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Rabbi Kalmar's Message Parshat Tazria-Metzora April 16 / 17, 2021 / 5781

Entitled: “The Angel in the Nazi Uniform”

Last month Sidney Rosenzweig, age 94, passed away.  He was the grandfather of Rivki Chudnoff, wife of my good friend Scott Chudnoff.  When Sidney was living in Hungary during the War, he was part of a roundup in the ghetto of Debrecen and sent on a train going East.  At that point in the war, the Jews had a pretty good idea of what going East meant.  Sidney tried to convince two of his friends that they needed to jump off the train.  He had experience.  As a young boy growing up there were trolleys in his town and he learned to jump off the trolleys at the right moment to avoid the conductor as he had no money to pay.  Now that experience was going to pay off.  He convinced one of the friends to do it and the other was too scared.  They leapt from the train and landed safely in a brick makers complex near Budapest. 

              While in Budapest he was captured by the Nazis, but managed to escape when the Russians bombed the area.  But he was caught by one of the bombs and struck by shrapnel in his shoulder and his leg, which he carried with him to his dying day, setting off metal detectors in airports his entire life.   Sidney then had nowhere to go and nowhere to live. While traveling through Budapest he stumbled upon a morgue that was being used by the Nazis to house their dead.   There he found one Nazi who had died whose size was comparable to his.  Sidney decided to take the dead Nazi’s uniform and found that his identification papers were inside as well.  His boots were still frozen on to his body and getting them off was a great struggle.  At one point he thought he might have to saw off the legs.  Finally, he got the boots off.  Here was Sidney Rosenzweig, newly transformed into a Nazi soldier.  He took a pair of crutches as well so that he could be a wounded Nazi soldier, perhaps to detract attention from the fact that he was not with his unit. 

              As a wounded Nazi soldier, he was always ushered to the front of the line to get bread at the bakeries and medicine at the pharmacy.  Sidney could have used this new ruse to his advantage to try to escape.  But what he did was use his disguise to allow him to transfer food and medicine to the Jews in the ghetto in Budapest.  The uniform was his ticket to helping other Jews survive.

              Yesterday, we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut.  The flag of Israel is of course kachol viLavan – the blue and white.  The blue and white represents the tzitzis, or the tallis, with the white being the color of the majority of the tzitzis and the blue being the fringe of techeiles.  The Rav, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, explained the significance of the blue and the white.  The blue is compared to the sea and the sky, and the heavenly throne.  It represents what is vast and deep and far away from the understanding of humans. It represents the ineffable, the infinite and incomprehensible otherworldliness of God.

      However, the majority of the tzitzis are white.  The white, says the Rov, represents clarity and rationality, learning and reason.  It represents our ability to recognize and master our world and its mysteries, to use technology and to make discoveries.

  Together these elements create a dynamic human being.  The majority of the time is spent on clarity and reason and understanding our world and our Torah.  But there will be times when we experience the techeles part of our religion. The things that don’t seem to make sense, that require an acceptance of God’s realm and all the mysteries that we cannot explain.  The paradox of the blue and white is one that has sustained the creation of the State of Israel.  As Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote “Only a people sustained by techeles could be motivated to reconstitute a state after two thousand years of exile. Nations governed by lavan (white) mock us incredulously and derisively. We are sustained by techeles, even when it is only a vision and temporarily obscured. The garment of Jewish life will yet possess both blue and white, and our historical yearnings and sacrifices will be vindicated.”

           There is something incredibly powerful about the uniforms we wear and what we do with them.  Rabbi Soloveitchik was known for being very careful about the laws of prayer.  He was once visited by a student who was in the IDF and whose job it was to clean and maintain the tanks.  Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change his clothing before davening mincha.  He told the Rov that it would be possible to do so but that it would be inconvenient and difficult.  The Rov looked at him in amazement and said out loud, “Why would you need to change? You are wearing Bigdei Kodesh, holy clothes!”

              At Sidney Rosenzweig’s funeral is Israel, his grandson Yonaton Chudnoff spoke about the story with the Nazi uniform.  Yonaton has just recently joined the Israeli Army and is in basic training.  He attended the funeral wearing his IDF uniform.  And he said “My grandfather didn’t have the ability to wear the uniform of the IDF like I do, he was forced to wear the uniform of a Nazi soldier.”  The soldiers of the IDF do God’s will in the uniform of the State of Israel.  Sidney Rosenzweig did God’s will in a Nazi uniform, bringing medicine and food to the Jews in the ghetto of Budapest.  What he did was perhaps not logical, the logical thing would have been to save himself.  But the uniform of the Flag of the State of Israel teaches us that there is the sublime techeiles, which teaches us to behave and to think in a Godly manner, sometimes beyond what is reasonable and logical.   Let us never forget that we are a people of destiny and dynamism.  We all have the ability to wear holy garments, to behave like angels of techeiles.

Wed, May 18 2022 17 Iyyar 5782