Yeshivas Chevron, on the first night of Rosh Hashonoh 5690
[75 years ago, just over a month after the great pogrom in
The atmosphere is serious and solemn, as befits this night.
Yet here, it is oppressively so. The cause of the extra
tension is not the Rosh Hashonoh that is about to be ushered
in but the thought of the preceding one. That was when the
dreadful, awesome decree was propounded, whose execution ten
months later left all those presently filling the hall of the
Beis Hava'ad Hakeloli as survivors.
They are suspended between heaven and earth, between hope and
despair. Those who are not smarting from their own wounds,
are smarting from the wounds of their friends. Feeling like
broken shards and shadows of their former selves, they have
gathered to celebrate the first night of the festival of Rosh
Hashonoh. However, the hush that precedes the beginning of
ma'ariv only serves to compound their uneasiness and
their confused feelings.
During the `days of awe' that they all experienced forty days
ago, during the pogrom in Chevron on the eighteenth of Av
5689, virtually all of them suffered the loss of some part of
themselves. Over here sits someone who lost his earlobe; over
there sits another, who was torn apart by the sight of the
slaughtered martyrs in their death throes. Here is someone
who lost his left hand; there is someone else, who lost a
friend who was as close to him as his right hand.
Ma'ariv is due to begin in just a few minutes.
Everybody waits. Here, a bochur tries to look into his
machzor; there, another attempts to bury himself
between the pages of a gemora.
There is no humming in the air, no excited anticipation of
the onset of the Yom Tov. The atmosphere is so very
serious and so sad that it seems just too heavy to be lifted.
The congregation sit like mourners, their eyes lowered. The
silence is only punctuated by occasional groans from this or
that corner of the room. Their hearts swell. `Yom Tov
is almost upon us but what is to become of us? Where is our
comfort, our reassurance?'
The Mashgiach, the gaon and tzaddik
HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l, rises and leaves his place. A
few pairs of eyes follow him silently. They watch listlessly
as he approaches one of the bochurim, the highly
esteemed Betzalel Shakovitzky (who went on to become a well
known talmid chochom and author of the work Mishkon
Betzalel), and asks him to serve as shaliach
tzibbur for ma'ariv.
"How come? Why? I'm a bochur!" Betzalel protests and
tenders his refusal.
Although Betzalel's friends know him as a wonderful singer
and as someone with strong emotions, to his mind this does
not explain why he should merit leading the surviving remnant
of the yeshiva in prayer tonight. After having been scattered
all over following the disturbances, the bnei
hayeshiva have now come from all corners of the country
to be with the heads of the yeshiva for the tefillos
of Yom Tov, here in the Beis Hava'ad Hakeloli.
Betzalel does not understand why he is being offered to lead
a tefilloh that is traditionally led either by well-
known ba'alei tefilloh, by great Torah scholars or by
Forcefully, sharply, in a tone that brooks no opposition, the
Mashgiach indicates to Betzalel that in this instance,
he must set aside his modesty and his own ideas and go
immediately to do his rebbe's bidding.
Betzalel dons a white kittel and a tallis and
goes over to the omud. So far, he does everything as
usual, as a venerable, seasoned ba'al tefilloh would
have done it. He begins with a festive, joyous, Borchu es
. . . hamevoroch . . . , in the yeshiva's familiar tune,
that interrupts all the dismal thoughts and thrusts the
congregation into the Yom Tov atmosphere. So far
everything is the same as in every other beis
haknesses or beis hamedrash.
Never Remove Your Love from Us
Congregation and shaliach tzibbur have already
finished the first brochoh, hamaa'riv arovim. The
former have also said the second brochoh, Ahavas olom,
and they await the chazan's rendering of the closing words,
ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le'olomim . . . and never
remove Your love from us . . .
Everyone sits and waits. There is the slightest touch of
festivity in the silence that fills the hall and in the
expressions on people's faces.
Then, as though in response to a signal, the sound of faint
weeping intrudes into the festive atmosphere. The throat from
which it emerges seems to be constricted, as though blocked
by something. It is Reb Betzalel, singing while he cries. It
is a hair-raising sound and it is growing stronger.
"Ve-a-hav-os-echo al tosir mimenu le'ol . . . Oi . . .
