A heartbreaking but meaningful story: A pitiful Jew, about to be shot to death by a brutal Nazi guard, makes one final request: “Allow me to say a few words of prayer before you murder me.”
His request granted, the Jew began to whisper quietly. Viciously, the Nazi cries out, “Dirty Jew, what are you saying?”
The Jew replies: “I am thanking G-d.”
“You wretched creature,” exclaims the guard, “You are at my mercy. I am about to kill you, and your god can do nothing about it. What in the world are you thanking him for?”
The Jew answers simply: “I am thanking G-d for not creating me like you…”
Above all, our hearts are shattered as they go out to the family and community of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was cruelly murdered by a terrorist in a cold-blooded attack on Jews gathered in prayer at Chabad-Lubavitch of Poway last Shabbos, the final day of Pesach.
But within the tragedy and grief another story has emerged, one that is more powerful than the senseless crime perpetrated. Millions, if not billions, of people are being gripped by the heart-wrenching, yet formidable words of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the Poway community.
In articles and interviews, from his hospital bed and at the funeral service, Rabbi Goldstein has relentlessly focused, neither on his pain and loss, nor on fear and anger, but on his determination to transform this tragedy into a force of goodness and kindness.
In a New York Times op-ed titled, “A Terrorist Tried to Kill Me Because I Am a Jew. I Will Never Back Down,” Rabbi Goldstein writes, “I do not know why God spared my life in my Poway synagogue. All I can do is make this borrowed time matter.”
Who has not been riveted while watching the rabbi lift up his bandaged fingers and, instead of lamenting the loss of his right index finger, declare in a defiant voice, “Use your finger to point in all directions and sing the song my father sang to me, ‘Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere’”?
Instead of expressing outrage at this horrific atrocity, he declares “Am Yisrael Chai” and, “From here on in, I am going to be more brazen. I am going to be even more proud about walking down the street wearing my tzitzit and kippah, acknowledging God’s presence. And I’m going to use my voice until I am hoarse to urge my fellow Jews to do Jewish. To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzas on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness.”
Even as the media tries to elicit details about the shooting from the rabbi, he insists on continuing to spread the transformative message that a little light dispels much darkness. Rarely do we see such an overt demonstration of positivity and broad vision; such an incredibly awesome expression of Kiddush Hashem.
And what a concrete lesson for today’s media – to the finger-pointing pundits of all stripes, some even stooping to blaming President Trump for this tragedy. Instead of mouthing platitudes and slogans, let them learn from Rabbi Goldstein to focus on what we can do to better educate our children and ourselves; what we can do introduce a higher sense of accountability in our homes and schools; what we can do to bring more light and kindness into our world.
And what a lesson Rabbi Goldstein offers the rest of us: Instead of focusing on our pain and discomforts due to setback or failures, let us learn from him to direct our feelings toward improving life. Instead of focusing on ourselves and our needs, let us concentrate on our mission to serve others – on what we can offer the world.
Pharaoh gave us Pesach. Haman gave us Purim. Antiochus gave us Chanukah. The terrorist in Poway– whom we will not name – tragically gave us one of the greatest acts of Kiddush Hashem in our day.
Needless to say, we must do everything we can to prevent such attacks from ever happening again – to heighten security, uproot haters, and eliminate their ability to carry arms. We must do everything in our power to eradicate such hate and evil from our planet. But the lessons we should learn transcend security. We are witnessing the story of how a soul can rise, transcend darkness and cruelty, and offer the ultimate and permanent solution to eradicating hatred and destruction: filling the world with divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.
This is the story we read in the Haftorah on the last day of Pesach, just around the time of Lori’s murder. And this is the story we should carry with us. We will live as Jews are supposed to live, a people divinely commanded to bring G-d’s light into the world, so that Lori – Leah bat Reuven – will continue to live on through us.