Ten years ago, on June 11th 2003, my righteous, loving and devoted grandmother, Bertin Tita of blessed memory, was murdered in a suicide bus bombing in Davidka Square, the center of Jerusalem. The culprit who inflicted so much pain upon my family, the 16 other families of the bereaved, and the countless number of injured innocent bystanders, was an 18-year-old Palestinian terrorist whose name need not be mentioned. The names that will be remembered throughout eternity are those who were killed “Al Kiddush Hashem” both that day and throughout the entire history of the Jewish people. While traveling to Israel last year, I was reminded of this emotional thought when I saw my grandmother’s name commemorated on a wall along with all of the other fallen heroes of that tragic day.
A few years ago on Israel’s 60th birthday, I also felt this great sense of emotion as I sat behind the heads of state in Israel and witnessed my grandfather saying the Kaddish in my grandmother’s memory at Yad Vashem. I vividly remember seeing the IDF standing in solidarity right behind him, reflecting on all of those who have died in times of terror and war throughout our over 3,000 years of Jewish history. And yet again, I have had that same sentimental feeling in my heart when I visited the military cemetery in Israel with my grandfather to commemorate his younger brother, a brave young soldier who died in battle during Israel’s War of Independence. Whether one takes the bus to perform a good deed (like my grandmother did on a daily basis) or dies in combat like my great-uncle did, all Jews who are killed because of their religion act as the true heroes and Martyrs of the Nation of Israel.
Throughout Jewish history the number 10 has played a very symbolic role in defining the start of a new order, creating a culmination of all of the numbers that came before it. A few examples of the significance of the number 10 are that there are 10 Commandments, a minimum of 10 Jewish men that comprise a minyan, and last (but certainly not least) the 10 martyrs, a group of rabbis who lived during the time of the Mishnah and were killed by the Romans after the destruction of the second Temple. Although all of the 10 Martyrs were not killed at the exact same time (since 2 of them lived in a time period before the other 8), their emotional account is recorded together in a form of a poem known as the Eleh Ezkera. This poem is recited on two important Jewish holidays to set the tone for the proper mood of the day, one that reflects the hope of redemption in the face of attacks against Judaism today. In Judaism, we are no strangers to the senseless attacks of anti-Semitism, in which baseless hatred is an ongoing theme that has been manifested upon us throughout our miraculous survival as a Jewish Nation.
The concept of being a Martyr who is killed “Al Kiddush Hashem” has struck an emotional cord throughout Jewish history and the greater world today. As we have seen the evil face of terrorism and jihad being displayed in the most violent of ways against our innocent Jewish brethren in the Land of Israel, the same tactics are being used today against innocent civilians in major American landmarks such as New York and most recently Boston. In contemporary times, the moral of the poem Eleh Ezkera has taken on a new meaning with the deaths of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Many Jews followed Rabbi Akiva’s example of reciting the Shema as they were being led to the gas chambers. Rabbi Akiva, who was raked all over his skin with iron combs (despite the pain consuming him), was still able to proclaim G-d’s providence in the world by reciting the Shema, drawing out the final Echad - “One.” In many ways, the concept of being a martyr and dying “Al Kiddush Hashem” during the time of the Roman persecutions can be paralleled to later persecutions such as that of the Russian Tsars, the Nazis and even Islamic extremism today.
When thinking in terms of Olam Hazeh (this material world), we will never be able to comprehend why tragedy befalls good people, but when delving in to a level of ultimate faith in Hashem, certain things can be understood. Hashem applies His attribute of uncompromising justice (midas hadin) more strictly to tzaddikim than to ordinary people. As the Gemara says, the Holy One, Blessed is He, is strict with them to a hairsbreadth. Precisely because of their closeness to the Holy One, are they required to serve Him in perfection, and even the smallest infraction detracts from this perfection.
In a similar way, the Jewish People are judged more exactingly than other nations of the world. “You alone have I truly known among all the families of the earth; therefore I charge you with all your sins’ (Amos 3:2). The righteous (in their closeness to Hashem) bear even a greater amount of responsibility, as it states in the Talmud, “Tzaddikim are punished for the sin of the generation” (Shabbos 33b). It is therefore not surprising that the Jewish People throughout history have suffered more than any other nation. My angelic grandmother (of blessed memory), the ten Martyrs during the time of the Mishnah, the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust all died Al Kiddush Hashem, embodying the concept that we (as the Jewish People) are a nation of leaders who bear the responsibility of mankind.
May we only know of future Smachot and merit to see the day that we are reunited with those we love and care about so much with the coming of the Moshiach speedily in our days.
Joseph Scutts is a Wealth Manager at Citibank in New York. He holds an MBA from Long Island University and a Bachelor of Science degree in business, with honors, from the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.