On the night of Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet, March 6, 2008, the Yashlatz Beit Midrash was being set up for the traditional Rosh Chodesh party. A few dozen of the most diligent students walked over to the Mercaz HaRav library next door to continue their studies. At 8:30 pm, a terrorist entered the campus and went on a rampage, murdering eight students in and around the library. Five of the students killed were enrolled in Yashlatz: Yochai Lifshitz HY”D, Yonatan Eldar HY”D, Neriya Cohen HY”D, Segev Avichail HY”D and Avraham David Moses HY”D. Yonadav Hirshfeld HY”D was a graduate of Yashlatz who was in his first year of studies at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. The other two students killed, Roei Roth HY”D and Doron Maharate HY”D, both studied at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. This coming week marks the one year anniversary since their death. Below is an excerpt from Princes Among Men, the memorial book recently published in their memory.
With your permission, I want to say something to you about love. Every parent of a teenager is afraid of making a fedicha regarding their child, especially in front of the child’s friends, but I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to say. You have such amazing friends, and they love you so much. I’m sure they’ll understand. They themselves told us stories about you that left me speechless. I feel such profound gratitude for having been your mother. I still am your mother, but it’s different, now. Sometimes I feel like you’re the parent now – I look up to you both spiritually and literally.
I keep mulling over the stories in my head, over and over, and I find myself thinking about you as a baby, as a child, and somehow try to make sense of the young man you became and the tzaddik’s death Hashem chose for you.
I try to make sense, and I keep coming back to a need to express what it was like knowing you as a child, what it was like to be your mother. I want to say it like it is, and if you were ever “difficult” it’s davka the hardest classes we learn the most from.
There are other things I learned from you just by watching you. One of them is what it looks like, tachlis, when someone truly guards his tongue from speaking lashon hara, and his ears from hearing it. Perhaps I will learn to emulate what felt like I was feigning. Another is your unflinching kibud em which left me reeling, thinking, “That’s not how a discussion with a teenager is supposed to end,” then pulling myself up by my bootstraps to copycat your gadlut, although twenty-four years your senior and reasonably mature by most standards. Seeing your tremendous kibud av influenced my ability to view certain stumbling blocks with humility.
I learned from your willingness to help when it was needed, even when it prevented Torah learning. You explained to me that in the case of some mitzvoth, including some forms of chessed, someone who had not yet acquired all of yesodot haTorah should defer the mitzvah to someone who had, whenever possible, but you never, not even once, used this principle to avoid helping.
There was a Sunday morning not long before your death that you were at your father’s house. You were after shacharit and were preparing to go back to Yashlatz. I called you and told you I was having a very hard time and asked if you could help get the little kids out to gan. You paused, because you never spoke without thinking first, and then said you’d be right over. Together we got Noam and Chai out to gan with more love and patience than I could have mustered by myself that morning. Irony of ironies, that experience of your noseh b’ol was so imprinted on me that there are now days that, in my grief, I need help with the little ones, and from the recesses of my heart that know love but not facts, the thought comes to my mind, “I could call Avraham David, Yashlatz is not far and Avraham David will help if I really need it…”
There are things that I have learned from you in my role as mother. You were a crying baby – there were times, even, that you were inconsolable. Someone who came during the shivah told me it is typical of great souls to have trouble adjusting to this world. Maybe. Maybe I didn’t burp you well enough. Maybe it’s all the same, in parallel worlds. The nights you cried inconsolably while I was desperate to sleep, I walked you up and down the hall with you on my shoulder, sometimes crying myself, praying aloud in song that Hashem should help you where I couldn’t, hoping the movement and song would soothe you, hoping the prayer would help us both. Most of us can’t be Choni haMa’agel, and I learned in those moments what prayer really is – although we ask for something in particular, we are really turning ourselves over to the will of Hashem with the knowledge that He will do what is right in His eyes and will take care of us no matter what, in the way He wills for us.
I learned as your mother how to set priorities. With a baby in my arms, time to “do things” became much scarcer, and in the moments I had, I learned to do what was truly most important first, learning that superficial measures of importance were no longer relevant criteria.
