The Bomb Exploded and We All Cried Out ‘Shema Yisrael’

Suddenly there was a fearsome blast: a bomb exploded near our group. A river of fire gushed forth, and we saw death before our eyes. And at that moment, everyone cried out in one voice:  Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem echad!

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier – The Beis Medrash

The following episode was shared by the Frierdiker Rebbe on Purim 5700 (1940)[1], shortly after escaping war-torn Europe:

The twelfth of Tishrei, during the war, is noted in my memory as one of the most difficult days that I have ever experienced. On that day at noon, we all left our home to seek shelter in a deep cellar. At four o’clock, after Minchah, the cellar was shaken up by an air raid attack on the adjoining streets. Fires broke out immediately, and as multi-story buildings collapsed, they buried their inhabitants in the debris.

In the face of the immediate danger of being (G‑d forbid) unable to save ourselves, we ran out of the cellar to seek shelter in the gateway of one of the big buildings.

The picture we saw–a street of buildings all ablaze, the shrieks of the unfortunate people who were being burned, the screams of alarmed townsfolk, especially of children, women, and old folk–is indescribable.

As the bombardment grew more intense from one minute to the next, more and more houses on many different streets went up in flames. Clusters of smoking black clouds burst out of the windows and obstructed the light of what happened to be a fine sunny day. For a few hours we, several other people, ran, afraid and exhausted, from one shelter to another.

In one of those havens, a few hundred people of various hues had assembled. Jews with long coats and beards and peyos, and women wearing wigs; clean-shaven Jews, and women who spoke only Polish–all stood there, afraid.

Our group –my family and me, and a few dozen students of Tomchei Temimim – said Tehillim. Suddenly there was a fearsome blast: a bomb exploded near our group. A river of fire immediately gushed forth. Every one of us saw death before his eyes.

And at that very moment, everyone cried out in one voice:  Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem echad! Everyone was certain that this was the last minute of his life.

Such a Shema Yisrael, cried out from the depths of the hearts of such varied people with such a wide range of philosophies, I have never heard, and I ask G‑d that this recollection should be preserved in my memory forever.

During those wartime days, not only did everyone see the workings of Divine Providence, and Elokus at every step, but in addition one could see how the sound heart of a Jew is saturated with genuine simple faith. Witnessing so manifestly how powerfully and how profoundly a belief in G‑d is rooted in the heart of a Jew – that is the good that I learned from the midst of the evil. The artless faith that surfaced in that universal outcry of Shema Yisrael opened up for me new wellsprings of love and reverence for Jewish sons and daughters, whoever they may be. My deep conviction, based on factual proofs, is that the Torah-and-mitzvos heart of our fellow Jews is alive. It is only that in some places they have grown faint – and the task of rousing them is in the hands of inspiring speakers, educators, and mentors.


In this week’s sedra, Rashi quotes the passuk in Ovadya, “And the house of Yaakov shall be fire and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav shall become stubble,” and explains that this is why as soon as Yosef was born, Yaakov knew he could stand up against Eisav.  

The Rebbe visited Camp Gan Yisrael in 5720 (1960) and during his talk to the children, he asked: What is so comforting about knowing that Eisav, i.e., our adversaries, will become stubble? Would it not be better if they were totally eradicated?

The Rebbe quoted the Maggid of Mezritch who explains that when stubble is burned on a field it improves the soil. The Rebbe then said to the children: Eisav represents all those who fight Yidden or Yiddishkeit. And the passuk is teaching us that even from people like these we can learn a lesson which will enhance our avodas Hashem, thus improving our “soil.”

The teshuvah awakening in Eretz Yisrael right now is unlike anything we’ve seen before. May this “open up for us new wellsprings of love and reverence for the Jewish sons and daughters, whoever they may.” May we all be inspired by them to change ourselves for the better as well. And may we all very soon witness the complete fulfilment of Ovadya’s nevuah, which concludes with: ועלו מושעים בהר ציון לשפט את הר עשו והיתה לה’ המלוכה.

[1] Sefer Hasichos 5700, translation taken from the Sichos In English edition.

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