It may sound like an exaggeration, but I really do divide my life into “before” and “after” the terror attacks in Mumbai. The event struck me as a cosmic “moment of truth”– for reasons known only to G-d, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivky were murdered in their Chabad House on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, November 28th, 2008. Along with four of their guests, they were killed because they were Jews, which means that they died al kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of G-d’s name. The Holtzbergs’ Chabad House provided a haven for Mumbai’s Jewish residents and travelers, hardly worth targeting as a bastion of the city’s infrastructure. Why were they singled out?
From the Chassidic perspective, everything happens for a reason, providing a springboard for Divine service. Some things that happen provide the opportunity for a leap…
The Holtzbergs were not just extraordinary people, not just extraordinary Jews–they were extraordinary emissaries of the Rebbe. They exemplified goodness and kindness in stunning contrast to the terrorists’ evil and hatred. I understood this irony as a clear message from G-d that the time had arrived for me to finally “Jew up”; the world was in need of radical transformation and I needed to get with the program. I don’t mean to sound like a super hero, but the forces of evil had way too much power for way too long. The day the Holtzbergs died, the only goal worth pursuing was doing everything possible to bring Moshiach.
It had been many years since the Rebbe had passed away in 1994. Like most of his followers, I genuinely expected Moshiach’s revelation in the Rebbe’s lifetime, but it became harder with every passing year to sustain that fever pitch without the Rebbe to inspire and encourage me. With every year that didn’t bring the Redemption, my yearning for Moshiach began nudging its way onto my wish list. At the top of it, for sure, but life somehow started to go on.
After Mumbai, life suddenly became a battleground of good vs. evil. And the place where I began was within myself.
Recreational shopping had been my beloved pastime for as long as I could remember; in light of Mumbai, it suddenly looked like an ugly addiction that I needed to quit once and for all. It seemed so clear that I needed to care more about life’s p’nimiyus (the inner dimension) and less about chitzonius (the outer dimension). Why had I never realized that I had enough “stuff” to last into my next lifetime? Who was I trying to impress?
I didn’t walk into a store for months. (Full disclosure: now that I’ve kicked the habit, I have bought a few things over the last six years–but how much could I need when my closet is a treasure trove of “vintage” clothes?)
In the weeks following the attack, Mumbai became a verb, as in “let’s Mumbai.” It was our family’s way of saying, “let’s do a mitzva in a way that’s above and beyond what we would normally do.” I made meals for people without being asked. I gave away things I really liked to family and friends. I wrote several articles describing my efforts.
I hoped I would stay inspired forever, but, of course, I didn’t. After exactly eight weeks, I got annoyed over something trivial and was never quite the same soldier ever again.
But that’s okay. I have learned over the years not to become disheartened that inspiration doesn’t last forever. I don’t expect it anymore. But it always leaves me somehow changed, so that I never quite go back to being the “old” me.
The Mumbai inspiration was different though. Since then, I’ve realized that if I really want to bring Moshiach, the best place to start is to bring Moshiach within myself– by sincerely asking for G-d’s help and making a serious effort to correct the negative as well as increase the positive.
Because now more than ever, bringing Moshiach feels like the only goal worth pursuing.