I have related in the previous chapters how prayer and faith gave me the force to resist despair and to make split-second decisions that saved me from certain death. Recent stories told by others confirm the fact that people who had faith in themselves, in Providence, in the higher destiny of man, survived the most horrible tortures, suffering inflicted by their enemies aimed at breaking not merely their bodies, but above all their spirits.
The prisoners of war returned from North Vietnam attested to the power of faith and prayer under immense distress. President Nixon, in his March 29, 1973, message to the nation, reported the following day by the Los Angeles Times, said:
t The U. S. News & World Report, in the May 14, 1973 issue, reports an interview with John S. McCain III, Lieutenant Commander, U. S. Navy. In his story he reveals that prayer sustained him in time of trial. He continued, "I was finding that prayer helped. It wasn't a question of asking for superhuman strength or for God to strike the North Vietnamese dead. I was asking for moral and physical courage, for guidance and wisdom to do the right thing. I asked for comfort when I was in pain and sometimes I received relief. I was sustained in many times of trial."
Even when the forces of evil capture and crush the body, the spirit of men can be free. To return to events during World War II, facts were related to us that fill me with humility and pride at the same time: humility because I realize how much we all need to strengthen our spirit; pride in knowing that some of my fellow Jews retained their faith in spite of the degrading efforts of their enemies. Let me select a few of the many examples of the triumph of strong belief in God and in man's spiritual nature over the destructive forces of unbelief.
Humans were herded in cattle cars, on their way to extermination. The rhythm of the wheels mixed with the wails and screams of the victims; despair, gloom, hopelessness everywhere, a cacophony of laments, a lamentable final chapter of human existences. Suddenly there was a hush, then a different concert, a melody arose above the sobs and screams. It was hummed at first in a minor key, then it was joined by many voices to change into an anthem of hope and triumph. Arms were locked, a ring was formed. Shadows began to sway, then to move and finally to dance and sing.
This was the dance of the doomed, the ballet of the dying. What were they saying? What was the strange lyric of this fantastic song? It was the inextinguishable faith: "I believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah:''
The word "Messiah" might be understood literally, as did those who sang that hymn; it also might be conceived in a figurative sense, as the symbol of a better future for man. It is this "perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah" which is the indispensable element of the building of such a better future; it is the positive element which must and will rise if mankind is to be saved from destruction.
In April, 1944, the well-known Rabbi Sholom Eliezer Halberstam, of blessed memory was brought to the Nyiregyháza ghetto in Hungary along with other victims of Endre and Baky. He was at that time eighty-two years old; his wife, eighty-five, also taken to the ghetto, died there before his eyes. A few days later the deportees were as usual herded into cattle cars that were sealed and departed toward their sinister destination.
In Auschwitz the son of the old rabbi was shot by an SS officer who knew why he used up a bullet on a deportee who could have been sent to the gas chamber. He had learned about the identity of the rabbi and his son; he was a sadist desirous of inflicting superhuman suffering on the Jewish leader. With the corpse of his son lying before the old man, he was asked by the Nazi officer, "Where is your God to whom you always pray? Why did he not save your son? Why does he not save your people? Do you still believe in Him?"
The rabbi's answer was reported by three survivors of the camps. It was as follows: "I firmly, unwaveringly, believe in Divine Providence."
These were his last words. The Nazi officer, grinning, but angry and embarrassed, pointed with his thumb to the left, which meant that the old rabbi had to be dragged to the gas chamber.
Grand Rabbi Joseph Weiss of Spinke, a resident of Szölös Hungary, sheltered refugees as long as he was able to. On April 16, 1944, he himself, along with the other Jewish residents of his community and of the nearby villages, was taken to the ghetto to be deported. The deportation from Szölös to Auschwitz was carried out in three different groups. The rabbi was in the last group that left on May 23rd. In the sealed cattle car, fully aware of the fact that they were being taken to their death, the rabbi en-tuned the song: "Oh Lord, purify our hearts that we may serve Thee truthfully." The other deportees sang with him. The faith of the rabbi enabled them to overcome their fear of dying; their bodies were doomed, but their spirit was victorious. Indeed, faith triumphed in that case over death.
The last words of this great man were taken from Leviticus 6:5 - "Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually, it shall not go out."
