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.