You are driving on this country road somewhere in the wilds of Northern England, it meanders up and down, a right turn here, a left turn a bit further on … It is so tranquil with fields of green and forests of large trees. Everything is so idealistic except that you are stuck behind a huge truck and going at a speed that would make a snail blush.
The English live on an island, and thus have limited space. Many of its roads are nothing more than paved horse-cart paths, and for some reason folk seem to like it that way. It is with some sort of sense of national pride that you can travel for miles and miles without ever seeing the name of the road you are on. Getting lost in the English countryside isn’t just easy, it’s a cultural demand. When doing this on a rainy day, with a car full of rambunctious grandchildren things can become a bit testy, especially when stuck behind the aforementioned large truck.
I looked at the back of this huge thing for some miles and finally saw the letters printed on its back – “Atlas Moving – Sanoc Poland.” Sanoc Poland, where does this guy think he is? Reading his place of origin had me laughing, because ever since I was a child I have heard of Sanoc Poland. Sanoc was a center of Chassidic life in Galitzia before the war. Thousands of Chassidic Yidden lived there, and its Rabbanim were world renown. As a youngster I had the merit to live amidst a community with several survivors who had come from Sanoc, and their colorful stories of that Torah bastion created in my mind a picture of what the true warmth of Chassidus must have been like. More than anything, those stories bonded my soul with those who would never know me. They were taken away in the furry of hate that became our nation’s greatest disaster, and I felt it incumbent to learn of them and somehow carry the knowledge of their greatness to the next generation.
Don’t get me wrong, I was no great visionary as a youngster, I was just a kid that loved to hear the stories of those times. I was especially intrigued by the details, and filed all of this stuff away in my mind. Young people don’t set out to become depositaries of historic facts. No, when you are young your mind just picks up what sounds fascinating. Only later do you realize that in that muddled place you call your brain, you have absorbed a whole trunk full of wonderful facts.
In my youth we met Yidden who had come from some of the most wonderful of places – places made wonderful because of the love for Torah that inspired its community. These were towns, villages, and cities that otherwise wouldn’t even be worthy of a footnote in history. While the general population lived in the realm of material and spiritual poverty, the Yidden were creating generations of holy giants who pierced the very heavens. When we were youngsters we sought out Yidden who had come from that unique world. Fuhn vanen zent ihr? “Where are you from?” This was the first question one asked a Yid. Where are you from, which tzaddikim did you learn from? Whose tisch did you sit at? The majestic tapestry of that world of light would come forth in their answers, and we would soak up their words, feeling that in this way we too were part of that history.
Yidden have a long story to tell, one not yet finished. We are a people that sought to illuminate our world despite the darkness that was all around. I saw that truck from Sanoc and laughed. Just the other day I was sharing a story about the last Dayan of Sanoc, HaRav Mordechai Spalter, zt”l, who lived in Crown Heights after the war. He was a respected figure in Bobov and a wholehearted chassid of Bluzhev. His name came up during a conversation I had had with a close friend. As is the custom amongst Chassidim, we traded different stories we had heard when we were younger. My friend is a revered Rav and a descendant of Rabbanim of Sanoc. As we shared different memories, he turned to me and sighed, “Who would have thought that today Yidden would still be reminiscing about Sanoc?” It is so true; no one believed the world would recapture the warmth, nor the vision of that life that had been so destroyed. Yet we speak, we share, we offer insights into their words. Am Yisrael is a special people, and we must never let ourselves forget it.
I cannot for the life of me understand what that truck from Sanoc was doing in the Northern English countryside. After some time he pulled over and seemed to be looking at a map, I hope he didn’t think he was in Poland – if so he was driving on the wrong side of the road. One thing is certain, he may have been lost, but he reminded me of what the Jewish nation has been able to withstand. We once knew where Sanoc was, and we basked in the light of its Rabbanim. Now it is a nothing place, except for that one big truck lost in England.
This kapitel tells us to look at our history as one long and linked reality:
Rabbas Tzeraruni … “Much have they distressed me since my youth, let Israel declare now.”
They, the nations, have never accepted us nor allowed us to live in peace. Our youth was spent in Egypt, a place of bondage. However, we took this difficult birth, and it became the springboard of our future. We declare to Hashem and the world that no matter what this world throws at us, we remain focused. We repeat our stories, we relish in their lessons, and we grow. What was in our youth is as vital to us as what we declare today. To a Yid all is one.
Yihyu Kachatzir … “They shall be like grass on rooftops, which withers before it is plucked.”
The nations have built their great cities, created kingdoms that fought huge wars. Yet, they are gone, not remembered in any way. Grass seed can begin to grow on a rooftop, but such plants have no roots. We have been given less than rooftops, yet our stories show how deeply rooted we have always been.
A gutte Yid once remarked that Moshe Rabbeinu talked Pharaoh into allowing the Yidden to rest on Shabbos. Chazal tell us that he sat and learned with them. What did he learn? After all, they had not yet received the Torah. Said that Yid, “He taught them stories of their early days, about Abraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, about all the things Hashem did for his children.”