Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gedolei Israel - The Piaseczno Rebbe

The Piaseczno Rebbe is R. Kalonymous Kalman Shapira (1889-1943) and he is the author of a number of seforim. His sefer, Esh Kodesh is a fundamental part of my life and religious growth.

The Esh Kodesh is a collection of clear and concise Shabbat derashot that were given in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940-1942. It is a unique window into an Orthodox response to the Shoah. As each year passes the drashot reflect the situation in the Ghetto becoming more difficult. For example, in Parshat Ekev 1941 (page 113), the Esh Kodesh rebukes the community for being lax in their Torah study. People should at least be able to learn Chumash or to say Tehillim. However, there is a footnote in which he explains that by the year 1943 this rebuke no longer applies. The situation in the Ghetto has become so dire, that the Jews can only be expected to focus on survival. Some of the drashot are only focused on the Parshah, and some of them also reflect on life in the Ghetto.

In times of my life where I have been in extremely difficult circumstances, I have turned to the Esh Kodesh for chizzuk and support. His drashot validate the suffering and pain of the individual. He does not attempt to minimize suffering, and use the commonly heard expression, “HaShem only gives us what we can handle.” Rather he often states that because the situation appears to be so hopeless, the only possible salvation can come from HaShem. He is emunah in HaShem is strong and flexible enough to ask difficult questions that do not have good answers - because there are no answers to the horrors of the holocaust. Yet the Esh Kodesh shows us that it is possible to maintain your emunah during a difficult situation.

The Piaseczno Rebbe wrote another well known sefer called the Chovat HaTalmidim, which is a religious guide for teenagers. I will discuss this sefer in another post.

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