Next Time in Joy

The Torah community of Eretz Yisrael achieved a brief moment of unity this past week. Unfortunately, it took the tragic slaughter of eight young yeshiva students at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav to bring it about.

Who could have even imagined before the attack the circumstances that could bring the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, Rabbis Rafael Shmulevitz and Yitzchak Ezrachi of Mirrer Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein of Hebron Yeshiva, Rabbi Asher Weiss, and Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, executve vice-president of Agudath Israel of America to the campus of Mercaz Harav?

Or that would provoke the fiercely anti-Zionist Satmar Rebbe to proclaim of the students of Mercaz Harav, the flagship institution of religious Zionism, “When a disaster like this occurs, murderers penetrating into a yeshiva, it is as painful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu as the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. This is a overwhelming tragedy for all of us. They were learning at that moment the same Torah we learn. The Gemara is the same Gemara.”

Speaking only a few minutes after the slaughter, Rabbi Reuven Leuchter, one of the closest talmidim of the late Mashgiach Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, said that anyone who did not understand the shooting in Mercaz HaRav as a threat to every yeshiva, anyone who tried to make distinctions between this yeshiva and another, is a dangerous idiot.

He compared such thinking to that of an imaginary Jew in Baronovich, who said to himself after Kristallnacht, that the Jews of Germany were all assimilated, and so their experience did not portend anything for Baranovich, and after the Nazis herded the Jews of Warsaw into a ghetto, that the Bundists were strong in Warsaw, but the Nazis won’t come to Baranovich. But the Nazis did come to Baranovich, and they killed Briskers and Bundists alike.

Those murdered seem to have been Divinely-picked to increase the identification of all bnei Torah with the magnitude of the tragedy. The bochurim who were in the Mercaz HaRav library when the assassin entered had all come to snatch a few extra minutes of learning while most of their classmates were preparing for a Purim party.

My son-in-law gives a weekly shiur in the Mercaz Harav high school in the framework of Ve’Dibartem Bam, an organization that arranges for weekly shiurim by avreichim in national religious yeshiva high schools in order to expose the students to the geshmak of yeshivishe lomdus. Normally, he gives the shiur on Thursday night. Last week, it was pushed forward because of the Purim party. Three of murdered yeshiva bochurim were past or present talmidim of his, though none of them needed anyone to spark their love of learning. Each was an unbelievable masmid.

At the Shabbos table, after the murders, my son-in-law described some of the qualities of these bochurim. Yochai Lipshitz, 18, was part of the furniture of the beis medrash. Whenever one entered the beis medrash, he was hovering over his Gemara, a big smile on his face. “Everyone came back tired from a hike – Yochai was in the beis medrash; everyone was at some kind of celebration – Yochai was in the beis medrash; everyone was studying for a test – Yochai was in the beis medrash.”

Yehonadav Chaim Hirshfeld, 19, according to my son-in-law, was an extraordinarily talented learner. Every month, he completed all of mishnayos – 18 perakim (chapters) a day. My son-in-law described his interest in hashkafic discussions with those whose path differed from his own, and how he pursued those discussions with a thirst to arrive at the truth and with genuine respect for another point of view.

It is hard to look at pictures of the smiling, baby face of Avraham David Moses, and imagine what kind of monster could have deliberately killed him. Only 16, he had already mastered a number of masechtos. Yet when he asked a question in shiur or sought to offer a solution, it was always with incredible modesty and with an effort to hide how much he knew. (I have included only the descriptions of the three talmidim to whom my son-in-law was close to. Equally remarkable stories are told about the other korbonos: Doron Meherette, 26, Roi Roth, 18; Yonatan Eldar, 16; Neria Cohen, 15; Segev Peniel Avichayil, 15, Hy”d)

THAT GREAT TRAGEDY has the power to unite us is, of course, not a new story. The Jews at the beginning of Megillas Esther are described by Haman, the master of evil speech, as an am m’fuzar u’m’furad, a scattered and dispersed people. The commentators have seen in this description a hint to the disunity and internal divisions among the Jews of the Persian Empire.

