Haunted By Souls of the Past

Rabbi Aron Moss

Question:

I am a grandchild of Holocaust survivors but I feel haunted as if I went through it myself.... It seems so ridiculous to be this way here in Australia in 2005. Am I crazy?

Answer:

You are not crazy. You are a sensitive Jewish soul, and what you are experiencing is not uncommon. It reflects a deep spiritual truth.

There is a mystical teaching that all Jewish souls are connected. We are more than one family, we are one soul continuum. No matter what "affiliation" a Jew has (or hasn't), every Jewish soul is connected. This connection transcends both time and space - we are horizontally connected to every Jew alive today, and we are vertically connected to the Jews of times gone by.

We have all felt the horizontal connection. When something happens to a Jew on the other side of the world, it effects me as if it happened to me personally. When a Jewish athlete wins a gold medal, every Jew walks around as if it was their own victory. And the athlete himself feels as if he has won on behalf of the entire Jewish people. When we hear news of a tragedy in Israel, it hits us deeply. And the victims are uplifted by our feelings of empathy and offers of support. This is our horizontal soul connection to all Jews alive today.

But we are also vertically connected to the Jews of previous generations. Imagine a pyramid of souls, with Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish couple, standing at the top; each ensuing generation lies below them; and we, the souls of the present generation, lie at the very bottom, beneath layers and layers of souls of the past. The victories and challenges, celebrations and tragedies of those souls who came before us are on our shoulders.

Perhaps the images that haunt you are the collective experience of the souls which you are carrying. This is the challenge of living in our generation. It is a heavy burden we carry, so soon after the worst tragedy of Jewish history, in which the lives of so many Jewish souls were cut short. It is not an easy place to be, underneath the weight of all those souls.

We have a choice. We can buckle under the weight of this pillar of souls, it can overwhelm us and we can collapse. It may seem to us that being Jewish is just too heavy, and we can try to relieve ourselves of its weight. Or we can take another path. We can rise to the challenge and elevate the entire pyramid of souls. For we have a gift that was taken from all those souls above us - we are alive. Unlike those who have moved to higher worlds, we live in the world of action, where we can still do good and lift ourselves. And then, from our position on the bottom of the pyramid, we can lift the entire structure and elevate the souls of those on high.

The souls of all previous generations are looking to us. Their time in this world has ended, but through us, their unfinished lives can be completed. By living a proud Jewish life, by creating vibrant Jewish homes and communities, by bringing more Jewish children into the world, not only can we fulfil our own purpose, but we can fulfil the hopes and dreams of those souls who never had the chance to do so themselves.

You are not crazy, and you are not doomed to be haunted by the images of pain that weigh you down. Let them drive you to do more good and be more Jewish.

Each of us - descendants of survivors or not - have to ask ourselves: Does the horror of the Holocaust define my Jewish identity? If so, my Jewishness may become a burden I'd rather not carry. But if the Holocaust inspires me to deepen my Jewish identity and makes me more determined to live up to the Jewish mission, which is to transform the world into a G-dly place, then not only will I not buckle, but I will elevate those souls to higher places, and bring the world some of the goodness that those souls wanted to bring themselves.