Pesach ended with a heavy heart for Jews around the world, as we were met with the horrific news of the attack on those davening in the Chabad of Poway in California, and the death of Lori Kaye a”h, along with the others who were wounded in that attack. On a personal level, I experienced the painful loss of my beloved grandmother, Mrs. Hansi Bodenheim a”h, who passed away the week after Pesach.
How does Hashem want us to act when informed of such tragic news?
It all happened in the week of Parshas Acharei Mos. It’s quite puzzling that Aharon was taught the laws of Yom Kippur, our holiest day, right after learning of the death of his two sons. Why that moment? Rav Gedalia Schorr quotes the verse, “And it was after the death of Nadav and Avihu, when they came close in front of Hashem and died.” Nadav and Avihu had an extreme desire to be close to Hashem and were “in front of Hashem,” but unfortunately took their attempt at closeness beyond prescribed boundaries. The lesson Aharon taught was that all Jews have the capacity to achieve this level of Lifnei Hashem – being in front of Hashem – on Yom Kippur, as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) enters the Holy of Holies in the prescribed manner, as the representative of the Jewish people.
This Shabbos, we read Parshas Kedoshim. Often, Acharei Mos is read together with Kedoshim. They are connected. We use the term “kedoshim” (holy ones) for those who died for being a Jew. Yet, Parshas Kedoshim tells us that kedoshim also describes those who live their lives like a Jew.
The parsha begins with the order, “Kedoshim tihyu” – all Jews should be kadosh (holy). What does that mean? Rashi defines it as “perushim” – separate or unique. Why? Because “ki kadosh ani” – because Hashem is holy. Indeed, every Jew is special and unique, possessing an extra element of godliness in themselves. Every Jew lives “in front of Hashem.” The tragic loss of Aharon’s two sons and the tragic loss we read about in Poway tell us that those who die al kiddush hashem (to sanctify the name of G-d by being holy) effect an ability for us to come closer to Hashem. They give us the ability to become kadosh and appreciate the gift of being a Jew.
My Grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and lived her life feeling she was always with Hashem. Six million kedoshim perished in the war, but Hashem granted her life. She had many near-death experiences — strafing from German fighter planes, being captured by the Gestapo, living through Mengele’s section lines. Indeed, she was an extremely thin girl, but in the selection line, she stared him down and after a long pause, he sent her to the right, to a life as a concentration inmate with back-breaking labor. She told me she survived the horrors only due to her reliance on Hashem which she acquired from her parents. She saw so many die around her, but her connection to Hashem kept her going.
My grandmother lost her parents, grandparents, and many other family members. She suffered personal deprivation and torture throughout the war. She could have been bitter, angry, and depressed as a result of her devastating experiences, but she chose to live her life in a positive manner, as a believer in Hashem. She dedicated her life to living as a Jew. Instead of pain and hate, she exuded love and care. For close to fifty years, she served as a kindergarten teacher and librarian, and led the students in davening at the Torah Academy of Philadelphia. She was a true role model for the children she loved. Students from decades earlier would still stay in touch. On Fridays, her phone would ring constantly, with students, neighbors, and friends calling to wish her a good Shabbos. Each day, she would pack extra lunches in case children forgot their lunch — they knew to come to her. She lived with Godliness inside of her and saw the Godliness in all Jews, no matter their background or situation.
Kedusha is an approach to life. The more we are in touch with the uniqueness of our relationship with Hashem, the more we reflect that in our actions. Let us learn from those that passed away as kedoshim, by carrying on their legacy and living like kedoshim ourselves. Let the way we act, talk, walk and do business, always be “Lifnei Hashem.”