Featured in local papers on Thursday, December 18, 2008. Copyright 2008 by Yosef Y. Polter

Chanukah and Mumbai
Positive Energy from Tragedy

By Rabbi Yosef Polter

As we approach the Festival of Lights, we are still reeling from the darkness that descended on the world just weeks ago in Mumbai, India with the massacre of 180 innocent civilians going about their daily affairs.  Those dark days captivated the world, in part due to the nature of the attacks.  I still mourn the loss of two of my colleagues, Rabbi Gavriel & Mrs. Rivkah Holtzberg, who were brutally tortured and murdered in their Chabad Center in Mumbai along with another four pious, innocent victims. 

The Holtzbergs, who directed the center, were special people, as is quite evident from everything that has been written about them.  Every article I read brings me to tears.  These two people were the epitome of light.  The number of stories written by people who have been so positively touched by the Holtzbergs is unbelievable.  Here you had a beacon of radiant light in a place that so desperately needed it (every corner of our world really needs more light), so cruelly extinguished on that fateful day.

How could things like this happen?  Why is darkness given dominion over light, especially in such horrific fashion?  I cry out to G‑d, “when will this end?”  Alas, I have no answer.  Indeed, there is no answer to “why?”  The ways of G‑d are hidden.  That’s what distinguishes Him from us.  We have a right to cry, and to be deeply hurt, but ultimately we need to accept and move on.  But how?  How do you move on when you see such injustice, especially when it hits close to home?  How do we counter these forces of evil that are all too prevalent in our world?

The answer: A little light dispels much darkness.  The truth is that darkness only has temporary success.  Ultimately, it is no match for light.  Only when there is insufficient light can darkness claim a victory.  As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”  The way to heal from emotional hurt and grief is to channel that pain into positive action; more acts of love and kindness dispel the darkness, and heal the hurting and grieving soul. 

By Divine Providence, Chanukah comes on the heels of this barbaric act of terror.  On Chanukah we don’t just light the Menorah each night.  The tradition is to kindle one light on the first night, two on the second, and so on until the eighth night when we light all eight.  This is the remedy to the heartbreak and the retaliation to the evil: add more and more light; redouble our efforts to make the world a kinder and more wholesome and moral place.  If the goal of the evil forces was to sow more hate and destruction in the world, it had the opposite effect.  In addition to declaring that the Chabad Center in Mumbai will be rebuilt bigger and better than before, with funding already flowing in, Chabad has unveiled plans to establish a new Chabad beacon of light, love, and learning in yet another city in India.  Even more astounding is the number of new programs and services in many of the 3,000 Chabad Centers around the world that have already been added in memory of the Holtzbergs.  Finally, the tens of thousands of individual acts of goodness and kindness being performed by people in response to this tragedy have certainly begun to lift the dark cloud that covered our world three weeks ago.  This is how you fight darkness. 

Did the terrorists cause pain to many people?  Yes.  But look what else they triggered:  A vast increase in determination by many organizations and good people worldwide.  If the whole world would respond to terror and evil with a revolutionary outpouring of goodness and kindness, with everyone redoubling efforts to brighten up the world a little more, do you think that evil would be able to survive, much less succeed in such a climate?

Of course, government, military, and law enforcement agencies must do whatever necessary to make sure these things don’t happen, but I speak for the vast majority of us simple folk who are not in those fields.  Chanukah, which begins Sunday night, tells us: You also can instrumental.  Become a beacon of light and consistently add to that light, don’t be satisfied merely with what you accomplished yesterday.

May we turn tragedy into positive energy and grow from the experience, horrible as it may be, bringing more light and peace to ourselves by bringing it to others.  In this way, these senseless deaths can serve a positive purpose, bringing the world to a time when there will be no evil and suffering, only peace, happiness, health, prosperity, and the knowledge of G‑d with the ultimate redemption; may it happen speedily.

Rabbi Polter is the director of the local area Chabad Jewish Center serving area towns, located at 148 Great Road, in Acton.  If you would like to comment on the article or for more information about the center, call (978) 929-2513 or visit www.ActonConcordChabad.org