Each of us, in our own way, suffered – and continues to suffer – as the slow passage of time edges us away from the horrible murders in Har Nof. In an age of instantaneous media, the images are now firmly etched into our psyches: of blood stained tallitot and siddurim; a lifeless hand still wrapped in Tefillin. I haven’t tried to make sense of the events in my own mind because I know that any such attempt would represent an exercise in futility. There is no sense to be made in abject hatred. There’s no logical explanation, no legitimacy possible for the murder of Talmidei Chachamim as they pray Shemeh Esreh. But there is a response; not a military or police response. Those tasks are left to others. Rather, our response must follow the response of the residents of Har Nof, who undoubtedly did what those four scholars would have insisted they do; what they would have done themselves; what we all did: They got up in the quiet of the morning and went to daven. In shul.
Daily minyan isn’t one of the more glamourous aspects of Jewish life, but it might very well be its anchor. A shul – any shul – no matter how many members it may boast, no matter how many outside scholars it welcomes, no matter how lavish its kiddushim may be – is only as strong as the daily minyan. The act of rising, each and every day, to try and commune with God before (and after) the day begins together with the larger communit, represents both an individual dedication and desire to live a pious life, together with a recognition that we find our great religious meaning not in the bombastic moments of exciting ritual; not in the Bar Mitzvah or wedding, and not even only in the passion of the Yamim Noraim; but in the rigor of repetition of ritual, day in and day out. It is the daily davening and the daf yomi that makes us who we are. Without them, we lack the bedrock foundation that gives us both strength and a true, deep-rooted connection to God.
This week, terrorists, knowingly or not, attacked this bedrock of Jewish living. They were probably looking for the easiest target available, but in that effort focused on people who dedicated their very existence to maintaining this anchor of the Jewish condition, not only through prayer, but through their ongoing, ceaseless devotion to Talmud Torah, built over uncountable hours of study in the Beit Midrash, again invested without pomp or fanfare or nary a Facebook post or Tweet. It was these attributes of Judaism that were attacked in that quiet shul in Jerusalem: a dogged persistence to prayer, a steadfast devotion to Torah study, and an untiring dedication to religious ritual that has sustained the Jewish nation through two millennia of exile.
Thus, the most fitting response – the only response – is exactly how the people of Har Nof, of Jerusalem – of Jews throughout the world – did indeed respond. We went back to shul that night, and the very next morning. We maintained our vigil. We make it clear, each and every day, that no matter how many of our enemies rejoice and celebrate at the sight of murdered Jews, no matter how many candies they distribute or garish cartoon they publish, we will continue to rise early each morning to reestablish our relationship with God.
This vigil – the persistence – represents the strongest reason why those Jews are now living in Jerusalem, in Har Nof today. For thousands of years, Jews have risen each and every morning to pray to God: ולירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב – “return us to Jerusalem, Your city, in compassion.” ותחזינה עיננו בשובך לציון ברחמים – “May our eyes witness Your return to Zion with compassion.” After so many centuries of heartfelt prayer, someone, armed with the divine blessing of God, decided that it was time to transform those prayers into reality. God returned, and so did we.
It was that persistence that brought us here, and it’s that very same persistence that will keep us here. So, the morning after the murders, Jews across Jerusalem, and around the world, rose early in the morning once again for daily prayers. We were all a little heartbroken, a little at a loss for words. But we went to shul, because that’s what we do. We didn’t do it to tell our enemies anything. We didn’t do it to send a message. But, in our daily acts of devotion, we do indeed broadcast to the world in a loud, clear voice: We aren’t going anywhere.