Escape from Lithuania

It was still dark that morning, but my father was first in a growing line outside a government office in a small Lithuanian town.  It was September 2nd, 1939 and Hitler had invaded Poland the previous morning.  Possessing a neutral South African passport, my father hoped to cross Poland and Germany and reach sanctuary in Switzerland.  While nobody knew when South Africa would join the Allies, my father knew it was a matter of days or perhaps hours, at which point escape from Lithuania would be impossible. As it turned out, South Africa declared war against Germany on September 4th.

When the office opened, my father anxiously placed his passport, literally a magic carpet to safety, on to the counter and took a seat to wait.  Every subsequent Jewish person, equally desperate to escape Lithuania, placed his passport upon my father’s and sat down in the waiting room.  When the official finally arrived to grant exit visas, he started with the top passport and called out the name of the applicant.  With a sinking heart, my father realized that the official would never reach his passport way down at the bottom.

Suddenly the official stood up.  Placing one of his hands beneath the tall pile and the other at the top, he crossed his arms and inverted the pile. Reaching for what was now the top document, he called my father’s name.

My father had arrived in Lithuania in 1932 to study at one of the great Torah academies of prewar Europe.  For seven years he immersed himself in the study of Torah and sat at the feet of masters.  It was to be more than five years after his escape before he discovered the tragic fate of most of his teachers and fellow students.  A huge burial mound, covering a mass grave in what is today a city park, bears silent witness to the massacre of the Jewish population.

It was while traveling through Germany that his train paused to allow a Nazi march/rally to cross the tracks.  He found himself entranced by the hypnotic effect of the lighting, the banners and flags, the marching, the uniforms and the music.  Those Nazis proudly exhibited such confidence in their cause that he found himself drawn to the sight, even reluctantly admiring it.  While this was long before anyone knew how murderous the Nazis would be, it was already abundantly clear that these were not nice people.

He subsequently told me many times that he wished he had never seen that Nazi rally.  Looking at something or someone is the very beginning of a relationship.  Have you ever watched visitors to the primate enclosure at a zoo?  I spend about 30 seconds looking at the baboons and chimpanzees and ten or fifteen minutes watching visitors peering intently into the eyes of the beasts with desperate yearning to find connection.  People often look into their dogs’ eyes seeking an emotional connection in the dog’s returned gaze.  A man in a bar who spots an attractive woman will stare at her hoping she’ll look back and their eyes will meet. (Of course some guys quickly avert their gaze in embarrassment when she does look back which accomplishes nothing at all)

My father wished he’d never seen that Nazi rally because he knew that looking at something or someone is the first step in a relationship with that thing or person.  Home Shopping Network is on television, not radio—eyes create connection and desire.  When a man chooses to avoid looking intensely and admiringly at women other than his wife he is utilizing this principle of ancient Jewish wisdom.  My father saw the Nazi march and therefore he felt slightly connected to them.  Many people wouldn’t have had my father’s self-awareness even to know that they felt faintly attracted to that demonstration.

And this is one thing we are taught when the Bible uses the phrase “and he lifted up his eyes…”  When you see something or someone and instead of averting your gaze you continue looking, you are establishing a connection.

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of the Jordan…..
Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan….

(Genesis 13:10-11)

Lot looked at the plain of the Jordan, connected with it and then not surprisingly, he chose it.

And he [Abraham]  lifted his eyes and looked
and there were three men standing…and he ran to meet them…

(Genesis 18:2)

Abraham looked at the three men and then ran to greet them.

And Jacob lifted his eyes and looked and behold Esau came…
And Esau ran to meet him and embraced him….

(Genesis 33;1,4)

Jacob looked at Esau and a connection was made.

And it was while Joshua was in Jericho that he lifted up his eyes and looked and behold a man stood near him….And Joshua walked over to him and said….
(Joshua 5:13)

Joshua doesn’t merely glance at a man.  He deliberately looked at him. The next step was almost inevitable.  He walked over to him and engaged the man in conversation.