Only with the threat of annihilation hanging over them do the Jews of the realm acquire a degree of unity. First, the Jews of Shushan fast for three days for Esther before she presents herself, uninvited, to Achashverosh. Later, the Jews of the provinces gather together, in each place, to take vengeance on their enemies, who had been preparing their destruction.

In commemoration of the new found unity of the Jews of Persia, Mordechai and Esther decree the sending of mishloach manos ish l’reyahu – an expression of brotherhood amidst rejoicing.

If we ever hope to find a decree of unity in joy, and not in sadness, and to learn to appreciate the strengths of those whose approaches are not our own in their lifetimes and not just after they have been snatched away, perhaps the mitzvah of mishloach manos would be a good place to start.

Let us each undertake this year to send mishloach manos to someone outside our close circle, someone who might be surprised by our gift or who may not even know of the mitzvah at all.

Perhaps if we drew a little closer in happiness, we would not have to keep rediscovering one another in pain.

Published in Mishpacha March 19, 2008

Why not in joy?

It is part of human nature, I suppose, that external threats bring us together – the bigger the threat the closer together. Only in Israel have the magnitude and multiplicity of outside threats not made our society notably less fractious, unless a general apathy is viewed as a sign of unity.

Last night and this morning we read in Megillat Esther how a decree of annihilation first brought together the Jews of Shushan and subsequently those of the entire Persian Empire. When Haman first describes the Jewish people to Achashverosh, he refers to them as an “am echad m’fuzar u’m’furad – a scattered and dispersed people.” Many classic commentators have seen in those words a description of the disunity and internal divisions of the Jews of Persia.

But once Haman’s decree to destroy and kill every Jew issues, the Jews of Shushan quickly find their unity. They all fast for three days in anticipation of Esther’s uninvited approach to Achashverosh. Later, the Jews of all the far-flung provinces are repeatedly described as “gathering together,” as they prepare to face their enemies.

THE HORRIBLE SLAUGHTER at Mercaz Harav two weeks ago brought a measure of momentary unity within the world of religious Jewry. In part, the feeling of closeness reflected a general awareness that the murderer could have walked equally unimpeded into thousands of minyanim and hundreds of crowded batei medrash in Jerusalem.

But I think that the identification with the victims in Mercaz Harav went beyond “There but for the grace of G-d go I.” True, there should have been more haredim at the levaya (myself included). But who could have possibly imagined prior to the tragedy the circumstances that would bring the Belzer Rebbe, roshei yeshiva of Mirrer and Hebron yeshivos, some of the most respected contemporary talmidei chachamin, and the head of Agudath Israel of America to the citadel of religious Zionism?

Who could have imagined the fiercest ideological foe of Zionism in all its varieties, the Satmar Rebbe, telling his followers, two days after eight yeshiva students in religious Zionism’s flagship institution were mowed down in the midst of their studies, “When a tragedy of this magnitude occurs – murderers penetrating a yeshiva – it is in Hashem’s eyes comparable to the burning of the Temple. They were learning at that moment the same Torah we learn. The Talmud is the same Talmud”?

For two weeks the haredi press has been filled with detailed stories about each the martyrs and of the faith and strength of their families in their grief. There has been nothing half-hearted or restrained about the praises lavished on the murdered students or their families.

The haredi press has been similarly filled with stories of the community’s leaders reaching across the divide in the religious world: How the Belzer Rebbe secluded himself after hearing the news, despite the presence of thousands of his hasidim in Jerusalem to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his oldest grandson,, and how he went to the levaya and to visit the wounded in hospitals. How the Gerrer Rebbe, on his way to Jerusalem for a celebratory Shabbos with his hasidim, turned around upon hearing the news, and declared that it would be impossible to celebrate after such a tragedy.

