The daughters of Tz’lafchad petitioned Moshe Rabbeinu for the right to inherit their father’s property in the Land of Israel. These five daughters argued that were they not to inherit, their father’s name would be lost forever to his tribe. Moshe took their case to Hashem. Hashem recognized the merit of their case. He told Moshe that their plea was just, and that they should be granted their father’s hereditary holdings. Rashi sums up this whole episode by quoting the words of the Sifrei: “This tells us that their eyes saw (the daughters understood the halachah) what even Moshe Rabbeinu did not see!”
As a Holocaust survivor and one who lived through the horrors of the war first-hand, Reb Yosef Friedensohn z”l received, in his own words, “seven diplomas from seven German universities of murder and atrocity.” One incident that stood out in his mind involved the keen and penetrating understanding of a 15-year-old girl from the town of Chust.
During the time he spent in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Reb Yosef and his friend Aviezer from the Lubliner Yeshivah, had been assigned the unsavory task of transporting the garbage refuse from the various depositories – outside the kitchens, the latrine, and so on. They filled the wagon they were made to lug about the camp and emptied it into the dump. No one would call the job a pleasant one, but it was considered from the best in the camp. Quite often, extra morsels of food could be found in the kitchen scraps, and it gave them a certain sense of freedom to roam the camp at will.
One day, as they were pushing the malodorous cart past the ditch that separated the men’s and women’s compounds in Birkenau, they caught sight of a young girl, waving frantically and calling to them. A strong wind was blowing toward her, and her voice did not carry well. She held her arms together, and shivering called out numerous times, until they could hear her voice: “Kent yir mir kriggen a ... vetter?”
Aviezer looked at Reb Yosef for an explanation. “It’s cold. I think she wants a sweater,” he offered.
His first reaction was a shrug of the shoulders. “Where does one get a sweater in Birkenau?” he asked incredulously.
Several days later, they happened to pass a warehouse that stored clothing and the personal effects of the victims of the gas chambers. Wordlessly, Aviezer slipped through the door and emerged a few minutes later as if nothing had happened. As he regained his place pushing the refuse cart, he said to Reb Yosef under his breath, “I put on a warm, woolen sweater under my prison shirt.” In his emaciated condition one could not even detect the difference.
The next day, as they passed the women’s compound again, the same girl was standing at the same spot, as if waiting for them. Aviezer took off his jacket, removed the sweater and hurled it over the barrier. She picked it up, shook it out and looked at it quizzically. “What’s this?” she shouted.
“A sweater,” Aviezer replied. “You said you needed one.”
“A sweater? No!” she cried out. “I said ‘a siddur’ – I want a siddur! Next week is Rosh HaShanah and I was hoping you could get me a siddur to daven from!”
Reb Yosef and Aviezer looked at each other sheepishly. They were so occupied with mere physical survival – food to eat and a way to warm their bodies – it never dawned on them that this young girl required a siddur to warm her soul. The next time they passed the storage area, Aviezer smuggled out a siddur, which eventually found its way into the girl’s hands.
Reb Yosef recalls that they too wished to daven; however, the main impediment was the load that wafted its offensive smell right into their faces, as they pushed the refuse cart from station to station. Finally, they hit upon a solution: They would pull the cart rather than push it, putting their putrid load out of sight and (when facing a head wind) out of mind.
“Aviezer and I would start from the beginning of davening – Mah Tovu, B’rachos, and so on – helping each other when memory didn’t work, picking up a cue from the young girl from Chust, who was cold without a siddur.”