It is worthwhile being both conscious and cautious about what we raise our eyes to see.   We should know that the first step on any road to connection is via the eyes.  If you don’t want to spend money, don’t go window shopping.  If you don’t want a connection with a particular person, don’t allow your look to linger.  Conversely, we can also use our eyes to establish positive connection.  My father regretted having cast eyes upon that Nazi rally but he often spoke nostalgically of what it meant to him to have avidly watched his teachers every day for seven years.  He described how inspired he felt by being able to see as well as hear the lectures from teachers who gave him a glimpse into the mind of God.

(Susan and I discussed another nuance of the phrase ‘lifting eyes’ on one of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV shows. If you want to pursue understanding this idea, you can find it HERE)

49 thoughts on “Escape from Lithuania”

  1. This is a very powerful, profound and life altering truth. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Your Father’s story was amazing and I’m sure that the question of why he survived, while others didn’t was always in the forefront of his mind.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That was only one of many questions he was constantly grappling with, Rebecca,
      He was always thoughtful and contemplative.
      And always grateful.

  3. Susan Gilliland

    I found this a very powerful thought tool this week, Rabbi. The personal story about your father was especially moving. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re welcome Susan–
      I think it is important to remember where we came from and to recognize that we are links in a chain that started somewhere and is heading somewhere.
      Regards to your special family

  4. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    I don’t think we misunderstood you Rebecca,
    Not for a minute did we think you were belittling anything! You didn’t sound uncaring at all. You didn’t offend or hurt us and we are grateful to have thoughtful and sensitive readers like you.

  5. I was misunderstood. I wasn’t in the least belittling what people went through. It was horrible and that is an inadequate word for the atrocities that the Nazis committed against God’s chosen people. What I was trying to say was to agree with what the Rabbi was saying, that we never realize how things can affect us. I’m so sorry if the memory from my childhood made me seem uncaring. It just drew my attention to the importance of every aspect of our life experiences. Even if it was just a passing glance. I sometimes say things wrong and I apologize for the misunderstanding, if I hurt or angered anyone.

  6. That there are so many among us who have no concept about that which this Thought Tool describes is frightening (never forget)

    I am also reminded of the Sunday School song I was taught (long ago)…many verses – each starts with one of the senses “be careful little eyes what you see….be careful little ears what you hear… careful little mouths what you say…be careful little hands what you do…for the Father up above is looking down with love…be careful….

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Funny how well we remember those long-ago lessons taught to us by good and sincere believers, Karen.

  7. Rabbi, your comment about eye -contact between men and opened my eyes! (pun intended)
    As a 59 year old Aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome — now called ASD), I have a pare of conditions, eye contact with women and men. I always make and hold it with women, and they usually respond positively. staring with a smile and “Hello.” With men, if I maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds, it’s a challenge for dominance, and can lead in an unfortunate direction. A big exception is public speaking, and even then, you must keep your eye-contact short
    I personally prefer being around women. They are much nicer to me. I suppose they perceive I’m not a threat to them. Since I’m not romantically interested, I’m “safe.” (I AM!)
    Other men find me a threat, either to their power or tbeir current girlfriends.
    I’ve been married 35 years and nothing changes.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Timothy,
      for giving me even this brief glimpse into your life complicated by ASD as it is. May you enjoy many more years of happily married life.

  8. I was also reminded of Eve’s temptation by the serpent and the fruit that was pleasing to the eyes. It all began with Eve looking upon the serpent, listening to his words and looking upon the fruit. As a child we sang a song in Bible School and one of the lines says, “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little eyes what you see.” What we see can have long lasting effect upon us and all those we come in contact with and it’s up to us whether that effect is negative or positive. Your Father chose the positive and because of that you and everyone you teach through your ministry are still being taught and touched by the teachers that lost their lives.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Rebecca–
      Please meet Karen below–did you both attend the same Bible school? The good and true songs endure as does the truth they bear.
      Your words resonate with me

      1. Thank you! Everything that you and Susan discuss and teach resonates with me. It’s like searching all of your life for something that is missing in your life. But you don’t know what it is or where to begin to look and then suddenly something clicks and you find it. Or you’re doing a beautiful jigsaw puzzle and you’re almost done but realize that the last piece is missing. It may be beautiful but it is incomplete and will never be complete until you find that missing piece. Thank you for teaching God’s word!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing, Michele,
      and warmest wishes to your lovely family

