Slaughter of the Lambs

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Mercaz HaRav Victims
13 Mar 2008
The victims of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. Top row: Avraham David Moses (16), Ro’i Roth (18), Neria Cohen (15), Yonatan Yitzhak Eldar (16); Bottom row: Yochai Lifshitz (18), Segev Peniel Avihail (15), Yehonadav Haim Hirschfeld (19), Doron Meherete (26)

This past Shabbat I thought about the story of the rabbi’s wife who did not divulge to her husband on Shabbat that their child had passed away, in order not to cause him sorrow on the holy Shabbat. At our Shabbat table we succeeded in speaking words of Torah, singing many Shabbat songs including new tunes introduced by two of our sons who learn in yeshiva, getting to know a new family that just moved to our community, entertaining other guests and enjoying the meals. But interspersed with all the goings on, my thoughts were on the eight yeshiva boys who had been gunned down while they were learning Torah.

Usually on erev Shabbat the radio station we listen to plays music appropriate to welcoming in Shabbat. This past erev Shabbat we listened to the live broadcast of the eulogies for the eight yeshiva students murdered while they were learning Torah in the library of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. The cries of the crowd of mourners, which numbered in the thousands, rang loudly in my ears and caused my tears to flow once again as I prepared our Shabbat meals.

The first eulogy was delivered by Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the head of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. He spoke sobbingly of the “eight sons that we have lost in one day, … This slaughter is a continuation of the slaughterous pogrom of 1929 in Chevron (when Arabs, armed with axes, murdered 67 Jews in their homes and synagogues)… The Land of Israel, which these eight loved so much and were so devoted to — we have to stop playing with it! We have to stop dividing it!.. Please pray for us, and for the yeshiva, that it should continue to grow and have influence…”

Rabbi Yerachmiel Weiss, head of the Merkaz HaRav high school, spoke next. In a voice breaking with emotion and tears he said, “G-d is just, and His ways are just… We have questions; but the questions are so difficult, so difficult… How is it possible to eulogize one Torah scholar on Rosh Chodesh Adar? But two? And three, and four, and five…? Your ways are so hidden, Master of the Universe! … In Adar, we increase joy — look how much joy You gathered to Heaven! They were in the midst of studying Torah, such joy, such purity… We have been left with such a hole… I just want to tell You, Master of the Universe, what great people You took: Yehonadav — he gave (nadav, in Hebrew) so much; what purity and simplicity… You took Yochai from us — he lives (chai) in G-d. What Torah study he did! Even while they were setting up for the Purim party, he came to learn Torah… You took Segev Pniel of the Avichayil family — what a family, and what valor (chayil) in Torah! … You took Yehonatan (meaning “G-d gave”) — what prayer, what Torah, what beauty… You took our dear Avraham David — just two days ago I had a long talk with him in his room —- what knowledge he had, what integrity, what music he gave us with his Torah reading… and the youngest, Neriah — the candle of G-d, his light will be missing from us…”

At the end of the eulogies someone announced where each funeral would take place. My husband and I estimated when the funeral of sixteen year-old Avraham David Moses from Efrat would take place in the cemetery in nearby Kfar Etzion. We do not personally know any of the families of the victims, but we share in their immense sorrow. When we arrived at the cemetery we saw only a few cars and guessed that the funeral procession had traveled first to Efrat for more eulogies. With a call to the Efrat security station our guess was confirmed. We returned home and set out later for the cemetery.

Another young victim of Arab terror would soon join others in the Gush Etzion regional cemetery. When we arrived there were many people on the cemetery grounds waiting for Avraham David, G-d should avenge his blood, and his family. People were scattered all around. Some people were in small groups, some in pairs, and some stood or sat alone. Many were learning Torah or davening Tehillim, (Psalms). Some were sitting or standing quietly in deep thought. The usual noise of a crowd was absent.

Before davening Tehillim I went over to a grave of a rav in his forties who had passed away from brain cancer several months ago. Attached to his tombstone was an invitation to one of his sons’ wedding which had taken place a few days before. This added to the deep sorrow I was feeling.

The assembly of hundreds started stirring and I realized that the funeral procession was coming. The tall and regal-looking pine trees stood in a circle and offered their shade on the hot day. I will never forget the face of Avraham David’s young brother who stood looking down onto his brother’s grave. When the funeral ended, each of those assembled placed a rock on the newly covered grave. There was no human sound, but there was the sound of hundreds of pairs of shoes trudging upon the rocky, dirt paths leading to the grave.

