Eim HaBanim Semeichah
Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal
Eim HaBanim Semeichah was first published in Budapest in 5704 (1943). Later editions were published by the author’s son in New York in 5729 (1968/69) and in Israel in 5743 (1982/83). There are two English translations: one by Pesach Schindler, published in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1999; and the other by Moshe Lichtman, published in Israel in 2000 (the quotations here are taken from the latter).
At first glance, some people might say that Eim HaBanim Semeichah is not part of the homiletical literature because, unlike Sacred Fire, it lacks the distinctive outer markings of a book of sermons, namely, a structure based on the weekly Torah portions. Other aspects of the book, however, are typical of books of sermons. It is written in Hebrew, with expressions from the spoken language, Yiddish, mixed in. It makes reference to midrashim and stories. It contains repetition, and it clearly intends to convey to the people a conceptual message condensed from sermons given by the author, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal. We also know from his own testimony that he would go from community to community and deliver sermons on these subjects. Furthermore, he quotes some of his sermons (e.g., one from Rosh Hashanah) in their entirety.
Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal was born in Hungary in 1885 to Rabbi Yitzhak and Gittel Teichtal. In his youth he studied with Rabbi Shalom Wieder of Nyiregyh?za, Rabbi Shalom Dov Unger of ?abno, and Rabbi Moshe Gr?nwald of Khust. His first wife died young, and after remarrying he served as rabbi and dayan (rabbinical-court judge) in B?sz?rm?ny. He subsequently headed the rabbinical court and the Moriah yeshiva in Pie??any, Slovakia. He was a renowned speaker and preacher. Most of his writings were on halakhic topics; the best-known was a collection of responsa entitled Mishneh sakhir, the first part of which was published in 1924. Rabbi Teichtal corresponded with many leading rabbis, including Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld of Jerusalem. He was known as a disciple of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira, the rebbe of Munk?cs and author of Minchat Elazar, who was vehemently opposed to Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, Rabbi Teichtal remained in Pie??any, where living conditions for the Jews gradually grew worse. In 1942 he left for Nitra, Slovakia, and in 1943 he was forced to flee with his family to Hungary. There he wandered from place to place, although he lived mainly in Budapest, until March 1944. Then he sneaked back into Czechoslovakia and hid in Bratislava, before being discovered and sent to Auschwitz. Rabbi Teichtal perished on January 24, 1945 (Shevat 10, 5705), while being transferred from Auschwitz.
The book’s main message is that the Holocaust occurred to our people because we were not focusing on returning to Eretz Israel. Therefore, Rabbi Teichtal writes, the Jews must decide to settle in Eretz Israel as soon as the war ends, and thus they may be spared.
Thus, the Holy One Blessed be He made a special covenant with us and promised that we would live peacefully and comfortably during our exile in the lands of the nations, just like the inhabitants of the land and perhaps even better than them. Now, however, the Gentiles have taken away our very right to live; they have deprived us of all means of sustenance; they have broken our staff of bread. Therefore, it is clear that the Holy One Blessed be He has removed this “promise of exile.” It is as if He is telling us explicitly, “My children, I do not want you to remain in the lands of exile anymore. Therefore, I will no longer protect your stay in the Diaspora. Rise up, go to your mother’s bosom, and return to the Land of your forefathers.” (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, p. 223)
This is a radical departure from the author’s previous views, when he was a disciple of the rebbe of Munk?cs, a fervent opponent of Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel.
This clearly refutes the outcry of our master and teacher, the holy gaon of Munkatch z”l, the author of Minchat Elazar, who opposed resettling and rebuilding the Land. I, too, was part of his entourage, and I know that he based his entire opposition on the idea that salvation must happen with miracles and wonders. In his opinion, anyone who tries to [bring salvation naturally] denies the redemption which will occur miraculously. His writings are filled with this, and he cried aloud about it.
However, with all due respect, he, on his lofty level, assumed everyone to be in the category of “worthy ones,” as he was. In reality, though, this generation is not worthy (due to our numerous sins). Therefore, the redemption must happen with miracles disguised in nature….
I would like to add that if our mentor, the author of Minchat Elazar, [were] still alive today and saw all of the terrible decrees and massacres that have befallen us, he too would admit that we should leave the exile, go to Eretz Yisrael (which has been given to us by the kingdoms of the world), and no longer await the call of Mashiach. (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, p. 147)
The change in Rabbi Teichtal’s stance is a change in his understanding of how the redemption would come about: whether by miraculous or natural means. Although he had previously adhered to the view of the rebbe of Munk?cs that it would occur by miraculous means, the Holocaust changed his mind. He now believed that the redemption would come by natural means, and that, had the rebbe of Munk?cs witnessed the horrors, he would have agreed.
Rabbi Teichtal went even further regarding the extent to which one may collaborate with sinners to build up Eretz Israel. He maintained that collaborating with them for the purpose of building up the land could lead them to repent. This, too, is a substantial change from the approach of the rebbe of Munk?cs, who was opposed to having anything to do with the Zionists. Nevertheless, the ideological dichotomy is very salient, and Rabbi Teichtal regards relations with them as merely a provisional tool or a method of bringing them back to Judaism.
You may ask … Today’s builders have no inclination to seek out the Kingdom of Heaven … and their conduct reflects this fact!
I will answer this question based on Chazal’s comment on the verse Do not look upon me that I am black, the sun has tanned me (Shir HaShirim 1:6): … I was raised among the nations, and my external appearance has absorbed their dross. My internal being, however, is clean and white…. But, the Jewish souls which descend from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov are intrinsically pure and yearn to return to their roots….
… today’s sinners are like infants who were kidnapped by Gentiles, for they act under duress and all of their sins are unintentional…. It is a mitzvah to love them….
Moreover, they cherish the Land and refuse to desire any other land besides that of their forefathers. They sacrifice their lives for it, as is well known. Many have even died for the sake of the Land. We heard that during the Arab uprisings, many Jews who were killed in battle said with their last breaths, “There is nothing better than to die for the sake of our Land” [a reference to Yosef Trumpeldor’s last words]. (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 167–169)
Although Rabbi Teichtal frequently cites sources in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, on several occasions he notes sadly that he is quoting from memory, as he does not have books. Naturally, this led to slight inaccuracies here and there in the quotations, but if we consider that he did not have the books in front of him, his memory was astounding.
Rabbi Teichtal began writing the book in mid-1942 and completed it on November 11, 1943. The book has several introductions written at various points in the process, mainly in order to explain the turnaround in the author’s views and the purpose of the book. Rabbi Teichtal includes approbations given to Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer’s book Derishat Tziyyon as if they had been given to his book, even though the rabbis who provided these approbations were no longer alive when Eim HaBanim Semeichah came out. Rabbi Teichtal was sure, however, that had they been alive, they would have given his book their approbations. We can conclude from this that the message of Eim HaBanim Semeichah was problematic from the standpoint of the readership and the radical change in Rabbi Teichtal’s views. Consequently, he wanted to recruit all possible support for his message.