The Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe, held firm during his imprisonment in Dachau. He somehow managed to smuggle tefillin into the camp, and continued wearing them regularly. One day, he saw a Jew crying: What’s it all for? What future do we as a people have? What will come from all this suffering? The rebbe consoled him, at some point using the words “chosen people”. It was just then that a Nazi guard overheard him. He beat the rebbe with the butt of his rifle, and once the rebbe had fallen to the ground, pressed his boot into his cheek, pushing the rebbe’s face down into the mud. The guard sneared, and mockingly asked, “Now, do you still think you are the chosen people?”
The Rebbe replied, “as long as you are up there, and I am down here, I know we are the chosen people.”
Yesterday, two boys came home, in boxes. All of Israel and the Jewish people morn.
Meanwhile, there are celebrations in Lebanon. Not only for the return of a man who murdered babies with his bare hands, but for the remains of “martyrs” who were also given a hero’s welcome.
The Klausenberger Rebbe’s response to the Holocaust was to build Kiryat Sanz, girls’ and boys’ schools, a community in Union City, NJ, and to answer Hitler’s murder of Jews with Laniado Hospital to save lives.
Our response to this misnamed “Prisoner Exchange” can’t begin and end in rage. While we celebrate life and our enemies celebrate death, we need to build.
The Klausenberger Rebbe also said, “When you come to a place of darkness, you don’t chase out the darkness with a broom. You light a candle.”
And as long as we continue doing so, I know we are the chosen people.