Weekly Chasidic Story #1271 (s5782-33)
17 Nissan 5782/April 18, 2022
"Crumbs of Matza"
"I've noticed that you don't stay for the Blessing of the Cohanim on
the holidays. Is something wrong? You don't have to talk about it if you don't
want to. I just wondered."
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A certain Chabad rabbi led a large congregation,
many of whom were holocaust survivors. Each member had his own memories and problems,
of course, but all of them learned to cope pretty much. Or so it seemed.
Goldvasser (fictitious name) was a seemingly normal person--a good businessman
with a healthy sense of humor a generous heart and a keen mind. However, he had
one idiosyncrasy; he never remained in the synagogue for the Blessing of the Cohanim
on the holidays. 
The Rabbi was always a bit apprehensive about asking
Mr. Goldvasser for an explanation, but when his curiosity finally became too great
to resist he concocted a plan. He invited the man to his home for a meal, and
after they had eaten well, sang a few songs and made a few 'l'chaims,' he asked.
me Mr. Goldvasser. I've noticed that you don't stay for the blessing of the Cohanim
on the holidays. Am I right? Is there some reason? Is something wrong? I know
it's not that important; it's just something I have been noticing for quite a
while. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. I just wondered."
Goldvasser became silent and it seemed that his eyes became glossy with some past
vision, or perhaps with tears.
"Well, Rabbi" he began after almost
a minute, "It was like this....
I was in Auschwitz. I can't explain
what happened there, I think it's even forbidden to remember such things. But
there was one person; we called him 'The Rabbi,' although we never knew if he
was really ordained or not. No one knew his name, but he was different than all
of us. He must have lost his family and everything just like the rest of us, but
he never showed it. Not only that but he used to keep everyone's spirits up.
he saw someone depressed he would say a good word. If you ever wanted to talk
he would listen. He could listen forever. He always had a hand for a bent shoulder
and a shoulder for someone to weep on, and a hug for a broken heart and even a
joke to break the sadness.
Anyway, once it was getting close to Passover
and he announced that we had to figure out a way to get matza.
Everyone was thinking about dropping dead and he made us think of matzos. And
it worked. Until finally someone noticed on the way to where they took us to work
outside, someone noticed a few crumbs of matzos!
It took a few days but
finally we found out that one of the prisoners had a job cleaning the house of
one of the Nazi officers and when the German wasn't at home this Jew risked his
life and made a matza for himself. If he got caught he would have been killed
for sure. Anyway a few crumbs must have fallen there near the road and that's
how we found out. It was a genuine miracle.
The Rabbi had a talk with
this fellow and at first he said it was impossible; too dangerous. But finally
and somehow he succeeded in making two more matzos. Another miracle!
The Rabbi woke us all up for the Seder. It doesn't matter that we were about
eight hundred men in that bunker. Do you hear? Eight hundred! But we were actually
happy when the Rabbi woke us up at midnight and showed us those matzos.
broke them into pieces and handed them out, then each of us broke them into smaller
pieces until each of us had a piece.
Each person held his piece in his
hand while the Rabbi recited what he remembered from the Passover Haggada by heart
and we repeated after him.
Finally he finished the recitations and made the
blessing on the matza. He ate and so did we--each one ate his crumb of matza.
At first we were quiet, whispering so those German snakes wouldn't hear us, but
after a few minutes we kind of forgot where we were, and began talking louder.
When we realized we became frightened. But then the Rabbi demanded our attention
and spoke with fire: "Listen Jews! Listen my friends and my brothers. We
just left Egypt! See! No one can break our spirit. No one! We are free!"
He began to sing a song and to dance. He actually danced! It was not long
till we were all dancing. Everyone, even the atheists! We were free.
then the door came crashing open and the spell was broken. There stood a Nazi
officer with a few soldiers behind him like mad dogs.
"What is this?"
He screamed, red with anger. "SINGING?!" He screamed even louder. "In
Auschwitz you cry, you don't sing!"
He pulled out a pistol, put it
to the head of one of the prisoners and said "Tell me who is responsible
or I'll kill you. I'll kill all of you out one by one! Who is responsible for
Everyone knew it could happen. The Rabbi stepped forward and
said in a loud, calm voice. "I am. I'm responsible. You can kill me."
The officer motioned to his soldiers to grab The Rabbi, lowered his pistol,
put it in its holster and said, "You won't die so fast, Jew. You will die
tomorrow, in public by hanging."
They took the Rabbi away and early
the next morning before dawn they woke us early, and made the entire camp stand
in the yard. There were several thousand prisoners and Nazi guards were everywhere
us with pointed guns. There in the middle on a podium between two huge Gestapo
guards stood the Rabbi.
The officer stood straight, hands behind his back,
his chest jutting out and yelled. "Now, Jews, you will see what happens to
someone who dances in Auschwitz. Everyone will watch! Do you understand?! Everyone!
Anyone caught not watching will be killed on the spot!'
As they were putting
the noose around the Rabbi's neck he turned to the officer and said in a clear
voice for all to hear, "As a man about to be killed I demand my last wish!
Doesn't a dying man get a last wish? Where is your honor?"
hesitated, smiled as though amused, and said.
"Last wish is it? Alright,
Jew, what is your last wish?"
"I am a Cohen," he answered.
"So I want to bless the crowd."
"Bless? Heh! And how long
will this take?"
"It will take one half a minute, perhaps less,"
The officer looked at the soldier with the noose, made a motion
with his head to wait, looked at the watch on his wrist and said, "You have
The Rabbi's voice was clear as a child's. He stood
proudly straight, closed his eyes and raised his hands with his fingers spread
in the special way of the Cohanim while blessing.
The fifteen words of the
blessing rang out like a voice from heaven. "Yivorechechaw, HaShem, V'yishmorechaw."
We all burst out crying like babies and when he finished...well, it was over.
Goldvasser looked the Rabbi in the eyes and concluded, "That blessing
is what kept me alive in Auschwitz, through the rest of the war and to this very
day. It rings in my ears when there is no hope and shines in the darkness when
all is lost. I never want to hear another Cohen's blessing. I never want to forget
that pure blessing I heard. That is why I leave the Shul."
The Cohanim- priests are direct descendants from the Cohanim who served in the
Holy Temple 2000 years ago. They are commanded to bless the congregation with
a fifteen-word blessing as prescribed in Num. 6:24-26. Outside of Israel the blessing
is usually made on only four occasions during the year: on the holidays (Passover,
Shavuot, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) in the morning 'Musaf' prayer.
Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the telling of Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, as heard
from Rabbi Shabtai Slavatitski, the shliach (representative) of the Lubavitcher
Rebbe in Antwerp, Belgium.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them
live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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