I learned about protectiveness, kana’ut, as it were, discovering a mother bear inside that was willing to crush anything that threatened my cub, and I learned that true protectiveness is not about my own ego or vision, but based on the needs of that which one would protect.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from you as a mother is about letting go. This has happened in steps, each of which built on the previous one. There is an inclination to want to posses that which one loves, as if ownership is the ultimate expression of one’s love. As a divorced parent, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that you and your brother are not property in a way that most parents don’t have to face so explicitly: although I possess relationships with each of you, I don’t possess you yourselves. In love, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Li and not sheli.
I raised children who had two homes, only one of which was mine, and my inclination was to designate them “home” and “Aba’s house.” This I realized would be alienating for you and disrupt your and your brother’s need to be at home in both places, so I let go of the desire to call my home “home” and we made up new names. One became “The Ima House,” the other “The Aba House.”
Especially when you and Elisha Dan were very little, the stretches you were with your father were very hard for me. I wanted to mope and I wanted to call you all the time to let you know how much I missed you, but this was my need and not yours. I knew that your need was to feel like you could relax and belong wherever you were at the time, with no guilt or responsibility for what the other parent felt. I reminded myself that, though I missed you when you were at the Aba house, you were getting your needs met appropriately, and I needn’t worry about you, so I worried only insofar as I had to meet my own needs. I chose to use this time to focus on parnassa and on friendships which would address my need for companionship and would give me an outlet for giving and receiving love.
There was more letting go when, in eighth grade, you told me that you wanted a high school with a dormitory. I wanted to reject this out of hand, because I knew I would see you much less, but deep in my heart I realized immediately that, after seven years of joint custody, you deserved the stability of living in the same place every day. I had never heard of Yashlatz, but it turned out to be a perfect fit for you, and I gradually came to realize that my days of cozy mothering, and even of regular conversations, were behind us. I let go of this with difficulty, but had a vision for the future that your bride and children would one day bring an element of that back, in its own time.
Then came the ultimate letting go. In one evening, through gradual understanding through which I already knew by the time someone told me, I had to let go of you completely, along with all my dreams of your future, your bride, and your children. I was not ready for this, as I was not ready for any of the steps of letting go when they first came, but sitting in the blazing sun in the courtyard of Mercaz at your funeral, the funeral of my beloved firstborn who was only sixteen-years-old, it dawned on me that everything up until now was basic training for the letting go I had to do now. Hashem graced me with the knowledge that you had gone to the Ultimate Aba House, and though I missed you terribly, you would be taken care of more perfectly than you ever had been in this world.
Please be a melitz tov, our advocate that we should draw close to Hashem in these moments, for your whole life, unto and including your death, was and is a Kiddush Hashem.
Thank you for being my son. I love you.
P.S. I want to thank Hashem, again, for letting me be your mother. There is no gift greater than the privilege of motherhood. I thank Him, too, for all the precious neshamot He spared, both those who were in the library and escaped with their lives, and those who were not quite so close, but whose presence I can no longer take for granted. Each and every one is a tremendous nechama, comfort, for me.
I thank Hashem, too, for the extraordinary people who have comforted us in our grief. You have been truly noseh b’ol (carrying the burden).
Rivkah Moriah is a wife, mother, mikvah lady, speaker and writer. She grew up in New Hampshire, studied at Oberlin College, and underwent Orthodox conversion in Cleveland. She moved to Israel 19 years ago.
This edited excerpt is reprinted with permission from a memorial volume produced by the senior class of Yashlatz that is available in Ivrit entitled Shemonah Nisichei Adam (Sifriyat Bet-El, 2008), as well as the recently published English edition entitled Princes among Men (Feldheim, 2009). The book contains a collection of impressions, recollections and divrei Torah written by family members, friends and teachers of the eight boys. For ordering information please call Yaakov on 646-810-8743, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or purchase online. More details about the book can be found at www.yashlatz.com/book.html
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.