A Chassid from the Nations

Introduction: A “chassid” is an ancient Hebrew term for someone who serves the Creator and His creation with love. Regarding non-Jewish chassidim, our sages teach:


"The chassidim among the nations have a share in the World to Come." (Tosefta – Sanhedrin 13:1)


Dear Friends,


About five years ago, on the 12th of Sivan, 5762, the Israeli magazine Mishpacha published a story on Guenther Gotschalk, a German Gentile who settled in Israel with his family over forty years ago. After much study and reflection, he and his wife finally decided that they could no longer remain Christians. Guenther explained that when they studied the history of Christianity, they became aware of how this religion became an enemy of Judaism, and how it implanted in the hearts of the European peoples a hatred of the Jewish people.


How did this hatred spread? As Guenther discovered through his research, the Church taught that the Jewish people were guilty of "deicide" - the killing of their "Lord"; moreover, the Church taught that the Jewish people are eternally damned and that they must eternally wander, since they did not accept Jesus as the "Lord." Hatred of the Jewish people therefore became deeply imbedded in European culture. The following story can serve as an example of this hatred:


Professor Harry James Cargas is a Christian historian and the author of many books, including, "A Christian Response to the Holocaust." He tells the story of how Father Tiso, a priest who became president of Slovakia, encouraged the murder of Jews; moreover, he loaded up 20,000 Jewish men, women, and children for deportation to Auschwitz. Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl managed to escape from the train and made it to the residency of the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the Slovak republic. He pleaded with the Nuncio to pressure Father Tiso to stop the trains and thereby save the lives of thousands of little innocent children. The Nuncio replied, "There is no such thing as an innocent Jewish child! You will all pay with your blood for the killing of our Savior!" (This story is cited in the ArtScroll book "Once Upon a Shtetl" by Chaim Shapiro.)

According to Guenther, hatred of the Jewish people still exists in Europe, and it is a major reason why many Europeans are hostile towards Israel and support the Palestinian terrorist groups.


After Guenther became disillusioned with Christianity, he discovered that there is a universal path within the Torah which enables all peoples to serve Hashem – the Compassionate One; moreover, this path enables them to pray to Hashem directly, without an intermediary. This intimate and direct relationship with Hashem was the traditional Jewish approach to prayer ever since Avraham and Sarah, and the classical example of this approach is the Book of Psalms. As a result of his study, Guenther could no longer accept the Christian doctrine that Jesus of Nazereth was divine, and that one could only approach God through Jesus. Like Avraham and Sarah, Guenther and his wife sought a direct relationship with the Compassionate One.


Guenther and his wife settled on Moshav Migdal on the edge of the Sea of Kinneret, in the north of Israel. They are vegetarians - a factor which makes it easier for them to keep a strictly kosher home. A major reason for keeping kosher, said Guenther, is because all of their five children converted to Judaism and became part of the Torah-observant community. Some other individuals from Germany joined Guenther and his family on the Moshav, and together with Guenther and his wife, they started a project to help disabled children in Israel. A few of these volunteers from Germany had already converted to Judaism, while the others decided to remain Gentiles and to follow the Torah's universal path; however, the children of those who remained Gentiles eventually converted to Judaism.


Since Guenther spoke so highly of Judaism, the reporter from the magazine asked him why he did not convert and become a Jew. Guenther replied: "I felt that I need to atone for the crimes of the Holocaust as a German Gentile, although truthfully speaking, there is no real atonement for this." Guenther also mentioned that he was inspired by the following prophetic verse:


"Thus said Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation: In those days it will happen that ten men, of all the different languages of the nations, will take hold, will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!' " (Zechariah 8:23)


After citing this verse, he described himself as one of the first Germans "to take hold of the garment of a Jew in order to hear the words of Torah." Today, Guenther visits groups of former Christians in Germany who are dedicating themselves to the Torah's universal path.


Guenther’s decision to follow Avraham’s teachings about Hashem reminds me of the following Divine promise to Avraham:


"As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be a father of a multitude of nations." (Genesis 17:4)


According to the explanation of the Netziv, a noted 19th century Torah sage and commentator, Avraham is the spiritual father of all the nations who will develop an awareness and knowledge of Hashem through Avraham's teachings. The Netziv explains that it is not part of the Divine plan that all national groups should become Israelites; therefore, those nations who accept Avraham's teachings concerning Hashem are to be considered his spiritual children.



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


A Related Teaching:


Maimonides cites another meaning to the above verse about Avraham. He explains that the Divine promise that Avraham will be the "father of a multitude of nations" teaches us that Avraham is the father of all the converts who join our people in each generation. This teaching is found in the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (The Laws of the First Fruits 4:3). Maimonides elaborates on this teaching in his famous letter to Ovadiah, a convert to Judaism.


According to Jewish tradition, the converts who commit themselves to the Torah path are considered to be the children of Avraham and Sarah. In fact, each convert is given a Hebrew name with the following additional words: son or daughter of Avraham and Sarah. For example, when we pray for those who are ill, we cite their Hebrew name and their mother's Hebrew name. If a male convert chose the Hebrew name "Ovadiah" and later became ill, we would pray for "Ovadiah ben Sarah."

Hazon - Our Universal Vision