The Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva held a memorial ceremony on Thursday night in honor of eight young students who were murdered in a terrorist shooting at the seminary last week. The gathering, attended by the families of the victims, marks the end of the traditional Jewish initial seven-day mourning period (shiv'a).
The evening began with mournful prayers of repentance, forgiveness and Divine vengeance. Afterwards, in tears,
From every corner love is returned to us.
rabbis from the yeshiva addressed the large number of people gathered for the memorial, eulogizing the fallen youths and discussing the Torah perspective on the tragedy. The eulogies and prayers continued for four and a half hours. Among the leading rabbinical figures in attendance were Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, the Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, and others.
'The Holiness of This Yeshiva'
Rabbi Eitan Eisman, a rabbi and teacher at the yeshiva, was first to speak. He said, in part, of the murdered boys: "Their sanctification of God's name led to a powerful unity. Suddenly, it is understood what the holiness of this yeshiva is - what waves of love it sends to every corner, and from every corner love is returned to us.
"Our job is to continue to broadcast the greatness of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel, the great connectedness to this land, and that the sufferings we are experiencing are the birth pangs of the Messiah."
Rabbi Eisman concluded his comments by saying, "Our path is the true path, and it was only for that reason the murderers came here. We will continue to love the People of Israel, the Army of Israel, and the government, with all of the piercing criticism we have of it."
'A Sanctification of God's Name From One End of the World to the Other'
Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the new Dean of the yeshiva, addressed the gathered mourners as well. He delivered his eulogy for the eight young terror victims with some difficulty, stopping every few sentences to choke back tears and collect himself, much like other of the evening's speakers.
"The voice of our brothers' blood calls out to us from this very ground, from this place that was elevated and sanctified with a dual sanctity – a blood sanctification – from this land, the land of Israel, soaked by the boys' blood," Rabbi Shapira said.
Of the victims of the Arab terrorist, Rabbi Shapira said, "What aspirations, what persistence, what wonderful character and what camaraderie, what honor of parents – 'you are completely lovely my beloved and have no defect.' It is said that when a yeshiva student dies, all his colleagues worry. How much more so when an entire group passes away and the mourning of the individual becomes the mourning of the community."
Regarding the sanctification of God's name, Rabbi Shapira said: "There is a kind of sanctification of God's name that reverberates from one end of the world to the other, a sanctification that all the House of Israel perceives, like the sanctification of God's name that took place here."
Rabbi Shapira emphasized that life must go on despite the terrible loss: "The yeshiva will persevere and be strengthened, and if there was a certain weakness in Israel in the recent past, then this awesome killing came and exposed the magnificent strengths throughout the House of Israel. The process of suffering brings to the fore the power of faith within us. The people expect a systemic revival to increase Torah, faith and to connect with the
[Rabbi Shapira] delivered his eulogy for the eight young terror victims with some difficulty, stopping every few sentences to choke back tears.
foundation stone from which we are hewn. That is our job at this hour, to increase courage, with combined forces, to elevate others and to be elevated in this study hall, filled with mighty scholars from the Land of Israel, who spend their entire lives acting with daring for the sake of the fulfillment of the Torah. As against the great desecration of God's name inherent in the murder of these eight lights, may God avenge their blood, we will increase the sanctification of God's name."
The yeshiva dean added, "We must all make an effort to establish more and more places of Torah learning for the sake of the elevation of the souls of the martyrs."
A New National Agenda
Rabbi Yerachmiel Weiss, who heads the Mercaz HaRav's Yeshiva High School, where most of the murdered boys studied, lovingly described his lost students.
He then called for a new national agenda for Israel: "We need corrective content [to this agenda], which purifies the normal health of fortitude. We need a very old agenda, ancient and new; an agenda that is an original Israeli Jewish statement coming from the source of life and wisdom."
'Who Knows God's Secrets?'
"It is hard to speak, yet it is impossible to remain silent," said the Chief Rabbi of Haifa and a graduate of Mercaz HaRav, Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Kohen.
The rabbi spoke of the first comforting of a mourner in the Bible, that of Aaron after the death of his two sons at the Tabernacle. In the Biblical description, supernatural fire consumes Aaron's sons.
"We see a reality in which from victims of fire we come to a point at which the entire nation mourns and is united," Rabbi Cohen said. "Your children sanctified the name of Heaven, the statement [said of Aaron's sons], 'I will be sanctified by those closest to Me, and before the entire people will I thus be honored,' was fulfilled in them. Who knows God's secrets in difficult and awesome moments such as these?"
The rabbi added, "When a holy soul goes to Heaven, there is great happiness there. We have the pain of separation and loss, but Above there is happiness."
'Become Giants of Torah Learning'
Former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, assured the crowds that came to mourn the terror victims that the souls of the murdered boys are in the highest levels of Heaven, "and God is receiving them with happiness. God will yet fulfill 'God of vengeance is the Lord; God of vengeance appear!' The vengeance of the Lord is in the increasing strength of Israel...."
Turning to the students of the yeshiva, Rabbi Yosef said, "I love every one of you. Don't let your hands weaken, continue learning Torah with greater determination and greater strength, to become giants of Torah [with] awe of Heaven, to spread among the people the words of Torah and to bring everyone closer to their Father in Heaven."
'They Were the Future'
Wearing his talit (prayer shawl), the Chief Rabbi of Rehovot, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook compared the terrorist
Just half a year ago, the yeshiva mourned the passing of its dean and leader, former Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira.
killings in Mercaz HaRav to the Hevron massacre of 1929. According to the rabbi, when the news of the brutal massacre of 67 Jews in Hevron was publicized, only one man, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, founder of Mercaz HaRav, was so sensitive to the deaths that he fainted upon hearing of them.
Rabbi Kook noted that just half a year ago, the yeshiva mourned the passing of its dean and leader, former Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira, the father of the current head. At the time, he said, everyone cried over the loss of a father figure, "and now we are crying 'my son, my dear son!'"
With sobs shattering his words, Rabbi Kook said of the murdered boys, "They were the future of the People of Israel."
Some Good News, As Well
As the memorial gathering got underway Thursday night, doctors at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem reported that 15-year-old Naftali Sheetrit was coming out of a medically induced coma, and was beginning to respond to stimuli. Sheetrit was badly wounded in the shooting attack, and was comatose and in serious condition for the past seven days.