In 5704 (1944), while World War II was raging in Europe, Agudas Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel arranged for a special aliya laregel during chol hamoed of Pesach. Thousands came to the special event. Many of them arrived on a special train that was chartered for that purpose. The high point of the trip was a gathering in Batei Machseh Square in the Old City where the leaders of the yishuv addressed those assembled.
Rav Yitzchok Meir Levin z'l: The Generation of Woe Will Also Witness Reprieve
Next came the turn of the world famous Agudah leader Rav Itche Meir Levin z'l, who had served as president of the great Polish Agudas Yisroel organization until the War broke out. In Heaven's kindness, he had succeeded in extricating himself from the claws of the Nazi demon and settling in Eretz Yisroel in a miraculous rescue operation, together with his father-in-law the Imrei Emes zt'l. As one of the greatest Agudah leaders, Rav Levin was invited to deliver the main address, in which his wonderful talent as a speaker was in evidence, as was his world outlook, that was built upon the fundamental ideas of the great teachers of Torah and chassidus. The address was long and comprehensive; several main points are excerpted here.
" `And the wise man will remain silent at that time'! For there is nobody in existence and no words exist that can express the extent of the calamity. Whatever is said merely serves to diminish the scope of the tragedy. And especially now, on a festival, when mourning is proscribed. Yet, it is impossible not to touch upon the program of annihilation that is wreaking havoc with Jewry.
"Where are the words and where is the speaker that can portray the current state of European Jewry and particularly Polish Jewry, that once teemed with precious, sincere, holy, pure, wholehearted and simple Yidden? And what of Galician, Lithuanian, German, Dutch and Belgian Jewries? Who can describe the tragic circumstances, the cruelty and the unnatural deaths with which European Jewry has been destroyed? The sadistic calculations and the means of mass annihilation that the Nazis developed defy any imagination. All of Europe has become one great Jewish graveyard.
"But I have not come just to speak about the tragedy of European Jewry. I want to call attention to the lessons we must draw from the events of our times. The truth is that none of us can explain them. The secrets of Divine control are hidden from us and we ought not to assume that our puny minds can grasp the meaning of the tempestuous current world events.
"One thing though, is clear beyond any doubt: that we are living in great times, the period of the End of Days. If our teachers, the tanaim and the amoraim said, `Let him come but let me not see him' (Sanhedrin 98), they were undoubtedly referring to this dreadful period. If such terrible suffering has come upon us, there can be no doubt that these are the birth pangs of Moshiach and that this is the time about which the holy Zohar says, `Woe to that generation! That generation is pure!' We believe with certainty that the generation that has experienced these woes will also merit reaching the stage of being proclaimed pure and that we are currently somewhere in between the suffering and redemption."
A Time of Unequaled Sanctification of Heaven's Name
All ears were straining to catch Rav Levin's impassioned words. He continued, "We are living through great times; it is a period of unparalleled kiddush Hashem. Millions of our brethren have sanctified Heaven's Name and have bared their necks for His sake, in a way that has never happened before in our entire history. They have scaled spiritual heights that are way beyond our understanding and as for us, what are we doing? How are we sanctifying Heaven's Name?
"It is now the festival of Pesach and we are commanded to `remember the day that you left Egypt' (Shemos 13:3) and promised that `I will show them miracles like the days when you left Egypt' (Michah 7:15). If we remember this day as we are supposed to, HaKodosh Boruch Hu will remember His words: `So says Hashem, I remembered the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you went after Me in the desert, in a land that was not sown' (Yirmiyohu 2:1). He will remember all the suffering and troubles that Yidden have undergone in all the years of exile, in the desert among the nations, among savage beasts and He will stay our troubles.
"On this holy festival, the time of our first redemption from Egypt, we, the remnant, must all unite with the souls of the martyrs who have perished al kiddush Hashem, banding together and begging we from down here and they from above for our redemption and for our souls' deliverance. This is the underlying message of the visit we will shortly be making to the Kosel. With all the concealment that we are experiencing, `He stands behind our wall, watching from the windows, peeping from the lattice' (Shir Hashirim 2:9). All of us, young and old, shall go to the Kosel, from where the Shechinah has never departed, and beg for a general rescue.
"True, at some future time, the veil will be lifted from the momentous events now taking place and we will be able to see what is good and beneficial in them how even retribution is a covering for a spark of good. For now though, this is all beyond our human comprehension. All we can do is strengthen our faith and trust, and prepare to beseech at the Kosel Hamaaravi: `Act for the sake of Your great Name that is profaned among the nations!' (see Yechezkel 36:23) We shall stand together with our brethren who sanctified Heaven's Name with their deaths amid cruel suffering and torture, with the cry Shema Yisroel and together we shall beg for redemption and deliverance.
