Our Jewish world has been shocked, shaken to the core. We are all speechless in face of the tragic, monstrous, inhuman act perpetrated against a sweet, precious, innocent, holy little boy lovingly called Leiby.
There has been so much commentary, so many eulogies, so many chizuk gatherings, so many editorials and articles written, not only in the Jewish media but the secular as well, that you would think that there is nothing more to add. But after all has been said and done, we remain tormented, still seeking answers. We are shaken … we are dumbstruck and bewildered. We have been tortured and oppressed; we have known the fires of the crematoria, the deadly fumes of the gas chambers. We have seen and lived it all, but still, this is different because this unspeakable evil came from one of or own and it happened in a community recognized as the cradle of Jewish life.
I have often spoken of the corruption and decadence plaguing our world, but cold-blooded murder was always foreign, unheard of among Jews. And then this – a killing so ferocious, so savage, so barbaric, that even the most vicious in the animal kingdom would be incapable of it. What can one possibly say? “Mah nomar et mah nidaber?”
It was with these feelings of inadequacy that I visited Leiby’s family during the shiva. I was very much aware that there was little consolation I could offer. Just the same, I felt a need to go and just be there. I met the pain-stricken bubbies, the sweet sisters, and Ita, the tormented mother. I wept with them and told them that their pain is the pain of Klal Yisrael and that all of us, the Jewish people throughout the world, are weeping with them, and more. Surely, the Ribbonoh Shel Olam Himself is shedding tears – and only those Divine tears have the power to bring consolation.
I asked Ita if she would like me to dedicate to Leiby my Thursday night Torah shiur, broadcast from our Hineni website to Jewish communities throughout the world. It was difficult for her to speak or find her voice, but she signaled her assent.
“What was his full name?” I asked.
“Yehuda Ben Nachman,” she whispered.
“But I thought it was Leiby.”
” Leiby was the nickname by which we called him,” she explained.
I tried to say something that could assuage their pain, even if it was in very small measure. I combed my mind for appropriate words of Torah that could impart a glimmer of hope and strength, and the thought came to me that when our father Jacob prepared to descend to Egypt with his family, he was overcome by fear. “What will be, what will be?” he agonized. How could his family survive in decadent, immoral, pagan Egypt?
And so it was that he sent his son Yehuda to pave the way with Torah: “Vayishlach Yehuda lifonov.” Yehuda was sent to be a trailblazer and build a sanctuary – a sanctuary in which the light of G-d would glow and illuminate the dense darkness that enveloped Egypt. And that gave chizuk to our Father, Yaakov.
“Your Yehuda,” I said, “even as Yehuda of yore, is preparing a derech for all of us so that we too may survive the dense darkness, the tribulations and terrible suffering that accompany the Messianic footsteps that mark our 21st century. And even as the knowledge that Yehuda was in Egypt, paving the way, brought nechamah to Yaakov Avinu, so may the holy, pure neshamah of your Yehuda ben Nachman bring nechamah to Am Yisrael in these horrific, dark times. May Yehuda’s merit bring the Goel Tzeddek bimheyrah b’yamenu – our redemption very soon.”
We spoke a bit longer, and when I left I was deeply moved, as I was when I had arrived, by the people who came from far and wide to express their solidarity, support, and love for this tragically stricken family.
In my heart, I whispered a prayer – “Almighty G-d, remember the thousands who searched day and night for Yehuda and the thousands more who came to accompany him on his final journey. And now, Your children have gathered once again to offer nechamah, consolation, and share in the pain.
“It was sinas chinam – unwarranted hatred among our people – that launched us into this long, torturous exile. For almost two thousand years we have been languishing in darkness, and after a while our eyes adjusted and we no longer realized we lived in that dense darkness until Yehuda’s tragedy jarred us and forced us to wake up.
“Hashem,look at us and see how each person feels the pain of the other. Although they may never have met Leiby; although they may never have known him, something deep in their souls was awakened and demanded of them that they come here to share the sorrow of this unfathomable catastrophe.
“In that merit alone, give us nechamah, Hashem, and allow Yehuda Ben Nachman to pave the way and lead us to Yerushalayim so that we may greet the Goel Tzeddek bimheyrah b’yamenu.
(To Be Continued)