" Betzalel is slowly joined in his crying and in his
tears by the rest of the congregation. He cries and then
repeats, "Ve-a-hav-os-echo . . . " and he is followed
by the congregation, moaning, singing and weeping, praying
and dissolving in tears.
Betzalel repeats the words a third and then a fourth time,
"Ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le-ol-om-im . . . "
The dam has burst. The tune fills the hall, and into the
singing is poured the whole tempest of feelings that has been
set free. The pent-up suffering of an entire month, all the
thoughts and all the pain that have been its lot -- all are
now released and flow from all sides into a sea of tears.
The pain finds expression without any words. The scars of
bleeding hearts, the loneliness, the bereavement and the
boundless agony, all now flow away like the contents of a
dangerous, fiery red, fulminating abscess that are released
by the touch of an expert surgeon.
It all drains away with the message of one sentence:
Ve'ahavosecho, al tosir mimenu le'olomim. As much as
to say, "We love You, Ribono Shel Olom. Without any
limit, despite the carnage and the pogroms, despite our
missing hands and feet, despite everything . . . as for You .
. . never remove Your love from us . . . le'olomim . . .
Nobody counted how many dozens of times the words
Ve'ahavosecho al tosir mimenu le'olomim were repeated
that evening, just as nobody measured the tears that trickled
and flowed from every eye. Each tear-drop that fell, rose to
shine above the heads of the bnei hayeshiva and
Balm to Every Soul
Everybody present identified fully with this terse five-word
sentence. Each individual found that it expressed his own
private pain and his own feelings. That is why these few
words succeeded in penetrating the barriers behind which all
the emotions had been concealed.
"Yes, we've been punished, but You will still love us
forever," were the thoughts of one.
Another saw the supreme King looking with pity at His
creations, who cannot understand the purpose of what He does,
though they firmly believe that He is a Rock of perfection,
all of Whose ways are a combination of judgment and
A third felt shaken by the sudden realization that there is
still Someone who will take him to Him. There is a
succah of peace, within which one is enveloped in
A fourth heard the heavenly mal'ochim joining in the
singing and the prayer and accepting the Divine judgment upon
Yet others grasped, remembered, understood, felt and saw the
powerful message that was conveyed in those moments, each in
his own way and on his own level.
Those five words penetrated deeply. Together the words, sung
to the old familiar tune, served as an implement. They dug
among the ruins inside each heart, shifted the heaps of
rubble and lifted all the mourners out of the vale of tears.
New life and a new spirit was infused into dry and weary
bones. Experiencing a great outpouring of love, the survivors
bedecked themselves in salvation and celebration.
One eyewitness remarked, "It is as clear as day to me that
this was where the yeshiva was established anew. During that
ma'ariv, the yeshiva was set firmly upon its feet for
a second time. This was where the rebuilding began, the point
at which a different, a better and a more pleasant era
opened. It all flowed from the piles of ash that were left
after the conflagration that Hashem set alight."
Yeshivas Chevron was rebuilt on its old foundations of Torah
and mussar at that ma'ariv, at the beginning of
5690. A warm and healing light appeared to banish all ills
and to dress and heal the wounded spirits. Each one of the
yeshiva's fallen stones was subsequently raised, repaired and
repositioned. "The stone that was scorned by the builders
became the cornerstone" (Tehillim 118:22).
After ma'ariv had ended, the Mashgiach went
over to Reb Betzalel, squeezed his hand warmly and blessed
him, "Leshonoh tovoh tikoseiv le'alter, lechaim tovim
ve'aruchim." Then, privately, he whispered slowly,
"Tzu dem hob ich gemeint! (That was what I had in
Rav Betzalel Shakovitzky zt'l himself related this
story, as did another Betzalel who was there who was a young
man at the time, the gaon HaRav Betzalel Zolti
zt'l, who went on to serve as rov of Yerushalayim.
Seventy-five years have passed since then and this incident
is worthy of being recorded as part of the history of the
yeshiva during that period of judgment and mercy. Despite its
exile, its troubles and its pains, Heaven's favor and
kindness have never departed from the yeshiva. The prayer
"Never remove Your love from us," was accepted.