By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 75 – Mikdash Va’Kodesh, Reflections about the Shloshim
The words practically jumped off the page for me: mah Mikdash davar sheh’yeish bo netilas neshama af kodesh davar sheh’yeish bo netilas neshama, just as the prohibition regarding entering the Beis Ha’Mikdash when tamei involves the potential of taking away a life, so too does the prohibition regarding the kodesh food involve the potential of taking away a life.
I was asked to always submit each write-up a day in advance; so, for me, today marks the shloshim of the four kedoshim who were murdered in Har Nof – amongst them my rebbi, Ha’Gaon Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l, may Hashem avenge their blood. Although I do not live in Yerushalayim, it was very important to me to be able to visit my rebbi’s kever on his shloshim, so I made sure to get an early night last night so I could wake up early this morning to set out for Yerushalayim. I really wanted to daven in the minyan that my rebbi always davened in, but I didn’t quite make it in time. Because it’s Chanukah, they started fifteen minutes early.
Speaking of which, it is forbidden to say hespedim on Chanukah unless it is for a talmid chacham whose body is present. Although, to an extent, on this day and in this place it feels – at least for me – as if it is l’fanav, we cannot allow ourselves dubious liberties in halacha. So, I will try very much to keep the thoughts I write limited to appropriate reflections and chizuk. Also, I apologize for writing so much about my own thoughts and feelings right now; that is not what this column is for. However, I beg your indulgence given the atypical time and situation.
So, now, I find myself in the upstairs, main Beis Medrash of the Shul in which the horrific tragedy took place, waiting until it is time for the next minyan to start. I decided to try to use the time to write the next piece for this column. I opened up the Gemara to today’s Daf, and the words just jumped out at me: mah Mikdash davar sheh’yeish bo netilas neshama af kodesh davar sheh’yeish bo netilas neshama. Sitting in this Mikdash m’at which had in it the netilas neshama of such neshamos kedoshos thirty days ago almost to the precise minute, I could not help but be struck by these words.
We just finished davening. For me, there was a tremendous conflict of emotions. On the one hand, it’s the first day of Chanukah and it is a time of simcha, of hallel v’hoda’ah. On the other hand, the pain is still raw, and I couldn’t help but feel, “How in the world I am supposed to say Hallel now? In just a short while, I am going to be standing over my rebbi’s still fresh kever who was brutally murdered while still in his prime, and I am right now standing in the Shul in which it happened! How am I supposed to feel joyous and grateful at such a moment?”
But a thought occurred to me. Baruch Hashem a million times over that we are us and not them. How incredibly grateful I am to Hashem that He made me amongst those for whom even the indescribable sorrow of netilas neshama is ba’mikdash u’va’kodesh – a matter of kiddush Hashem, struggling through the difficulty, and ultimately growing stronger in our connection with Hashem as a result. As a sample of this, perhaps the primary example, just look at the messages the almanos of the kedoshim have been sending to Klal Yisrael!
The hakaras ha’tov to the Ribbono shel Olam for sparing me the absolutely, beyond-describe miserable fate of those for whom such brutal acts are a matter of pride and glory, is simply endless. And those who feign sadness while decrying the “violence on both sides” aren’t much better. We cannot thank Hashem enough for the fact that not only were we spared the fate of being amongst those who react to death and hardship with wild protests, rioting, and violence; but He also gave us so much more. Ha’mikdash v’ha’kodesh. Hivdilanu min ha’toim, v’nasan lanu Toras emes. Not only did He separate and distinguish us from the lot of the fallacious ones, He went further and gave us a Toras emes – infusing us with the utmost purpose and meaning in every aspect of life. And death.
Many Yidden marched to the ovens in Auschwitz with these words in their hearts and on their lips. Despite the gargantuan enormity of the tragedy and the incomparably intense sorrow and grief that it engendered, the joy they carried in their hearts that “Baruch Hashem that we are us and not them,” was palpable. And “not them” includes all of them. Not only the horrific perpetrators themselves, but also all the rest who could not be bothered to raise an audible protest or drop a bomb or two on a few train tracks. And it even includes those pitifully few exceptions who did do something about it, because they, nebach, are still belong to the society of “them” that we would never ever want to be a part of; and, more importantly, because they do not have the Mikdash v’ha’kodesh. They do not have the v’nasan lanu Toras emes.
So, yes, there were many parts of the davening today that evoked painful and poignant emotions, but it was a sadness mixed with a powerful sense of hallel v’hoda’ah. Chanukah is in the dead of the winter. Candle-lighting time is at nightfall. There is darkness all around. It is difficult. The blackness and darkness threatens to overcome you. But there is a candle burning brightly. A light that, despite the intense darkness all around, casts a soothing glow on anyone who chooses to gaze upon it. Despite our very real pain, we can say Hallel v’hoda’ah to Hashem, because He gave us the singular zechus that, for us, even the sorrow of netilas neshama is ba’mikdash u’va’kodesh.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. Driven by a passion to generate true kinyan Torah, both for himself and others, Rabbi Berman develops innovative tools to getting the most out of what we learn. In addition to having authored the warmly acclaimed Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim whose topics range from Halacha to Hashkafa, sends out daily emails of comprehensive chazara questions for the advanced Daf Yomi learner who really wants to retain his learning, and weekly emails of words of inspiration based on the Parsha. For more information on Reflections, to subscribe to receive these emails, or request a speaking engagement, Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.