The Jewish people have a two-thousand-year history of dispersion and persecution during which they have been living by their faith. In their everlasting struggle they were nurtured by the unending belief in one invisible, but ever-present God. This made them together with the Christians, special targets of the Romans, who were accustomed to carve out their divinities in stone and wood, and who feared this unknown God. The Judea-Christian culture which formed the Western world since the collapse of the Roman Empire, has ever since remained the special target of the tyrants. Indeed, as long as this Judeo-Christian culture survives, the dignity of man will be upheld; there can be no lasting tyranny as long as the belief in man's spiritual destiny is still alive. Hitler focused his destructive power an the Jews as primary targets because they were helpless, but he aimed at the same time at all Christians, and in fact, at the dignity of man. His rage against all believers was irreducible. Deep down he knew, as the Communists know, that faith can never be extinguished in the hearts of human beings, for what characterizes us is our thirst far transcendence. Without faith man remains but an animal, who eats, lives, reproduces his species and dies.
In the history of our times there are chapters that have brought new insight into the power of faith as a weapon to be used in critical times of a nation's history. One of these chapters is the fight for the independence of India under the leadership of Ghandi, a frail man who wore hardly any clothes, let alone any murderish weapons. He invented the method of nonviolent resistance to the British who found it impossible to combat and had to give up finally. Ghandi preached that man is precious and that it is wrong to oppose one's foes with the power of weapons. He opposed them with the power of words that proclaimed his deep belief in the sanctity of the spirit. He taught that it was possible to resist wrong by not complying with the dictates of the oppressors, taking the risk of retaliation by the latter. He succeeded in convincing hundreds of millions of his people. The power he created consisted solely of the faith in the justness of their cause; this power proved to be more potent than prisons, tanks, machine guns or bombs dropped from airplanes. After Ghandi the people of India no longer exhibit this unity that was theirs during his lifetime, but the power of faith has been demonstrated and it is certain that it will be used victoriously again whenever the masses share a common belief, a common ideal temporarily suppressed by force.
One can say without exaggeration that the British themselves owed their victory over Hitler's Luftwaffe to the faith with which they were inspired under their God-sent leader, Winston Churchill. At a time when Hitler was at the peak of his power, when he boasted that he would erase England from the map, when Poland was dismembered, France lay prostrate and England remained alone to fight him, Churchill stood up and told his compatriots and the rest of the free world not to despair, not to lose faith. Churchill, who was then in his seventies, represented in those depressing days faith in man as bearer of the divine spark, as opposed to man reduced to the level of animals, malleable at will. He promised to his country nothing but blood, sweat and tears in the near future; he announced that the defenders of freedom would fight from the hills and the valleys, on the sea and on the land till final victory. The two fingers of his right hand extended in the form of a V became the symbol of hope not only in England, but in all countries temporarily trodden by Nazi boots. His words broadcast over clandestine radios, translated into several languages, rekindled the spark of resistance. His enemies feared and tremendously respected him. The V of Churchill's fingers proved to be much stronger than the V of the German "Vergeltungswaffen," the rockets they launched at defenseless populations across the Channel.
Churchill's inspiring words became as famous as Lincoln's Gettysburg address. He said:
The new world with all its power and might did step forth to the rescue and liberation of the old because a man in a wheelchair shared Churchill's faith. President Roosevelt essentially repeated Churchill's words when he proclaimed in one of his historic speeches that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Those who studied the methods employed by the Nazis to subjugate foreign peoples, know that they tried first of all to strike terror into the hearts of the latter to weaken their resistance. Roosevelt's words were no mere rhetoric: they were realistic, statesmanlike. Fear is the opposite of faith; fear is destructive, faith is constructive.
The history of the American nation is indissolubly connected with the belief in God. Did Washington not say, "We the people of the United States, acknowledge and admire the invisible Hand of a Divine Creator?"
Thomas Jefferson echoed this saying, "God who gave us life, gave us liberty." He then equated the belief of man in his spiritual essence with his desire for liberty. He was not wrong. The two go together. Whoever abdicates the former will easily subject himself to tyranny, because tacitly he rallies to the theory that man is no more than an object or an animal that can be directed by appropriate means toward a prescribed goal. It is a well-known tactic of all oppressors and jailers to try to break their victim's spirit.
