As do several others I have come to know, I have vivid memories of the Holocaust (Shoah) that can only be explained through reincarnation or gilgul neshamot. These memories have had a profound impact on every aspect of my life since 1969 when they began. As a religious Jew my understanding of these memories incorporates the doctrine known as gilgul neshamot (i.e. "the rolling of souls" from life to life). Even though much of Judaism accepts the idea of reincarnation, my memories are not based on religious teachings. They are based on the personal memories I have experienced since I was 12 years old. I could no more deny these experiences than I could reject the air I breath. In this piece I seek to share these personal memories.
I was twelve years old in 1969. In the spring of that year I had a horrifying and life defining experience. I woke up in the early dawn hours in a cold sweat screaming from a nightmare, something previously unusual for me. Over the years the frequency and sense of 'realness' of the dream have only intensified. I no longer think of this as a dream, but as a memory. What follows still awakens me at times with terrifying dread. This is an experience, not a dream. It is more concrete in my memory than is most of the early years of this life.
The memory never changes in any substantial way. Minor clarifications have occurred over the years, but these have merely filled in missing pieces as I remember and understand the experiences more fully. For instance, I recount hearing someone reciting Kaddish at one point. For the first few years all I understood was that this person was reciting comforting prayers. When I later heard the Mourner's Kaddish, I immediately recognized it and wept bitterly at the realization of what those prayers implied. Hence, the name of the prayer has been added to this retelling.
If I tried to rewrite the memory from my childhood point of view, it would be less true to the experience than sharing it as it is now perceived. My recollections of these memories have developed gradually over the years. Here I seek to share these memories as they are experienced today. While I am presenting this material for your consideration, by pondering and retelling it my memory is jogged and I remember and understand the experiences more fully. Much still remains forgotten.
The dream/memory takes place in two distinct segments. For a few years I thought these were separate dreams but have now come to understand that there is a point in the dream where I often wake up (frequently in a cold sweat and sometimes crying out, kicking and shouting in a language I am told "sounds German"). When I am able to return to sleep the dream often continues on from this point almost as though it had a pause button. At other times I recall mainly the second portion. In any case, following that point there is a clear time break in the dream. Practically all the events during this interval have been lost to my memory thus far. This telling began as notebook entries as I tried to understand this disturbing 'dream'. Shortly after I began to use the internet in the 1990's I posted it to my initial Geocities site.
Update Notes:If the following is "only a dream" I'm at a loss to explain why it has haunted me for the past 50 years, as I edit this account today on Yom HaShoah 2019. I find no other answer as to how so many elements of these memories, both those shared here and those not shared, have been confirmed as accurate beyond my knowledge at the time these memories began, in 1969, and why so many people who have heard or read this account affirm that it rings true for them. This includes several knowledgeable rabbis and Shoah scholars I have shared it with. I present this retelling here without further explanation or apology (although with an admittedly long preface). It is what it is. Baruch HaShem.
- August 4 2006: I am beginning to remember pieces of this interval. These hazy reflections are added in brackets at the appropriate place in the dream below.
- September 10 2009: This section of the dream has gradually become more clear to me and a few new insights have been added in this update. I will continue to included these in brackets because they are obviously later memories.
- March 25 2013: The aforementioned realizations have largely become seamlessly interwoven in the remembering and so the brackets have been removed. We're currently preparing to go to Israel.
- April 18 2013: I am convinced that on Thursday morning, April 18, 2013 I reached the end of the path referenced in the dream/memory as I first placed my hands on the Holy Kotel (the Western Wall of the once and future Jerusalem Temple). With this experience a new phase in my has life begun.
- April 22 2013: We visited Yad VaShem in Jerusalem. One of the most horrific experiences of my life! In the Warsaw Ghetto exhibit I found (and handled) one of the carts we used. I was shaking like a leaf and sobbing the whole time we were there. Ahuva (my wife) went back a few days later because, worried about me, she could not focus on the exhibits and complete the halls. I went to visit Chut Shell Chessed and spent the rest of the day at the Kotel while she was at Yad VaShem. I doubt I could go through that again.
