There is a very peculiar story in the book of Jeremiah. The prophet is commanded to get the people to repent by reading to them laws from a scroll. The people are very afraid and push Jeremiah to take the scroll into hiding so as to protect both Jeremiah and the precious document. However, the evil king sends his servant to find and bring him the scroll. The story tells us that it was winter and the king is sitting in his winter palace in front of a raging fire. While the servant reads from the holy text, the king does not become afraid or act to avert the divine decrees. Instead, as each page is finished, the king cuts that page from the scroll and throws it into the fire burning in the room. Page by page the text is destroyed, the indifference of the king and his insolence evident from his actions. Jeremiah is meant to be captured, but God saves him. The story could have ended there as, indeed, the biblical section does. Jeremiah runs away, and the scroll is destroyed, policies to change the fate of the people ignored.
The story, however, continues in a new section. God commands Jeremiah: “Get yourself another scroll, and write upon it the same words that were in the first scroll that was burned.” Jeremiah 36:27
Jeremiah’s prophecies contain not only prophecies of destruction, but also prophecies of redemption. Jeremiah, himself, lived through the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Babylonians – he lived through the inferno and prophesied about better days.
Deep in the forests of the Jerusalem hills lies a monument titled the “Scroll of Fire“, crafted by artist and Holocaust survivor, Nathan Rapoport, and located in a Jewish National Fund forest dedicated to memory of losses and heroism. Sponsored by the Bnei Brith of the United States, the monument stands 28 feet (8.5 meters) high and consists of 2 bronze scrolls facing one another, connected by a bronze ribbon.
The first scroll has engraved on it images from the Holocaust – Dr. Janusz Korczak and the children he accompanied to the gas chambers, a row of helmets of Nazi soldiers, figures from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, people standing behind barbed wire fences, also the figures of Jews on boat trying to gain entry to the land of Israel. This is the scroll which was burnt by the Holocaust. This is the people whose fate was thrown into the fire by evil leaders, and others who were simply indifferent or afraid.
The story could have ended there.
But it didn’t. “Get yourself another scroll and write upon it the same words that were in the first scroll that was burned.”
The second scroll has engraved upon it symbols of redemption – the olive branch, children holding a cluster of grapes, Rav Goren blowing the shofar at the Western Wall, the menorah from the Temple, Rav Aryeh Levine symbolizing Elijah who is the prophet of hope for the future, immigrants dancing the horah, and Israeli flags fluttering in the breeze.
The ribbon connecting the two has 2 verses of a prophecy of Ezekiel, who was living in exile in Babylonia in the 6th century BCE.
“I will open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O my people, and bring you to the land of Israel.” Ezekiel 37:12
“I will put my breath into you and you will live again, and I will set you on your own soil.” Ezekiel 37:14
We just finished with the holiday of Passover and now move to the remembrance of the losses and bravery during the Holocaust. (Other posts for Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day on this site are here, here, and here.) Both of these are opportunities to craft the narrative. We see that Jeremiah does not fashion a new scroll, but rather another scroll. We have no way to erase the tragedies of the past, but we do have the opportunity to create another scroll to add to the first one that was destroyed. To take what we have experienced and retell it in ways that are meaningful for us and push us not only for memory, but also to lead us to grow and flourish.
May the memories of those killed in the Holocaust be blessed through our remembrance.