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Mar. 23, 2018 - 7 Nisan 5778
Daf Yomi Avodah Zarah 67

5717/1957 - Rav Moshe Wallach - founder of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital

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Section:  Avodah   Category: Innocent Observations
Shema Yisroel in Modern Day Spain

Arriving for business in Madrid was intellectually and emotionally turbulent. I spent a sleepless night pondering my surroundings and conjuring up images of both its glorious and abysmal past. On one hand this was the country that expelled its Jews for 350 years. It hunted down its remaining Jews and made a spectacle of them while burning them alive in front of large audiences. On the other hand it was a land where Judaism flourished for so many years. Its great Geonim and tzaddikim contributed and incredible amount to our heritage and played a pivotal role in shaping Gemara and Halacha as we know it and learn it today. Spanish Jewry served as an essential link to our connection to Har Sinai.

Truthfully walking down the street it is hard to hold a grudge against the people that you pass. In Germany you get the goose bumps when hearing people talk the cursed language that makes your skin crawl. Every person you interact with, you look at them and wonder where their father was during the Holocaust and what attitudes about Jews they themselves were raised with. But in Spain you doubt if these people even know what the inquisition was or if they really care. Maybe the only difference between the two is time. Maybe it's that we don't know any victims personally. Who knows?

The next morning in Shul I looked around and wondered how in the world Jews could or would move back to a land which spit them out so completely. But each one has his own cheshbonos which we dare not question because they run far deeper than our shallow thoughts. You just admire these tzaddikim who keep the Torah in this forsaken corner of Yiddishkeit and come to shul to daven every day! I was privileged to daven with, and see firsthand, the faces of angels who keep Torah and mitzvos and come to daven purely lishma with great mesiras nefesh, regardless of the level of observance they are at.

The emotional upheaval created an incredibly special moment which is what I want to share with you. The Seforim Hakedoshim say that when you say the first pasuk of Krias Shema you should picture yourself being burned at the stake Al Kiddush Hashem. The whole atmosphere made my davening emotionally charged. Behind me stood the Rambam and the Rashba and the other great Rishonim together with the secret Jews who clung to their heritage under impossible circumstances for generation after generation. My feelings hit a crescendo at Shema. I was physically in modern day Madrid but my mind was in the past. I was on the same holy soil where Holy Jews chose to die by clinging to the most basic tenets of our faith despite days of brutal torture. Now I was alongside them at the Auto de Fe watching in awe as they gave their lives back to their creator. I could clearly hear their screams of Shema Yisroel through the flames. Basking in these images I said Shema and declared Hashem's unity together with them.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, after being liberated from the concentration camps, jumped into a river situated right outside the gates of the barbaric camp in which he was kept hostage. He longed to once again purify himself before Hashem in a Mikva. He then made a bracha and took a sip from its sweet waters. He later said that in his life it would be impossible to make a bracha with so much feeling and kavana again. Halavai that one day in my life I will be able to say Shema with as much Kavana with a heart bursting with feeling and emotion, as I did on that day in the land of the inquisition where you can still hear echoes of the past reverberating if you listen carefully.

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