This article is dedicated to my dear friend, Irving Mangel who tragically passed away a few days ago. He was a man that never forgot where he came from, and was strongly proud of his roots, his family and the State of Israel. Those who had the privilege of knowing Irv will forever be enriched by having his memory as an eternal blessing.
Think of any word; can that single expression have the capability of modifying the essence of what it tries to articulate? The word ‘kedoshim’ (holiness) is used daily by a myriad of people as they recite their prayers. Yet its usage fails to adequately decipher what it represents. Even as the angels use the phrase ‘kadosh, kadosh, kadosh’ in their devotionals to God, mankind still finds its meaning incomprehensible. Yet the average Jew using the terminology ‘kedoshim’, to invoke the memories of the past, allows the haunting memories of six million holy souls who perished in the Holocaust to penetrate the deepest recesses of their hearts. Kedoshim conveys the emotional bond with those whose physicality is lost, yet our inability to touch or see them does not diminish their existence. Their absence, instead of diminishing their presence manages to defy the odds and permeate our lives.
Coincidentally, on the week we commemorate the ‘kedoshim’ of the Shoah, we read the weekly Torah portion, ‘Kedoshim’. Yet as similar sounding as the words may be, they reflect vastly different stages of holiness. One reflects on the past; the lofty spirit imbued by those whose lives were cut short in their prime, due to incomprehensible evil and hate. If we were to gauge those that perished, by analyzing the survivors, then their loss is only magnified. As it is important to always remember the past, it is equally important not to forsake the present.
Our survivors are truly ‘kedoshim’ in the most literal sense. Their holiness is not contrived, it is their very essence. Just hearing them speak, seeing them pray or watching them smile and laugh gives all humanity the hope that no barrier is insurmountable and that as long as there is life, there is hope. They represent the possibility that the impossible is indeed possible. Without those remnants, whose lives seemed shattered beyond repair, our Jewish world would have succumbed to assimilation. Their strength and determination gave others the confidence to continue.
Then there is the third phase of ‘kedoshim’; a phrase that is meant for the future generations. A holiness that is achieved only by glancing in the rearview mirror of life. A holiness for tomorrow must be built on the fundamentals already laid by those who preceded us. Indeed the Torah asks us to be holy. If we want to make the task much easier, then we should look for the tattoo on the arm of those seated in our midst. By doing so, we will then be able to realize how good life really is.
Please join us to share our love, appreciation and respect for our ‘kedoshim’ at Anshei Emuna’s Holocaust commemoration this coming Monday morning, April 28th at 10am in the shul.
Rabbi Jack Engel