So once again I find myself writing a eulogy for a close friend or relative; once again I find myself helpless in a tragedy. There is little I can do and nothing I can say. No words of comfort come to mind and, just as with our dear friend Yaakov last November, I find myself reliving the terrible moment of discovering the news time and again; pinching myself to be sure that this is really happening, that it happened at all. I stand on the sidelines useless and hapless, watching as a beautiful family is challenged to the hilt; a dreamlike marriage ripped apart. The very least I can offer is to share some thoughts with my students and alumni.
We are in recess, so I have no weekly shiur to articulate my sadness, to vent my frustration; no opportunity to cry out towards the heavens publicly; no real medium through which to honor our cousin – but I can at least write something, anything. And once again I apologize that it is to you that I turn to share my inner thoughts.
My wife, baruch Hashem has quite a large family. Six first cousins all have (בלי עין הרע) many offspring (one of whom, Yonadav Hirschfield, was killed in the terrorist act at Mercaz HaRav – on Rosh Chodesh Adar-Bet 5768), so when we initially met all those years ago, I was slowly introduced to everyone. I cannot recall the first time I met R’ Mickey Mark (may Hashem bless his memory) but my first real recollection of Mickey is as we came out of the “cheder yichud” on our wedding night twenty-five years ago – he grabbed me by the hand and placed me on his shoulders for a good fifteen to twenty minutes of dancing, a beaming smile on his face, and in truth I never really saw anything but that smile and endless energy for the last twenty five years. We met on many occasions, and not all of them were happy, but he wore a face that reflected resilience, belief and most of all inner contentedness that is a rare commodity in our day and age. Our families met at semachot, on Chagim, and unfortunately at sadder events too. We met enough times for me to have gotten a glimpse of who Mickey was; and just as with our friend and neighbor Rav Yaakov Don, he was a very special man – it would appear that Hashem only takes very special people to His “inner mechitza”.
Since the last day of Pesach this year Jewish communities in the Diaspora and in Israel have been reading different parshiot each Shabbat. This week, here in Israel, we will read Parashat Chukat, whereas in chutz la’aretz they will read Parashat Korach. In honoring Mickey I would like to take a message from Chukat and combine it with a message from Korach.
The parasha of Chukat is famed possibly due to two fundamental issues therein; the first is the statute of the Red Heifer, whilst the second is the transgression of Moshe and Aharon at the waters of Meriva.
As we learn the laws of the “Red Heifer” we are repeatedly reminded by Chazal that they are devoid of human logic. Indeed, Rashi’s opening comment to the parasha refers to the satanic challenge that questions our unyielding faith in God despite our lack of understanding. And in truth the parasha showing the downfall of our unique leaders Moshe and Aharon only goes to illustrate how dedicated both men were such that despite the apparent harshness of their punishment they moved on with no dent in their faith.
Just because a notion is devoid of or even negates human logic, it does not mean that it contains no worth – it is just that the meaning is beyond the pale of man’s meager intelligence.
Here alone is a message that we need to adopt, the obligation to continue in our belief despite the total lack of rationale or justice that surrounds us. As we participate in yet another funeral, we wonder how many more tears we need to shed. I have never cried like I have this year. How much longer can this go on for? We look to the heavens with the words עד מתי on our lips, but then we pull ourselves together and begin mincha with the definitive אשרי יושבי ביתך. We know that ours is a House of true prayer, that we are a people of true peace, and we know in our heat of hearts that our God is true and just. Even when the truth and justice seems to be far beyond our horizon we are happy to be in the Jewish House of God. We, Am Yisrael, are defined by the commandment “do not kill”. Ours is a Torah that celebrates life and aspires to peace – אשרי העם שככה לו אשרי העם שה’ אלוקיו.
But this is not the only pertinent lesson to be gleaned from our parasha. After God has punished Moshe and Aharon, Rashi notes (Bamidbar 20:13) that it is only the holy who are related to in this manner by God, reminding us of the exact same comment made by Moshe himself to Aharon after the sudden death of Nadav and Avihu (Vayikra 10:3). Time and again over the past three years men of great stature whom I have known well have died at a young age, none of them having reached the age of fifty. And each and every one of them was holy – Holy men! We have known holy men!
I have stood at funerals and memorials in absolute awe as I listen to story after story, some of which I knew, most of which I didn’t. And Mickey was certainly no exception; quite the contrary! I knew of his tireless work ethic, I knew of his love of Torah, but there was so much more to this man that I never knew. We stood for seven hours, and could have stood for longer still listening in wonder; and as one looks on with eternal admiration one cannot help but look inwards at the inadequacy of oneself in comparison. What we do with that introspection is solely in our hands – but surely we must do something.
I have no doubts that Mickey was holy, and I truly believe that now he is where he is meant to be, basking in the true spiritual light that he craved for so much. Whilst we remain here panic stricken and mourning, helpless and lacking, he has reached the world of Truth.
But what do we mean when we call someone holy? Who can be considered holy and why? And how does this notion reflect itself in Mickey?
To answer that question we perhaps have to go back to parashat Korach and possibly even further. Korach, in his attack on Moshe Rabbeinu, maintained that we are all holy by simple virtue of the fact that we were all at Sinai (Bamidbar 16:3). But if that is the case, if we are all inherently holy (a fact not suggested by Korach alone, but also by Kuzari, by Maharal, by Rav Kook – though of course not in the same rebellious manner) then what makes certain people holier than others? What is קדושה?
Indeed, every Jew is intrinsically holy – but there is also another command that comes at the end of parashat Shelach Lecha (Vayikra 15:4) – “become holy”. We have holiness by the mere fact that we have a נשמה, a breath of the Almighty God within us, but true holiness is reflected by what one does with that soul. One cannot sit back and simply bask in the glory of intrinsic holiness – it must be nurtured.