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, one of the most respected Torah scholars in Brooklyn, speaking after the savage murders, was almost inaudible through his sobbing. “What did you do after you heard the news?” he asked. “Did you go on with life as usual? Did you eat supper as usual? HOW COULD YOU?”

A rabbi from Queens flew to Israel to make a shiva call to each of the bereaved families. And many of us in Israel did the same.

WHAT WAS AT WORK in the haredi community was, in part, a desire to reach across barriers and to break out of the community’s isolation. There is, I think, a desire on the part of many haredim for more chances to connect with their fellow Jews in common purpose, and the terrible events at Mercaz Harav provided one such opportunity.

That desire for a closer connection with non-haredi Jews perhaps explains the wildly disproportionate involvement of haredim in the founding of volunteer organizations serving the entire population, such as Yad Sarah and Ezer M’Tzion, and a host of medical referral organizations. It also explains, in part, the communal impulse to try to engage secular Israelis in Torah study.

The concept of Klal Yisrael, of all Jews sharing a common history and a common mission, is a live one in the haredi community. But it is also an abstraction. And like any abstraction, it requires the reinforcement of concrete experience.

AFTER THE EVENTS OF PURIM, Mordechai and Esther issue a decree that all the Jews of the empire should send “mishloach manot ish l’reyahu – portions of food each man to his friend.” Having found a degree of unity in the face of an adversary determined to kill and destroy every single Jew, they now sought to preserve that unity amidst rejoicing.

That would be a good lesson for us as well. Unity need not be only a by-product of fear or sadness. And it is not necessary to wait for tragedy to discover the considerable merits of those who follow a different approach.

One major halachic authority writes that the primary purpose of mishloach manot is not to do something nice for one’s friends but to make new friends among those from whom one had previously felt distant. Perhaps if we each reached out today and sent mishloach manot to someone outside of our close circle, we could begin to discover one another in joy and not just tragedy.

This article appeared in Jerusalem Post Mar 19, 2008

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17 comments to Next Time in Joy

  • meir halevi

    yaassher koach,
    I’d like to add one more lesson from Purim that the Mercaz Harav Kook
    Pigua has shown to Amy Yisrael, and that the Yeshiva has accepted to strengthen as a memorial to its Kedoshim H”yd.

    You briefly commented on the Hasmoda, remember the Tinokot Shel Bet Rabon in Shushan, Ir Habira.
    Mercaz will and is encouraging all Bnai Torah, especially in Yerushalayim, Ir Hakodesh V’HABIRA to increas Aychus & Kamus lzecher nishmat Hakedoshim H”yd

    We will work on ourselves to strengthen our Emunah. We rely on HGBH, kol deruchuv emet, and we accept all mitoch Simcha, bmyuchad MSHENICHNAT ADAR MARBIM BSIMCH. “in joy”.

    and of course, Unity.. with those approaches.. not our own”
    Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook z”tl’s “Mutav Shnikashel bAHAVT chinam
    msinat chinam”. Better to err with unrequited love rather than unwarranted hate”.

    There has been a tremendous outpouring of achdut. Rov Ruboof Am Yisrael feels the tragedy directed to us all, and there has been, in my view, a momumental reduction of bloggers, newspapers, etc, attacking their fellow Jews, especially if you compare it to the weeks prior to the Pigua.
    May we be zoche to continue with this level of Achdus, Ahavas Chinom and personally meet at the Korban Pesach this year.

    Thank you Rabbi Rosenblum. Simchat Purim to all.

  • Gilad Field

    Beautiful article. In this spirit a group of Jews from the “Dati Leumi” community in Beit Shemesh has decided to undertake a project to deliver mishloach manot to our Charedi neighbors.
    Unfortunately there has been much tension between the two communities recently (as I’m sure you have read about in the newspapers). It is our hope that by reaching out to our fellow Jews that we can stop being an am m’fuzar u’m’furad, and start on the path to being a unified people at all times (and not only in tragic moments).

  • HILLEL

    Perhaps, this is a tragic prelude to Moshiach.

