Many Jewish Communities have the custom of reciting Psalm 107, written by King David some 3000 years ago. In this context it is used as a Psalm of thanksgiving for having survived the Slavery in Egypt. Yet if we meditate on the expressions I have highlighted, it would seem more accurate that King David wasn’t historically reflecting on the past but rather prophesying about events of the future…
... And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the sea.  They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; they found no city of habitation.  Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.  Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses...  Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron--  Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the Most High.  Therefore He humbled their heart with travail, they stumbled, and there was none to help--  They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses.  He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their bands in sunder.  Let them give thanks unto the LORD for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!  For He hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder.  Crazed because of the way of their transgression, and afflicted because of their iniquities--  Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near unto the gates of death--  They cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses;  He sent His word, and healed them, and delivered them from their graves...  They reeled to and fro, and staggered like a drunken man, and all their wisdom was swallowed up--
… people from 4 directions of the compass, removed from society, dehydrated & starved to the point of fainting, living in the darkness of the shadow of death, caged in by barbed wire, driven crazy by persecution that even when their saviours deliver them from their graves, their bodies cannot tolerate the food they are given.
In a sense we are all survivors. Had Hitler (cursed be his name) succeeded (G-d forbid!) in his greatest ambition, we wouldn’t be marching anywhere to put it mildly. And if King David composed this Psalm as a prayer of thanksgiving for survivors, we would certainly qualify as part of his intended audience. King David also gives a theological backdrop to the suffering, one which is extremely difficult to digest in the context of the Sho’ah: sin brings about suffering. He also describes that many were saved as G-d responding to those who cried out to Him. During the Sho’ah G-d seems to have been hiding. King David may be offering an objective explanation of events but this is difficult to grasp or accept. I prefer to understand he was suggesting a subjective response.
King David certainly opens the deep & difficult question of where was G-d during the Sho’ah, a question to which we have no conclusive response. As spiritual guide on the March I will attempt to touch on certain aspects of this question and provide a framework for discussion on this topic – and I invite you to come and discuss this topic or any other topic you might wish to discuss. From the Jewish perspective, Religion was meant to deepen questions rather than provide answers, in the words of Rabbi JB Soloveichik (Shiurei Harav, “Sacred & Profane” pg. 6):
While we no doubt will try to investigate how the Sho’ah happened and perhaps why it happened, the most important question to ask from a religious perspective is what meaning we can find in the incomprehensible tragedy.
While Psalm 107 may begin with the Shoa’h, it certainly doesn’t end there. As Marchers of the Living we not only stare Death in the face in Poland – but we experience Life in the reborn State of Israel. King David’s prophetic vision moves from the horrors of the holocaust to the miraculous blossoming of swamps and dry wilderness after an ingathering of the exiles in an unprecedented fashion, on ships, from the four corners of the earth. We will be privileged to see this with sober eyes, rather than the survivors who could only relate to this out of a drunken stupor of suffering and unanswered bitter questions. We will also see the complexities and challenges that still face us in Modern Israel. King David saw our “princes” “wandering” “where there is no way”.
The overarching theme though that King David gives us is one of tremendous positivity, the same positivity we were privileged to witness bursting forth from Irene Klass, the amazing survivor who told us her story at the first educational session. It is only with this positivity that we have been able to march on – and it is with this positivity that we need to continue marching on, over the next few weeks in particular – but enriched from it throughout our lives in general.
Where we don’t find answers, let us find depth and meaning. A modern day hero who recently passed away, Meir Dagan (of blessed memory), did exactly that. I hope to share his story with you along the March. But for starters, in his office hung this photograph that he looked at every day – and was guided by it in his life’s undertaking…
… this was the subjective meaning he found in the Sho’ah. What is yours?