In our days the American nation is faced with problems it has never had to face before. For two hundred years of its existence it was accustomed to an economy of abundance, made mare abundant every day by its own efforts. The waves of immigrants brought with them the desire to start a new life, to escape the narrow limits of the Old World. As soon as anyone set foot on the Land of Liberty, he unconsciously was participating in this feverish search for a better life which was defined by material values. The new nation amazed the Old World by its ingenuity, its zeal, its pragmatic spirit. Technological advances never ceased in this country; they made the Americans the leading nation of the modern world. Now, all of a sudden it is jolted into the awareness that this unlimited growth might be curtailed or stopped by shortages of raw materials. Americans might be required to give up some or many of
the luxuries they regarded in the past as granted, natural. It is not impassible that our standard of living will have to be reduced.
The question remains, in the face of the new situation, will America start on the way of decline, or on the contrary, will it profit from the new situation to eliminate some of the evil effects of uncontrolled material growth and become healthier, better both physically and from a moral point of view? Individuals and nations react differently to adversity; adversity may crush them or may make them stronger.
America will, I am convinced, become healthier, if it interprets the present difficulties as a welcome turn away from unbounded materialism, toward greater unity in a spiritual life. It is urgent to restore the splendor of some of the old values that were neglected in the long search for greater and greater prosperity. Those who proclaimed that "God is dead!" might now awaken to the fact that it is high time to resurrect Him in their hearts. If prosperity can no longer be attained easily, faith is within everyone's reach; it will offer us more than a mere substitute for money. A newly retrieved faith will turn material setbacks into moral blessings; when money is no longer god, then God will again lead our lives toward inner harmony, fraternity and a wonderful balance of our material, intellectual and moral aspirations.
It is probable that the present crisis of raw materials which is. liable to slow down material progress will be overcome within a relatively short period. Human ingenuity will find substitutes for those items that are in short supply, but we can use the interval between a renascent prosperity and the present crisis by rediscovering the faith in the Creator, that faith that gives us dignity, a meaning to our lives, wisdom to live well and to die well, values that can not be measured, that are intangible but without which material possessions are but the polished frame to the empty canvas of our existence.
It is preposterous to say that science is incompatible with faith. Goethe, who was a great scientist and a great poet, said, speaking about God:
Einstein, like Goethe, was searching for the secret of the universe, to discover "what holds the world together in its inner structure." He came up with the field theory, the tentative answer of a giant mind to his giant question. All answers must be tentative, and this is what gives joy and thrill to the searcher. Indeed, all answers will be eventually superseded by new ones, because the great design of the universe can never be completely grasped by the human mind; consequently all search represents a climbing, a step to higher understanding. Einstein knew that he, like Goethe, was filled with awe of the All-Embracer, in whose justice and ,kindness he firmly believed.
Happy are those who do not lose their faith just because they discover in-alterable laws of nature. The astronauts of Apollo 8 should be credited not only with being the first men to see the backside of the moon, but also for the spiritual lesson they taught us, which lesson perhaps transcends the technological achievement. For in their greatest triumph, they focused our attention on God. As they accomplished their difficult and complex mission, they were not overwhelmed by their own power; instead, at the height of their success, they displayed a humility that is so often forgotten in these days of progress. As they circled the moon they recognized that without God there would be no universe. While still in space they referred to the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, reminding us that God is the Creator of the universe, and that without His assistance, without His help, no mission, no task can be executed and fulfilled.
Again, during the Apollo 11 mission, when Edwin E. Aldrin discussed the symbolic aspects of the moon flight, he ended his remarks with a verse from the Psalms, "When I considered Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him? ... " ( Psalm 8:4-5). (Incidentally, is there not a striking resemblance between Goethe's thought and verses and the words of the Psalms? We know that the prologue of Goethe's Faust was inspired by the Book of Job. He was an assiduous reader of the Psalms.)
Our nation, having concluded its most significant project in space reaffirmed that we are a nation under God. Compare Aldrin's reaction to the overwhelming sight of outer space with that of the late Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin: "If there were a God, I would have seen him hovering somewhere in space!'' Humility in the former, arrogance in the latter: which of the two men was greater? Which of the two felt greater satisfaction at the success of his endeavor? Which of the two statements represents a loftier expression of the meaning of man's striving to understand?
