one of our planet’s largest reptiles, the Nile crocodile. Indeed, the prophet Ezekiel in the Haftorah of Vaeira compares the Pharaoh to the “awesome crocodile crouching in the Nile.”  

But—there was another, darker side, to the Nile… The Nile was really a river of blood, not of water.
As the Torah relates:
Pharaoh commanded his entire nation, saying, “You shall cast every male born into the Nile.”
These signs contain a timeless lesson for each of us.
You may have a child, a friend, or a relative, who is as scary as a snake. You do not think redemption might ever be possible. He will never listen; he will never believe. G-d tells Moses, and each of us, fear not what seems like a serpent. Lift it up, and its true essence will emerge.

I may say to myself: “I am just a simple guy; I can’t make a difference.” Let me keep my hands tucked away comfortably in my bosom. In life, this is not an option.
You may fear injustice, corruption, violence, abuse, and lies. How can you take on the powerful Nile? Remember, G-d knows everything. Nobody can hide behind the Nile forever to eclipse their bloody evil.  If you are loyal to truth, fear not.
When I think of true caring and empathy, the name that comes to my mind this week is a French Jew by the name of Adolfo Kaminsky. He is one of the great unsung heroes of our generation.
As the Second World War Broke out, in 1939, he was 13 years old, the age of Bar Mitzvah, living with his family in Paris.
Kaminsky was a professional forger, he forged false papers for himself and his family. His work led him to be recruited by the French Resistance, and he stepped up his involvement after his mother was killed on her way back to Paris after warning his brother of an impending arrest.

So as Hitler marched into France in 1941, and Jews began being deported to their deaths, Adolfo Kaminsky and three Jewish friends operated a clandestine laboratory to make false passports for children and families about to be deported from France to Nazi death camps. The youngest member of the group, the lab’s technical director, is Adolfo. He is practically a child himself.

The young Jewish hero single-handedly forged thousands upon thousands of passports. He gave these passports to French Jewish children allowing them to be smuggled out of France and allowed entry into other countries as supposed citizens of those other countries.
This young boy saved around 14,000 Jewish children in France!
In a documentary about him, he talks about the day when learned that in three days, 900 Jewish children will be arrested and sent to the Gas Chambers. This means he had three days to forge from scratch 900 passports to show that they are citizens of other countries!

He would have to stay up for nights, to get this work done. Remember, every passport had to be forged with exceptional skill. As he put it once, “one tiny error and that person gets sent to their death.” This was a strenuous job, to say the least. How would he manage to forge 900 passports?

But then he said, “I made a simple calculation: In one hour I can forge 30 documents; if I sleep for an hour, 30 people will die.” He stayed up for three nights and finished all the documents. All the children were saved.

And you know what inspires me most about Kaminsky? As he was interviewed a few years ago about his new book A Forger’s Life, he was asked how he feels about his accomplishments. And he responded: I think mostly about all the children I could not save!
His forgeries didn’t end with the liberation of France or the Nazis’ surrender. Instead, he continued to create fake documents for the Bricha movement, which smuggled displaced Jews to Mandatory Palestine and supported the Irgun and Lechi, Jewish groups fighting for Jewish independence in their eternal homeland.
On Monday, 16 Teves, 5783, January 9, 2023, Adolfo Kaminsky, passed away at age 97 in his home in Paris.
Here is a man who can teach us what it means to show up and be present in the face of suffering and evil. As his holy soul ascended to heaven, I can only imagine the welcome he received for the 14,000 universes he saved with his forger’s hand!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 

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