After placing a stone upon the growing pile, I turned away and started walking with the crowd. I spotted the woman who I thought was Avraham David’s mother standing silently with a few friends near her. I debated for a few seconds and then I approached her. I gently stroked her shoulder and she turned towards me. I said simply, “I met you at Sinai.” I embraced her and we cried. (A few days later during a shiva visit I learned that she is the stepmother.)

In the following days I heard and read about the eight murdered students. Doron Meherta, 26 was from Ethiopia. He started becoming interested in being religious when he was young. At first he had no rav, but he would expend much time and energy learning wherever and whenever he could. He was very modest and had great joy in doing mitzvoth. He had a tremendous streak of loving kindness. He leaves behind an 80 year-old father and a 66 year-old mother. Segev Pniel Avichayil, 15, a son of Rav Elyashiv Avichayil from Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion, had been previously injured in a terrorist attack on the car that he and his father had been traveling in in the Chevron Hills. He was a writer of poems, and posthumously the poems are being revealed. Sixteen year-old Avraham David Moses loved his learning with a passion. Neriah Cohen, one of eleven children, lived in the Old City in what today is termed the Moslem Quarter. (It had been a Jewish Quarter and the Arabs took it over.) He was the type of person that everyone wanted to be with. He was active in the movement to free Jonathan Pollard and he helped the needy. Yehonatan Yitzchak Eldar from Shilo in the Shomron, who had just turned sixteen, had a real joy of life which helped him greatly as a counselor for the B’nei Akiva Youth Movement. He didn’t want to miss Daf Yomi, the daily page of Talmud, and so he went to learn instead of being involved in preparing for the Rosh Chodesh (new month) party that was to take place later on that evening at the yeshiva. He was buried with his volume of Talmud—tractate Nedorim. Ro’ei Rote, 18, from Elkana in the Shomron was very spiritual. Whenever there was a problem he would quote Tehillim and say, “Ma’et Hashem huytah zot,” (“this was from G-d”). Whenever he would utter “Amen” the entire Beit Midrash heard it. Yehonadav Chaim Hirschfeld, 19, from the community of Kochav HaShachar was one of thirteen children. He was very serious about his learning. He volunteered and helped the needy. Yochai Lifshitz, 18, worked hard with whatever challenge came his way whether it was the army or learning. His father, a rav, was one of the people who eulogized him. He thanked Yochai for everything that Yochai had given him. He spoke about how Yochai aspired to emet, the truth. Rav Lifshitz spoke about the special Kabbalat Shabbat that awaited G-d with the arrival of eight holy souls.

Three boys from our community study at the Mercaz HaRav institutions. One of them, thank G-d was at home when the carnage occurred. Another one ran out of the Beit Midrash with many other yeshiva students, and they were sheltered in nearby homes in Kiryat Moshe. The third student was in his room when the shooting began. He hid for half an hour under his bunk bed. Later when security personnel combed the yeshiva for a possible second terrorist, Y.’s door was forced open and he was forced to hold his hands up until security could ascertain that he was a Jewish yeshiva student and not a terrorist. Upon his exit from the yeshiva he was met with the grim sight of the lifeless bodies. One of them included his close friend and roommate. There remains a tremendous amount of healing to be done.

What are we to do with all the pain? Should we become depressed over the gargantuan loss of eight of our sons? I have been listening to various people and their reactions. After the Shabbat Torah class in our Beit Midrash (House of Learning) one woman said that everyone should have a weapon. Another woman responded and said that they have a rifle locked up in their bedroom closet. If G-d forbid a terrorist should break into their room, what are the chances that they can get the weapon? A friend of mine said that more weapons is not the solution. She works in a youth village in eastern Gush Etzion. Unlike the Jewish communities that are surrounded by fences and guards, the youth village has no fence. They herd their sheep in the surrounding areas, which are full of Arab villages. No one dares bother them because they know that there would be an instant response by the Jewish boys.

This morning, before sitting down at the computer to write, my “soul sister” called. She spoke about the great pain following the murders and the need to understand what we need to do. She believes as do many people, that this tragedy is another wake up call from above. We need to improve, to do a tikkun with ourselves. The boys died al Kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of G-d’s name, while in the midst of learning Torah. How can we help prevent further calamities? How can we uplift our lives and do acts to honor these yeshiva students? How can we help our fellow man? How can we accentuate the spiritual and put less emphasis on the material? How can we make time for more Torah study?

We each have areas in our lives which need improvement. We don’t have to wait until the month of Elul to work on ourselves. Moreover we can each do good deeds in the merit of these boys and this will add meaning to their short sojourn in Eretz Yisrael.

Please pray for the full recovery of the following injured students:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.