- May 07 2013: Added the Bergen-Belsen sign, added locations, and updated the text to correct inconsistencies in tenses.
- September 02.2014: We are preparing to make aliyah on December 29! We're so excited to go Home for good! I updated this piece a tad, removing a few superfluous points and this note. Not a major update.
- February 04 2015: Aliyah did not work out. We simply can not find a way to live in Israel financially. We're both saddened by this, but we know it must be HaShem's will and so we say B"H.
I tightened up the section above and made a few minor clarifications for language, and added a link to my poem and video Shoah Child.
Made a video version of this retelling (see below).
- April 11-2018: Slight grammatical updates before broadcasting a live retelling on Facebook Live.
- July 09.2018: I recieved my Yoreh Yoreh smicha as a rabbi.
- January 24.2019: My Yadin Yadin smicha studies began
- August 14, 2019 Av 13, 5779 I recieved my Yadin-Yadin Yoreh-Yoreh smicha
Location uncertain, somewhere in Germany
My Lifelong Recurring Memory Location: Auschwitz:
It is very dark. I am alone, terrified. Stray beams of yellow tainted light filter in through slats of wallboard once covered with white stucco from a broken window near the bottom of the rickety wooden stairwell. The stench of urine permeates the hushed air. Piercing frigid air whistles in through the exposed slats running along the outside wall. It mercilessly assaults my face and senses. I want to keep my head covered under what was once a jacket, but the stench is too intense, whether mine or the jacket's I can not say. I must uncover my face and bear the assault of the urine-drenched stilettos of frigid wind.
We huddle on the wooden landing, wrapped in rags and ancient yellowed newspaper seeking the escape of unconscious oblivion. I am not alone, yet I am -- utterly alone.
It has been months since any of us experienced the simple bliss of a night's sleep. Each night we huddle together like mice on this landing hoping to renew our strength for the next day's tribulations and, most of all, to remain unnoticed.
Most of the time I exist as if out of my body, drifting as it were in a haze. There is no time in that state. Yet there is only time. Endless, relentless time and I am again drawn back into this accursed reality. Whether it is dark or light, it is always night for us and they are always feeding, feeding, and we are the vermin they most crave to fulfill their voracious appetites. Don't ask me why. I have long since stopped pondering such things but I know that they are out there.
I doze again but soon awaken as a bony knee jabs my already aching back. He grunts, I shift, and we both doze on. Will this interminable night never end?
In the distance I hear sounds. I cock my head and listen intently. The sound of scratching and whimpering drifts into our "Palace" (that's what someone called our hallway and the name fits as well as any other, certainly better than words like "home" or "safe place"). The dogs are searching, sniffing, and scratching. My body emits a cold perspiration that soaks me to my soul. I shiver in the dark, afraid to make a sound. My companions begin to stir. A voice whispers, "You OK?" Pause. Then, "Moshe!" Then nothing; nothing except the dogs drawing ever closer and my fear becoming frantic: Be quiet! I order myself. But I want to scream. This is madness. Then another voice, one of the yeshiva teachers I believe but I can't be sure, whispers without emotion at all: "He's gone."
People come and go in the Palace; mainly they go. Although I could never say these words out loud, sometimes, I envy them.
Then erupts the metallic scream of squealing brakes and men marching, feet running and women crying out. All of these sounds are growing louder and drawing closer. I don't move. My body is trembling almost uncontrollably, sweat is streaming down my face. It burns my eyes, but I will not move. I must not! Now I hear the gruff shouts and commands of the soldiers and my heart is pounding. HaShem! I silently scream. But He does not reply.
I've always hated the Germans. They act so civilized, but they are not. At least not anymore -- this thought is in my memory and can't be denied. I no longer questioned why they were doing this. Monsters just do such things. My heart was set firmly against them. If there is such a thing as evil, the Germans are its embodiment!
