In this week’s Parshiyot, Nitzavim and VaYeilech, the Torah tells us of the harsh punishments that will befall us if we sin. The Torah states (Devarim 31:16-18) that after the death of Moshe, Bnei Yisrael will start to worship Avoda Zarah and other gods, and will break the pact that they made with Him. He continues to say that He will show His wrath to them, leave them, and not protect them from evil anymore. In other words, Hashem is saying that if we abandon Him, He will abandon us.
Hashem’s next words are somewhat puzzling. He says, “‘VeAtah, Kitvu Lachem Et HaShirah HaZot, VeLamedah Et Bnei Yisrael Simah BeFihem LeMa’an Tihyeh Li HaShirah HaZot LeEid BiVnei Yisrael,’” “‘And now, write this song for them and place it in their mouths and teach it to Bnei Yisrael, so that this song will be for Me as a testimony in the Bnei Yisrael” (Devarim 31:19). What does this command have to do with the warning which Hashem had just said? Also, what is the meaning of writing this song? It seems to be a random, meaningless Mitzvah!
To explain the juxtaposition of the two Pesukim, we can look at a story about the Klausenberger Rebbe. This Rebbe was a survivor of the concentration camps, and after World War II, he used to have a Minyan at Beth Moses Hospital in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It was Parashat Ki Tavo, and the Tochachah was being read. The Tochachah is the warning of Hashem to the Jewish people about what atrocities will befall them if they turn away from Him. It is customary to read the Tochachah quickly and quietly because of its horrifying words of terror. This Minyan had many Holocaust survivors that came to America after the war, so many of the punishments listed in the Tochachah had happened to them.
When the Ba’al Keriah began to read the Parashah in a hushed tone, the Rebbe got up and said, “Louder!” Although the Ba’al Keriah didn’t know what was going on, he dared not argue with the Rebbe, so he raised his voice a little. He started reading again, but the Klausenberger Rebbe once again stopped him and said to read it louder. The Ba’al Keriah raised his voice to a normal level and then began reading once again. But yet again, the Klausenberger Rebbe exclaimed, “Louder!” The whole shul turned to the Rebbe and waited for an explanation. The Rebbe explained, “We no longer have to read these terrible curses quietly. We’ve lived through them. Let us cry out to Hashem that we have received his curses and that it is time for Him to bring the redemption.”
We learn from this story that we can wear our experiences as a badge of honor, even if they were as horrifying as the experiences of the Holocaust. These experiences should be worn to show what indescribable terror we have gone through as Jews, and that through our faith we nevertheless lived on. We ask Hashem to look at what we have become because of these trials, and express them without fear.