Halacha for Monday 28 Nissan 5784 May 6 2024

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Based on the Sermons of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l
Compiled by his Grandson, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a

During the Omer Counting period, we lament the tragic loss of the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva, who all died of asphyxiation between Pesach and the thirty-fourth day of the Omer.

Let us delve into the life and times of their great mentor, Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef was called “the son of converts.” His father did not send him to study Torah and thus, he became a shepherd for a wealthy man named Kalba Savua. Kalba Savua donated much Tzedakah, and his house was a like a hotel where all the hungry and needy would come, stay, and eat their fill. It is for this reason he was called “Kalba Savua”: Anyone entering his home hungry as a dog would leave satiated.

Rabbi Akiva did not study Torah until the age of forty. After his marriage to the righteous Rachel, daughter of Kalba Savua, he grew tremendously in Torah until he became the luminary of the generation until his murder at the age of one-hundred and twenty. Our Sages taught that were it not for Rabbi Akiva, Torah would have been forgotten from Israel, for in those days, the evil Roman Empire decreed that the Jewish nation could not study Torah and Torah scholars were dispersed everywhere. Only after the passing of his twenty-four thousand students did Rabbi Akiva find five new students in the south of Israel and these five students reestablished the Oral Torah as we have it today. These students were: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda bar Elai, Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (Yevamot 62b). The Romans brutally murdered rabbi Akiva, their great teacher, and leader of the generation simply for having taught Torah to the masses; this is how dedicated Rabbi Akiva was to the Torah! The wicked murderers did not care about his advanced age when they tortured and eventually killed him.

The great Ari z”l writes that every time one recites the verse, “A G-d of vengeance is Hashem,” one should concentrate on Hashem’s avenging the deaths of the Ten Holy Martyrs, among them Rabbi Akiva.

During those days, there was a law that one killed by the government could not have a funeral or even a simple burial; he was to be left as is for the birds and animals to eat. Thus, Eliyahu Ha’Navi called Rabbi Yehoshua Ha’Garsi, caretaker of Rabbi Akiva, and together they took his holy body and buried him in the cave in Teveria where he is buried until today. Eliyahu was asked, if he were Pinchas who was a Kohen, how could he defile himself by handling Rabbi Akiva’s corpse? Eliyahu Ha’Navi replied that someone as holy as Rabbi Akiva could not cause impurity even in his death! May we merit seeing him soon during the Resurrection of the Dead!

This happened countless times throughout our history when many nations tortured and massacred millions of our people. More recently during the Holocaust, one-third of the Jewish people was exterminated! So many Torah scholars and righteous people were among the six million Jews murdered by the wicked Nazis.

In Israel, there was a true miracle. “On Mount Zion there shall be refuge.” I remember those days. The wicked Nazi General Irwin Rommel stood at the gates of Alexandria and proclaimed that he would capture Israel. As we went to study in Yeshivat Porat Yosef in the Old City of Jerusalem, Arabs would stand at the entrances of their shops and homes a cheer, “Soon we will slaughter you and all your money will be ours!” We would hear this and fear for our lives. Hagaon Rav Yaakov Ades and Hagaon Harav Zalman Sorotzkin gathered all the Yeshiva boys of Jerusalem to the Kotel, and we stood there for hours crying along with these great sages. Two days later, Hitler, may his name be blotted out, sent a telegram to Rommel to leave the Egyptian front and quickly return to Germany as Russia had declared war on them. This was the beginning of their downfall. This salvation was, no doubt, due to all the heartfelt prayers which Hashem accepted.

All of the pogroms, massacres, and genocides levied against us in the diaspora through the ages, such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and worst of all, the Holocaust, threatened to wipe us out completely. However, since we have returned to Eretz Yisrael and established Torah centers for tens of thousands of Jews, with Hashem’s help, we have been victorious in the last three wars we fought within the first twenty-four years since the establishment of the State of Israel. This is especially true regarding the Six Day War which was a tremendous sanctification of Hashem’s name, for the entire world saw the godly salvation of the Jewish people. The merit of the Land of Israel begot the salvation of the nation of Israel.

Even during the wrath of the Holocaust, when the enemy reached the gates of Israel and all the residents of Israel trembled in terror, Hashem heard our cries and allowed us to remain while Germany declared war on Russia.

Indeed, our Sages taught (Baba Kama 60b), “I have set the blaze, and I will rebuild it, as the verse states, ‘I shall be for it, says Hashem, a wall of fire, and for honor shall I dwell within it.’” The first two Holy Temples were destroyed but the Third shall not!

May we soon see the Ultimate Redemption of the Jewish nation. May Hashem decimate all our enemies and reveal his Kingship upon us. May we soon merit witnessing the Resurrection of the Dead, from the mass graves of Germany, Poland, Russia, and beyond, Amen!

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