Primal communal terror abounds as we instinctively draw closer together, carefully avoiding a shaft of light at the top of the stairs for some reason, as the dogs surround our building and the crunching pavement silences for a moment just below us. Again I fight the need to scream. Their scratching and the sniffing drives me nearly mad. They bark too, fiercely, but it is their relentless snuffling, the whining frustration that they can not quite get to us vermin to eat us up that drives both them and me nearly insane. That whining sound turns my spine to ice still today.
My body is shaking uncontrollably despite my determination "to be a man." I am after all a man now I remind myself. I am thirteen years old, a proud son of Bulgaria. Oh how I wish I were there! My bar mitzvah is six months past and yet I am terrified, like a lost child I silently quiver and cry and beseech HaShem. Yet somehow I know that neither He nor anyone else will hear me, let alone help me. I no longer ask why. Surely He hates me or worse, does not care that I exist. But because I am a man I hold it all inside where only G-d can see and hear, if He cares to. I know that G-d would forgive me if cried, but I will not cry! I tell myself, wiping away my tears. I will be a man!
Suddenly at the door below us a fist bangs like a machine gun. "Open up!" Bam, bam bam. What good is a door? Nothing can stop them! Our shivering ball of humanity tightens like a python too frightened to strike. The demanding fist is banging, demanding, pounding: "Open up in there!" I note to myself that the voice is odd. It sounds angry and yet there is an unstated sense that this is nothing personal to the soldier. I sense his resignation even as we are resigned to whatever will happen next. Nothing can be done. For the soldier this is just another door in just another town in just another country behind which slither ever more vermin without end to be exterminated. Not humanity, no, only pests. Yet there is also a bestial thirst for blood in that harsh voice, as there is in the incessant whimpering of the dogs. Blood. Our blood. For us there is dread, but for the soldier there is an excitement like that of a priest in a mythical Kali temple preparing the ritual slaughter of a young virgin. I have reach of such tales in books but I never understand that I would one day play the role of the virgin. This manic 'priest' was now in a state of religious ecstasy to his G-d, Adolf Hitler. He would not be denied these latest sacrifices. Nor would the dogs snarling and whining behind him, ready to strike and to devour us completely.
It is strange how contradictory feelings can sometimes merge and make insanity seem rational. To the Germans it was just another day in the Third Reich, to us just another day in hell. What would be would be. HaShem had abandoned us. I don't know why.
Next a darkened figure arose: one of us. He struggled onto trembling legs, emerging from our pile of quivering flesh. No! I want to scream. But the words don't escape my mouth. He moves toward the stairs bracing himself on the wall to his left. No one says don't go but we are all horrified by the prospect that he will. There was no choice of course. We knew that. But still. They had come for us as we all knew they would one day. But why today? The man, I never knew his name, braced himself against the darkened stairway on shaky legs and began his descent. He moved in slow motion down the stairs to the door below.
The dogs are going crazy now. They can smell the rotting stench of our flesh as it wafts down the stairwell with our compatriot. They can hardly bear the torment of waiting the moments before the door will open and our emaciated flesh becomes their feast!
"Maybe they will listen and it will be alright" one of us said. No one responded. It would not be alright.
"Open this door!" the soldier again demands, moments before it crashes open with a thundering, splintering of wood, light and cold fire. The madly flickering beams of their torches floods the lower stairwell now. The greasy light illuminates the man who had gone down to grant them access. I will never forgot his face! One of the snarling dogs lunges forward towards him but is jerked back by a thick leash held by its handler. The beast yowls a tortured reproof.
Our compatriot reaches for the door latch that is already gone and falls backwards against the wall. His arms fly above his head signalling his surrender as a single deafening point of blood explodes from the center of his forehead and bursts into the darkness, painting the filthy walls a bright crimson. The redness glitters in the light of the open door with a sickening appeal. The soldier holsters his weapon with a deranged grin and moves in toward us as our compatriot crumples limply to the floor. The soldier is clearly in a state of ecstasy due to his victorious discovery of our vermin cache. His superiors will be pleased.