  9. Wow, excellent post! There are so many places in the bible where “eyes” or “directions looked” are mentioned and knowing what you just shared has increased my understanding. Thank you!
    For example, this seems to indicate that understanding comes from God.
    And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me…

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Nice catch on old Nebu, Ben,
      Excellent observation. Great hearing from you. Warmest regards to your outstanding family

  10. Hello Rabbi Daniel Lapin,

    It seems we are all connected in ways we don’t even realize. Could it be that clerk assisted your father in fulfilling his destiny by turning over the pile of passports? How do you know when you are doing what you are meant to do? I would love to know. Searching is interesting but no realization is a little discouraging. Any suggestions?

  11. “Keep my commandments and live, And my teaching as the apple of your eye.” Proverbs 7:2. So does this scripture fit with this teaching? That G-d is saying He wants us to have an emotional attachment to His Word, therefore Him?

  12. This is so enlightening! Thank you so much for these words of wisdom, I can identify with it in so many ways.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Precious,
      I hope this Thought Tool will improve your life in many ways.

  13. It is interesting that death was at your father’s door before he finally got the idea that just perhaps he might be in danger. Many years earlier it was becoming obvious that Jews in Germany were in danger, and some even left Germany, but the vast majority remained.


    Anne Frank provides the answer to that question: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” And good people don’t go around wiping out Jews.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

    The overwhelming vast majority of Jews in America today believe as Anne Frank believed: People are basically good. Unfortunately, that just ain’t so. It’s interesting how we don’t learn from history.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Matt–
      Your letter contains three things that are very true and three things that I think are less so.
      For instance, it is a mistake to criticize people of the past for not knowing the things we now know.

    2. Matt, you overlook that it was not exactly the snapchat era. Besides that God protects His beloved as is shown here. There are some who try to move through life by their own power and meet trouble everywhere and those who are led by God and are saved where ever they go.

      1. You are right, H., that judging others with the help of hindsight isn’t a good idea. However, I am sure my father-in-law would have strenuously disagreed that he was saved because he was more beloved to God than his teachers or fellow students. He was grateful to God for his salvation, but would attribute it as a gracious gift of God rather than assuming it was merited by any actions of his own. That many good people, deeply beloved by God, suffer and die is a reality of the world. We cannot understand it, but it would be wrong to assume that anyone who suffers “deserves” it or is not beloved.

        1. Dear mrs Lapin,

          I was not assuming that those who were murdered by the nazi’s were not beloved. It was more about your father in law’s escape being clearly led by God and that that was what God had planned for your father in law.

          I was referring only to your father in law being judged by the commenter, the commenter should be aware that no one can save themselves in the day of trouble, no one has the power or wisdom to do so except if it is in God’s plan.

          I referred only to the commenter coming off as wise in his own sight.

          I am a bible believing christian and I love and support God’s people. I do not believe that all those who died at nazi hands were not beloved. God never stopped loving Israel and He never will.

          Blessings to you,


          1. I’m sorry that I misunderstood you and thank you for clearing that up. Blessings,

        2. His ways are not our ways…our ways can be wrong – His ways – never wrong

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Dian,
      I do wish it was ‘my’ wisdom but it isn’t. It is ancient Jewish wisdom straight out of the Bible–I aspire only to be a reliable reporter.
      I am happy it inspires you as much as it does me.

  14. So dear Rabbi Lapin, would you consider sight/”lifting up the eyes” or hearing (or at least as it used to be called, “hear-ken-ing”, or listening with understanding & mental/spiritual assent, not unlike Samuel) to be the more important sense spiritually, or at least with more penetrating spiritual parallels? If one had the choice to be blind or deaf, which would be preferred and why? 🙂 (Of course knowing that God bestowed the senses each uniquely and essentially important and you can’t necessarily compare them.)

