Last Sunday we talked about the Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who under the most difficult of conditions remained not only steadfast in his own faith, but found the presence of God and therefore beauty even amid the horrors of the darkest days of the second World War. He was a light and a comfort to his people and helped them live rich and meaningful lives despite their hardships. He repeatedly refused offers of escape from the Nazi imposed ghetto and concentration camps in order to remain with his people and was eventually shot to death by camp guards.
Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943)
When we look at his picture, we see someone who seems so alien to us–at once ancient and culturally incomprehensible. But surface differences aside, he represents the epitome of a spiritual leader, pastor, rabbi, priest: a shepherd who wouldn’t leave his sheep even in the face of personal danger, a follower who continued to see the presence of God regardless of circumstances. For any of us desiring to truly follow our God and help others follow as well, Shapira is not alien at all, but as close as our next breath. There is so much more that connects than separates us when we begin to understand that our circumstances don’t dictate our awareness of God’s presence–our awareness of God’s presence in each moment dictates our perception of circumstances.
For anyone not familiar with the title of this post, it’s where Shakespeare’s Hamlet debates his own suicide as a cure for his depression. In an intensely charged news story that we discussed at our weekly study a couple of weeks ago, Jack, a 59-year-old retiree is trying to decide whether to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law to end his own life, of which he only has about 6 months left due to bone cancer. To avoid all the pain and loss of dignity and control to himself and his family, he thinking over the options he has, but is at least thankful that Oregon law provides such options to him in the first place. At present, the White House has instructed the Justice Department to prosecute any doctor who prescribes drugs for assisted suicide under federal law, regardless of state statutes. That decision has been stayed pending a court decision.