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Heroics Are For Regular Folks Too

Thursday, 2 May, 2019 - 11:54 pm

Most people don’t aspire to become heroes. Most people are content living normal, yet meaningful lives that touch and brighten the lives of others. Those people wake up each morning anticipating that the rhythm of their lives will pretty much be predictable. They expect to go through their routines, accomplish wonderful things and go to sleep at night knowing that their day has made a difference in their corner of the world. For most of them and for most of their lives, that is actually the case. Then there are those moments when regular wonderful people are faced with extraordinary circumstances. That is when normal regular people discover reservoirs of strength and heroism that they never knew they had and never hoped they would need.

Last week during the attack at Chabad of Poway, a “regular” Chabad Rabbi rose to the occasion in an extraordinary manner. Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein came to Shul on the last day of Pesach uplifted and inspired by the specialness of the day. By his own admission, the last day of Pesach was always distinct for him. It represented the aura of Redemption as indicated by the special Haftarah from Isaiah that speaks of Moshiach and the era of Redemption. He was looking forward to being inspired by the reading, and in turn inspiring his congregation as they got ready for Yizkor. He stepped out of the sanctuary to wash his hands when he heard gunshots and saw the face of evil. A young man with a firearm had just gunned down a prominent member of the Shul, Lori Kaye, and was pointing the weapon at him.

As Rabbi Goldstein put it, “I kicked into Rebbe mode.” Instead of running to protect his own life and wellbeing he sought to protect others. He along with several others in the Shul led children to safety at their own peril, while others confronted the attacker causing him to flee. With his finger dangling from being blown to pieces, he stood on a chair outside the Shul where congregants huddled in uncertainty and offered thundering words of comfort and empowerment.

After finally allowing himself to be taken for medical treatment and learning of the loss of his finger, he continued to encourage and inspire and speak out with a positive, uplifting and empowering message. Since then it has been a whirlwind of conveying this powerful message to the world through the media and various very public stages and appearances during which he has been a force for good. When asked by one of the anchormen where he got the strength to do this, he pointed to the Rebbe’s picture and he said “this is what the Rebbe taught and empowered us to do.”  

Does that mean that the harrowing experience was not real for him? Does that mean that he doesn’t take serious the crippling loss of a very close family friend and congregant? Of course not! But heroes step up in the moment.

Rabbi Goldstein’s message echoes the Rebbe’s call that, “In the face of this deep darkness we must be beacons of light.” Now we must act heroically. Ladies! Light your Shabbat candles in memory of Lori Kaye. Men, put on Tefillin for the recovery of the wounded. All of us! Let’s come to Shul this Shabbat (and every Shabbat) in solidarity with Poway. This will show the world that Am Yisrael Chai and we will not be cowed into suppressing our Yiddishkeit. We will live as proud Jews. This light will intimidate the forces of darkness into total evaporation, proving that they were but a passing shadow.

See you in Shul! May it be a Shabbat Shalom – a Sabbath of Peace
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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