Editor’s note: Koby Mandell was just thirteen years old when he and his friend Yosef Ishran cut school to go hiking near their homes on May 8, 2001. Their bodies were found the next day. The boys had been brutally stoned to death in a cave in the heart of the Judean desert. The 15th of Iyar marks the yahrtzeit of the two boys. May their memory be for a blessing.

Ordinary life fills me with dread. I am in the changing room after swimming. It’s about four months after Koby’s death. Two women discuss their daughters’ wardrobes. One says that she bought her daughter a skirt at J. C. Penney’s when she was in America the previous summer; that it was half the price of buying one in Israel. The other woman discusses the prices of the shoes in the Land’s End catalogue. The women continue on, talking about whether they have half-sizes for leather boots, and if they should buy boots with fur, because it’s not a freezing cold winter here.

I resent them for having this conversation while I am in the room. I cannot share their interest in fabrics and sizes and prices. I have come here to swim, to encourage the pain to move through me. I want to breathe so fast, work so hard, that the name Koby will not be a cymbal in my head for this half hour.

These women have inspired hostility from deep within me

I remember the first night after the funeral. Some people came in and began to talk about their doctor, about his bedside manner, and I felt revolted that they were talking about something that had nothing to do with Koby. Suddenly, in the locker room, I understand Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who spent twelve years in a cave and then came out, unable to cope with the everyday world. These women have inspired hostility from deep within me, hostility that they can spend their time on trivial concerns, while people are suffering, while others live with death on their shoulders.

The night before Koby was killed, I went to a class and studied the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. It was the week of the holiday of Lag BaOmer. The two Hebrew letters, lamed and gimel, that make up the word “Lag,” form the numerical equivalent of thirty-three. This is the thirty-third day of the Omer period, the seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot. Since Rabbi Shimon is said to have both come out from the cave on Lag BaOmer and later died on that date, the holiday honors him (as well as the students of Rabbi Akiva, who are said to have stopped dying from the plague on that day). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was a student of Rabbi Akiva, a martyr who died praising G‑d. It is said that on the day that Rabbi Shimon died, he taught his students the Torah’s hidden lessons, and the sun did not set until he had finished. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wanted his death to be a day of celebration, not of mourning, a day of celebrating all of the Torah he had taught on that day.

Most people believe that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s grave is in the north of Israel, at Mount Meron, and thousands of people gather there on the night of Lag BaOmer and celebrate with bonfires to remember the light of wisdom that he brought into the world. But there are others who claim that his grave is in our wadi.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Eliezer, went into the cave to hide from the Romans, who wanted to capture Rabbi Shimon for impugning the Roman government. While there, the two learned every day, revealing the secrets of the Torah, calling forth the hidden divine light of every letter in the holy books. It is said that the prophet Elijah taught them there. It is widely believed that it was in this cave that Rabbi Shimon composed the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mystical teachings.

A carob tree grew to provide them with food, and a spring appeared

What did the two of them live on, other than words of Torah? While a cave can be a grave, it can also be a womb. For these two, it was a womb of nourishment. A carob tree grew to provide them with food, and a spring appeared to give them water. They took off their clothes to preserve them, putting them on only for prayers and for the Shabbat. During the day, they covered themselves with sand so that they would not profane their learning. They buried themselves in a life of holiness.

After twelve years, Elijah came to the mouth of the cave and reported that the Roman emperor had died, and that the decree to execute Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son had been annulled. Now they could emerge from their concealment.

When Rabbi Shimon came out of the cave, he saw that the world was the same as when he had left. He saw people plowing fields, life going on as if nothing had changed. He glared at the people, and his look was so piercing that whatever he looked at was reduced to ashes. Then a heavenly voice called out: “Have you come out of the cave to destroy My world? Return to your cave.”

Rabbi Shimon and his son returned to the cave for another year. On a Friday, the two left the cave. When they came out, they saw an old man running, carrying two bundles of fresh myrtle branches. “Why are you carrying those?” they asked.

“To honor and remember the Shabbat,” the old man replied.

This time, Rabbi Shimon and his son were able to re-enter the world knowing that G‑d’s commandments were dear to the children of Israel.

Elie Wiesel likens Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s tenuous emergence from the cave to the release of Holocaust prisoners after the war. When the survivors of concentration camps returned to life, they were confronted with the problem of what to do with their anger, their pain and their despair—what to do with the memories of feeling dead in life, of having their families slaughtered, their communities destroyed. Like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, they could have destroyed creation. They could have murdered, or become drug addicts, or pillaged, or committed arson. But they chose not to. The majority chose not to give in to despair. Many cried themselves to sleep every night, but they went on.

I will not let hatred reduce me to ashes

I will not surrender to despair or anger. Reporters ask me: “Aren’t you angry?” Of course, I’m angry. But that is not where I put my energy. That’s not what gets me up in the morning. To me, the murderers are brainwashed agents of evil, lacking humanity, lacking any basis of decency or compassion. Their lives are their own curse. I would like the killers to be caught. I wouldn’t mind if the state killed them. But to me, people with that capacity for hate and cruelty are already dead. The Talmud says that those who are evil are dead when alive, and the righteous are alive even when dead.

I have come to recognize that I honor Koby by keeping his spirit alive. If I give in to anger and hate, then I become one of the haters, a parasite who lives on fear and hate. If I live only to seek revenge, then they have won, they have destroyed me. I will not let hatred tear me from the world and burn up my family. I will not let hatred reduce me to ashes.