9 Av, 5774 / August 5, '14
Many years ago I heard an amazing story that I will never forget. It was about a Jew named Chaim Shapiro who lived in Europe with his wife and 6 children. Everything was fine until Hitler (may his name be erased) came to power. Shortly after that, the Holocaust began and tragedy struck Chaim and his family. By the time the hell was over, Chaim Shapiro had lost his beloved wife and 5 of his 6 children. He emigrated to Israel (called Palestine at the time) with his 19 year old son, Baruch, the only child left. Upon arriving in Israel, his son was immediately drafted into what became known as the IDF. Baruch Shapiro fought several battles with great bravery yet fell in combat in the Latrun area while fighting to open the road to Jerusalem. Chaim Shapiro had just lost his last son and was truly left with nothing.
Word quickly spread around Israel and thousands attended the funeral of Baruch Shapiro. And then, something incredible happened. As they lowered Baruch's body into the freshly dug grave, the father, Chaim Shapiro, started to sing "Am Yisrael Chai". People were in shock and everyone was silent. Not one person joined the singing yet the father continued his singing even as the grave was filled with dirt. It was then that Chaim addressed the crowd. "I'm sure you think I lost my mind, but nothing could be further from the truth. I know exactly what I am doing and I will explain my actions. Just a few years ago I lost my wife and 5 of my children. They were all murdered for nothing. They went like sheep to the slaughter. Their blood was shed like water for no reason at all. Yet this son, Baruch, fell as a hero. He fell in the battle for Jerusalem our holy city. He fell while fighting the enemy and even though his death is painful, it proves that our nation and people live. We have an army and are fighting for a country! What an honor and privilege to have a son die in that way. This is why I sang Am Yisrael Chai and I ask you all to join together with me!" At that point he continued singing and many of those present at the funeral joined together with him.
I must add a note to this story. I heard about Chaim Shapiro and his son Baruch z"l from Rabbi Stewart Weiss of Ra'anana. He wrote this story many years ago in the Jerusalem Post and it changed my life. A few years later, Rabbi Weiss' own son, Ari, was killed in battle while serving in the IDF and fighting terrorists in Shechem. At the funeral for his son Ari, he told this story and sang Am Yisrael Chai as well. Unbelievable...
Dearest friends; as tragic as this story is - it is the message of Shabbos Nachamu. It is about Jews being comforted, even though the tragedy is still fresh. It is about focusing on the "WHY" and not just the "WHAT" and as horrific as events sometimes are, a Yid must ALWAYS see the good and the inner message being given. Tisha B'av was just a few days ago and the kinnos we read are still ringing in our ears but now is the time for Nachamu, Nachamu Ami. Now is the time for comfort and strength. Now is the time to brush off the dirt and sing "Am Yisrael Chai", even though it is hard.
I write these words even as missiles are still flying in Israel and millions are in great danger. I write these words as our boys in Israel traded their bathing suits for IDF uniforms and their beach umbrellas for M-16s. Nevertheless, we take comfort knowing that Hashem is leading them in battle and the great Jewish nation is fighting in the Promised Land. The stories of King David, Joshua and Shimshon are not simply bedtime stories but are real and alive in these very days.
Be comforted my people and be happy because as Chaim Shapiro taught us: Am Yisrael Chai!!!
Shmuel Sackett is the International Director of Manhigut Yehudit