Friday, November 7, 2008

Bris Milah in the Warsaw Ghetto

It was the winter of 1943 in the Warsaw ghetto. The bris for the child who was already several months old was to be conducted by the expert mohel, the Piacezner Rebbe, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Hy”d, Rebbe of the Warsaw ghetto. Every single person who attended the tiny minyan had put himself in mortal danger because the ghetto had been transformed by that time into a Nazi concentration camp. Anyone who was caught in the streets of the ghetto was likely to be shot on sight. But the mother of the child had wept and pleaded with the Rebbe to finally circumcise the child; she could no longer stand to raise an orel. At first she had hesitated because she thought that she might hide him with a gentile family, but now she saw that she really wanted to perform the mitzvah, come what may.
Rivers of tears flowed at that bris, the participants were overwhelmed by sorrow and despair. The father was gone—taken by force to a death camp near Lublin. Filled with fear for his safety, the child’s mother cried out in prayer before the assembled group, “Ribbono shel olam, in the merit of this bris, please save my husband…wherever he is!” The minyan burst into tears at the sound of her cries.
Just then, Rav Alexander Zusia Friedman, hy”d, one of the members of the group, began to sing an inspiring Chassidic melody. Little by little the rest joined in, the mood of despair lifted, and the small minyan slowly rose to the heights of impassioned devotion to Kiddush Hashem. And in that elevated atmosphere, the child entered the bris of Avraham Avinu.
Although the Angel of Death himself roamed the streets of Warsaw outside, nothing could stop that small group of Jews from feeling and demonstrating their love of the mitzvah of milah.

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