    Moshiach cannot come when Jews are splintered apart. We are much more united now.

  • Garnel Ironheart

    First off, kol hakavod. An excellent post.

    Having said that, may I point out:

    Or that would provoke the fiercely anti-Zionist Satmar Rebbe to proclaim of the students of Mercaz Harav, the flagship institution of religious Zionism, “When a disaster like this occurs, murderers penetrating into a yeshiva, it is as painful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu as the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. This is a overwhelming tragedy for all of us. They were learning at that moment the same Torah we learn. The Gemara is the same Gemara.”

    Since there are currently two men claiming to be the Satmar Rebbe, I must assume it was the other one who was quoted in a Yiddish newspaper as saying that the reason for the massacre was because of the Zionist activities and beliefs of the yeshivah, in effect that they had it coming.

    Given it’s Purim time, we must remember the subtle note at the end of the Megillah, that Mordechai was acceptable only to “most” of the Jews of his time.

    We never do learn, do we.

  • Dr. E

    –Who could have even imagined before the attack the circumstances that could bring the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, Rabbis Rafael Shmulevitz and Yitzchak Ezrachi of Mirrer Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein of Hebron Yeshiva, Rabbi Asher Weiss, and Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, executve vice-president of Agudath Israel of America to the campus of Mercaz Harav?–

    Rav Asher Weiss is no surprise as he regularly gives shiurim to Hesder bochurim.

    One thing that I would hope to see more of is for some the Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbeim, etc. would have responded so warmly to commit to visit in the future–not for Shiva calls, but “just because”. I am sure that they would be most welcome to visit Mercaz HaRav or any other RZ Yeshiva. I think that the RY and Rabbeim have come to realize that regardless of what is or is not on the heads of the bochurim, there is Torah, Hasmadah, and Yiras Shamayim–just like in their mekomos haTorah. I think that they realize this themselves, but to the extent that they can reinforce the message to their own constituencies, that would promote greater understanding and mutual appreciation.

  • Shlomo

    Although you have expressed a truly noble sentiment in this post, your description of the events of the past week as a “brief moment of unity” is disappointingly precise: “brief” being the operative word.

    You quote the Satmer Rebbe as saying that no distinction should be made between Mercaz HaRav and any other yeshiva. Unfortunately, the Satmar Rebbe’s follow-up remarks demonstrate that he is hardly in favour of Jewish (or even Orthodox) unity. In the Haredi daily, Yom Chadash, the Satmar Rebbe is quoted as saying:

    “This attack happened not in a place of danger, but in the middle of the city (Yerushalayim). It could have happened anywhere, in any yeshiva, but it happened specifically in a Yeshiva associated with the “Mizrachi” stream.
    We cry for the murdered and for the pain of the families, but we also have to relate to the pain of the Divine Presence. Causing someone to sin is worse than killing him – the people of Mizrachi are the greatest “Causers of sinning” in this generation. They were a bridge between Haredi and secular, and killed tens of thousands of souls. We need to ask Hashem to stop the murders of the body, but also the murders of the soul.”

    The entire Yom Chadash article can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/2zzjtp

  • Mordechai Y. Scher

    A fine piece. Thank you for writing it.

    I was privileged to learn a little in Mercaz Harav. The dedication to Torah and hatmadah is evident every day of the year, day and night. Why is there a need to go introduce the HS bahurim to expose the students to “the geshmak of yeshivishe lomdus”? From my experience, it is already there in great quantity, displayed and exemplified by the talmidim and rabbanim in the beit midrash.

    Not that I object to anyone adding to the learning…

    ???