Never close the doors! I tell myself. Never close the doors, but if you do, never ever open them! The soldier was screaming his anger at having to bust down the door. This imperative is still with me today. I dislike closed doors and curtained windows. You never know for certain what's on the other side!
As one malevolent entity they turn toward the stairwell and slither upwards toward us, again in slow motion, and yet with such speed that it makes me nauseous. Both are true. Perhaps due to the angle of the slanting ceiling or my unwillingness to look up at them due to the fear that had already caused me to soil my sweat-drenched pants, my gaze focusses on their legs. Their shiny black boots are indelibly etched in my memory as they flow like a putrid and nauseating black tar up the shadowed stairs.
As they come for us their inhuman forms are highlighted by the flickering of sinister torches as though they lacked definite form. They are more like wraiths than men. My teeth clench at their harsh commands, my head is pounding, spinning. Everything is surreal. The world spins and reels out of control. Perhaps this is why G-d abandoned us I think. Its all chaos now.
Fortunately for us the dogs remain outside with their handlers. They are in near feral hysterics now. If they were inside with with us, oy, I don't want to think about that... They want to enter our palace in the worst possible way. They demand the spoils of their efforts: our flesh. Just then one of the beasts is struck with a thud and piteously yelps as its handler brings it into submission. The others become quiet as well. Oh, how I envy those beasts! I think. The dogs will survive, they have a purpose to their existence. The are essential workers, whereas I, I have no value to anyone, neither to G-d nor man..
Up the stairs the soldiers come. We scooch backward as one pressing our bodies against the cold walls hoping against all hopes that even now we might somehow disappear unseen to their eyes. Time stands still as the ebony flow roils up the short stairwell vibrating the world around us in a deep thrumming echo.
In that frozen instant I become aware of my heart beating. How divine. How glorious. How wondrous is a beating heart! But then suddenly, it stops!
All the world freezes in place and time, lost in this reality that certainly must be a dream, a nightmare, a horror story written by some sadistic G-d. The world itself has stopped breathing and we stare blankly at our enemies and they at us. With knees firmly pressed against my chest I stare vacuously forward with my arms around people I don't even know. I realize that we can not possibly survive, nothing can help me. No one can or would, not even HaShem, but still I hold onto them desperately. It is what I can do and I must do something.
I am utterly alone, abandoned by G-d and man. I am guilty for everything that is happening. I know this. I see it in the soldier's eyes. They know it! Its all my fault! I am guilty. I am guilty for all those who have suffered and died and I am guilty for those unfortunate enough to still be alive! I no longer care to act like a man. I am guilty, I am damned. (Where's my mother?) Tears flow from my eyes like rivulets from a dead and wasted sea, the sea of my broken soul. I shake and whimper silently, not like the dogs, but silently so that no one can hear me. Not that I care now. But I still make not a sound in the hope that even now they might not see me pressed against the shadows. I am no one and I am not here.
Then there is a familiar sound. It draws me back and enwraps me in, could it be? love? Timidly for sure, haltingly yes, but without a doubt someone is whispering the Mourner's Kaddish (the prayer for the dead). I turn my head and see an elderly Jew with a long beard and payos holding the dead man's hands. I think his name was Moshe. I listen carefully to the words. They echo in my mind. The soldiers were frozen in place as the ancient words are uttered by our tattered minyan. I remember our rabbi talking about how we often must die for being the Chosen of G-d. Well, if this is our time to die it is good that someone is saying Kaddish. I listen, my lips mutely mumbling the familiar words.
Молитва об умерших Kaddish Prayer for the Dead קדיש
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo, b'olmo dee'vro chir'usay v'yamlich malchu'say, b'chayaychon uv'yomay'chon uv'chayay d'chol bais Yisroel, ba'agolo u'viz'man koriv; v'imru Omein.
Y'hay shmay rabbo m'vorach l'olam ul'olmay olmayo.
Yisborach v'yishtabach v'yispoar v'yisromam v'yismasay, v'yishador v'yis'aleh v'yisalal, shmay d'kudsho, brich hu, l'aylo min kl birchoso v'sheeroso, tush'bechoso v'nechemoso, da,ameeran b'olmo; vimru Omein.
Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo, v'chayim alaynu v'al kol Yisroel; v'imru Omein. Oseh sholom bimromov, hu ya'aseh sholom olaynu, v'al kol yisroel; vimru Omein.
I exhale with a sigh: Omein. Suddenly rough hands yank me upward by the right arm. The holy words flee as the German spits something at me that I don't understand, then adds Jetzt maden!, "Now maggots!" My left arm is locked tightly to the man huddled at my side. The soldier yanks hard a second time and my grip gives way. I am reeling to the right now, toward the stairs and the darkness below. I instinctively grab for support and catch a soldier's arm, only to steady myself, but...
I open my eyes slowly, tentatively. Am I dead? My head is throbbing, my eyes are puffy. Surely this is not the Olam Haba (the blessed World to Come)! I try to look around but the world is moving. Everything is jerky and painted in shades of gloomy purples and grays. I can't focus. I close my eyes tight against the fog and the wind and the light.
I am being jostled and wedged uncomfortably in place. I can not move my arms. My legs feel trapped, held under some unseen weight and I can't move them either. I smell bodies: sweat and blood and dung and other things I don't care to think about. I hear sheep bleating in the distance and I want to yell to them: Shut up! They will hear you! But no sounds will come from my mouth. Saliva however is running out, and dripping from my chin, and I realize my lower lip is busted open. Perhaps its not saliva. I've gone insane!
Just then it occurs to me then that I am traveling. I am going somewhere, from somewhere, but I don't remember how I got here or where I'm going. To freedom? I wonder. Not bloody likely. I'm in a wagon or an open-backed truck. That much I know. I hear what could be an engine so its probably a truck. A German transport vehicle, I guess with surprisingly little interest. Below me the floor is pealing greenish black slats. Someone is talking. To me?
And then everything is gone.
Some go to Auschwitz by train, some by motor vehicle. I don't know how I got there. Nor do I recall being processed or any of the other myriad details involved. They were very meticulous there. What I do recall is the stench. Sometimes I get a momentary whiff of it even today and I want to vomit. They say you get used to after a while but I never did.
The stench here is suffocating, the pounding noise is deafening. The heat and the flames billow and I swallow bile. It is as though my insides are becoming a liquid puss and I am not quite solid. My nose burns and itches. My back aches and my legs work uncertainty without thought or intent, doing what must be done. I am here, but I am not.
Dante's Inferno: a painting I recall seeing somewhere... I remember it. Its like that. It frightens me to think that I am there, but that I am here, I can not deny. Is this place Hell? I am not so fortunate.
I'm pulling a wooden cart. Sometimes I push it. The floor is uneven and slick. I must not fall I tell myself as my right ankle suddenly threatens to buckle. The pain brings me back to fuller consciousness, Baruch HaShem. I start to wipe the sweat from my eyes with one hand but the cart begins to tilt and I quickly regain control. I need to pause but my feet refuse to stop and I continue onward. Stopping is not an option in any case.
The cart is filled with wood. Some pieces are long, some are short, they are all very thin. I am pushing or pulling the cart because it is to pushed or pulled (pushing and pulling varies but as long as the cart keeps moving no one seems to notice or care) -- Not being noticed is the way of survival. How long have I been doing this essential work? A day? A week? A year? Nothing matters except the cart being moved and maintaining my pace and the wood being delivered to the place it must go. This is essential work. Like the work of the dogs that discovered us. I am neither grateful nor resentful for this work. I am simply moving the cart because the cart is to be moved.
I am pushing or pulling the cart to its designated destination and that is all. I care nothing for the wood, and even less for the fire it feeds. My care is for the cart that must be pushed and so I push or sometimes pull it as I must. That is all. That is my existence and I am an essential worker.
My head must always be bowed. That too is essential and I am learning. Life is pushing or pulling, my arms are aching, my shoulders are screaming, my head is bowed, but the cart is always moving and that is life for me. It is enough.