Faith, people will say, cannot be forced upon anyone. You either have it or you don't. This is true, but it is also true that faith in man's higher destiny, latent in all of us, can be killed by a conscious and sustained effort to inculcate unbelief into young minds. This is what is happening in Communist countries. Human beings are brought up there in the doctrine that material prosperity is the supreme goal of human life, and that this goal can and will be attained by the proper organization of society. If ever this goal is attained - they are far from it yet - it will reduce mankind to ants in an ant heap, each person doing his or her job, interchangeable numbers, cogs in a machine. Woe to anyone who would dare to think that life has for him or for her no meaning; such a person would be ill - viewed and ill - treated and ultimately expelled from the human community. Dostoevski, in his poem, "The Grand Inquisitor," characterizes such a future in these terms:
Dostoevski predicted that men will run out of such a paradise, made for them by their rulers. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, our society is heading in the same direction as long as God, too hastily buried by our young rebels, will not be resurrected to hold vigil over our lives. Aldous Huxley, to whom I have already referred, paints a dismal picture of a society that has reached the ultimate in utilitarianism. The Brave New World of which he speaks produces human beings in the laboratory figuring out exactly how many are needed at every stage of production, from the leaders down to the scavengers. Each social class is conditioned to be satisfied, each individual is taught to believe that his is the best place in the best of the worlds. Individual thinking is only possible to the extent it contributes to the production and to the maintenance of public order; beyond that it is made impossible, for the intelligence level of everyone is determined by the proportion of the ingredients he receives in his bottle before birth. And the picture of such a humanity is exactly the same as painted by Dostoevski: it is one of total submission and of childlike happiness. However, just as predicted by the Russian author, a mistake is made and a rebel is born who thinks on his own; he incites people to run out of this earthly paradise. He is overwhelmed, life in the Brave New World continues as before ... but the question remains, for what purpose?
Pity the societies in which the elite cannot see the presence of the Creator in the perfect harmony of the celestial bodies. The Gagarins took into outer space the emptiness they had within them. They are incapable of enjoying the almost superhuman joy that prompted the American astronauts to sing the praises of the Creator. Pity also the society which worships money as the supreme good; it is bound to be ruined by its own accomplishments. Every technological advance will require new adjustments on the part of the citizens; insecurity will increase, unhappiness will be a characteristic corollary of progress ... unless the latter will be put in the service of ethical and religious values.
The following story is an apt commentary on the ramifications of our technical achievements. A pilot was reported to have made this announcement to his passengers, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are off course but we are making excellent time:" Whether or not this story is true, it reflects the trend of our time. The speed at which we travel has led our nation to land on the moon. The tempo of our time leads us to produce a staggering volume of commodities of almost infinite variety. Thus it appears that speed and production have become national goals. However, as the above story indicates, it seems proper and fitting to ask, are we, as a nation, off course?
Long ago when the Psalmist prayed to the Lord, it was not for speed he pleaded, but to "Make the way straight before me" (Psalm 5:9). Thus, for King David, right "direction" was more important than "speed:" Similarly, even in a time and especially in a time of amazing accomplishments, we must remember that, as we move ahead, we must be sure that we are moving in the right direction. Abraham Lincoln indicated that direction when he said, "I am concerned to know not whether the Lord is on my side but whether I am on the Lord's side." As long as our nation keeps this direction in mind, it will continue progress in technology and it will reconcile this progress with progress in human relations, a task of which we almost despair if we look at the present stage of the world. Nationalism in its most virulent form is rampant, the increasing perfection of weapons threatens to blow up the globe, and mankind is in danger of committing suicide. It is high time to turn away from the new idols and redirect man's attention to the Supreme Being, the only true and lasting good that never disappoints.
A last remark: it is necessary to emphasize that man is free to turn over a new leaf. It is not true that what always has been will always be, a sophistry that is often applied to the inevitability of wars among nations and groups. It is possible and urgent for every one of us to establish a sound relationship with God. To quote Dr. Victor Frankl, a great psychologist, who even in the hell of the concentration camps never abdicated his belief in the dignity of man and who survived thanks to his awareness that faith was sustaining him, "Either man's freedom of decision for or against God, as well as for or against man, must be recognized, or else religion is a delusion, and education an illusion. Freedom is presupposed by both, otherwise they are misconceived."