"Our fate could have been the same as theirs. We could also have been in Treblinka or in one of the other death camps. If Divine Providence has left us alive, it is up to us to bring content into our lives, sanctifying Heaven in our lives while first and foremost believing that the world has a Master. We must strengthen our faith and trust in Hashem with all our might and no longer rely on the kindness of the nations. We have seen ourselves more than once that the `nations' kindness is sin' (Mishlei 14:34). The time has come to seek the closeness of our Father in heaven instead of the closeness of the nations. The entire Hebrew nation should rally around Hashem and His Torah, for `we have none to lean on save our Father in heaven' (Sotah 49). `Hashem is a man of war' (Shemos 15:3) and even in times of concealment, He controls the world!
"We must strengthen ourselves and rejoice even in these bitter times, thereby expressing our abiding trust in our future and our hopes! HaKodosh Boruch Hu is waiting for us more than we are waiting for Him! As we move off towards the Kosel, let us accept Hashem's rule once again and begin new lives, lives of Torah and Yiddishkeit, in Eretz Yisroel and in the Diaspora. Let us come with this in hand to the King at the Kosel and beg for mercy for Klal Yisroel. Let us truly unite, for, as Chazal say, `When bnei Yisroel become one unit they will be redeemed immediately'!"
Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breuer z'l: Hashem's Torah Is All That Unites Us; It Is Our Nation's Sole Foundation!
The last to address the gathering was Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breuer z'l, son of Rav Salomon Breuer zt'l, rov of Frankfurt and a grandson of Rav S. R Hirsch zt'l, the rescuer of German Orthodoxy. Dr. Breuer was one of the most prominent leaders of the world Agudah and was especially known as one of the movement's most original ideologists. He was described as the boldest and profoundest fighter against the corrupt and dangerous Zionist ideology. His address was brief and concise.
"This aliyah laregel, that has been organized by Agudas Yisroel, is particularly important at the present time. You have not come here as party members, or as members of an ordinary organization. You are standing at the gates of Yerushalayim, where you have come as tribes, as Hashem's tribes, testimony to Yisroel, to thank Hashem! (Tehillim 122;2,4) You have drawn close to the site of the house with which Hashem's Name is connected, to serve as witnesses to all Yisroel that only Hashem's Torah unites us and that it alone is the foundation of our nation. Standing by the Kosel Hamaaravi, all party affiliations melt away and all organizations disappear. Only Hashem's tribes, the People of the Torah, have the right of speech.
"Let us go up to our Kosel as Hashem's nation for He is standing there, behind it `watching from the windows, peeping from the lattice'. He watches His People's terrible tragedy, the burning of His Book and the slaughter of His pious ones. We shall weep there, us and Him together, for His People have no genuine friend besides Him in the entire world. His People are unique in this world, just as He is unique in Heaven. `Like the hills surrounding Yerushalayim, Hashem surrounds His People protectively, forever' (ibid. 125:2). Hashem has no other nation in the world that acknowledges His rule. Only Am Yisroel and this is our national pride. Our national sorrow is also our King's sorrow, as it were, just as our national victory is also His victory.
"We shall weep there before Him: `Remember Hashem, the disgrace of Your servants...' (ibid. 89:51) — the enemy has spilt their blood like water and no one can be found to redeem it.
" `I have borne the suffering of all the many nations in my breast' (ibid.) Am Yisroel has borne all the nations. Am Yisroel is the nation of fairness, of justice and of Divine rule. The future of all mankind depends upon our future. Am Yisroel's disgrace is therefore the disgrace of fairness and of justice, therefore [the posuk says]
" `...that Your enemies, Hashem, have disgraced' (ibid.52), for by disgracing Am Yisroel they become enemies of Hashem who is the ultimate in fairness and justice. They are fighting against Hashem, not only against Am Yisroel, therefore,
" `...they have disgraced the footsteps of Your Moshiach' (ibid.) Am Yisroel's very disgrace is a sure sign of Moshiach's coming closer.
"Let us not leave room for despair and disappointment. Let us draw renewed hope and renewed courage from the Kosel Hamaaravi. We shall be victorious! The future is ours! `For the tribe of evil shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous' (ibid. 125:3). Hashem's salvation is close at hand and His righteousness will be revealed!"
To The Kosel
After the rally had ended, the crowd of thousands began to pour down towards the Kosel in silence, imbued with the sanctity of the occasion. It should be mentioned here that the site looked very different then from how it has looked since its liberation in 5727 (1967). The Kosel was then adjoined by a narrow yard that was surrounded by Arab houses, whose inhabitants went to great lengths to make it difficult for Jews to approach the sole remnant of the ancient Mikdosh. The entire crowd nevertheless packed into the area, bringing to mind Chazal's comment about Yerushalayim in the time of the Mikdosh, "Nobody ever said, `The place is too narrow for me!' " (Avos 5:5).
