Accepting an invitation to a birthday party this past Shabbos was a difficult thing to do. How can one celebrate one day after six innocent Jews joined the ranks of our people’s sacred martyrs? Could I attend a party while we have not yet mourned our dearly departed? Could we be joyous just hours after time had stopped? It seemed mindless in light of witnessing what the mind does not comprehend.
Among the dead were two Jews who now repose in eternal life. They moved to a developing country to develop a Jewish center, a Chabad house, as representatives of their faith. They chose to give up their lives by living for Judaism, but in the end were murdered on account of it. When they signed up to move to India in the service of their people, their mission called for a life of self-sacrifice, but they made the ultimate sacrifice. Alas, those who were part of an elite force for good are now among our nation’s noble heroes. They died sanctifying their G-d.
Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg (may G-d avenge their blood) are now household names. In the few days since they were slaughtered by Islamic terrorists, babies have been named after them, memorials observed for them, and millions of resolutions have been pledged in their honor. And it was for them, for theirs, that I attended that party, for it marked the second birthday of their miracle child, Moshe. Gathered around a birthday cake that was baked for his special day were a few dozen children, along with some adults who had never met the toddler. We celebrated in Los Angeles as his adoptive brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers.
I will be celebrating my own birthday this weekend. My cake like Moshe’s will have no candles pierced into its layers due to the sanctity of the Shabbos day, and metaphorically because of the darkness that has punctured our blankets of conviction.
On the first eve of Chanukah 1991, I participated in a rally that was attended by satellite around the world. Powerful things were said then, that in my youth I did not understand. The Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed world Jewry during this international gathering that was broadcast around the globe. He said that people had the capacity of lighting up the whole world. Eighteen years later, reviewing footage of the talk, many are startled by a young Gabi Holtzberg. For a long moment, Gabi is the focus of the camera. Then just an angelic face for the perfect shot, today he and his wife are the face and the perfect example of what their distinguished teacher was preaching.
Gavriel and Rivkah are the candles topping my cake this weekend. If birthdays are a time for introspection, then their flames shall be my reflection. Theirs is a light that no icing can cool nor extinguish.
Jewish legal and philosophic works describe our forefather Jacob as the archetypal Shliach. He set a standard for today’s emissaries who stand at the forefront of Jewish renewal. In the chronicles of Jacob’s life, the narrative of his nap upon the future Temple Mount is a natural favorite. The Midrash describes his slumber as a first and last. For fourteen years, Jacob had been confined to the study of G-d’s infinite wisdom, his eyes glued to sacred texts. Jacob’s lying down was a biblical power nap, preceding the twenty years of rigorous labor he was about to experience in Labon’s employment.
As Gabi and Rivkie were interred on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, I realized that their mission is far from over. For nearly a decade, they worked relentlessly to enhance the Jewish experience. They never tired in the mission they had been charged with. Now they were being laid to rest on a mountain overlooking the hill that hosted Jacob’s sleep. As his daughter’s holy body was lowered into the ancient soil, Rivkie’s father called on the couple to continue their work. Atop the Mount of Olives, living proof of a people that have been pressed too much, he called upon them to be messengers of their people.
Their funeral marked a transition. Gabi and Rivkie have gone from ambassadors to the ends of the earth to advocates who demand that heaven should finally be brought down to earth.
Jacob never rested again. In fact, the Talmud famously teaches that the patriarch never died. His descendants bring him to life each time they perform an act worthy of their distinguished lineage. The Chabad representatives to Mumbai will live eternally, because their thousands of colleagues are mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Jews in their honor. And once a Shliach, always a Shliach. Their assignment was to ready the world for its salvation. Now they are reporting on high, storming the gates of heaven, demanding before the throne of glory on behalf of the people they so loved.
G-d summoned them home, and surely He is going to listen.