The Ktav Sofer (HaRav Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer) – comments on the verse קדושים תהיו:
“You shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Vayikra 19:2)
Even though the Almighty is the ultimate form of holiness, it has never stopped Him from involving Himself in this world. Be holy like Me. The result of ascendancy should not be condescension. Just because someone is moving forward in his understanding of the Almighty does not mean he should alienate himself from other Jews or from the world as a whole. This is not genuine holiness; we can call it pseudo-kedusha or egocentricity in disguise. Real Kedusha is deeply connected to reality, with all that entails.
Moreover, Ramchal explains (chapter 26 – Messilat Yesharim) that although it may sometimes be necessary to temporarily separate oneself from mundane material realities we must never forget that our ideal is to bring the Almighty into this material world; to live a physical life and transform it into an ongoing spiritual experience. The objective of Halacha is categorically not to lock us away from society, but rather to accompany us through the streets of life and allow us to bring Hashem into every part of our being.
If one sanctifies himself with the Holiness of his Creator, even his physical actions come to partake of holiness…
Note the distinction between one who is pure and one who is holy. The earthly actions of the first (the pure one) are necessary; he is motivated by necessity alone, so his actions escape the evil in earthliness and remain pure. But they do not approach holiness. It would be better for the pure individual if one could get along without the need for earthliness – He is pure in that he has separated himself from any material reality, living in a totally spiritual environment, but he is not holy!
However, one who is holy, and clings constantly to his God, his soul traveling in channels of truth amidst the love and fear of his Creator – such a person is as one walking before God in the land of the living, here in this world. Such a person is himself considered a tabernacle, a sanctuary, an altar…
Scholars, who are holy in their ways and in all of their deeds, are literally comparable to the sanctuary and the altar, for the Divine Presence dwells with them just as it dwelled in the sanctuary. Their eating is similar to the offering up of a sacrifice upon the altar, and the filling of their throats is analogous to the filling of the basins…
In short, holiness consists of one clinging so closely to God he does not depart or move from the Blessed One in any deed he might perform; until the physical objects he uses become elevated because of his having used them.
The comments of Ktav Sofer and RamChal are almost literal descriptions of Mickey Mark. Many are justly described as holy because they died בקידוש ה’, but above and beyond that Mickey’s life fits the description of the passages quoted above – he was holy in life too.
I have no idea as to whether he officially sat Rabbanut exams; I do know however that he would have been embarrassed by such a title, despite the fact that he knew far more than many of his contemporaries, such was his humility.
Mickey was a spiritual man, a man who craved learning, who essentially retired at the age of forty so as to sit in a Bet Midrash which he built, and learn. But he never left the reality of this world. No one paid him to learn; he sustained and supported not just himself, but his children and grandchildren as well as many others. He worked for Yeshivat Otniel, and Yeshivat Torat Shraga; he worked for the “Cooperation of Development in Har Hevron”, and on countless other projects. But he also built a “Mikveh” adjacent to his bedroom, and rose before the sun every morning to learn. What an example, a true holiness, a person who had become so immersed in his relationship with the Almighty that everything he did became holy. Mickey, like all of us, was born with a basic kedushah but he nurtured it until it became a whole part of who he was – כל עצמותי תאמרנה ה’ מי כמוך.
Parashat Chukat tells us of God’s “special” relationship with the holy, parashat Korach helps us define who that person is. We have lost yet another wonderful man. We mourn our loss – there is no comfort, there are no words. At the funeral Mickey was described time and again as an Angel, compared to המלאך מיכאל – but he was far greater than that. Angels are created solely in spirit; they have no inclination, they make no choices, they are guided by instinct alone. Mickey was a human being who had choices and made them. Angels just are – they don’t achieve. Mickey achieved.
Since last Friday afternoon we walk around in shock, in devastation – but do not mistake our shock for despair. Do not interpret our tears as surrender! We are neither despondent nor dejected; quite the contrary, we are determined and inspired. As he did in his life, Mickey has directed us in his death. We will not lose heart, despite the tragedy; we will not lose direction, notwithstanding the cruelty. Quite the contrary. The wickedness of our enemies and their misguided beliefs only emphasize our absolute truth; the lack of justice that surrounds us only underlines our legitimacy. We will not be broken! We will not lie down! We have come too far, and we are too near the finishing line to capitulate. As Rav Kook wrote almost ninety years ago (להוסיף אומץ – מאמרי הראיה), we are already drinking the water of the well that we have quarried. The water is not yet as sweet and clear as it should be, but we at least have water! After 2000 years of drought, we have water – we can taste the sweetness of redemption, and it gets sweeter by the day. So we will continue to dig, until we reach רחובות (Breishit 26:20-23).
Today is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. It is also July 6th. On July 6th, 1938 the nations of the world assembled in Evian to discuss the “Jewish Problem”. They had no solution. Quite the contrary – they threw us back into the lion’s den of Nazi Germany. This day is our birthday, it is the day that we learned once and for all times that if we do not stand up for ourselves, then no one else will be there for us. Today is the 6th of July, 2016 – nothing has changed. The nations of the world still relate to us in much the same way as they did back then – but everything has changed, because בחסדי ה’ יתברך שמו we now have a Homeland, we now have a Government, and we now have an army! After two millennia we have מלכות ישראל!
For now, we pray for the refuah shleimah of Mickey’s wife Chavi (Chava Rachel Bat Ayelet HaShachar), and we thank God for the miraculous deliverance of Tehilla and Pedaya. We will see these days of mourning through, we will assist the family in every way that we possibly can, and then we will arise together and wave our flag even higher and with even more enthusiasm than ever before.
עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה!
Thank you for taking the time to listen
חודש טוב ובשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות