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22 Elul 5764 - September 8, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Never Remove Your Love from Us!

by A. Gefen

Oozing Wounds

Yeshivas Chevron, on the first night of Rosh Hashonoh 5690 [75 years ago, just over a month after the great pogrom in Chevron].

The atmosphere is serious and solemn, as befits this night. Yet here, it is oppressively so. The cause of the extra tension is not the Rosh Hashonoh that is about to be ushered in but the thought of the preceding one. That was when the dreadful, awesome decree was propounded, whose execution ten months later left all those presently filling the hall of the Beis Hava'ad Hakeloli as survivors.

They are suspended between heaven and earth, between hope and despair. Those who are not smarting from their own wounds, are smarting from the wounds of their friends. Feeling like broken shards and shadows of their former selves, they have gathered to celebrate the first night of the festival of Rosh Hashonoh. However, the hush that precedes the beginning of ma'ariv only serves to compound their uneasiness and their confused feelings.

During the `days of awe' that they all experienced forty days ago, during the pogrom in Chevron on the eighteenth of Av 5689, virtually all of them suffered the loss of some part of themselves. Over here sits someone who lost his earlobe; over there sits another, who was torn apart by the sight of the slaughtered martyrs in their death throes. Here is someone who lost his left hand; there is someone else, who lost a friend who was as close to him as his right hand.

Ma'ariv is due to begin in just a few minutes. Everybody waits. Here, a bochur tries to look into his machzor; there, another attempts to bury himself between the pages of a gemora.

There is no humming in the air, no excited anticipation of the onset of the Yom Tov. The atmosphere is so very serious and so sad that it seems just too heavy to be lifted. The congregation sit like mourners, their eyes lowered. The silence is only punctuated by occasional groans from this or that corner of the room. Their hearts swell. `Yom Tov is almost upon us but what is to become of us? Where is our comfort, our reassurance?'

The Choice

The Mashgiach, the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l, rises and leaves his place. A few pairs of eyes follow him silently. They watch listlessly as he approaches one of the bochurim, the highly esteemed Betzalel Shakovitzky (who went on to become a well known talmid chochom and author of the work Mishkon Betzalel), and asks him to serve as shaliach tzibbur for ma'ariv.

"How come? Why? I'm a bochur!" Betzalel protests and tenders his refusal.

Although Betzalel's friends know him as a wonderful singer and as someone with strong emotions, to his mind this does not explain why he should merit leading the surviving remnant of the yeshiva in prayer tonight. After having been scattered all over following the disturbances, the bnei hayeshiva have now come from all corners of the country to be with the heads of the yeshiva for the tefillos of Yom Tov, here in the Beis Hava'ad Hakeloli. Betzalel does not understand why he is being offered to lead a tefilloh that is traditionally led either by well- known ba'alei tefilloh, by great Torah scholars or by upright avreichim.

Forcefully, sharply, in a tone that brooks no opposition, the Mashgiach indicates to Betzalel that in this instance, he must set aside his modesty and his own ideas and go immediately to do his rebbe's bidding.

Betzalel dons a white kittel and a tallis and goes over to the omud. So far, he does everything as usual, as a venerable, seasoned ba'al tefilloh would have done it. He begins with a festive, joyous, Borchu es . . . hamevoroch . . . , in the yeshiva's familiar tune, that interrupts all the dismal thoughts and thrusts the congregation into the Yom Tov atmosphere. So far everything is the same as in every other beis haknesses or beis hamedrash.

Never Remove Your Love from Us

Congregation and shaliach tzibbur have already finished the first brochoh, hamaa'riv arovim. The former have also said the second brochoh, Ahavas olom, and they await the chazan's rendering of the closing words, ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le'olomim . . . and never remove Your love from us . . .

Everyone sits and waits. There is the slightest touch of festivity in the silence that fills the hall and in the expressions on people's faces.

Then, as though in response to a signal, the sound of faint weeping intrudes into the festive atmosphere. The throat from which it emerges seems to be constricted, as though blocked by something. It is Reb Betzalel, singing while he cries. It is a hair-raising sound and it is growing stronger.

