Menorah (Avraham Fried)

February 11, 2022

וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה  אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד
”You shall instruct Bnei Yisroel to bring you pure olive oil for lighting, to keep the lamp burning constantly.” (Shemos 27:20)

The following story was brought to light by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles, associate director of the Ascent Institute of Tzfas, who heard it from Chaim Berkowitz of Tzfas, who received it from Yosef Hurwitz of Miami, who got it from the protagonist’s family.

Heshy was the youngest of five brothers and three sisters. His siblings were always teaching him games, walking him to cheder or just happened to be there whenever he’d get in trouble. All that idyllic life ended abruptly when the Nazi hordes, yimach shemam v’zichram, marched into Warsaw that fateful September day. Rav Yerucham Miller crammed the whole family into a small apartment with three other families. There was never enough food; daily “selections” soon became the norm and families were torn from each other to be sent to different labor camps. Through all these tribulations, the Millers managed to maintain a semblance of normalcy; Shabbos was still a fairly joyful day, and whatever food was available somehow tasted better.

Three days before Chanukah, the Nazis, barged into the apartment and took Heshy and three of his brothers with them. A few hours later the boys found themselves in the Auschwitz death camp. Thirteen-year-old Heshy grew up very quickly during the next three years of horror, surrounded by sickness, death and the stench from the crematoria. He couldn’t understand why Hashem did not deliver His people as He’d done many times before. How could the Almighty ignore the voices, the prayers, the cries, of thousands of Yidden?

Somehow, he managed to survive, and as soon as the war ended, he set out to find his family. Once again, he told himself, the Millers would sit together on Shabbos amidst song and delicious foods, as the candlelight and its warmth surrounded them. All too soon he realized that no one but him was left; his life, his dreams, had all been destroyed.
Whatever faith he still had, now crumbled. If Hashem had so utterly abandoned him, he would, in turn, abandon Hashem.

Following opportunity, he immigrated to the United States. He renounced his religion, moved to Upstate New York, and happened to marry a Jewish woman there who had a similar journey. Together, they started a family and raised them devoid of religion and Jewish observance. He was no longer Heshy Miller; he now called himself Harry Mills.

The day their oldest son Jeffrey turned 13, Harry decided that he was not going to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah. Instead, he would recognize Jeffrey’s birthday by taking him to the mall and buying him anything he wanted there – price would not be a consideration. They had barely entered the mall when Harry realized Jeffrey was not at his side. He found him a short distance away, his face glued to the window of an antiques store.

“Dad, this is amazing! Come see this!”
“Come, Jeffrey, why would I care about some old junk? Besides, the toy store is right over there!”
“But Dad, look at it, this is soo cool! What is it?”

Harry gave a quick glance and saw his son looking at a handcrafted wood menorah. Some long-buried memories painfully emerged in his mind, but he wasn’t ready to face the past…

“I’m gonna check it out!” Jeffrey hurried into the shop and headed straight for the wooden menorah.

Harry followed his son hoping to dissuade him. “Dad I want this for my birthday,” said Jeffrey, as he held the menorah in his hand and looked at it in fascination. Nothing his father said could dissuade the boy. “You said I could have anything; this is what I want!” Harry couldn’t understand what could possibly draw the boy to an object he couldn’t even play with and which he had no idea how to use. But he’d made a promise to his son, and however distasteful it might prove, he would keep his word.

Harry asked the shop-owner the price of the menorah, but the man replied, “Sorry, that’s not for sale.”
The father said, “What do you mean? This is a store!” He offered a lot of money for it. The owner apologized for putting the menorah on a shelf. He explained, “I found out the history of this menorah. A man constructed it during the war and it took him months to gather the wood. It survived, but he did not. It’s a collector’s item. Sorry, but it’s not for sale.”

Jeffrey, though, was insistent. “That’s what I want. All I want is the menorah!” So, Harry Mills, unable to refuse his son, kept raising his offer on the wooden menorah until the owner finally agreed to sell for an exorbitant price.

Jeffrey was all smiles as they left for home. He went up to his room with his new toy and tried to figure out how to play with it, while Harry sat down in the kitchen to talk to his wife. Suddenly, they heard a loud crash from Jeffrey’s room. Harry, fearing the worst, quickly ran upstairs. His fears realized, the menorah had fallen and shattered into many pieces. He was about to berate his son, but saw on the boy’s face that he was already punishing himself. “Let me help you clean this up,” muttered Harry.

As he was picking up the pieces, he found a rolled-up piece of paper in one of the hollowed arms of the menorah. Curious, he fished it out and found a note written in Yiddish. He read it as he became gradually paler. Harry let out a faint scream… and then fainted to the floor. It took a while before he could recover enough to stay conscious without fainting again. When he finally came to, his family asked him what happened? Harry could not talk for a few long minutes.

Finally, he gathered himself and held up the piece of paper. “Let me read you this letter,” he said almost inaudibly.
“To the one who finds this menorah, I want you to know, I constructed it not knowing if I would ever have the opportunity to light it. Who knows if I will live to see another Chanukah? In all probability, going through this war, I will not. But if providence brings this menorah to your hands, you who are reading this letter, promise me you will light it for me and for us, my family, and those who gave their lives to serve Hashem.”

Harry Mills then looked up at his family with tears in his eyes and, in a choked-up voice, he said, “The letter is signed by my father, Rav Yerucham ben HaRav Hershel Miller…”

In time, Harry – now Heshy again – took the message to heart and he and his family returned to Torah and mitzvos.

Throughout the centuries, we have long endured the persecution of our enemies, none more so than at the hands of Amalek – the remembrance of whom Hashem commands us to obliterate (Devarim 25:19). To this day, its evil influence continues to plague our people, threatening to quash our sense of Torah values, our moral code of ethics and our performance of mitzvos. Even now, the wicked remnants of Amalek incessantly seek to extinguish our pure and holy flame.

We are surrounded by a world of profuse perversion and corrupt, base behavior, and this never-ending battle seems to be becoming too much to bear. How much more strength can we muster? How much longer must we fight?

The Midrash Yalkut Shim’oni (Yeshayahu 60, Remez 499) tells us that this is a question that we have asked before. Says the midrash – “So says Yisroel before Hakadosh Baruch Hu: ‘We built a menorah for You in the days of Moshe, but it was extinguished. We built a menorah for You in the days of Shlomo, but it, too, was extinguished. From now on, Hashem, we await no other light than Yours.’

The song you are about to hear – Menorah – was composed and sung by the soulfully superb Avraham Fried and was recorded on his 2006 album entitled Bein Kach Ubein Kach. Ever since Amalek first reared its ugly head, Bnei Yisroel has been firmly in the crosshairs of its adversaries. The poignant message of the midrash should give us hope as we once again find ourselves in the midst of Chodesh Adar – the month in which the forces of evil decreed our national annihilation, the very same month in which Hashem provided His miraculous, yet covert salvation.

So, while the sacred light of the Mishkan has gone out, and while we are without the sublime flame of the Beis Hamikdash, we look to the horizon and can clearly see the dawn of Moshiach quickly approaching. The day will soon arrive that the Divine light of Hashem will shine for all time, never to be extinguished again – may it be speedily in our days. Amein!

Wishing all of you a luminous Shabbos!

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