My father, Rabbi Yisroel Avraham Stein, z”l, was the rav of Fultichen, Romania, before the last World War.
Despite his harrowing experiences during the Holocaust, he became one of the most sought-after speakers on emunah and bitachon after settling in America in 1949. As one of the foremost post-War darshanim, my father spoke with a blazing passion and conviction that inspired and warmed the hearts and souls of all kinds of Jews who thirsted for something to hold onto after the loss of the six million.
Despite the passage of 27 years since his petirah, I still meet people who tell me how his unforgettable drashos continue to reverberate in their lives.
Characteristic of his ability to breathe emotion and fervor into his divrei Torah is an insight he shared on a Talmudic Agaddah about the events surrounding kriyas Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea. In Maseches Megillah 10b, the Gemara relates that in the triumphant moment when the waters of the sea closed over the Egyptians, thereby guaranteeing the final liberation of Bnei Yisrael, the Heavenly angels gathered before the Divine throne and asked permission to sing shirah, a song of praise to Hashem. In describing G-d’s response, the Talmud says that G-d objected, exclaiming, “My handiwork; My creations (the Egyptians) are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing songs? ” If we take this statement at face value we are confronted by an obvious dilemma: Why were the Jewish people permitted to sing their song?
My father, in his fiery style, explained that what Hashem was saying to the angels was, “You angels lift your voices in song only when things are going well, when victory and triumph are in the air, but not in times of travail. Where were you when My children were suffering the brutal bondage and the Egyptians were drowning Jewish babies in the sea? Were you singing shirah then? By contrast, klal Yisrael, My faithful children, do not cease singing My praises even in the most challenging of circumstances: in slavery and persecution; amidst the bricks and mortar of Mitzrayim; during the Inquisition and the Spanish Expulsion; in the face of pogroms and in the barracks of the concentration camps. In this moment of joy and exultation it is therefore their song that I wish to hear! They, who maintained their faith in the most desperate of times, have earned the privilege to sing. ‘Az yashir Moshe uvnei Yisrael es hashirah hazos—Then Moshe and the Children of Israel began to sing.’”
The ability to “sing,” to engage life despite painful, adverse and even heart-rending circumstances, has characterized our nation throughout our history.
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