"Ve-a-hav-os-echo al tosir mimenu le'ol . . . Oi . . . " Betzalel is slowly joined in his crying and in his tears by the rest of the congregation. He cries and then repeats, "Ve-a-hav-os-echo . . . " and he is followed by the congregation, moaning, singing and weeping, praying and dissolving in tears.

Betzalel repeats the words a third and then a fourth time, "Ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le-ol-om-im . . . "

The dam has burst. The tune fills the hall, and into the singing is poured the whole tempest of feelings that has been set free. The pent-up suffering of an entire month, all the thoughts and all the pain that have been its lot -- all are now released and flow from all sides into a sea of tears.

The pain finds expression without any words. The scars of bleeding hearts, the loneliness, the bereavement and the boundless agony, all now flow away like the contents of a dangerous, fiery red, fulminating abscess that are released by the touch of an expert surgeon.

It all drains away with the message of one sentence: Ve'ahavosecho, al tosir mimenu le'olomim. As much as to say, "We love You, Ribono Shel Olom. Without any limit, despite the carnage and the pogroms, despite our missing hands and feet, despite everything . . . as for You . . . never remove Your love from us . . . le'olomim . . . "

Nobody counted how many dozens of times the words Ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le'olomim were repeated that evening, just as nobody measured the tears that trickled and flowed from every eye. Each tear-drop that fell, rose to shine above the heads of the bnei hayeshiva and ascended Heavenward.

Balm to Every Soul

Everybody present identified fully with this terse five-word sentence. Each individual found that it expressed his own private pain and his own feelings. That is why these few words succeeded in penetrating the barriers behind which all the emotions had been concealed.

"Yes, we've been punished, but You will still love us forever," were the thoughts of one.

Another saw the supreme King looking with pity at His creations, who cannot understand the purpose of what He does, though they firmly believe that He is a Rock of perfection, all of Whose ways are a combination of judgment and kindness.

A third felt shaken by the sudden realization that there is still Someone who will take him to Him. There is a succah of peace, within which one is enveloped in infinite love.

A fourth heard the heavenly mal'ochim joining in the singing and the prayer and accepting the Divine judgment upon themselves.

Yet others grasped, remembered, understood, felt and saw the powerful message that was conveyed in those moments, each in his own way and on his own level.

Those five words penetrated deeply. Together the words, sung to the old familiar tune, served as an implement. They dug among the ruins inside each heart, shifted the heaps of rubble and lifted all the mourners out of the vale of tears. New life and a new spirit was infused into dry and weary bones. Experiencing a great outpouring of love, the survivors bedecked themselves in salvation and celebration.

One eyewitness remarked, "It is as clear as day to me that this was where the yeshiva was established anew. During that ma'ariv, the yeshiva was set firmly upon its feet for a second time. This was where the rebuilding began, the point at which a different, a better and a more pleasant era opened. It all flowed from the piles of ash that were left after the conflagration that Hashem set alight."


Yeshivas Chevron was rebuilt on its old foundations of Torah and mussar at that ma'ariv, at the beginning of 5690. A warm and healing light appeared to banish all ills and to dress and heal the wounded spirits. Each one of the yeshiva's fallen stones was subsequently raised, repaired and repositioned. "The stone that was scorned by the builders became the cornerstone" (Tehillim 118:22).

After ma'ariv had ended, the Mashgiach went over to Reb Betzalel, squeezed his hand warmly and blessed him, "Leshonoh tovoh tikoseiv le'alter, lechaim tovim ve'aruchim." Then, privately, he whispered slowly, "Tzu dem hob ich gemeint! (That was what I had in mind!)"


Rav Betzalel Shakovitzky zt'l himself related this story, as did another Betzalel who was there who was a young man at the time, the gaon HaRav Betzalel Zolti zt'l, who went on to serve as rov of Yerushalayim.

Seventy-five years have passed since then and this incident is worthy of being recorded as part of the history of the yeshiva during that period of judgment and mercy. Despite its exile, its troubles and its pains, Heaven's favor and kindness have never departed from the yeshiva. The prayer "Never remove Your love from us," was accepted.

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