    1. Thought Tools always beautiful, brilliant, thought-provoking, valuable, and poignant!

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Thank you Celesta,
        But didn’t you overlook ‘articulate’, ‘eloquent’, and ‘informative’? And do I utterly fail to be also ‘entertaining’?
        Oh well, I suppose my fragile ego will have to be satisfied with the five beautiful adjectives you used.
        Seriously, I am encouraged greatly by your kind remarks.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Celesta–
      Sight goes straight to our emotional centers while hearing goes to our intellectual centers. So if you want to engage someone emotionally, use Skype or Facetime but if the interaction is to be purely intellectual, the telephone or email is perfect. Introducing emojis or little “how-I’m-feeling-little-pictures” into emails is an atttempt to add the sight component to a word medium.
      Your insight on hearken is terrific and new to me.

  15. Saddened, but enlightened

    Looking at this from the reverse, I can now understand why it feels so hurtful when a family member deliberately refuses to make eye contact: choosing instead to look at the floor, or in the direction opposite to which I am standing, even when sharing words…

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s right, Saddened,
      When a child you are scolding or disciplining looks at the floor, he is trying to emotionally disconnect from you.
      Then we often say, “Look at me while I am talking to you.”
      With an adult family member it is very painful. I hope you will be able to use this teaching go reach that person.

  16. Thank you once again, Rabbi.

    I receive these messages in the morning and can scarcely resist reading a Thought Tool before starting my day.

    The first passage that came to mind whilst reading this was
    “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help”.
    I suppose that following the principle you outline here, this scripture describes a lifting of the eyes which is not physical, but nonetheless similar in that it establishes a connecting with Him from Whom our help comes.

    Your comment on this would be most welcome.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      No comment really necessary dear Byron–
      I wish I’d thought of quoting Psalm 121. It is a perfect example of lifting up your eyes to gaze upon that to which you would draw close.
      Thanks for your insight.

  17. Rabbi Lapin’s father realized before the holocaust “It was aready abundantly clear these were not nice people. It seems to me the direction of liberals and the Democratic Party of the United States of America is a lot like the Nazi’s, for already they have begun to behave like the brown shirt gangs, marching in streets, and threatening people they do not like even at town hall meetings throughout Ameica they are intimidating everyone and are increasing hostile to Christians, Christianity, and the fundamental values of humanity and Judeo Christianity. Obama snubbed Israel and was obsequeious and fawning over Islam and Islamic countries while insulting Christians. I wish we had a place to go like Rabbi Lapin did in 1939. God using Trump stopped the left wing political satanic syndicate by God’s grace, but nobody knows for how long…

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear William
      Remember that Nazi is a word comprising the acronym letters for National Socialist. They were socialists! And it is the seductive allure of socialism that more than anything is shaping American progressive politics today. I explain this in great detail in our audio program entitled Tower of Power-Decoding the Secrets of Babel.

  18. Fantastic to learn about your father and how God was with him by the official turning the pile of passports right side up! God gave your father favor and a way of escape. Sad to hear how the Torah teachers and students were lost. You, Rabbi Lapin, are here today sharing Biblical truths because your father was given the gift of life. I’m so glad that is true. Rita Bennett

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s right, Rita,
      On how many seemingly insignificant events by how many obscure individuals does my existence rest? The vast incomprehensibility of the infinite human tapestry makes prayer inevitable. In our futile attempts to comprehend, we end up praying– praise prayer as well as request prayer.

  19. This lesson explains so much… understanding how vision can free us or bind us…empowers us.

    Thanks so much for sharing this wisdom and how the world really

    1. Rabbi’s Thought Tools and Susan’s Musings are why this Catholic girl has a Rabbi! Thanks for another provocative column.

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Everyone, dear Kristin, needs a rabbi!
        Yes, even Catholic girls!
        Appreciate your kind words but “provocative”? Since when is telling the simple truth provocative?
        But of course you’re right. To those living in the cave, the man with a flashlight is indeed a provocateur.

        1. Perhaps she ment thought provoking but it got lost in translation. It happens to me all the time. Blessings to the caring Lapin family.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Forsberg,
      Yes, gazing longingly at something only increases our yearning for it.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart