Sunday, April 18, 2010

Three Differences

My friend Shlomo was killed in the first week of the 1982 war in Lebanon (nowadays we call it the First Lebanon War). We had known each other since age ten or eleven; during the war we were in the same regiment, though I was further to the south and only heard of his death a few days later. The following story happened during the shiva, the week of mourning: I distinctly remember that I somehow managed to get home for that, but the exchange was by then already the stuff of legend, and all these years later I'm no longer certain I've got it exactly as said.

The Rav Gustman lost his family in the Shoah, fought in the partisans, and then set up a yeshiva in Jerusalem; it was a haredi yeshiva in the secular neighborhood of Rechavia that didn't fit into any pigeonhole and attracted all sorts of people you wouldn't have expected. Shlomo's father, a famous professor, went to services at the Yeshiva. So it was natural that the Rav would come for a condolence visit, and here's what he told the bereaved parents.

Your son Shlomo and my son Meir are together now, and just as we're talking, so are they. Meir is telling Shlomo that he envies him three things. First, he envies him his death. I was shot like a sack of potatoes near Vilna; you, Shlomo, died in battle. Second, he envies him the reason of his death. I died for no reason, Shlomo, simply because they hate us, while you, you were fighting to defend the Jewish state. Finally, Shlomo, I envy you the life you led while you were alive. You lived in Jerusalem, in Israel.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Israel's most important strength is the totally unwavering determination of its people. Memorial day, which started a few hours ago, is about the price of the determination, but it's also an expression of the determination itself.


Avram said...

May his memory be blessed

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story worth repeating every Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut!


AKUS said...

Very moving. And very true.

Anonymous said...

May his memory be blessed. Shlomo's cousin is my shul rabbi here in Brooklyn.


Anonymous said...

Here is another version of the story:

Sergio said...

This thing about the sack of potatoes reminded me: the other day I was watching a History Channel series called "The lost films of
WWII" (incredible footage, by the way). They mentioned an episode in North Africa, when a bunch of germans were captured and later shot by an american soldier. The commander of the platoon (who was telling the tale) was outraged and about to shoot the murderer, but was told that the killer was a jew whose family was murdered in Germany and
the guy wasn't punished.

Well, yes, that was a war crime, but is interesing to know that the Germans at least had a little taste of the treatment they inflicted on millions in Europe.