It is verboten, but sometimes I glance up and see other people pushing similar carts. Some of them are young like me and some are older. Everyone here is male. There is so much wood to be moved that it takes many strong men and I am a man. or course, men like me don't matter, but the carts do, and men push the carts.
My Stomach heaves but I force it back down without missing a step. There is something bad about the wood in the carts, something unclean. Don't look in the carts!
The wood must be pushed in the carts and it must be burned, and that's why we push the carts, to burn the wood I remind myself. Nothing else matters. We are fortunate. We are essential workers. They need us to push the bad wood, but that's not why I push my cart. I do it because it is to be done. I care nothing for the wood, whether it is burned or not. Caring is the way of death.
We all dress in the same dingy clothing and we do not question why we push the wood. There are cords and cords of the bad wood to be pushed in the carts to the fires that never go out because that is what is to be done with the unclean wood.... except... I know it isn't wood in the carts at all.
I am deathly pale. I feel bloodless, like one of the undead. No! I shake away such foolish thoughts. I am essential. The cart is the way of life. I turn and resume pushing the cart. But as I do another cart passes and a lifeless arm is dangling from its side and there is a scream (from me?) and then...
Everything is a haze of red and orange and vile filth and smoke and flesh-searing heat and I remember my mother. I wonder where she is now. What happened to her? I shrug. Caring is the way of death (and I 'push my cart' even though my cart is no longer there).
There is a large gray desk before me. I am so puny before it that I am embarrassed. I stare at the floor in front of the desk. I don't know why I am here, nor exactly where "here" is, nor what he wants of me, this giant of a man seated behind the big desk. I should be pushing the cart... except... I'm confused. I don't know why but I sense I am in trouble... fool that I am... what have I forgotten! I try to remember but to no avail. I pushed the cart, yes, and then I remember the bad wood, and there was a hand, and the man behind the desk, he's angry. He will demand to know, but I can not (allow myself to) remember what he surely already knows. I can only remember the wood that I pushed and, no it was not a hand... surely it was bad wood only, wood does not have hands... it was not a hand, and I feel ashamed at what I will not know, at what I refuse to know. But, you see, if I knew, how could I ever remain alive? What will I tell him? Why is he is silent, staring at me with obvious disgust as if I was a piece of wood: A piece of thin wood.... Say something!
But truly I do know what I did: I did whatever they told me to do. I do know that it was wrong to push the carts of wood and I do feel ashamed for it but... My heart is breaking, my jaw is clenched by quivering, my throat is contracting. My inward parts are shifting upward into my throat. I force myself to stand still before the desk and to be a man.
Oh how can I ever be forgiven? By G-d or by man!
This much I know: I am damned.
There is no forgiveness for me. I stand condemned and unmoving before the grey desk awaiting the man's verdict. I stand but he says nothing. He leaves and I continue to stand. He returns, says nothing; I continue to stand. I can not say how long I stood there, nor can I say what happened after my standing ended before the big desk. I don't remember it ending. Now, everything is darkness and in that darkness I think months surely passed by.
I do remember a train.
Location: Bergen-Belsen:The sun is much too bright. Its burns my flesh. It beats down on my bare head, shoulders, and back. Dripping sweat stings my eyes but I dare not brush it away. In the distance I see trees, a beautiful forest. So lovely and cool. I peer. There is a path there. I look longingly at the path and imagine myself strolling aimlessly down it. Have I walked that path before? I think maybe I have. I remember it, but this is not Bulgaria and so it can't be the same path.Also see my Shoah Child piece!
Perhaps the path goes everywhere, maybe even to my home. I consider this. But, how did I get there? That path is so lovely and cool. If only I could reach that path I would run forever and ever and ever, and no one would ever see me again until I reached ... the Holy Land! Surely the path leads there. But... But I cannot reach the path. And even if I could, I am not worthy to trod upon it, even if I could reach it, because of what I did, because of what I have abandoned, because of what I have forgotten, and because of the bad wood... And because I am damned, mostly that, because I am cut off from my people. I am beyond forgiveness. But still, I look at the cool trees and the path and I sigh.
