The massacre at Kehillat Bnei Torah in Har Nof that left four widows and twenty-four orphans will never be forgotten. Whether or not we personally knew the four kedoshim or their families or the wounded, Am Yisrael is one family, and we are all filled with excruciating pain and sorrow.
The kedoshim, whose sheloshim we mark this week, were extraordinary men who loved Hashem, had great yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and were known for their chesed (kindness) to all. And each was devoted to his family.
We believe everything that happens is part of a just and good Master Plan. As Rebbetzin Bashi Twersky, the wife of one of the kedoshim, said: “We don’t have questions. If we’d have questions it’s questions of two thousand years…. My husband died in holiness and purity, in tallis and tefillin, after Shema Yisrael and in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei.”
As a resident of Har Nof, I’d like to share some aspects of the tragedy that may give us a wider, higher perspective on what happened. There was (and is) mourning and heartache, but also much chesed and many miracles.
- A kohen in the minyan left the beis medrash to wash his hands when suddenly he heard the gunshots; from where he was, he was able to escape.
- A man was on his way to that minyan when he decided to go to a different shul that was on the way.
- A man was up in the middle of the night helping his wife who didn’t feel well, and so did not go to that minyan.
- Rabbi Yitzchak Mordechai Hacohen Rubin, the rabbi of Kehillat Bnei Torah, didn’t feel well that morning and so he arrived a few minutes later than usual.
- An elderly man who usually takes a cab the short distance to the shul waited and waited but the cab didn’t arrive, so he returned home.
- A man who’d made sheva berochos the night before woke up too late for his usual early minyan at Kehillat Bnei Torah.
- When the shooting started, the twelve-year-old very shy son of Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein (one of the seriously wounded) suddenly let go of his father’s hand, quickly crawled toward the exit, and then ran out. His grandmother, the renowned teacher Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, said it was so out of character for him to do that. “The courage he found at those moments was a gift straight from God.”
- Rebbetzin Heller spoke of the miracles and the great hashgacha pratis that saved the lives of many people that day. “One thing is not more or less hashgacha than the other,” she said. “Everybody is supposed to be here a certain amount of time, the time they need to fulfill the purpose for which they were created. For a person to leave this world wrapped in tallis and tefillin, being mikadesh Hashem – we can’t hope for better than that.”
- An American yeshiva student, Josh White, rode by on his bicycle and saw Rabbi Goldstein lying on the ground bleeding profusely. Rather than distancing himself from the enormous danger, he ran to him, took off his own shirt, and used it to stop the bleeding – an act that helped save Rabbi Goldstein’s life.
- Rabbi Yaakov Tavin davens at that minyan regularly – except for Tuesdays when he davens earlier so he can help his wife with a son who has Down Syndrome. Rebbetzin Tavin recalls that when their child was born, she went to Bnei Brak to speak with Rebbetzin Kanievsky, a”h, for chizuk. “The Rebbetzin took one look at Binyomin Dovid and said: ‘You don’t know what shmira [protection] you have in your home.’ I thought I understood; that perhaps other things would be easier because this would be difficult. But now, almost thirteen years later, I understand. Binyomin Dovid was the only reason my husband was not in his minyan that morning. And his post-davening chevrusa, because he knew [my husband] wouldn’t be there, also davened elsewhere.”
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Rabbi Rubin of Kehillat Bnei Torah said at the levayah: “We must strengthen ourselves in emunah. We must internalize the knowledge that nothing is by chance, nothing is without purpose and meaning. Each of us must look inward and ask: ‘What can I rectify?’ Each one of us must make some small yet powerful change.”
The widows of the kedoshim asked people to take on something good for the sake of Am Yisrael. Doing so, they said, will be a merit for the neshamos of those who fell and for the refuah sheleimah of those who were injured.
They spoke and wrote of the need for ahavas chinam, unconditional love, among Jews: “With tears and hearts broken over the blood that has been spilled, the blood of our martyred and sanctified husbands, the heads of our homes, HY”D, we turn to our brothers and sisters…to stay united so as to merit compassion and mercy from on High. We should take upon ourselves to increase love and brotherliness between man and his fellow man, between our various communities and among different sectors of society…. Doing so will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands…”
Each of us is being called upon to actively respond to the terrible tragedy by using our unique gifts of emunah, tefillah, and good deeds, as well as by increasing our level of mitzvah observance, to help bring about the Geulah Sheleimah. In the words of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, “Every individual has to learn from this to strengthen himself as much as possible in Torah and yiras shamayim. HaKadosh Baruch Hu will help so that there will be no more sorrow.”