From Mother to Son
A mother's letter to her son who was murdered in Mercaz Harav one year ago.
Avraham David Moses, 16, was one of eight students killed one year ago when an Arab terrorist infiltrated the Mercaz Harav Kook yeshiva in Jerusalem and opened fire in the crowded library.
My dearest Avraham David,
With your permission, I want to say something to you about love. Every parent of a teenager is afraid of making a fadicha (faux pas) regarding their child, especially in front of the child's friends, but I hope you'll forgive me for what I'm about to say. You have such amazing friends, and they love you so much. I'm sure they'll understand. They themselves told us stories about you that left me speechless. I feel such profound gratitude for having been your mother. I still am your mother, but it's different, now. Sometimes I feel like you're the parent now -- I look up to you both spiritually and literally.
I keep mulling over the stories in my head, over and over, and I find myself thinking about you as a baby, as a child, and somehow try to make sense of the young man you became and the tzaddik's death Hashem chose for you. I try to make sense, and I keep coming back to a need to express what it was like knowing you as a child, what it was like to be your mother. I want to say it like it is, and if you were ever "difficult" it's specifically the hardest classes we learn the most from.
The overwhelming feeling I feel towards you, and have always felt towards you, is a tremendous love by which two souls try to cleave to each other. If I had to try to explain it, I would say that the natural status of physical matter is distinction between one thing and the next, whereas the natural status of spiritual matter is dveikut, adhesion. In creating Man, Hashem had to separate out spiritual matter and connect it supernaturally to a body, which created a divide between that bit of spiritual matter and all other spiritual matter. This spirit, this Neshama, gives man life, and yet never stops yearning for its natural connection with other "things" of the spirit – other neshamot and the source of all spirit, the Creator Himself. Every neshama has a natural affinity for every other Neshama, yet there are relationships in which this magnetic pull is so strong that this world of the spirit, normally invisible to the physical side of the person, becomes palpable and informs the mind, the body and the emotions to be drawn to be close to, to give to, and to want to acknowledge and be acknowledged by another.
This is the love I had for you, such strong, strong love, and it does not end, even though your soul has returned to its natural state of dveikut without physical limitations. Truly, love is as strong as death.
Rabi Chanina said of himself, "I have learned from all my teachers, but from my students I learned the most."3 As a mother I could say, "...from my children I learned the most." Truly, I have learned so much from you and your brothers, and you, my first born, started first and have taught me the longest. The list of what I have learned from you is long, and I would like to share some of it with your friends.
I had never seen someone learn so devotedly as you.
There are things I learned from you just by watching you. For example, I had never seen from up close someone learn so devotedly as you. Sure, I've seen Torah learning, but never for such long, uninterrupted periods with constant concentration and devotion. You reached a point in which you never seemed to cease learning, and anything you would say or do was a brief interruption, while never losing your focus.
Anyone else I've ever known, even true scholars, both Torah and secular, need breaks from their studies to unwind, relax, and gain perspective. Watching you study with such intensity and without breaks, I expected you to become tense or irritable, or to lose your concentration, but to my amazement, you had reached a point in your learning where, not only did you not lose perspective, you were nourished and refreshed from what tires most of us.
The physical world is a virtual reality which cloaks and disguises our true reality. I like to say that although this world may be an illusion, it is a very convincing illusion. Most of us get stuck if we ignore our physical, emotional or intellectual needs, but in you I had the opportunity to view someone who was not handicapped by the illusion of this world. I find myself now being affected by your example. Though I cannot see past the illusion, I find myself stopping in my tracks, asking myself if I don't want to imagine what is behind this veil and consider what I could be doing differently.
There are other things I learned from you just by watching. One of them is what it looks like when someone truly guards his tongue from speaking lashon hara (gossip) and his ears from hearing it. Perhaps I will learn to emulate what felt like I was feigning. Another is your unflinching honoring of your parents which left me reeling, thinking, "That's not how a discussion with a teenager is supposed to end," then pulling myself up by my bootstraps to copy your greatness, although 24 years your senior and reasonably mature by most standards.
There was a Sunday morning not long before your death that you were at your father's house. You were after shacharit (morning services) and were preparing to go back to Yashlatz. I called you and told you I was having a very hard time and asked if you could help get the little kids out to gan (kindergarten). You paused, because you never spoke without thinking first, and then said you'd be right over. Together we got Noam and Chai out to gan with more love and patience than I could have mustered by myself that morning. Irony of ironies, that experience of your empathy was so imprinted on me that there are now days that, in my grief, I need help with the little ones, and from the recesses of my heart that know love but not facts, the thought comes to my mind, "I could call Avraham David, he will help if I really need it..."
There are things that I have learned from you in my role as mother. You were a crying baby – there were times, even, that you were inconsolable. Someone who came during the shivah told me it is typical of great souls to have trouble adjusting to this world. Maybe. Maybe I didn't burp you well enough. Maybe it's all the same, in parallel worlds. The nights you cried inconsolably while I was desperate to sleep, I walked you up and down the hall with you on my shoulder, sometimes crying myself, praying aloud in song that Hashem should help you where I couldn't, hoping the movement and song would soothe you, hoping the prayer would help us both. I learned in those moments what prayer really is – although we ask for something in particular, we are really turning ourselves over to the will of Hashem with the knowledge that He will do what is right in His eyes and will take care of us no matter what, in the way He wills for us.
I learned as your mother how to set priorities. With a baby in my arms, time to "do things" became much scarcer, and in the moments I had, I learned to do what was truly most important first, learning that superficial measures of importance were no longer relevant criteria.
I learned about protectiveness, discovering a mother bear inside that was willing to crush anything that threatened my cub, and I learned that true protectiveness is not about my own ego or vision, but based on the needs of that which one would protect.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from you as a mother is about letting go. This has happened in steps, each of which built on the previous one. There is an inclination to want to posses that which one loves, as if ownership is the ultimate expression of one's love. As a divorced parent, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that you and your brother are not property in a way that most parents don't have to face so explicitly: although I possess relationships with each of you, I don't possess you yourselves. In love, "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li" – "I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me" – 'for me' and not 'mine'. .
I raised children who had two homes, only one of which was mine, and my inclination was to designate them "home" and "Abba's house" (father's house). This I realized would be alienating for you and disrupt your and your brother's need to be at home in both places, so I let go of the desire to call my home "home" and we made up new names. One became "The Ima House," the other "The Abba House."
Especially when you and Elisha Dan were very little, the stretches you were with your father were very hard for me. I wanted to mope and I wanted to call you all the time to let you know how much I missed you, but this was my need and not yours. I knew that your need was to feel like you could relax and belong wherever you were at the time, with no guilt or responsibility for what the other parent felt. I reminded myself that, though I missed you when you were at the Abba house, you were getting your needs met appropriately, and I needn't worry about you, so I worried only insofar as I had to meet my own needs.
There was more letting go when, in eighth grade, you told me that you wanted a high school with a dormitory. I wanted to reject this out of hand, because I knew I would see you much less, but deep in my heart I realized immediately that, after seven years of joint custody, you deserved the stability of living in the same place every day. I had never heard of Yashlatz, but it turned out to be a perfect fit for you, and I gradually came to realize that my days of cozy mothering, and even of regular conversations, were behind us. I let go of this with difficulty, but had a vision for the future that your bride and children would one day bring an element of that back, in its own time.
In one evening, I had to let go of you completely, along with all my dreams of your future, your bride, and your children.
Then came the ultimate letting go. In one evening, through gradual understanding through which I already knew by the time someone told me, I had to let go of you completely, along with all my dreams of your future, your bride, and your children. I was not ready for this, as I was not ready for any of the steps of letting go when they first came, but sitting in the blazing sun in the courtyard of Mercaz at your funeral, the funeral of my beloved firstborn who was only 16-years-old, it dawned on me that everything up until now was basic training for the letting go I had to do now. Hashem graced me with the knowledge that you had gone to the Ultimate Abba House, and though I missed you terribly, you would be taken care of more perfectly than you ever had been in this world.
We women recite, on the weekly kindling of the holy Sabbath candles, "...Privilege me to raise children and grandchildren who are wise and understanding, who love Hashem and fear God, people of truth, holy offspring, attached to Hashem, who illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds and with every labor in the service of the Creator..."
Avraham David, the grandchildren will come, with the help of God, from Elisha Dan, Noam and Chai, and also from David's kids, my step kids. But besides the grandchildren, this mighty request – not a request to be satisfied with one's lot, rather a request for a great privilege, to a degree almost chutzpadik – was completely and utterly filled by your existence in this world, you whose very death was a labor in the service of the Creator. My gratitude to Hashem for the privilege of raising such a child is unbounded, for it is truly a function of His loving-kindness. I could never have deserved such a thing.
So it is here I begin to understand faith and clinging to God. You are gone and yet you are not. I can still be close to you by becoming closer to Hashem, for it is to Him you returned.
Avraham David, sometimes I feel guilty for not feeling worse. Don't misunderstand me, I miss you terribly, and I miss the effect your pure soul had in this world. Sometimes I fear I will cause you suffering by not grieving even more painfully. I know how much you loved me and how much you loved your brothers, and I think you know they love you with a great love. You are now in the Heavenly Abba House, and your soul is now close to Hashem and every great soul that has ever been in this world and left it. As much as I still need you, you do not need me. As much as I can, the energy I could expend feeling bereft I will channel into taking care of those precious souls who are still entrusted to me. I made mistakes as your mother, and I can no longer make them up to you now, but I will try to correct myself for your brothers.
This world, though an illusion, is a very convincing illusion, for this is how Hashem created it. There will be times when missing you will seem unbearable – for me, for your family members, for your friends, for your teachers, for all who loved you. We will have to face and live without denial this world in which suffering can be excruciating. Please be our advocate that we should draw close to Hashem in these moments, for your whole life, unto and including your death, was and is a Kiddush Hashem.
Thank you for being my son. I love you.
P.S. I want to thank Hashem, again, for letting me be your mother. There is no gift greater than the privilege of motherhood. I thank Him, too, for all the precious souls He spared, both those who were in the library and escaped with their lives, and those who were not quite so close, but whose presence I can no longer take for granted. Each and every one is a tremendous consolation for me.
This story is reprinted with permission from a memorial volume produced by the senior class of Yashlatz (the high school which lost six students in the attack at Mercaz HaRav) that was recently published in English entitled Princes among Men (Feldheim, 2009). The book contains a collection of impressions, recollections and divrei Torah written by family members, friends and teachers of the eight boys. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.yashlatz.com/book