Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mumbai (Bombay) Massacre of Jews

Not all Jews, even the Torah-observant Jews among us, even Chassidic Jews, count themselves as Chabad Jews. There are doctrinal differences, sometimes very significant, that individuate Chabad from the larger normative Orthodox community. Particularly, there are real issues of profound halakhic significance concerning the place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the constellation of great Torah leaders of the past generation. For an overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, particularly in communities where yeshivas proliferate and Torah learning dominates Orthodoxy, the roles of late Torah giants like HaRav Aharon Kotler, HaRav Moshe Feinstein, HaRav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, and HaRav Eliezer Shach – and, yibadel l’chaim, HaRav HaChacham Ovadia Yosef – overshadow the role of Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Likewise, in the Chassidic world.

Nevertheless, virtually each and every one of us has been at some end-of-the-earth place where even MasterCard/Visa is not accepted, but where a Chabad House exists to provide a kosher meal, a local Jewish resting place, an address for Shabbat. No matter where in the world you are, there is a decent chance that you can catch a Mincha or a Torah reading on Shabbat morning at a local Chabad House, where one or another darling rabbinical couple will be there. When traveling through Oklahoma, my family knew it could stop for Shabbat in Oklahoma City because the local Chabad couple was hosting Shabbat meals. Others have told me their stories, from Hong Kong to Thailand. And for so many people who today are members of shuls like Young Israel of Orange County, their first step into normative Torah practice took place at a Chabad House or at a campus Chabad.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Holtzberg and their Mumbai Chabad House were just the quintessence of that image we have. Just looking at the photos, these were such beautiful young people who had just begun their life’s journey together, contributing so powerfully at a time when more Westerners are traveling to India as participants in the burgeoning global economy. Americans, Israelis, and others travel to India when their jobs compel them to do so, and – as with those compelled by the need to earn a living by traveling occasionally to Hong Kong or other such places – there is the Chabad presence to assure that Shabbat can be celebrated, that kosher food can be found, and even (thanks to Rav Holtzberg, who also slaughtered kosher meat) that kosher meat could be had.

It is the paradox of the Jewish experience in history that we so uniquely among peoples get caught in others’ cross-fires. The Christian Crusaders, en route to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel Moslem Saracens – it had nothing to do with Jews – stopped along watering holes throughout Europe to massacre whole Jewish bystander communities. Three centuries later, as a bubonic plague took hold throughout Europe – it had nothing to do with Jews – insane justification somehow was found to murder one-third of our people there. Three centuries later, Bogdan Chmielnitzki and the Cossack Massacres reflected Cossack poverty in Eastern Europe – it had nothing to do with Jews. Three centuries later, Hitler, the Nazis, and their European confederates perpetrated the Holocaust in the aftermath of Germany’s financial collapse post-WWI. That collapse really had nothing to do with Jews; it was the result of brutally punitive terms of surrender foolishly and cruelly imposed against Germany by the victorious and imperial-colonialist British and the French.

Not to mention medieval expulsions from lands as gentle as France (1182, 1306, 1394) and England (1290), the persecutions of Mashad, the mellahs of Morocco and the ghettoes of Italy, the June 1941 Iraqi Shavuot Pogrom after the fall of the Golden Square. In all these insane outbursts of anti-Jewish hate and murder, we were pedestrians, bystanders. We had nothing to do with the issues. We were just standing at the corner, waiting for the light to change.

And now it is a dispute between Pakistani Moslems and Indian Hindus regarding suzerainty over Kashmir. It is an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with Jews. (Ask the average Jew his thoughts about Kashmir, and he will tell you that he cannot afford it and buys sweaters made from Shetland wool instead. We do not know what it is, where it is, and -- maybe the ultimate indicator -- it is so far off our radar and alien to our world that there is not even a Chabad in Kashmir.) So these horrible IslamoNazi thugs and goons perpetrated these terrible murders in Mumbai targeting Jews in general, and this wonderful young couple in particular.

From these things come many tears, but great responses come, too. We may be certain that a much bigger, much stronger, far more widely visited-and-utilized Chabad House will rise in Mumbai. We may be certain that plenty of Chabad young Rav-and-Rebbetzin couples will step forward to serve there. And we may be certain that every Jew will feel, for years to come, that she must make a pilgrimage at least once to that Chabad House, even if she has never been to Jerusalem or to Oklahoma City.

Things happen for reasons. Bad things sometimes happen for the purpose of laying foundations for great things. As Rav Avigdor Miller brings out, all of our Patriarch Yaakov’s setbacks in his relationship with Esav were necessary for the expansive formation of a Jewish People. Had Yaakov emerged from the womb first, there would have been no animus when he duly received a first-born’s bracha. Had his father, Yitzchak, had better eyesight, there would have been no animus. Had there been no animus, Yaakov would not have been compelled to flee home for Charan. If Yaakov had not fled home, then his parents presumably would have done for him as Avraham did for Yitzchak: sending out a messenger to Charan to find him a wife. The messenger would have come back with one wife, not two.

If the messenger had come back with Leah, there would have been no Rachel and no children born to Rachel: no Yosef, no sale to Egypt, no subsequent relocation of the Jewish People to Egypt for the slavery, the Aseret HaMakot (the Ten Plagues), the Y’tzi’at Mitzrayim (the Exodus), and the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai. There also would have been no Benjamin born – so no King Saul, no Mordechai to save the Jews in Persia, no component alongside the tribes of Yehudah and Levi to comprise the Jewish People during our long Second Exile.

And if, instead, the messenger had come back with Rachel rather than Leah, there would have been no Leah-as-Wife, so no children born to Leah. Thus, no Levi, so no Moshe and no Aharon, no tribe to stand alone for G-d at the time of the Golden Calf, no Pinchas and no Eliyahu, no Chashmona’im and no Maccabees. And there would have been no Yehudah, so no Nachshon ben Aminadav to jump in first and begin Hashem’s process of splitting the Sea, no Elisheva to marry Aharon, no Calev ben Y’funeh to stand with Yehoshua for G-d’s word at the time of the m’raglim (the spies), no David HaMelekh, so no Moshiach.

But history is fact beyond "what-if." So there, in fact, was animus and hate. Yaakov came out second, and Yitzchak’s eyesight was impaired. Rivkah knew the plan because Hashem had revealed to her, but not to Yitzchak, Yaakov’s superior destiny. And, as a result, Yaakov ultimately had to flee for his life, and he ended up with two wives rather than one, along with children from Bilhah and Zilpah.

That is how setbacks work for Jews. One must wait twenty years (as during Yaakov’s sojourn with Lavan), and sometimes 200 years or even 2,000 years, to know how it all will play out. And this tragedy in Mumbai that has no words for its pain is not the final word on how the result of this incident will play out. May it be for a blessing, and may the memories of the holy martyrs, Rav and Rebbetzin Holtzberg, be for a blessing and inspiration to all of us.

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