Sometime after the war and after the creation of the State of Israel, a Gerrer chasid, a survivor of the Holocaust, arrived in Israel. He had lost all of his family and was embittered and disillusioned. He ceased the observance of mitzvot, shaved his beard, gave up his chasidic garb, and conducted himself as a secular Israeli.

Yet somehow, one day, he felt such a strong a longing to have contact with the Gerrer Rebbe that he appeared at the back of the synagogue of Grand Rabbi Yisrael Alter, the Bais Yisroel. Not willing to be a hypocrite, he came dressed as a secular person. He was certain that no one would sense his origins and that he would merely have an opportunity to see his Rebbe, unobtrusively and incognito.

However, the Bais Yisroel would typically scan the people attending his synagogue, and he had a special ability to remember people he had met. He recognized the man despite all the time and circumstances that had passed, and from his seat in the front of the room, he sent his aide to bring the man to him.

"There are no words adequate to comfort you or to ‘explain’ what we have been through..."

The two sat together and exchanged stories about personal losses of family, friends and community. In response to the Chasid’s tears, the Gerrer Rebbe [who had also lost his wife and all of his children and grandchildren] said, "There are no words adequate to comfort you or to ‘explain’ what we have been through. But let me share with you an observation that has helped me."

"In the very last verse of the Five Books of Moses, (Deut. 34:12) the Scripture eulogizes Moses for the "awesome deeds that Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel". Why did G‑d choose to end the Torah with the words "l’einei kol yisrael" — "before the eyes of all Israel"? What is their special significance?"

"Rashi, the classic commentator, explains that the specific deed of Moses being referred to here was his breaking of the tablets. (See Ex. 32:19.) Rashi bases this inference on a Midrashic interpretation (Sifrei on Deut. 9:17) which notes that the same phrase occurs in Moses’ description of the breaking of the tablets when he recounts the story in Deut. 9:17. Speaking in the first person, Moses says "I grasped the two tablets and threw them from my hands, and I smashed them before your eyes".

Why, asked the Gerrer Rebbe, did Moses add the words, "before your eyes"? The Torah includes no redundant words. Yet, these words appear to be unnecessary and self-understood.

An answer may be found by examining a third Torah verse that has the same phrase. In the Torah Reading of Miketz, we are told that Joseph accused his brothers of being spies in Egypt and that he imprisoned Shimon "before their eyes". (Gen. 42:24) Rashi cites a Midrashic interpretation (Bereishit Raba 91:8) for the words "before their eyes": Joseph's imprisonment of Shimon was only an illusion; as soon as the other brothers left to return to Canaan, he released Shimon and cared for his needs. Joseph gave the appearance of imprisoning Shimon because there was a certain impression that he wanted to create upon his brothers, "before their eyes."

So, reasoned the Gerrer Rebbe, when Moses said that the tablets were smashed "before the eyes" of the Israelites, he was telling us that these tablets, so precious to Moses and G‑d, were never really destroyed. The reality was that on some plane of existence those tablets were preserved intact, and that Moses' destruction of them was illusory.

...Jewish individuals, so precious to G‑d, were not really "smashed" during the Holocaust...

"Thus," continued the Gerrer Rebbe, "I comfort myself with the belief that those Jewish individuals, so precious to G‑d, were not really "smashed" during the Holocaust, and that on some plane of existence they are preserved intact by G‑d."

And, he concluded, this principle about the illusory nature of our perceptions is so fundamental that G‑d chose to end the Torah with those meaningful words "before the eyes of all of Israel."

[Heard by Dr. Susskind from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, who heard it from Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Eish Kodesh in Long Island, NY, who heard it from a Gerrer chasid in Jerusalem.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (1866 - 6 Sivan 1948), the son of the Sfas Emmes, was the third Rebbe in the Gur dynasty. He was the spiritual leader of over 250,000 Chassidim in pre-WW II Poland. In 1940, he managed to escape with three of his sons to Israel (then Palestine), although the vast majority of his followers did not survive. He began to rebuild the Gerrer community in Jerusalem, but he died there during the siege of Jerusalem on Shavuos, 1948. He was known as the Imrei Emmes, after the title of his major book.

Rabbi Yisrael Alter (1895- 2 Adar 1977), known as the Beis Yisroel, was the fourth Rebbe in the Gur dynasty. Following the death of his father in 1948, Ger grew under his leadership to be the largest Chasidic group in Israel. He lost his wife, children and grandchildren in the Holocaust, and although he married a second time, had no further children. He was succeeded by his brother, Rabbi Simcha-Bunim Alter, and then his much younger brother, Rabbi Pinchas-Menachem Alter.

Dr. Yisroel Susskind is a psychotherapist who practices locally in Monsey New York and internationally over the telephone. He lectures worldwide on topics involving Torah, psychology and interpersonal relationships. He can be reached via email ([email protected]) or by phone ( 845-425-9531).

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