When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what choice do we have when all choices are wrong? These are the questions faced by the Sonderkommando—the Jews who were forced to burn the bodies of the dead.
One of the crucial lessons of the Holocaust is that both victims and perpetrators were ordinary people—people like ourselves. Film and literature help to bring this lesson home by engaging our empathy. One piece of advice the rabbi gave Ovadya ben Malka is this: “One cannot keep alive the memory of thousands. It just is not possible. Instead, call to mind individuals. Not their deaths, but their lives.” In learning to see the victims as individuals—people like himself—Ovadya was led to acknowledge his own humanity as well.
In a new review of A Damaged Mirror, therapist Sheri Oz writes about the limitations of memory and the challenge of forgiving. More than just a book review, this article plumbs the depths of the human need for control over our fate–and what happens when that control is absent.
The seeds planted on Tisha b’Av, a poem by Ovadya ben Malka: “A curse and a blessing were laid on us that day. Having lived the curse, can we doubt that blessing will come as well?”
A subconscious thought becomes explicit when it is articulated in speech. Things unspoken—and unspeakable—may have tremendous influence on an individual. A nightmare may shape one’s outward thoughts and feelings far beyond what we can ever be aware of. Until we can articulate the nightmare, and bring it into conscious awareness, we have no control over it. So it is with Teshuvah, and so it is with the Geulah.
In Teshuvah, we go through some of the same stages as in mourning, but it is for ourselves that we mourn—for the loss of our better selves, for our mistakes and their consequences. Eventually, we reach a stage where all the regret, despair, grief, and longing to make right can find expression. We express the inner turmoil and make it concrete and real, and at the same time reach closure with it. We acknowledge our mistakes and their consequences, our wrong-turns and blind allies, and by speaking them aloud, we take possession of them.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the common factor: What does recovery from trauma have to do with these three things: teshuvah; bringing a disturbing dream to Birkhat Hakohanim; and the Jewish people’s national redemption.”
Needless to say I accepted the mission…