A Hillel For Our Times
[YA – I do not have any easy way of verifying this as journalists are wont to do. I’ve received it in email form from diverse sources in the last few days. It is so moving, however, that I could not bear the thought of allowing too much caution to prevent the spread of an amazing story that should inspire every Torah Jew. Posting it is pretty much the first thing I am doing after getting off a plane from Philadelphia. Added 4/10 There are several credible claims now circulating that create doubt about the story. See, for example, http://myobiterdicta.blogspot.com/2008/04/merkaz-harav-urban-legend.html]
Doron Mahareta of blessed and saintly memory HY”D was one of the eight Yeshiva students that were massacred last week in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem.
Last night, I paid a shiva (condolence) call to Doron’s family. Every single type of Jew was sitting together, from Ethiopians to Polish Chassidim, from knit kippot to Yerushalmi white kippot, from jeans and sandals to long black frocks. Too bad that it takes a martyr of Doron’s magnitude to unite everyone.
One of the rabbis from Mercaz HaRav told me the most amazing story you’ll ever hear about Doron’s dedication to learning Torah, a story that competes with the Talmud’s account of Hillel’s near freezing on the roof of Shmaya and Avtalion’s Yeshiva (see tractate Yoma, 35b) .
Doron wanted to learn Torah in Mercaz HaRav, one of the best of Israel’s yeshivas. But, since his early schooling was in Ethiopia, he lacked a strong background in Talmud. The Yeshiva rejected him. He wasn’t discouraged. He asked, “If you won’t let me learn Torah, will you let me wash the dishes in the mess hall?” For a year and a half, Doron washed dishes. But, he spent every spare minute in the study hall. He inquired what the yeshiva boys were learning, and spent most of the nights and all of his Shabbatot with his head in the Gemara learning what they learned. One day, the “dish washer” asked the Rosh Yeshiva to test him. The Rosh Yeshiva politely smiled and tried to gently dismiss Doron, but Doron wouldn’t budge. He forced the Rosh Yeshiva into a Torah discussion; the next day, he was no longer a dish washer but a full-fledged “yeshiva student”.
On weekends, when Doron would come home to visit his family in Ashdod, he’d spend the entire Shabbat either in the Melitzer Shul or the neighboring Gerrer shtiebel learning Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and its commentaries. Three weeks ago, he finished the entire Shulchan Aruch and principal commentaries. Doron achieved in his tender 26 years what others don’t attain in 88 years. He truly was an unblemished sacrifice, who gave his life for all of us.
The next time you want to close the Talmud to watch TV, think of Doron. The next time your son doesn’t want to do his Torah homework, tell him about the price that tzaddikim like Hillel the Elder and Doron Mahareta paid to learn Torah. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Doron wasn’t a reincarnation of Hillel. May his holy soul beg mercy for the grieving nation he left behind, amen.