This past Monday morning, a heartless murderer entered the Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, chained the doors shut, and proceeded to massacre tens of students. After the deranged shooter turned his gun on himself, a horrific scene emerged: thirty-two lives were brutally taken. Thirty-two victims, many of them with proud records of achievement in their past, and yet others with bright futures awaiting them. Thirty-two families were suddenly coping with unbearable grief and loss.

People world over followed the news coverage with shock and dismay. The Israeli news media also devoted extensive coverage to the tragedy; and as is their nature, they were looking for the local "Israeli angle." Yes, we mourn the tragic loss of all human life, but the Jewish nation is one family, and the pain is greatly intensified when there's a tragedy "in the family." Originally it was reported that no Israelis were among the victims. This premature report, however, turned out to be untrue. Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor and highly regarded lecturer at the university, met his death in the course of the tragic massacre.

Can mere words convey our condolences and shared pain?Librescu's students later reported that he heroically sacrificed himself in order to save their lives. When gunshots were heard in the hallway he blocked the door with his body, allowing his students to escape through the windows. This was Liviu's last act. He sacrificed himself in order to give others the opportunity to live. May his soul rest in peace.

The hearts of Jews worldwide are together with all the families who are currently in mourning for their loved ones, and certainly we share the grief of the Librescu family. The heroic act of their husband and father will forever be engraved in the golden annals of Jewish history. But what can we tell them in this dark hour? Can mere words convey our condolences and shared pain?

In such situations when words seem to be so inadequate, we turn to the Jewish tradition, which establishes the use of the following words for consoling mourners:

May G‑d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The Rebbe Writes to Sharon

In 1968, one year after the Six Day War catapulted General Ariel Sharon to the public acclaim, Sharon experienced a tremendous personal tragedy. His eleven year old son, Gur, was killed when a gun he was playing with accidentally discharged.

Although the Rebbe had no previous contact with Mr. Sharon, he sent him a letter of condolences. It is my hope that the esteemed Librescu family can also find comfort in the contents of this insightful letter.

The traditional text of consolation, writes the Rebbe, includes the mourners amongst "the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Why? What is the connection between the personal loss this individual has just experienced and the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem who grieve over the destruction of the Holy Temple?

This statement contains three important messages:

The entire Jewish nation is now in mourning over the personal lossShared Loss: The mourning over the destruction of Zion and Jerusalem is shared by all Jews wherever they may be. Perhaps the pain is felt most acutely by the residents of Jerusalem who see the Western Wall and the ruins of the Holy Temple; however the pain and hurt is the lot of every Jew. In a similar vein, we tell the mourners, the entire Jewish nation is now in mourning over the personal loss which has befallen the grieving family; we all share their pain. Our nation is compared to one large body — the pain of one limb is shared by all the other limbs.

The Consolation: We are certain that G‑d will console the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. He will rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem and re-gather the Jews from all corners of the globe with the coming of the Messiah, bringing them "to Zion with joy and to the Holy Temple with everlasting happiness." This message applies to every individual Jewish mourner as well. We trust that G‑d will be true to His word and will lovingly resurrect the dead when the anticipated day of Redemption arrives. How great will then be the joy, when the grieving family will be reunited with their loved one!

The Loss: The last message we wish to impart deals with the nature of the loss. The Babylonians and Romans who conquered Jerusalem only destroyed edifices of wood, stone, gold, and silver. They were, however, completely powerless to destroy the inner Holy Temple that lives within the heart of every Jew throughout the generations. Death, too, only involves the body; and has no affect on the immortal and infinite soul which has now ascended to the World of Truth. Any mitzvah which we do in the merit of the departed's soul causes great nachas and pleasure for the soul in its new heavenly home.

As beautiful and comforting as this statement is, let us pray that we no longer have to use it again. Let us beseech our Father in Heaven that He comfort the dear Librescu family. May G‑d comfort them, and us all — who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.