It’s not something anyone wants to hear or see.
While enjoying a Chanukah family get-together in Lakewood, New Jersey, on Motza’ei Shabbos, I saw a message on my phone that made my heart drop: “Is everyone okay in Forshay?”
My parents live in the Forshay neighborhood of Monsey, and Rabbi Rottenberg’s home and shul – where the recent stabbing attack took place – is a one-minute shortcut from their home. I have davened there on many occasions.
My sister Shoshana and her family had visited my parents for Shabbos and were remaining there until Sunday morning. She related that on Motza’ei Shabbos she suddenly heard a tremendous number of sirens, and saw a plethora of flashing lights through the trees, clearly coming from nearby Forshay Road. She called my father, who was downstairs, to ask what was happening. In the age of social media, people throughout the world knew what had occurred even before they did. Moments later, the text messages began buzzing on their phones, as well as all our phones throughout the world.
Grafton Thomas had entered Rabbi Rottenberg’s home just prior to the Rebbe’s lighting the menorah, holding a machete that he used to begin stabbing people. After Yosef Gluck threw a table at him in the Rebbe’s house, Thomas tried to then enter the shul next door. Thankfully, he was unable to do so, again thanks to Gluck, who made sure all the doors of the shul were quickly locked. Thomas left the scene after injuring five people. The evil perpetrator was apprehended in Harlem by the NYPD a few hours later, still wearing his blood-stained shirt.
The next morning, the quaint and relatively quiet neighborhood of Forshay in Monsey was featured on the front pages of prominent newspapers and news outlets the world over. Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York State, arrived that morning to meet with Rabbi Rottenberg in his home. The stabbing increased already heightened tensions throughout the Jewish world, which is contending with increased anti-Semitic attacks in the recent past.
What struck me most was what happened the following evening. What did Rabbi Rottenberg do on the evening following the frightening attack, in which two of his sons were injured, and one of his congregants remain in critical condition? He lit the menorah, of course, and added one more candle than the previous night!
That is always our utmost response. Of course, we have to do our part to ensure our safety, in whatever ways are necessary and appropriate. But on a spiritual level, our response is always to strive to increase light – the very light our enemies seek to extinguish.
The celebration of a hachnasas sefer Torah the following day, whose procession stopped in front of Rabbi Rottenberg’s shul, is another demonstration of our spiritual response.
This week, the Torah world celebrated the 13th Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi. Throughout the last seven and a half years, those completing Shas have undoubtedly had difficult and perhaps painful days, when the daily dose of learning seemed unrealistic or daunting. As a people, there have been events that have caused us pain, angst, and endless aggravation in the United States, Eretz Yisrael, and throughout the world. Yet, what did they all do the next day? They lit the proverbial candle, by learning another daf.
As Chanukah came to an end, we no longer physically light candles each night. But we continue the symbolic lesson of Chanukah by striving to add another bit of light each day of our lives. On Chanukah we light the candles when it is dark outside; and in life generally, we continue to spread light even, or perhaps especially, during times of darkness.
We do not know what the future will bring, and we pray that it will only herald good news for our brethren throughout the world. But one thing is guaranteed: The Jewish people will never stop producing light. We only hope that each and every one of us will merit being part of that production of light.
For two millennia, they have tried to extinguish our lights, without success. The One who “performed miracles for our fathers, in those days at this time” will continue to guard the candles for all eternity.