  • Yehoshua Friedman

    I had a very wonderful experience this evening and I would like to share it with all of you. I participated in a regional sium of Tractate Nedarim in the Daf Yomi for the Binyamin area, held in Tel Tsion, a hareidi community north of Jerusalem. Rav Kovalski, head of the Meorot Daf Hayomi, was the guest of honor. Also present were the rabbis of Tel Tsion, Kochav Yaakov and Kochav Hashachar, the latter two being national-religious “settler” communities. The bulk of the public was made up of regular daf yomi shiur participants like myself. My rav, Rav Yonatan Elran of Kochav Hashachar, is an alumnus of Mercaz Harav from the ’70s. I rode with him in his car. On the way there Rav Elran discussed the idea of running away from honor and said that anyway he didn’t expect the hareidi hosts to ask him to speak. He was wrong. Both he and Rav Botchko of Kochav Yaakov, the “Zionist” rabbis, were asked to speak. Another poignant moment was when a young fellow in a hat and beard, a melamed in a heder in Tel Tsion, talked about his previous failures to keep a seder learning and how he finally “made it” with the Meorot Hadaf Hayomi. I was struck by the extreme lack of stereotypes on both sides.
    On a more personal note, I had the great honor of meeting Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Samson z”l years ago. Rav Samson came from Europe to Baltimore where he became rosh yeshiva of the MO Chofetz Chaim (AKA TA). As a young rabbi he was privileged to host Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l of Lublin in 1924, a few months before he launched the Daf Yomi. He asked R. Samson if he thought of the idea. He responded with total enthusiasm and promised to start a shiur in parallel in Baltimore. And so it was. Rav Samson served as rosh yeshiva for 50 years while giving the daf yomi nightly. After he retired he made aliya and continued to give the shiur in the presence of his sons-in-law and grandsons for another 17 years in Arzei Habira in Jerusalem. He went through the Shas eight times before passing away at the age of 92. His grandson Rav David Samson came to learn in Mercaz Harav during that period, later was our first guest after my wife and I got married in ’74, and still later taught two of my kids. Rav Samson is gone but the shiur still goes on in Arzei Habira.

  • Chaim Wolfson

    Garnel and Shlomo, you certainly paint with a very broad brush! The Satmar Rebbe (whichever one) speaks only for himself, and maybe his for his chassidim. His words certainly don’t carry the weight in Chareidi circles that his great uncle’s did.

  • L Oberstein

    I want to share a tidbit about Rabbi Samson. When he retired from TA, thre was a gathering and he spoke. My late father in law, Chester Siegel, recounted that someone had told Rabbi Samson he needed to get a “hobby” now that he was retired. He should take up golf, maybe.
    Rabbi Samson said that it says that One who learns halochos daily is assured of Olom Hobby, that is his his hobby.
    My father in law learned in TA when it was still an afternoon school before it became a day school and was one of those few American born boys who were always frum and always loved learning. His playmates were people like Rabbis Avigdor Miller and Mordechai Gifter, they played baseball. He respected Rabbi samson and gave him a brocho at my wedding.
    The world was very different in those days and many do not begin to appreciate the nisyonos -the tests – they faced. Their descendants are learning in the finest yeshivos and raising doros yesharim due to the path blazed by such people.

  • cvmay

    ” Ve’Dibartem Bam, an organization that arranges for weekly shiurim by avreichim in national religious yeshiva high schools in order to expose the students to the geshmak of yeshivishe lomdus.”
    Wondering, if there is a similar organization of national religious avreichim available to expose Charedei in Yeshiva Ketanos to the teachings of Rav Kook, (emunah, national achreius, ahavas chinom, etc.)? If so, would they be invited to visit and teach the bochurim in the Charedei yeshivos, and how many bochurim would be encouraged to attend to achieve refinement in their avodas hashem?

    cvm (writing from ir hakodesh on motzei shabbat)

  • Dr. E

    cvmay writes:
    –Wondering, if there is a similar organization of national religious avreichim available to expose Charedei in Yeshiva Ketanos to the teachings of Rav Kook, (emunah, national achreius, ahavas chinom, etc.)? If so, would they be invited to visit and teach the bochurim in the Charedei yeshivos, and how many bochurim would be encouraged to attend to achieve refinement in their avodas hashem?–

    That’s the cue that Mashiach is waiting for, so that he may emerge from the “green room” and onto the stage.

