Sheroes: Sarah and Hannah Senesh

A voice called. I went.

I went, for it called.

I went, lest I fall.

At the crossroads

I blocked both ears with white frost

And cried

For what I had lost.

— Hannah Senesh,  At the Crossroads (Hungarian poet and Special Operations Executive paratrooper  (1921-1944)

This is the voice of courage, a woman who was a hero to our people. She was called to choose— between living in relative safety in Palestine and risking it all to rescue Hungarian Jews during World War II. She chose to venture behind enemy lines, to fight for what she knew was right. Sadly, she paid for it with her life.

How similar to our foremother Sarah she must have been. Sarah, whose story begins in this week’s Torah portion when God says to Abraham,  וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ְהוָֹה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:: “Go forth [to yourself] from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house to the land that I will show you” [Gen 12:1], leaves all she knows to embark upon an unforeseeable destiny. She is called to action when she must venture behind enemy lines to serve time in Pharaoh’s household.  The narrative does not reveal what she experienced while she was there, but the choice she made to go ensured her people’s wellbeing. Perhaps it was because of this (and her other righteous deeds) that Sarah was blessed with a long life, as well as the legacy as hero, prophet (Rashi on Genesis 16:2 and 11:29), and first matriarch of our people.

Written for and presented at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in Los Angeles, California.

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