Tibor Rubin was a Corporal in the Korean War when his battalion was ambushed by thousands of Chinese troops in the battle of Unsan, North Korea, in the fall of 1950. The Americans’ firepower soon dwindled to a single machine gun. The weapon was in an exposed position and three soldiers had already died manning it when Corporal Rubin took charge. He fought until his ammunition was gone. Badly wounded, he was captured and sent to a P.O.W. camp, but his bravery helped many of his fellow soldiers survive. And his valor does not end there. He spent 30 months as a prisoner of war in North Korea, and fellow prisoners later testified about his willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. What gave him the strength to do all this?
Tibor was born on June 18, 1929, in Paszto, a Hungarian shtetl with about 120 Jewish families, to Ferenc and Rosa Rubin. His father, who had served in the Hungarian Army during World War I and spent several years as a prisoner of war in Russia, worked in a shoe store. In the days before the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March 1944, his parents sent him with a band of adult escorts in an attempt to reach Switzerland, but they were captured.
Young Tibor, then 14, was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where, on his arrival, a commandant told him and his six comrades that none would get out alive. He barely survived the 14 months before the camp was liberated by American soldiers on May 5, 1945.
In a 2013 documentary film, Finnigan’s War, about veterans of the Korean War, Corporal Rubin recalled, “I promised the good Lord that if I get out of here alive, I’d become a G.I. Joe, to give something back.”
He eventually made it to the United States and enlisted in the US Army.
He had been steeled for captivity and privation, he said, by his experience in Mauthausen. In Korea, he declined an offer by his Communist captors to return him to Hungary, then under the influence of the Soviet Union. Instead, he made a habit of sneaking out of the camp at night and foraging for food, stealing from enemy supplies, and bringing back what he could to help nourish his comrades.
“He shared the food evenly among the G.I.’s,” Sgt. Leo A. Cormier Jr., a fellow prisoner, wrote in a statement, according to the Jewish Journal. “He also took care of us, nursed us, and even carried us to the latrine.” He added, “Helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him.”
Corporal Rubin’s father died in the Buchenwald concentration camp; his mother and a younger sister died at Auschwitz. In a long-overdue tribute, more than half a century later, on Sept. 23, 2005, Tibor Rubin, then 76 years old, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Asked where he found the strength to risk his life again and again for his fellow soldiers, he responded, “My mom was very religious, and she always taught us: ‘There is one God, and we are all his children.”
This week, parsha Toldot tells of the children and grandchildren of Abraham, and raises a fundamental question: What makes someone Jewish?
In Jewish tradition, every child born of a Jewish mother remains a Jew no matter what. The Talmud tells us: “Yisrael, af al pi she’chatah, Yisrael hu” (“A Jew, even though he may transgress, remains a Jew”).
So, what happened to Esau?
Last week, Avraham was forced to choose between his two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael. But one might surmise that a Jewish father is not enough; Avraham’s son will only be the next Jew if he is born of Sarah, his Jewish partner.
This week, that hypothesis appears to be shattered, as both Esau and Yaakov are born of the same Jewish mother, Rivkah. So why isn’t Esau Jewish?
It would seem that the aforementioned axiom applies only from the time of Yaakov, and in fact from the time Yaakov that acquires the name “Yisrael.” Only when Yaakov succeeds in becoming Yaakov (as well as Yisrael), will the Jewish people be born.
What is it about the struggle between Yaakov and Esau that signifies the completion of this journey and the definition of Jewish progeny? Why is Esau not a Jew? Yitzchak seems to think that Esau is the next Jewish generation — he intends to give Esau the blessings! — so why was Yitzchak wrong?
G-d creates to have created the perfect experiment: twins, born of the same womb, raised in the same home and even given the same blessings (compare Bereishit 27: 28 vs. 27:39: they both are blessed with the dew of the heavens etc.) as if to teach us that there is a characteristic that Yaakov develops irrespective of his genetic lineage that is the final sign of what it means to be a Jew. What is that ingredient?
Right from the beginning when Rivkah struggles with her pregnancy, she is told by G-d that she is carrying two separate nations (ibid. 25:23). The boys “grow up” (25:27), and Rashi explains that while Yaakov pursues study, Esau pursues idolatry. Indeed when Rivkah is pregnant the Midrash (quoted by Rashi 25:22) suggests that Yaakov wanted to get out when they passed halls of Torah study and Esau wanted to get out when they passed temples of idolatry. Rashi even suggests (26:35; 27:1) that Yitzchak’s poor sight is caused by Esau’s sacrifices to idolatry which cause smoke in Yitzchak’s eyes.
Rabbinic literature seems to suggest that the paradigmatic difference between Yaakov and Esau was Torah vs. idolatry. Yaakov is described (25:27) as the “ish tam yoshev ohalim” (the “complete” person who dwells in the tents, which represent Torah).” The Torah is described as complete as well — Torat Hashem Temimah (a total and engulfing reality) — as opposed to Esau who is described as the ish sadeh (the man of the field).
Pagan idolatry is essentially the worship of nature, but more than that, worshiping multiple gods creates a quid pro quo relationship: If you do what I want, I will worship you, but if not I will worship something else. When the Nile overflowed the Egyptians would offer her sacrifices, but if not, they would worship the sun. The inevitable result of this worship is that the gods were limited; the pagans considered them great, but they were simply bigger than man.
Judaism came to share a different message: we are not next to G-d in reality, G-d is the source of reality; Hashem is reality, and we are simply challenged to see ourselves immersed and surrounded by the reality that is Hashem.
And if all of reality is Hashem, then we do not worship based on whether we perceive G-d as doing “good” for us. Rather, it’s all good; the only question is whether we are able to see it as such.
his has a profound impact on all of our relationships as well. If our deities are worshipped conditionally we will inevitably relate to everything else in the same way. We will love our children if they do our bidding and we will do for our spouses out of an expectation that they will do for us, and if they don’t do what we want, why should we do what they want.
Judaism introduced a completely different type of relationship: G-d is viewed as our loving father; we love our children unconditionally and we don’t do for our spouses because we expect them to do for us but because they are part of who we are.
Perhaps that is why this struggle over who will be chosen is presented through the prism of the relationship between parents and children. Note as well that Yitzchak loves Esau because he is a hunter (25:28), whereas Rivkah simply loves Yaakov, with no reason given, as love is meant to be.
Even Esau’s relationship with Yitzchak seems to be painted as a quid pro quo.
He has no compunction letting go of the birthright and its inherent responsibility, it is only the blessings that he wants (and gets).
Judaism, however, is not a role but an all-encompassing reality. Yaakov will be the ultimate example of the idea that our love for and relationship with G-d is irrespective of whether it appears we are “blessed.”
Yaakov will undergo the most tumultuous life of any of the forefathers, yet nhe ever abandons his love for Hashem. Perhaps this is why Yaakov is associated with Torah and truth, because the essence of Torah as the source of truth is that we accept Hashem as the source of our all-encompassing reality.
It is this truth that will accompany us, the Jewish people, on our long journey through millennium of exile, and maybe it was this truth that guided Toibor Rubin in the dark cold winters of Mauthausen and North Korea.
Now, finally, with this deep understanding and the third Jewish generation in the land of Israel, the Jewish people and its message for a better world is ready to be born.
Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem.
Rabbi Binny Freedman is a columnist for The Jewish Star.