For reasons known only to G-d, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah were murdered in their Chabad House in Mumbai on November 28th, 2008. Along with four of their guests, they were brutally tortured and killed, targeted for death simply because they were Jews. Like millions of Jews before them and too many after them, they died al kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of G-d’s name. But martyrdom is the antithesis of what G-d wants from us: He wants us to live as Jews, happily, in fact, just like the Holtzbergs did in their Chabad House. Gabi and Rivky provided a simple home away from home for Mumbai’s Jewish residents and travelers, hardly a bastion of the city’s infrastructure. Why did the terrorists single them out?
While I don’t know why G-d does anything, I do know He has a reason. And I know I’m supposed to try to learn from everything. But for me, this event was more than a learning opportunity. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I really do divide my life into “before” and “after” the terror attacks in Mumbai.
I started hearing stories about the Holtzbergs, and I understood how they were more than extraordinary people, more than extraordinary Jews–they were also extraordinary emissaries of the Rebbe. I couldn’t imagine how Gabi rose before dawn to slaughter chickens for his guests to have kosher food or how Rivky gave her jewelry to a woman who needed money, but I knew they epitomized the selfless behavior the Rebbe prescribed for all of us in order to bring Moshiach, the Messiah.
The terrorists’ bloodthirsty hatred, in absurd contrast, provided me with a clear wake-up call: I needed to do more in my own world to help redeem the greater world from this sorry state. 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 anyway? I was exhilarated thinking of new ways to spend my time and money.
Mumbai quickly became a verb in our home, synonymous with over-the-top kindness. I would “Mumbai” by doing things like making meals for people without being asked and giving away possessions to family and friends, no holds barred. In fact, my life-changing response to Mumbai emboldened me to start my writing career. (Fortunately, I cared more about sharing my journey than earning money.)
Then came the day, exactly eight weeks after the attacks, when I got annoyed over something trivial: it was almost Shabbos, my house was a mess, and my housekeeper decided not to come. I lost my focus and my stride, and was never the same soldier after that. But I wasn’t disheartened. I knew that inspiration doesn’t last forever, and that my job as a Jew is to harness my energy throughout all of life–the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens–to try to do what G-d wants. That means one more mitzvah, one more act of kindness, even when I don’t feel like it, because that’s all it could take to bring Moshiach, who will transform the entire world’s darkness into light, forever.
It’s eight years after Mumbai, and the Holtzbergs still inspire me to stay focused on that goal.