7 Cheshvan 5781 / Sunday, October 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
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Only Mine...    

Only Mine...

His face was white, bloodless. Hope had been crushed into bleak despair. He felt that the rapid shift from extreme to extreme threatened his sanity...


His face was white, bloodless. Hope had been crushed into bleak despair. He felt that the rapid shift from extreme to extreme threatened his sanity. He began to weep. Between sobs, he screamed…
It was in the waning days of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Elbaum family -- Yisrael, Chaya, and their only child, Tamar -- had secreted themselves in a bunker. There they were relatively secure, but now the problem arose that they had depleted their small stash of food. Someone would have to emerge to the streets and try to acquire some bread in order for the family to survive.
The only logical choice was little Tamareleh. A young child was much less likely to be noticed by the Nazi beasts than an adult. Early in the morning, before dawn, Tamareleh crept out, to begin her search for food for herself and her parents.
Alas, her parents had no way of knowing that this same morning the Germans would be conducting one of their notorious roundups. They broke into houses and arrested every Jew they spotted on the streets, herding them all into Haumshalagplatz Square. A shudder went through the Ghetto; from Haumshalagplatz there was only one known destination: the hellhole Treblinka.
The Nazis had already captured and assembled a large number of people -- men, women and children. The cries of the children separated from their parents broke the hearts of all the adults. Nevertheless, they held back the little ones who tried to run home, for fear that the vicious Nazis would shoot them on the spot.
Word of the raid reached the Elbaums. They became paralyzed with worry for Tamareleh, for hours had gone by and she had not yet returned. They couldn't but think that -- God forbid -- she, too, had been captured. They stared at the entrance to the bunker, starting at every small sound from that direction.
As the minutes and hours ticked away, Yisrael and Chaya felt as if the sky was about to fall on their heads. The only light in the oppressive darkness of their lives was their precious little Tamareleh. Their strong love for her was all that kept them going, and now they had to face the inescapable conclusion that she was among the forlorn souls segregated under the German guns in Haumshalagplatz.
With fierce determination they slid out from their hiding place. They understood they had no viable options to save their daughter from the vicious Nazi beasts; all they could hope to accomplish was to put themselves in danger too. But it was not logic that was determining their choices. Their parental drive could not be suppressed.
Then Yisrael had an idea. He remembered that an acquaintance of his, named Perlstein, was a member of the Jewish police of the Ghetto. He even knew their daughter and at times had showed her affection. Perhaps the kapo could be her rescuer, they hoped. They were so excited they wished they could tunnel through the walls of all the intervening structures to reach Perstein's dwelling! In that building, 9 Dejilna Street, lived most of the Jewish policemen and their families.
When Perlstein answered the frantic knocking on the door, he was surprised to see the Elbaum couple standing there. They quickly poured out the tragic story of Tamar’s capture, and he took it very much to heart. For a few minutes a heavy silence dominated the room where they spoke. They could see that the policeman was racking his brain to try to come up with a plan to rescue little Tamareleh.
Suddenly Perlstein’s features became very animated. He swept his police uniform cap off of his head, pulled his police identification card out of his pocket, and thrust the two of them into the hand of an astonished Yisrael Elbaum.
"Take these and run to Haumshalagplatz. Run!" he emphasized, "Before it is too late. Tell the policemen there that your daughter is among the captured, and they will help you to get her released and take her away. This is an unwritten law among us -- no snatching the children of the policemen."
Perlstein understood very well that by this maneuver he was endangering his own life. But the beseeching faces of the frantic couple compelled him to offer this slender chance, despite the personal risk to himself.
Yisrael stared at Perlstein as if he were a dream apparition. It seemed such a simple, yet foolproof plan. His heart began to beat with hope. His wife began to cry in happy expectation and his eyes, too, filled with tears. Could it really be that in a short time they would have their precious Tamareleh back? They tried to express their gratitude to Perlstein but the words wouldn’t come. In any case, he cut them off quickly, insisting there was no more time to talk. They must hurry.
Yisrael put on the police cap and stuck the document in his pocket. He was halfway out the door when Perlstein called his name. He turned his head and the kapo said to him: "One moment. There is one thing that I forgot to tell you. It is already so late. That means that the captured at Haumshalagplatz have already been counted. So you will have to catch another child on your way to replace your daughter, in order that the Germans will still have their quota and won’t notice anything is amiss."
The unexpected words struck Yisrael like a bludgeon. His hands fell to his sides; his shoulders drooped. He froze in the doorway as if he were paralyzed. Finally he turned around slowly to face his wife and the policeman. With a shaking hand he removed the police cap from his head and the identity papers from his pocket, and placed them carefully on the table. He gripped the nearest chair and slowly slid down onto it.
His face was white, bloodless. Hope had been crushed into bleak despair. He felt that the rapid shift from extreme to extreme threatened his sanity. He began to weep. Between sobs, he screamed: "My precious daughter, my beloved only child ---- No! No, I cannot. I must not, my daughter. Only you am I permitted to sacrifice. Not someone else’s. Only mine. Only my own..."
Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles, originally from the Bronx and now a veteran resident of Tsfat, is co-founder of the famed "ASCENT of Safed" retreat center, hotel and hostel in Safed,  the managing editor of KabbalaOnline.org and ascentofsafed.com, and an internationally acclaimed storyteller whose weekly email storylist is in its 23rd year. To receive the story each Wednesday, subscribe here  (free). 

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