It has been a just a few days since we received the horrific and tragic reports from the Mumbai massacre. Last Friday, as Jewish communities from Jerusalem to New York prepared to light candles to usher in the Shabbat, news reports confirmed the dark reality that a young Rabbi and Rebbitzen were among the nearly 200 innocent people murdered by the Islamic militant terrorists. Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, may G‑d avenge their blood, the shlichim (emissaries) of the Chabad House, were among six Israeli citizens killed at that Jewish community center during the city's three-day terror siege.
It is always difficult and perplexing to find meaning in tragedy. While much has and will be written about these kedoshim ("holy ones," a title ascribed to those who are murdered because they are Jewish), my thoughts are with the lone survivor of the massacre. The survivor is the young couple's son Moshe, who miraculously escaped the carnage in the arms of a brave nanny. Perhaps because I am an educator, I was particularly moved by the innocence of this child and his unimaginable situation. At a memorial service in India, the tears of baby Moshe and his cries of "Mommy, mommy, mommy!" penetrated my heart. What will he remember? How will he overcome? What images will remain? What will be his lasting memories of his parents?
What will he remember? How will he overcome? What images will remain?As I continued to ponder these enigmatic questions, I began to speculate how all children would respond to the same questions. Then I wondered how often parents reflect on what memories and life lessons they want to leave for their children. What is the genuine inheritance we want to bequeath to our boys and girls? Ask yourself the unthinkable question: What life lessons would you leave to your children tomorrow if you were to suddenly leave this earth today? It is not an easy question and its contemplation may make you feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is a question that requires an answer. It is my belief that parents must transmit three vital messages to insure that their children will live a meaningful Jewish life. These messages should be the legacy of every Jewish parent.
The first lesson to teach our children is that they share a common bond of history and destiny. We belong to a people who have been entrusted with a sacred tradition. And as a parent, you have to communicate and say: "My child, you must always remember that you are an essential part of that tradition. Never forget that you are a Jew."
The second lesson is to transmit by personal example that they have a responsibility as Jews to bring goodness into the world. This is achieved by actively promoting tzedek and mishpat (righteousness and justice). And as a parent, you have to declare: "My child, you are here to help others, to prevent harm and to preserve the dignity of all people."
The final lesson to impart to our children is our unconditional love we have for them. This love transcends time and space. Even in our absence there is an eternal bond between parents and children that is intimately coupled with the love of G‑d. And as a parent, you have to express: "My child, my love is forever, you will never be alone."
In sum, children need to understand that they belong, they have purpose, and they are loved. It is axiomatic that these messages are not learned from a textbook, but rather are absorbed experientially.
Baby Moshe only knew his parents for two years. However, I am certain that his parents ingrained in his soul these axioms of Jewish life because they were Lubavitch Shlichim. During my three decades in Jewish education, I have had the privilege and good fortune to have collaborated with many Chabad families. They all share a common mission which can be encapsulated in these three messages.
Their openness to Jews of varied backgrounds and levels of observance speaks to their active belief in a shared history and destiny.
Their untiring efforts to provide food and shelter to the needy and religious guidance to the spiritually lost helps each individual find dignity and purpose. And their advocacy for moral and ethical causes attests to their commitment to tzedek and mishpat.
From a Jewish perspective every event in our lives has the potential to be transformationalThe innumerable numbers of guests who find a home in the countless Chabad Centers throughout the world is evidence of their total acceptance and affection for all Jews. The warmth and sincerity they exhibit is legendary and truly demonstrates a profound sense of love and caring. This is what motivated Rabbi and Rebbitzen Holtzberg to relocate to India and establish a Chabad House in Mumbai. And it is in this environment that they raised baby Moshe.
The most significant memories that will remain with baby Moshe will be the images of his loving parents welcoming guests with a warm smile, a hug and a kiss. He will remember the singing, dancing and complete joy that permeated his home. These memories will serve as the foundation for his life. They will guide him as he grows, matures and begins building his own family.
It is instructive to note that G‑d communicated to Jacob a similar three part message in the famous dream with the imagery of the ladder and angels (see Genesis 14:13-15). G‑d begins by reminding Jacob of his historical roots and the destiny of his progeny. He continues by foretelling that Jacob's descendents will bring blessing upon all the families of the earth. The commentaries clarify that this will come about through the performance of mitzvot. And finally, G‑d promises Jacob that "I will be with you and guard you wherever you go." These three messages set the foundation for our Patriarch Jacob to raise a family that would become the nation of Israel. These are the foundation stones upon which Rabbi Gavrial and Rivka Holtzberg raised a family and established a Chabad House. And these will serve as the foundation stones for building baby Moshe's life.
It will be up to historians to determine if the massacre of Mumbai is a transformational event in world history. But from a Jewish perspective every event in our lives has the potential to be transformational. As a people we place our trust in G‑d who will lead us "mafailah l'orah" -- "from darkness to light." We will recover from this horrific tragedy and transform our lives and lives of our children if we remember baby Moshe.