OU Torah Insights Project
Parashat Behar- Bechukotai
Imagine the range and magnitudeof emotions survivors and liberators experienced as the Allied armies liberated the death and slave camps of World War II. That precious moment gave profound contemporary meaning to the verse, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all her inhabitants."
Especially in Poland, Survivors who tried to return to their former homes were often met with deadly hostility. A dear friend, in our Jewish Hospice Program, told how, after Liberation, he clandestinely led a group of two hundred survivors to freedom.
The Polish authorities would not readily grant their Jewish citizens exit permits. In order to escape from Poland, the two hundred posed as Greek Jews seeking repatriation to Greece. He instructed this ragged group not to speak Yiddish, Polish, Russian, or any other regional language, lest they reveal their true identity.
Though none of them spoke Greek, the groups leader did speak Sephardic Hebrew, which is often spoken by Greek Jews. Confounded by the leaders language, the Polish military at the Czechoslovakia rail terminal was eager to have the group exit.
When they reached Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, they were stopped by Russian troops.
An officer pointed to one of the members of the group and began questioning him in Russian. The man became frightened, since he did not speak Greek or anything that sounded foreign. However, he was familiar with the Hebrew prayer book.
Hoping to fool the Russian officer, he looked him in the eye and spoke the opening words of a Sabbath prayer: "Yikum purkun min shmaya," "May salvation come from Heaven."
The Russian officer continued the prayer, "China vachisda verachamimWith grace, kindness and mercy."
The officer then explained that he too was a Polish Jew forced into the Russian Army. He concluded by saying in Yiddish: "Perhaps some day we will meet in Eretz Yisrael."
Our generation has witnessed the process of purification that the Torah describes in relation to the mtzora, the leper. The process consisted of taking two birds, one is slaughtered and the other live bird is dipped into the blood of the slaughtered bird and released into the open sky. The living bird is designated as the bird of dror, liberty.
We have experienced the slaughtered bird of the Holocaust, but we have also seen how the Jewish people dipped its wings into the blood of the slaughtered bird, lifted itself out of the ashes and proclaimed itself the bird of liberty. Through the establishment of the State of Israel we have proclaimed, dror, "liberty throughout the land and until all her inhabitants."
May we merit to see the fulfillment of the verse of our parsha: "And each man shall return to his land and each man shall return to his family."
Rabbi Herbert M. Bialik
Rabbi Bialik is rabbi of Congregation Agudath Achim, in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.