Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn
Rav and Dean at Yeshivat Yavneh
G-d knows, we have had our share of tragedies before. The explosive decimation of S’barro Pizza in 2001. The tragic suicide bombing of Café Hillel which took the life of Nava Appelbaum and her father on the eve of her wedding in 2003. Yossi Klein HaLevi called that one an “epic tragedy”.
The list goes on.
Nevertheless, there is something jarring about the slaughter in Har Nof this week that is touching a spot on our nerves that we are not used to. The people: Rabbis are the ones who have a certain connection with G-d. Yes, Judaism believes that all can have an equal connection with G-d but on the whole Rabbis can form a stronger relationship just by virtue of the fact that they’re the ones who tend to learn more Torah and Torah is the word of G-d. The time: To compound the depressing theological problem, these were men who were in the middle of Shemona Esrei – the apex of Jewish prayer. The moment where, as Reb Chaim Brisker puts it, we “stand so completely in G-d’s presence”.
Job and his suffering taught us that most of the time tragedy cannot be explained. If we picked up the pieces and carried on after the incomprehensible tragedies of the Inquisition and the Shoah then logic ought to dictate that this attack should not pose us with any greater difficulty in moving on. But it does. And we are bothered. And maybe we’re not as strong as Job.
Let us explore what we would have liked to see happen. I recall a movie that I watched in my youth: Highlander. It was a film about a certain species of people battling until there was only one left. They had one main rule: there is no fighting on Holy Ground, no matter who deems it Holy. L’havdil, maybe here we would have hoped that these animals would feel a sense of reverence when walking into another religion’s Holy Ground. There is a parallel in Tanach, in Melachim 1 Yoav ran away from King Solomon. He ran to the mizbeach (altar) to take and find safe haven. But alas the mizbeach is not a valid safe haven and the King had him killed. This wasn’t a safe haven for our tzadikkim, we wish it was.
Or no, maybe we would have hoped for another scenario. These terrorists came in with hate, rage and pain. They stormed the doors of the synagogue, burst them open, and ran in on their high horses, weapons aplenty. But at that very moment when they would have seen such sublime beauty – they would freeze right in the tracks, they would witness the majesty of a minyan swaying with kavanna and be converted forever. They would drop their weapons to the floor because who would harm the most beautiful spot on Earth. No. This too did not happen.
But there is a third scenario, which I like to believe did happen. When we pray, we engage in a transcendent experience, out of body. The Ramchal (Kitzur Kavannos) says that in prayer we have found a way to shed our earthly clothing, leave our dross behind and connect our soul with its source. Perhaps these Palestinians simply took their shells. Perhaps these kedoshim were already in a place of such sublime majesty, their neshamos were already dancing with Hashem in Heaven as they chanted the words of Shemona Esrei – “U’vYerushalayim Ircha B’rachamim Tashuv”. Yes, that must be what happened.
Their families will suffer this loss. Their children will struggle in a world without their heroes. But we believe that these titans of Torah are there in their hearts, in their DNA, in the pages of chiddushim that they have written. They will no longer find their bodies. They will no longer take comfort in their voice or their embrace. But they will engage them in the silent conversations of a neshama as the body goes to sleep.
In a class on Faith, given by one of the victims – Rabbi Moshe Twersky he says: I don’t know all the anatomy of the mitzvos and how what we do adds up to what G-d wants. But Hashem asks us to do what we can. That’s it. That’s why we’re here. A person needs to have an ongoing awareness that he’s here to be משמש את קונו – serve his Maker.
Chilling words from a man who lived his life and died while serving his Maker. Hashem asks us to do what we can.
In writing this piece I tried to do the best I could. I hope that’s enough.