  • Al Strap

    A brief Shiur on the significance of this tragic event — the murder of eight young men while they were learning Torah in a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim — was given by the distinguished Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Avraham Schorr SHLIT”A a few hours after it occurred, on Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar Sheni.
    The Shiur — called an “eloquent masterpiece” and a “must hear” by many — will probably be posted

    Until then, I would like to share my notes from the Shiur:

    1. As we have learned, “MiSheNichnas Adar Marbim BeSimchah.” The timing of this tragedy — Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar II — indicates that the Ribono Shel Olam intended to disturb our Simchah with an urgent message. What what He telling us?

    2. The Gemorah in Maseches Taanis (29a) states: “KeSheim MiSheNichnas Av MeMaatim BeSimchah, Kach MiSheNichnas Adar Marbim BeSimchah.” To the well-know question — What is the connection between the two? — the Sfas Emes ZT”L answered: The Ribono Shel Olam expects us to mourn the loss of the Batei HaMikdash. Our reward for doing so is Simchah in the month of Adar. According to Rav Shorr SHLIT”A, the fact that the Ribono Shel Olam disrupted our Simchah this Adar indicates that is He is unhappy with our mourning and concern for the Churban Batei HaMikdash. It is call for us to repent and mend our ways!

    3. Why is our era known as “Ikvisa DiMashicha” (the heels of Mashiach)? The Rosh Yeshiva quoted his father, HaRav Gedaliah Schorr ZT”L, as saying that the heels are the only part of our body where one can cut with a knife and the victim may not feel it. Unfortunately, we have become so callous that we do not sense the imminence of Mashiach!

    It is the fervent hope of the Rosh Yeshiva SHLIT”A that we will mend our ways through genuine Tshuvah and thus hasten the Geulah Shleimah, BB”A.

  • Rachel W

    Re CVMay’s comment:Wondering, if there is a similar organization of national religious avreichim available to expose Charedei in Yeshiva Ketanos to the teachings of Rav Kook, (emunah, national achreius, ahavas chinom, etc.)?

    Vidibarta Bam doesn’t seem to be sharing their Hashkafic points of view, rather simply a different way of learning Gemarah.

  • saul king

    “anyone who tried to make distinctions between this yeshiva and another, is a dangerous idiot”.
    LOADS of dangerous IDIOTS around. Hateful signs plastered on the stones of Yerushayalim by those dangerous IDIOTS.

  • Al Strap

    The passing of the very distinguished New York educator and activist Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum TZ”L (OB”M) is a severe loss for us.

    In connection with Comment No. 13, the admonition by Rav Avraham Schorr SHLIT”A regarding our obligation to mourn the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Jerusalem Temple) and pray for its reinstatement, my favorite part of the Web site of Rabbi Teitelbaum ZT”L (www.campsci.com) is his Museum of the Second Bais HaMikdash: http://www.campsci.com/museum/index.htm

    We hope and pray that G-d will look favorably upon all the wonderful accomplishments of Rabbi Teitelbaum ZT”L and our concern and yearning for the Bais HaMikdash, and — in return — grant us the Ultimate Redemption, Speedily in Our Days.

  • Steve Brizel

    I have just returned from an Azkarah for the upcoming Shloshim for the Kedoshim of Merkaz at R Oelbaum’s shul. R D Lander, R T H Weinreb and R Eisner, a RaM from Merkaz spoke to a packed house which included R Oelbaum and the Queens rabbinate. R Lander compared the kedoshim to R Akiva and R Chananyah Ben Teradyon and pointed out that the terrorists have now targeted the yeshivos and their talmidim. R Weinreb suggested that we should emulate Aharon HaKohen in our stunned silence . R Eisner urged all of us to emulate the Midos Tovos and Hasmadah for Limud HaTorah of the Kedoshim in our own lives. Am I the only person who is wondering why a local Jewish newspaper provided de minimus coverage of their lives and included a human interest story on the life of the murderer and his family?!