Souls Connecting: A Reflection from the Dee Shiva

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How does one feel so profoundly connected to someone they never met, they had never spoken to, they had never even heard of?


At the heartbreaking funeral for his two daughters, Maia and Rina H”yd, who were brutally murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists, Rav Leo Dee mentioned my name and that he drew strength from listening to our shul’s shiurim on Emunah.  When I watched the funeral and heard him say those words for myself, I was overwhelmed with emotion by a feeling of closeness to this man and I burst into tears. 


As I went online to book a ticket to Israel, it wasn’t that I actively decided to travel on behalf of our community to pay a shiva call to Rav Leo and his children, it was that I simply could not stay away.  Two days later, at the funeral for his wife Lucy Lee H”yd who had succumbed to her wounds, once again, Rav Leo quoted a thought from one of our shiurim. This solidified my decision to go to Israel for a day, but I was still puzzled trying to understand what was compelling me to go.


Certainly, representing BRS in an effort to communicate comfort, love, loyalty, unity, sympathy and faith were justifications enough.  But that would apply to every tragic terror event in our holy homeland and yet I had not previously been moved to jump on a plane before.  What was different this time?  Was it my ego, a sense of honor and pride that he acknowledged me so publicly at such a vulnerable moment? It continued to gnaw at me. 


After landing, I made my way to the shiva house where I had coordinated to meet my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Shay Schachter.  Several people who had attended Shiva told Rabbi Schachter that Rav Leo was quoting him and referencing how much he loved listening to his classes, too.  Rabbi Schachter was also moved to come meet this special man in person and so we coordinated to arrive and visit together.


With thousands of people coming from all over Israel to offer comfort, strength and love, the Dee family sat shiva in a tent in their backyard.  Holy volunteers carefully conducted crowd control, turning over all those assembled in the tent every few minutes.  When we arrived, we were invited to come into the tent before it opened to the public.  Rav Leo was there, but before we could meet, the Yom HaShoah siren blasted throughout Israel and everything screeched to a halt, everyone standing still, taking exactly two minutes to honor and daven for the memory of the six million kedoshim, the martyrs of the Holocaust.  In that silence, I couldn’t help but think that these two tragedies were really one and the same.  As we just sang on Pesach, bechol dor va’dor omdimm aleinu l’chaloseinu, in every generation they rise against us to destroy us. 


That siren at that moment was not just paying tribute to the six million but it was wailing for the three fresh graves that had just been filled, and it was crying out for every Jewish life and light that has been extinguished in our history by enemies that have sought to eliminate us.  But as the wail of the siren was accompanied by the sound of birds chirping, my eyes were drawn to the view from the tent of the magnificent Judean hills and I was struck by the notion that as much as the martyrdom of the Holocaust and the murder of Lucy, Maia and Rina had in common, there was a profound, fundamental difference between them.  The Holocaust was perpetrated against a defenseless Jewish people, strangers in a foreign land, while the Dees had died al kiddush Hashem in the one and only Jewish homeland, under Jewish sovereignty, under the protection of a strong Jewish army and with the promise that those that perpetrated this heinous act would be brought to justice and that we will never leave these hills or this land.


The siren concluded and Rav Leo came directly over to us.  No words were exchanged as we embraced and held onto a meaningful hug that will last a lifetime.  We sat directly in front of the mourners as Rav Leo took the microphone, a necessity so that all who had now packed the tent could hear all he had to say. He thanked us for coming and said, I have been listening to Rav Efrem and Rav Shay’s shiurim for ten years.  For a decade I quote them at my Shabbos table and share their divrei Torah with friends.  He shared a few more thoughts, and once again thanked us for the countless hours of Torah learning together.


Hearing him speak, it became absolutely clear.   It was true that our guf, our bodies had never met, but I now understood that our souls have been talking and connecting and singing together for many years and my soul was craving to be with its good friend and chavrusa at this painful time.


That night, Rav Shlomo Katz invited us to join his Efrat community, which was collectively struggling with this horrific tragedy, for a night of chizuk and to share a few thoughts.  I hope our words resonated and offered comfort but for me, the most moving parts of the night were not when people were speaking but when souls were singing.  Every chair in the room had a physical body in it, but it was the chorus and connection of neshamos that sang together at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the night that gave the greatest chizuk.


There are so many powerful moments and poignant lessons from this extraordinary day with an extraordinary family and community that I take home with me.  As I continue to process them I look forward to sharing further reflections.  But as I traveled back to Boca, there is one thought in particular that jumped out at me.  If Rav Leo’s wife and two daughters had not been murdered, would we have ever met in person? Would I ever come to know that we had been learning together all along?  Would I ever discover the impact of the ideas we are privileged to share?


While not everyone publishes Torah shiurim online, all of our neshamos are connected with our brothers and sisters in ways we don’t realize or fully appreciate. There may be a Jew halfway around the world you do not know who is living a more inspired life today because she once crossed paths with you in an airport and saw the way you patiently spoke with the airline staff during a delay. There could be someone learning more Torah every day because he read an article about a learning group you are part of and was motivated to do more. There may well be a Jew somewhere whose name you don’t recognize but who saw your name on a program you sponsored, or a cause you supported, who now supports that same program or cause. We may not ever meet these people physically but we must appreciate they are out there and recognize that every single positive action we do potentially builds a new relationship with another holy neshama.


Rav Leo spent shiva challenging us to leave our comfort zone, to extend ourselves to others, to become better people, and to change the world together.  At davening on Shabbos, he stopped the chazzan before kedusha to offer an interpretation and charge to all who had gathered.  Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Hashem Tzevakos melo chol ha’aretz kevodo.  Kadosh Lucy, Kadosh Maia, Kadosh Rina, the three of them are now kedoshim, they have died al kiddush Hashem.  Now, in their memory, in their merit, we carry on their mission of melo chol ha’aretz kvodo, filling Hashem’s whole world with His glory, His teachings and His value.


Every day I wake up and feel beyond blessed to have the greatest and most fulfilling job in the world.  There is no greater privilege and nothing more gratifying than sharing Hashem’s Torah and teachings. It turns out there was a Jew 6,000 miles away who was listening, enjoying, and drawing inspiration for a decade without my ever knowing it or knowing him.


Regardless of our full-time formal position, every single one of us is a teacher and influencer and there are people watching, listening and observing what we say and do. We have no idea if we daven intensely or learn diligently or volunteer generously who will impact, who will seek to emulate us, who might be transformed without our ever knowing it. Indeed, by emulating the Kedoshim, the three beautiful Dee souls who can no longer bring glory to Hashem’s name in this world, we have the ability to melo chol ha’aretz kvodo  - we can literally connect with and fill the entire world with His glory without realizing it. Appreciate the impact you can have on other neshamos, the connections we all share, and the difference you can make in someone’s life.