A special pamphlet that was published shortly after the aliyah laregel provided a comprehensive review of the entire event, starting with a description of the crowds that flocked to Tel Aviv train station. It continued with an account of the journey to Yerushalayim, that passed through mountains and boulders, describing the ancient sites that could be seen along the way, which the excited travellers learned about both from the booklets that they had been provided with and from the guides who accompanied them. The excitement gripped all of them, including the youth and the youngsters from the branches of the No'ar Ha'agudati and from other chareidi youth movements, as well as the women and girls, for whom special carriages had been designated. This is how the pamphlet describes the first encounter between the olei regel and the holy Kosel.
"The Kosel Hamaaravi the only place we have left from all our ancient treasures... the only place that the feet of Jews may tread who have come from near and far to pour their hearts out and arouse Heaven's mercy and pity for the remnant of Yisroel, like a child creeping into his mother's embrace after days of restless wandering across stormy seas and desolate desert; the Kosel Hamaaravi, to which Chazal applied the posuk, " `Here it is, standing behind our wall' this is the Kosel Hamaaravi". One of the great chassidic leaders of our times remarked, "The wall has ears this the Kosel Hamaaravi, which has ears to hear the entreaties, the prayers and the supplications of Am Yisroel. How one's heart yearns for this holy place. How one longs to get there and how glad are those who are fortunate enough to get close to it, to kiss it and to caress its stones, that are soaked with the tears of generations.
"Gedolei Yisroel march at the head of the procession; rabbonim, geonim, the rabbonim of Yerushalayim and of Eretz Yisroel but there is no division of rank or class. Nothing distinguishes one Jew from another. Right now, all are pure and holy. All have the same goal in mind
" ...to pour out hearts in prayer by the Kosel to our Father in heaven on behalf of His wretched and downtrodden nation and on behalf of the masses of Beis Yisroel that are being exterminated by callous animals in the Diaspora, that is soaked with our martyrs' holy blood;
" ...to arouse Heaven's mercy for the remnant and pray that Hashem brings our redemption quickly and that He sends the redeemer;
" ...to pray that we merit ascending to this holy place on festivals, full of joy at the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the holy Mikdosh.
"These are the sentiments and the aspirations that fill the heart of each and every one of us as we march slowly, step by step, to the Kosel."
Prayers That Rend The Heavens
"There is tremendous crowding. There isn't an inch of room in the entire area before the Kosel. All the side alleys that lead to the Kosel are also full. Fifty Jewish policemen and officers are there to keep order. They are arranging great lines of people entering and leaving, so that everyone has a chance to get to the Kosel.
"The prayers by the Kosel pierce the heavens. The air is rent by groans and convulsive weeping. Tears flow unceasingly as hearts overflow with emotion. But they are not only being shed over private sorrows and worries, before the One who resides here. What are private troubles next to the catastrophe that has befallen us so swiftly, whose dimensions we have not yet even grasped? All we can do is pray, begging Hashem to stay the destroyer and let the justice of our cause shine forth. We shall repent fully before Him, yisborach, until we merit seeing our consolation and our redemption shortly. This is essence of the prayers being offered by the thousands arriving at the Kosel. The prayers of the masses of Beis Yisroel at this holy place and at this time are powerful indeed.
"Tehillim 13, 22, 79, 84, 68 and 126 were said. Then, Hallel was said with great fervor and devotion, in the hope that we merit saying Hallel again and singing a new song in the very near future over our redemption and deliverance..."
Next Year In Rebuilt Yerushalayim!
The pamphlet then describes the following day's program, which also began with prayers by the Kosel which were followed by a walk around the Old City walls and visits to a number of ancient historical sites. To today's generation, there would be nothing new in this but for all those who had come to Yerushalayim especially for the aliyah laregel, everything was new and exciting.
The pamphlet concludes its account with the following lines: "Lusty singing filled the clear skies of Yerushalayim. `For you shall depart in joy and shall be conveyed in peace; the mountains and valleys shall skip before you in song'. Yerushalmim join hands with their guests and they dance and sing together on the railway platform. It is a difficult parting. The leaders, the rabbonim and the activists have also come to accompany them. Many of the travellers shed tears and they all part with the same wish `Would that we merit being oleh laregel next year to the Beis Hamikdosh, as the Torah command us!'
"As the last train pulls out, the air is pierced by the cry: `Leshanah haba'ah biYerushalayim habenuyah!'