I suspect that most of us if asked, "What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?" would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l'ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.
These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H"yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might beredeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, his death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems to have sensed something of the sort. Death al Kiddush Hashem was a subject very much on his mind. In a June 2012 drashah, he told his talmidim, "Again, you have to be ready for Kiddush Hashem. One never knows. It could happen anywhere. It could happen in Moscow;'it could happen in Paris; it could happen in London: it could happen in New York; it could happen in Yerushalayim. An Arab could come up with a knife, and it could happen. Anywhere. Any place. Anytime."
But what does it mean that one's death al Kiddush Hashem is the natural culmination of one's life? I think it means that Hashem has found one's life to be so exemplary that He holds it up as an example for emulation for all to see. Thus the shocking, much publicized nature of the deaths.
Had Rabbi Kalman Levine, Hy'd, for instance, lived many more decades of intense avodas Hashem, he would surely have had a licthige Gan Eden awaiting him. But few outside his family and close friends would have known anything about him. My sons had to remind me of how a few years ago he made the very simple chasanah of a young man from the Ukraine with whom he had been learning with his acrobatic dancing and overwhelming joy. (At the shiva house, there were many tearful stories of those who told the mourners they would not have been frum today had Reb Kalman not taken the time to learn with them at low points in their lives.)
Now the whole world knows who Rabbi Kalman Levine was, and Reb Aryeh Kupinsky, Hy"d, and Reb Avraham Goldberg, Hy"d. Hashem acted in such a way that we would all know of these men, and the same is true of some of those still in grave condition. At the end of the shiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin, the rav of Kehillas Bnei Torah, described Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, may Hashem grant him a full recovery, and how he literally runs to minyan in the morning.
The message Hashem is sending us by highlighting these lives of Kiddush Hashem is that we must learn from their lives and use them as models for ourselves, each according to his madrega. That doesn't just mean a few moments of inspiration and some tears. It means reflecting deeply on what can be learned from them and taking on concrete kabolos to apply those lessons to our own lives. Without that, the inspiration will soon pass.
That is what we can do for the niftarim: We can maximize the impact of their lives of Kiddush Hashem in such a way that their tragic deaths do not go to waste but become the culmination of their lives lived on a very high level.
An old friend from yeshiva days called from Lakewood this week to share some of his discussions with his oldest son learning in Israel about the tragic events in Har Nof. (His discussions with his son constitute the basis for most of this column.)
In the course of our conversation, he recalled the murder a quarter century ago of Eliezer Schlesinger, H"yd, by a young Arab woman in a park near his yeshiva, as he and his chavrusah sat speaking in learning in the early hours of the morning.
At the time of the petirah of the young bochur described by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as "an ilui among the iluim, a masmid among the masmidim, tahor ve'kodesh, his personal kabolos came to light and were widely publicized, something that would never have happened except for the tragic circumstances of his death. My friend was then a twenty-year-old bochur, two years older than the niftar, learning in Brisk. He still recalls the powerful impact that those kabolos had on him. It had never dawned on him until those kabolos became public that an eighteen-year-old bochur could search his deeds with such rigor or that he could live with such high aspirations continually before him. It was thus revealed to him how much more was demanded of him, and how much more he could strive for. As the late Rabbi EfraimZuravin, who learned with with the murdered bochur in chavrusah said in a hesped, "Who knows if his entire eighteen years were not just to teach us that such bnei aliyah exist in the world and what an eighteen-year-old bochur can reach."
May we all be zocheh to use the horrible murders of the four kedoshim in the same fashion, and in so doing continue to add merit to the lives of those so brutally taken from us.