The only person inside was old Rabbi Cohen, who was sitting at a large table reading the Bible in the dim light of the candle. She had often seen him clutching the Bible like a child clutches her beloved rag doll, as he shuffled around the ghetto. Disheartened, she slumped down on the floor in a corner. Another pain, greater than the hunger gripped her heart. It was the memory of seeing her precious husband shot before her eyes by the Nazis, and his body thrown onto the back of a truck like refuse from the streets.
As the sun rose and made the candle unnecessary, the old Rabbi lifted his eyes, licked his thumb and forefinger and squeezed out the flame. She stared at the smoking wick, and thought of the black smoke that ascended continually from Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and how the Nazis were snuffing out her people.
As she looked at its smoke, she was distracted from her thoughts by the sound of a page being turned in the Rabbi's book. She stared at him for fifteen minutes as he slowly and thoughtfully turned each of its pages with an obvious reverence. His eyes didn't look up for a moment from its contents.
At last she broke the silence:
"Why do you read that book?" There was a bitter cynicism in her tone. He didn't look up, but merely said,
"It is my food."
The gnawing in her stomach made her feel annoyed that he could say such a stupid thing, but before she could answer him he continued,
"Some people have a thousand questions. With this Book I have a thousand answers."
"My mother used to read the Bible all the time. She went to Ravensbruck."
He still didn't look up, but just said,
"Do you have questions or answers?"
Rachel didn't reply. His words echoed in her mind . . .
"Do you have questions or answers…?"
After five minutes he lifted his eyes, adjusted his rimmed glasses on his nose and looked over at her.
"My dear, I warned our people that money had become our god. But they wouldn't listen. They retired this 'raving old Jeremiah.' But I warned them."
He could see that Rachel's facial expression questioned what he meant, so he continued,
"Listen to the Book of Jeremiah, as the God of our fathers speaks to His people:
'How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken Me and sworn by them that are no gods. When I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbor's wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not My soul be avenged on a nation as this?"'
The old Rabbi's face looked sullen as he said,
"Then judgment came: 'Their widows are increased to Me above the sand of the seas: I have brought upon them against the mother of the young men a spoiler at noonday: I have caused him to fall upon it suddenly, and terrors upon the city . . . and the residue of them will I deliver to the sword before their enemies, saith the Lord . . . they shall die grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth . . . '
"For years I warned our people that they could not love money, commit sexual sins and forget the Law of their God. I told them that He would judge us, to bring us back to Himself if they would not turn from their wickedness. I read them the words of Jeremiah: 'Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while you look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive."'
To be continued...