Much closer than the path are the soldiers. They would not allow such freedom to anyone, even if I could get there. Which I can't. Which I am not worthy of. Even if I hadn't done what I did. And I feel such remorse that I will never be able to purge through teshuvah and Tehillim [i.e. repentance and prayers]. And I know that I will never again be able to walk that path.
My legs ache and tremble in the burning sun. I glance down at my right foot. It is inflamed and swollen. Most of my body has become dangerously thin, thinner, for I was never large. I notice without interest that am totally naked. My ribs show through my skin but at least I'm not hungry anymore -- I have left such luxuries as hunger behind -- Now, I am hunger itself. My ankle is bloated and throbbing. Why am I here?
Cautiously I glance to my left and right, careful not to move my head for that is not allowed. They're still there: those soldiers. And so many people, I muse. All standing naked in the burning sun. Not the soldiers of course, I note. The Jews. Are they all Jews? I think so. We're mainly men but there are a few women too, mainly really old ones. How long have we been standing here like this? I don't know. My naked body is coated with brownish-red dirt and my hands are stained with dried blood, and mud, and.... My hands burn fiercely, but not from the sun, at least its a feeling I muse. It doesn't matter, nothing matters. My eyes glance forward into the distance again. How I wish I could run to that trail and never stop until I get to the Kotel. Surely the trail leads there...
One of the soldiers lights a cigarette and another approaches him. He says something to him in that sound that they make, takes an offered smoke. They smile vacantly.
How I wish I had a cigarette! [i.e. because real men smoke] Perhaps if I ask respectfully.
The one with the shiny cigarette case looks at me. He nudges his comrade who also looks at me with utter contempt. I look quickly down, they can't see me, they can't see me, I affirm silently as the sweat in my eyes burns and my fat ankle throbs and my mouth puckers, dry. Again I tell myself: I will be a man. I will be a man. They can't see me. They can't see me. They can't see me!
There's something that I know I know. What is it? If only I could remember I could get away, but I cannot remember. I would tell them, if I knew. But for the life of me though I can't remember. That memory tortures me to this day.
An eternity passes.
The never setting sun burns my blistered skin and I hazard another glance up. The soldiers have moved on now. No one is looking at me now and I relax, just a bit.
Suddenly a hand grabs my lower arm momentarily and then releases:
"Shlomo! Don't fall!" It's the man on my left. "Live!"
I look at him briefly and wanly smile. My foot feels like it's on fire. I note that it has turned purple. How odd, I think, a purple foot. I'm becoming delirious. My head is throbbing and the world is reeling but I am steady on my feet, I think. My empty gut is feeding on itself and I am standing because standing is what is to be done. Standing naked in the burning sun with my purple foot burning hotter than my blistered back and shoulders.
I glance up at the pit that lies before us, between us and the cool forest and the trail, and it is then that I realize why I am so dirty and why my hands are bleeding. I remember what I have done for them ... before... and now... What they made me do... but still, what I did, and I know that even HaShem could never forgive me now. He is gone away anyway. He has abandoned the earth. But, who could blame Him?
And I know that I can never walk down that forest path because of what I did.
There is no hope for me. There is no hope for anyone who has been cast aside by his people.
I am an outcast.
But still, I look at the trail, at the pit, and then down again at my purple foot. Guilt wells up within me from some hidden fount and I think I will surely explode! This is more than I can bear. Silently I mourn for what I did. But no tears come. Not because I am a man, but because no tears remain to be shed. Tears imply hope. I am empty. There is no hope.
In my mind, I hear the man at the Palace saying Kaddish: It's good someone is saying Kaddish. But its a shame I didn't die then, before I did what I did... 'Don't say kaddish for me, its too late.' I whisper to the universe. The universe, like G-d, does not reply.
If only I could remember... but I cannot.
Suddenly the ground beneath me is gone, and I am falling, falling, falling...
And at last, I am free.
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Rabbi Shlomo Nachman