Motzei Shabbos Story: Exactly 80 years ago, the Jewish community of Iraq was threatened by Iraqi nationalists acting in full collaboration with the Germans. The community began praying for a miracle…
By Elchonon Isaacs – Chabad.org
The following dramatic events, virtually unknown to most Jews, took place 80 years ago this week. This story was adapted from a Hebrew account published by Asher Noach, son of Rabbi Yitzchak Noach, in Sichat Hashavua #533:
In 1941, the German army was spreading its web over Europe, expanding its reach to North Africa and eastwards. The death machine was in full swing anywhere Hitler’s soldiers set foot, and the Jewish people’s sentence was a foregone conclusion.
A military coup erupted in Baghdad during the early spring of that year, in an attempt to overthrow British influence in the region. The uprising was led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani (1892-1965), an Iraqi nationalist, who acted in full collaboration and support of the Germans.1
This led to the Anglo-Iraqi War, during which those in the sitting government fled for their lives. The news induced great panic throughout Iraq’s Jewish communities, including the isolated villages in Kurdistan in the north.
As Rashid Ali established his rule, demonstrations against Jews took place in Iraqi cities, often ending in violent riots and looting of Jewish homes and businesses. Jews were imprisoned and tortured on the grounds that they were helping Britain in the war.
Rabbi Yitzchak Noach (1888–1962) was the rabbi of Koy Sanjaq in the Kurdistan region. In addition to his masterful knowledge of Talmud and Jewish law, he was also proficient in the works of Kabbalah. In light of the disturbing events, he decreed a day of fasting and heartfelt prayer in the city’s great synagogue.
The following day, young and old flocked to the synagogue. Their prayers were heart wrenching; the wailing gripping. During the day, terrible news of the riots taking place against the Jews of Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Basra only served to intensify their desperate devotion.
In the evening, after the conclusion of the fast, the community members retired to their homes, deeply worried but hopeful for a miracle.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the community of Koy Sanjaq and the surrounding villages went to the home of the rabbi and begged him to intercede On High to have the terrible decree annulled.
Rabbi Yitzchak Noach responded, “Do you think I’m not doing everything within my power?” After a pause, he continued. “You keep praying through the night, and I will do whatever I can as well.”
The leaders returned to the synagogue and continued to pray and recite Psalms. Rabbi Yitzchak Noach remained at home and continued storming the heavens. At about midnight, he began preparing himself to go to sleep. He immersed in a mikvah in preparation for the Kabbalistic practice of shaalot chalom, whereby one requests Divine assistance through a dream. Rabbi Yitzchak Noach wished to learn the future of Rashid Ali’s uprising and the future of the Jews in the country.
Before dawn, he awoke in a sweat and the words of Psalm 37:10 flickered before him: “A short while longer and the wicked man (rasha) is not here, and you shall look at his place and he is not there.” The general message of the verse seemed hopeful, but the rabbi wished to learn why this specific verse was shown to him. He locked himself in his room and began pondering what hidden meaning was embedded in the verse.
When the time for the morning prayers came, a faint smile was detectable on Rabbi Yitzchak Noach’s face. He noted to those in his inner circle, “The word rasha in the verse are the initials of Rashid Ali. However, I still do not have the full meaning of the verse.” After the morning prayers, he returned to his room and continued to meditate.
Only in the late afternoon did he emerge, his face aglow and full of hope. “I think I have figured out what the verse means in this context! The word for ‘a short while,’ me’at, is an acronym for mem tet omer, meaning on the 49th day of the Omer, the day before Shavuot, the decree will be done.”
And indeed, on May 30th, the 48th day of the Omer, Rashid Ali and his allies fled to Germany, via Iran.
This did not mean that life went back to normal for Iraq’s Jews. Far from it. In fact, June 1st and 2nd, the two days of Shavuot, were marked by anti-Jewish rioting, murder, and maiming. When all was said and done, more than 180 innocent Jews had been killed, 1,000 had been injured, and more than 900 homes had been destroyed.
Yet, the existential threat embodied by Germany and her Arab sympathizers had been removed with the flight of Rashid Ali, giving new meaning to the second half of the verse, “… you shall look at his place and he is not there.”
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org