Most of you will know Elie Wiesel’s harrowing Holocaust classic Night, but do you know Yosl Rakover Talks to God? Beth discovered this little book in Oxford and gifted me with it a few years ago. When the text first surfaced in the 1950s, it was hailed as a masterpiece of the Shoah. In fact, it is a short story written in 1946 by Zvi Kolitz, a young Jewish author. It purports to be the last words of a freedom fighter named Yosl Rakover, written in the Warsaw ghetto, a testament addressed to God himself, “preserved in a little bottle and concealed amongst heaps of charred stone and human bones.” But if it is not fact, is it not true? Judge for yourself.
God, writes Yosl, “hastoras ponim - God has hidden his face…. I die at peace, but not pacified, conquered but not enslaved, bitter but not disappointed, a believer but not a supplicant, a lover of God but not His blind Amen-sayer….
“My rabbi used to tell me, again and again, the story of a Jew who escaped the Spanish Inquisition with his wife and child and made his way in a small boat across the stormy sea to a stony island. A flash of lightning exploded and killed his wife. A whirlwind arose and hurled his child into the sea. Alone, wretched, discarded like a stone, naked and barefoot, lashed by the storm, terrified by thunder and lightning, his hair disheveled and his hands raised to God, the Jew made his way up onto the rocky desert island and turned thus to God:
“‘God of Israel,’ he said, ‘I have fled to this place so that I may serve You in peace, to follow Your commandments and glorify Your name. You, however, are doing everything to make me cease believing in You. But if You think that You will succeed with these trials in deflecting me from the true path, then I cry to You, my God and the God of my parents, that none of it will help You. You may insult me, You may chastise me, You may take from me the dearest and the best that I have in the world, You may torture me to death - and I will always believe You. I will love You always and forever - even despite You.’
“Here, then, are my last words to You, my angry God: None of this will avail You in the least! You have done everything to make me lose my faith in You, to make me to cease to believe in You. But I die exactly as I have lived, an unshakeable believer in You.
“Praised be forever the God of the dead, the God of vengeance, of truth and judgment, who will soon unveil His face to the world again and shake its foundations with His almightry voice.
“‘Sh’ma Yisroel! Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my soul.’”