Rav Yitzchok Fingerer
Morah D’Asrah BJX (Brooklyn Jewish Xperience) Beis Medrash
75 years ago, while millions of Eastern European Jews were being mercilessly and barbarically slaughtered, their Jewish relatives ensconced in the safe haven of America. While millions of Jews in Eastern Europe were being gassed in crematoria, millions of Jews in America were nonchalantly conducting business, eating ice cream and playing baseball. Most had no idea that their cousins in Europe were being obliterated. There were those that were aware who downplayed or ignored the terrifying truth; others valiantly did whatever they could to stop the seemingly invincible Nazis.
One great Gadol, Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz, Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, did everything in his power to save fellow Jews. He spearheaded much of the Vaad Hatzalah movement to rescue people from the Holocaust. On several occasions, Rav Kalmanowitz had to openly be Mechalel Shabbos in order to raise funds, travel in vehicles and fill out documents to save lives. It is well known that the great Rosh Yeshiva would break down in tears and even fainted from emotion in the presence of government officials when pleading his cause. He successfully transferred the entire Mir Yeshiva from Lithuania to Shanghai and worked feverishly and tirelessly, without respite, to secure visas for the Yeshiva stranded in Shanghai to come to America.
When asked why he was so relentless and passionate to get the visas for the Yeshiva students, he explained:
“The Midrash Tanchuma says that the lion in Noach’s ark injured Noach. I never understood why the lion would be so brazen and impetuous. Didn’t the lion appreciate Noach’s efforts? Couldn’t the lion wait patiently? It dawned upon me, said Rav Kalmanowitz that the lion thought, ‘I am the last lion! If I don’t survive, there will never be another lion again. I am responsible for all future lions. There is no other lion in the entire civilization. All the lions, other than me, are extinct. I must be fed. I am the last lion.’
Continued Rav Kalmanowitz, “The students that escaped the Nazis are the last lions. They must be saved. They must be cared for and protected. They are the last of their kind. There will never be others like them again. They are the last lions! They will be responsible for all future generations of Torah. We must do everything in our power to take care of them.”
Today, in America, Baruch Hashem, Jews are no longer being sent to the ovens and sadistically killed but we are still being destroyed. We are self-destructing. Too many unaffiliated Jews are assimilating and disappearing, never to be seen or heard from again. Even in the religious world, we have had too many sacrifices, lost lives, due to trauma, addiction and because people feel lonely and isolated. There have been too many overdoses and suicides in our community! All last lions, never to be replaced.
Every Jew you encounter is a last lion. Make sure to respect your fellow Jew, no matter their background, and reach out to them with dignity and love.
Next Shabbos, Parshas Vayeirah, is the worldwide Shabbos Project. Millions of Jews will come together in unity to observe Shabbos. BJX will be hosting our annual Shabbos Project in Flatbush. There will be an inspirational program for all members of the community as well as a grand Shabbos dinner for unaffiliated families. You can invite an unaffiliated colleague, employee, neighbor, acquaintance or relative to join this Shabbos dinner of unity.
75 years ago not enough Jews made a difference. They could have saved countless lives. Now, it is within our power to act and save our fellow Jews. Who will you invite to celebrate Shabbos? Which last lion will you reach out to and invite to the Shabbos Project?