shelos

When the Nazis arrived in the small villages of the Ukraine with their accursed Einsatzgruppen units, they followed a specific recipe: the Jews were ordered to assemble, any thought of resistance was crushed, and the entire Jewish community was led out of town away from prying eyes, usually into the forests on the edge of town. The people were made to dig ditches, undress and pile their belongings in ordered piles, and then to stand in rows one group after another in front of the ditches….

In one small village, as the Jews were assembled in a clearing in the forest outside of town, it was abundantly clear what was about to happen. The remains of the previous day’s action for a different nearby village were obvious; the ditches were already dug, the piles of clothing still present, and the machine guns set up on tripods opposite the ditches left no room for doubt.

In the midst of it all, one of the Rabbis of the town stepped forward and addressed the SS officer clearly in charge:

“Sir! Is it not customary for a prisoner to be granted a last request? I should like the opportunity to lead my congregation in one final blessing.”

Amused, the SS officer decided to grant the Jew this last request, whereupon the Rabbi turned towards the community and recited out loud the morning blessing:

 “Blessed are you oh Lord our G-d, master of the Universe, who did not make me of the Nations of the world (“… shelo’ asani Goy.”); Then the rabbi led the community in the final Vidui (confessional) prayers.

The SS officer, now curious asked the rabbi what the prayer meant and the rabbi explained he was thanking G-d for having created them as Jews and not as Germans, whereupon the SS Officer roared with laughter:

“Fool!” he said, “If you had been born a German you would not be standing in front of ditches about to leave this world! Why would you be thankful for being Jewish …?”

And the Rabbi explained: “For whatever the reason G-d has decreed some will be murdered and some will be murderers; we are blessed not to be murderers…”  - Rav Ephraim Oshry