By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been just heartbroken since the indescribable massacre of four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue. I feel so helpless, to see people bloodied in their tallis and tefillin, like images of the Holocaust which I had naively thought belonged to a bygone era. One of the things that makes it so painful is feeling so far away. How can I feel more connected and what can I do? It’s pretty hard to be happy on Thanksgiving Day with all this happening.
— Sheila R.
I’m sure we’re all in the same boat; I, too, have spent the last days mourning, especially as more stories and information keeps coming in. My experience has been somewhat the converse; this has struck way too close to home. One of the rabbis murdered was a revered, beloved teacher in my son’s yeshiva in Jerusalem. Another was the husband of my daughter’s life coach and mentor. Another studied in the same yeshiva I studied in and was a close friend of several members of our community. All in a neighborhood I know well.
One thing we should all do is to find out more about the lives of those lost; to not allow them to be just another number. A Jewish historian once said that we should not say “six million Jews were killed in the holocaust,” rather “a Jew was killed six million times.” Each of those six million was an entire world and six million worlds were destroyed. Four more Jewish worlds have been crushed, together with the worlds of those around them — their wives, children, grandchildren, students and the thousands of Jews touched by these unique individuals. These four rabbis were, indeed, some of the unique individuals of our generation.
I will focus on one of them, Rabbi Twersky ob’m. Although very humble and unassuming, he was considered by many to be one of the foremost rabbinical scholars of our generation. He was the scion of Jewish nobility; from his father’s side he was of the great Chernobyl Chassidic dynasty, related to the renowned Twersky giants of our generation. From his mother’s side he was of Lithuanian Jewish nobility, the grandson of the renowned Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik. He fused together those Chasidic and Lithuanian worlds in the profound depth and breadth of his scholarship, making him one of the most colorful and multifaceted scholars of the rabbinic world today. At his fingertips were all of the vast volumes of the Talmud and its many commentaries, all of Midrash, Scriptures, authorities of Jewish Law, as well as the esoteric writings of Kabbalah and the Chasidic masters. This did not come about simply by osmosis; it was known by those close to him that Rabbi Twersky slept a mere three and a half hours per day and ate only a few morsels of food, the rest of the day and night was spent immersed in the profound writings of Torah. My son related it was well-known in the yeshiva that any matter one was studying, no matter how obscure, could be discussed with “The Rebbe” and he would always be well-versed in that source and could explain all difficulties. Over his decades as a teacher in the yeshiva, he taught thousands of students, but even those who did not study directly under him were profoundly affected by the holiness and purity of his very presence. When he entered the study hall, the hundreds of students would be inspired by the aura of his presence to the extent that any idle chatter would cease and all would raise the intensity of their studies. One could feel the awe of the Al-mighty on his face and his every action.
With all of Rabbi Twersky’s holiness, scholarship and piety, his students, family and neighbors knew him as someone who had two feet on the ground, and was completely involved in the lives of those around him. He was as great in his being a “mensch,” a caring, good person, as he was in his esoteric knowledge of Torah sources. I saw a video of him dancing with little children at weddings and other simchas, and stories abound about his loving and caring for students and all; many hundreds feel they lost their adviser and spiritual father.
The space allotted doesn’t permit continuing to expound on the amazing qualities of the other three martyrs; suffice it to say the Jewish people have lost four of its finest. Let us sanctify their memories by adopting some of their holy ways. Let us be kinder, more sensitive individuals to those around us. Let us all adopt a mitzvah or extra Torah study we might not have performed otherwise, and this will be a blessing to their memories.
I would add to this list the very special, dedicated Druze policeman who also lost his life defending our people and bravely prevented even heavier losses, may his memory be a blessing. May all the mourners be comforted and those still fighting for their lives be cured, and may we soon know the end of the spilling of Jewish blood with the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.