Deys Kill ‘em wit deir Love

Apr 30th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
Jacob was tough and muscular. His nose had been crooked since his childhood, he had been kicked while helping to shoe a horse. That was when he was 10, his job was to hold up the back legs, he stood just behind the horse. Then his mother came out and saw him standing there – he was the apple of her eye –and she shouted to the men, “No, Jacob mustn’t lift the hooves, it’s dangerous!” And he abruptly straightened up to say that he was indeed not too small to give the blacksmith a hand, and the horse didn’t like that and ever since then his nose had been crooked and he had a red mark just under his right eye.

So begins “The Stump–Grubber,” by the Swedish author, Torgny Lindgren. Jacob Lundmark carried the mark of his mother’s love for the rest of his life.

At the end of the story, Jacob has been working for 18 hours straight with the stump grubber to remove a stump that bothers his wife, Gerda. He couldn’t stop. He was almost there. He had lost all feeling in his hands. And just then, just when it was all nearly over, Gerda came out onto the porch and she called with all the strength she had in her body, “Dearest love Jacob! You must be careful!”

And that call, that was the most wonderful thing Jacob had been sensible of in the whole of his life, it was so inexpressibly warm and trembling, and so permeated with concern and love that he halted halfway through the winch, her call had made him quite weak and dazed, he felt that he must see her, and he turned his head and the upper part of his body so that she would perhaps be in sight, but he still held on to the winch, and he could really see her, she was standing in the porch and in her left hand she held the little girl and in her right hand the doll, and the evening sun lit her up from the side so he could see how her eyes were wide open with anxiety and fondness. No human being could seem more heavenly.

And she called to him once more, “Dearest love! Jacob! You must be careful!”

At that moment the last roots broke, they gave way suddenly, and the stump, which was now hanging free, tipped over and swung around as if it were possessed by a frightful fit of rage, and Jacob was quite helpless, and all he could hear was his wife’s voice within him, and the thickest root of the stump gave him a horrible blow and killed him.

The man scarred so early in life by love ends up being killed by love.

In 1974, I accompanied my Rebbi on a visit to the home of a Holocaust survivor. We knocked at the door, the man answered, looked at my Rebbi and said, “Are you a Rabbi?” “Yes,” said Rabbi Zweig. “Tell me,” said the man, “do you say the prayer “Ata vichartanu, ahavta otanu,” You have chosen us, You love us? “Of course,” said Rabbi Zweig.

The man shook his fist at the heavens and said, “Why do You kill us with Your love?”

He slammed the door shut in our faces. Rabbi Zweig and I slowly walked away from the house in a heavy silence. He did not say a word until we returned to the yeshiva. He turned off the engine, turned to me, and I saw tears dripping from his eyes. “I don’t know how to answer such a question.”

People during the Holocaust were so desperate for a kind word, a smile, an expression of humanity, that they were willing to believe anyone who offered some warmth:

“They pushed us into the mirrored room and my feet stumbled on my uncle’s books, the paintings were all cut up. It was half dark and behind a table was the commandant, to the right of the smashed-up piano. . . . The commandant was good and he had a smile. A true and proper process would be conducted; all a formality. He asked to be hugely forgiven, and said that we would be interrogated one at a time, after which he would let us go right away. (Lorenza Mazzetti, Il Cielo Cade, The Sky Is Falling)”

We live in a world in which people know to use love as a weapon, to win our trust and affection before turning on us. We love approval and approbation, and are deeply wounded by criticism. “We love you,” says the world, even as they try to impose their will on Israel. They are killing us with their “love.” No wonder we look at God and ask, “Why do You kill us with Your love?”

My prayer this Yom Hashoah is that we experience the intensity of God’s love with blessings, joy, security, and life. May we never again have to ask that unanswerable question.

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