Parshat Zachor – The Shabbat before Purim we are all commanded to listen to the Torah reading commanding us to Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek – to remember what Amalek did to us when we came of Egypt. The link to Purim is obvious – Haman was an Amalakite.
However, it is that first word – Zachor – remember – that I wish to focus on and remember what happened on Rosh Chodesh Adar almost 10 years ago. On that day, the Jewish people suffered a staggering blow. On the evening of Rosh Chodesh Adar II 5768, a gunman burst into Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. For fourteen agonizing minutes, the sweet sounds of joyous Torah study were silenced by the deafening sound of gunfire. Eight teenage schoolboys from Mercaz Ha Rav and Yeshivat Yerushalayim L’Tzeirim were murdered and eleven more wounded.
This horrific crime was more than an attack on one group of yeshivah students. It was an attack on the Torah itself, the very heart of our people. Tens of thousands of Jews from across the entire spectrum of the Jewish nation joined the funeral procession of the eight martyred students and wept bitter tears over the tragedy.
I was there that night in Jerusalem in fact I was about to head over to Mercaz Ha Rav for a meeting with a prospective Rabbinical student who lived next door to the Yeshiva– I was running a few minutes late and as I closed my hotel room door a text came through on my phone
I will never forget what it said. ‘Terrorist attack next door – don’t come’. I sat numb in my hotel room as the news began to come through about what had happened. Boys had gathered together in the Library to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar and were learning Torah – and then the terrorist struck.
A tragedy of immense proportions happened, young boys had been murdered in cold blood, yet what were the calls emanating from Merkaz Ha Rav and the Torah community – calls for revenge – no, calls for blood – no. Pain and grief – yes, remorse and regret – yes, but most important of all – a deep seated mission to yizkor to remember with good deeds, to remember with Torah learning and to remember with a dedication to continue to live lives dedicated to truth and goodness – lives that the eight holy children lived.
However there was more, much more
All over the world, a movement took shape during the year to find an appropriate way to pay homage to the eight holy martyrs. The idea that was agreed upon was to write eight Sifrei Torah in memory of the eight students whose hearts beat to the rhythm of the Torah and who perished with its holy words on their lips.
They decided to mark this occasion with public Torah learning, with thousands of participants united under the banner of the Torah, recognizing it as the ideal for which these young men lived their lives, and proclaiming it as the source of the Jew’s unconquerable spirit.
And so it happened that on Rosh Chodesh Adar 5769 , the 1st yahrzeit of those 8 boys there was a Hachnasat Sefer Torah – a ceremony, a celebration of the completion of Eight Torah scrolls
Eight Torah scrolls for eight souls. These Eight Torah scrolls were brought together with singing and dancing through the streets of Jerusalem back into the yeshiva where the flame of those eight young souls was extinguished exactly one year later.
Many people struggled during the day as to whether they wanted to join the ceremony in memory of those boys, a ceremony that would be so interlaced with sadness and loss. The evening was called “Remembering and Continuing” and tens of thousands decided that they could not detach themselves from that sadness and loss.
Here follows an eye witness account by Moshe Kempinski of the Jerusalem Post.
‘The thunderous singing shook the large windows of the building. It was impossible to do anything else but jump up and down, and that very action added to the intensity of the moment. Thousands of people trying to reach to the very heavens with leaps and bounds.
As the Rabbi began the siyum (“conclusion”) ceremony, each bereaved father sat with his son’s Torah scroll. It was clear that they were not holding up the Torah scroll at all, but rather the scroll was holding them up and strengthening their broken souls and I remembered a story that I had heard a very long time ago.
After the end of the madness of the Holocaust, a small community tried to regather in one of the small towns of Poland. It was the eve of Simchat Torah, the holiday celebrating the study and reading of the Torah. When the congregants opened the ark to dance with the scrolls, they were shocked to find it empty. The scrolls had been stolen. At that point, the children began to cry uncontrollably. Several men simply picked up the children, some of whom were orphaned in the camps, and began to dance with the children. The Torah scrolls became children.
In Jerusalem, over 60 years later, the children became Torah scrolls.
So on Shabbat Zachor what are we meant to be remembering? Yes, remember Amalek and what they tried to do, but think beyond the plain historical story to the story that is still playing out today. To those who still have a hatred of the Jewish State and the Jewish people.
What were Amalek trying to stop– we were on our way to Sinai, to receive the document that would for evermore be our link to eternity. This Amalek could never allow. They wanted to sever that link. We must never forget that link – we do at our peril.
So Purim is almost here – a day when we can show to our children, to our grandchildren the beauty, the simcha, the laughter of our wonderful inspiring faith. A day when we give gifts to each other as well as to charity and to hold a festive meal of joyous abandon. A day to celebrate the gift of Judaism – a day commemorating our age old victory against Haman., a day when kimu v kiblu – we reaffirmed and reconnected to the Torah
And if each of us in the coming year makes a significant personal gesture to show that Judaism is alive and being lived , that the Torah is alive and being lived and learnt, there can be no more momentous signal to humanity that evil does not have the final victory because Am yisrael Chai – the Jewish people lives.
Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom