Admittedly these are known fictional characters. But often fictional characters are rooted in someone’s reality. When Andre Schwarz-Bart wrote “The Last of the Just” he began and ended the lineage of the Lamed Vavnickim with Rabbi Yom Tov Levy and Ernie levy respectively. While I do not want to suggest the novel is reality, the realized pain of Schwarz-Bart’s experience in the 1940s was real and I imagine there were stories floating around during the atrocities of the Holocaust. We will learn a story or two later in this project.
The story of Rabbi Yom Tov Levy begins the novel “On that day Bishop William of Nordhouse pronounced a great sermon, and to cries of ‘God’s will be done!’ the mob moiled through the church square; within minutes, Jewish souls were accounting for their crimes to that God who had called them to him through the voice of this bishop…On the morning of the seventh day Rabbi Yom Tov Levy gathered the besieged on the watchtower. ‘Brothers,’ he said to them, ‘God gave us life. Let US return it to him ourselves by our own hand’…Men, women, children, dotards each yielded a forehead to his blessing and then a throat to the blade he offered with the other hand. The old rabbi was left to face his own death alone.”
Later the chapter returns to this story stating to Solomon Levy, “And therefore to all his (Rabbi Yom Tov Levy) line, and for all the centuries, is given the grace of one Lamed Vovnik to each generation. You are the first, you are of them, you are holy.”
Eventually, the reader meets Ernie Levy and learns of his life. He, unfortunately, lives during the horrors of the Holocaust and is faced with that pain. “Ernie realized that they were no longer driven by hate but were going through the motions with the remote sympathy one feels for a dog, even when beating him.” Eventually he succumbs to the torture of the Nazis and dies in flames. In the final paragraph, his friend who is the writer states; “But often too, preferably in the evening, I can’t help thinking that Ernie Levy, dead six million times, is still alive somewhere, I don’t know where.”
The pain in this book is a haunting reminder of reality. The Levys where not ordinary people but faced the same fate as so many. The spirit and courage that they had might be the very essence of the Lamed Vavnickim, that no matter the world around us, the horror and terror, the world will selfishly continue. Maybe that is what the Lamed Vavnickim know better than anyone else.