Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Worst News

We come out of Shabbos here in Australia with the sad news that Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg have not survived the siege at the Chabad House. While we are just hearing this those in the United States were aware of this before Shabbos in their time zone.

The feelings are still raw. This news article on JTA states the facts and talks about the Holtzbergs and their impact on India. The article below - by Rabbi Shimon Posner of Chabad of Rancho Mirage - begins to express the anguish that most of us are feeling.


It's happened. We held out against what we didn't want to hear but now we've heard it... and what do we do? Do we rant? Do we shut up?

We mourn. In silence. But if we stay home and mourn in silence, how is anyone to think anything other than we are just taking a nice long bath? So we mourn silently in public. Without speaking of hope, without speaking of pain; we speak only of the matter at hand – the burial which is now incumbent upon us.

I am sure that there on the other side of the globe competent people are going about that grim task. We sit here and we watch them without seeing. We watch them with our hearts. Not the gruesome scene: whom would that honor, the martyrs or the cowards? No, we watch the sanctity, the pure and sacred bodies who served You with joy in life, and in death did not part from You – and by extension not from us either. And we hear echoes of times past and other places which move forward with glaring clarity -- remarkably en courante?

Rabbi Chananya ben Tradyon is being publically murdered by the Romans. They wrap his body in a Torah and light it on fire. And the saintly one proclaims –in his anguish – "the parchment I see burning but the letters they soar into the air! "

The archive footage comes back to us again of a young exuberant couple: "Hi my name is Rivkie!" And he, with a smile that is open and somehow knowing beyond his years. Beyond his innocence. Baking challah for hundreds, shechting chickens for hundreds, dancing, davening. And then footage of Nariman House surrounded on November 28, 2008.

And we cannot yet mourn because the grim service must still be done. And oh! I nearly forgot! Shabbos is coming! Work must be done! Giving out challahs, verifying the minyan, cleaning, shopping...

And somewhere deep in our psyche we remember; Shabbos we cannot mourn. Shabbos we must rejoice...we are commanded thus. So it is written in no less an authority than children's stories we read decades ago. So Eli Wiesel confirmed in his story of Jews under Communist rule The Jews of Silence. The elderly chossid who cries bitterly at a farbrengen and then "remembers" it is Simchat Torah and he demands everyone rejoice because they will not dictate when we mourn and when we rejoice; only the Torah dictates.

Our medium is virtual and we virtually gather together waiting for a grim and awful funeral procession to commence. We watch the letters floating in the air and we hear the cries of two mothers, two fathers, brothers and sisters and one two-year baby looking for Mommy.
Shabbos is coming towards us and we must go out and greet her. We will go into Shabbos knowing that Sunday looks grim. We will wish that Shabbos will just last all week. A Shabbos that would not end. A Shabbos that would permeate every corner of the globe and every cranny of the human psyche and envelope it in its warmth and glow and melt all evil from hearts which were not born evil or corrupt, until they too – they especially—will sing Shabbos!

I've digressed, and it is this digression which the Jew considers the straightest of lines, obscured though it might be by glaring headlines and the painful present. Good Shabbos... Shabbat Shalom. And as my children have taught me to say: TTYL.