Remembering Hannah Senesh, the Poet-Paratrooper Who Died for Her People

September 30, 2021 | Meir Soloveichik
About the author: Meir Soloveichik is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel and the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. His website, containing all of his media appearances, podcasts, and writing, can be found at

Born in Hungary a century ago, Hannah Senesh came to the Land of Israel in 1939, where she joined a kibbutz and then the Haganah. She parachuted into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1944 so that she could sneak into her native country to rescue Jews, including her mother, from their looming fate. Just before crossing the border, she handed a handwritten poem to a comrade in arms, beginning with the famous words, “Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.” Meir Soloveichik describes what became of Senesh, and her poem:

Caught with a radio while crossing the border, Senesh refused, under terrible torture, to reveal the transmitter codes. . . . Senesh was, by all accounts, a beacon of inspiration to other Jewish prisoners, sustaining them with tales of the Holy Land and famously drawing a Jewish star on the window of her cell. She was executed by firing squad shortly before the Allies conquered Hungary. Though her mission was a failure, . . . she took part in the only Jewish military attempt to save Jews from the Holocaust—and thereby died for the Zionist principle that Jews should fight to defend Jews.

The Bible in Proverbs tells us that ner hashem nishmat Adam; the soul of man is a candle, or lamp, of God. It is a powerful and enduring image: the human soul is akin to a candle lit by the Creator, and even a small flame contains an extraordinary amount of power.

This is the biblical metaphor: the human being as candle. But Senesh gives us a more modern image, seizing on an invention that did not exist in the biblical era: the match. Lamps and candles are infused with fuel so that their flames sustain themselves, but a match brings forth a fiery force from within that is gone within seconds. Yet if the match successfully kindles another flame, even as it is consumed it still lives on, and its apparently transient life endowed with endurance, continuity. In Senesh’s words, the match is nisraf, burnt up, consumed, but it can ignite others in its few moments in existence. And so we can pronounce ashrei hagafrur, fortunate is the match.

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