(lubavitch.com) Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the final holidays in this holiday-intensive season, are the most joyful festivals on the Jewish calendar. This year, the name of Daniel Pearl will be honored in hundreds of Chabad congregations worldwide as they dedicate one of the seven hakafot dances to his memory.
The Jewish American journalist murdered by Al Qaeda terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002, would have celebrated his 46th birthday on Simchat Torah.
The idea to dedicate a hakafah to his memory came after Danny’s father, Judea Pearl, asked Rabbis Chaim Block and Efraim Mintz if Chabad can do something on Simchat Torah in tribute to his son.
Rabbis Mintz and Block and a dozen Chabad Shluchim got together on this.
“We thought about Daniel’s legacy—the Kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of G-d’s name that he inspired with his final words,” says Rabbi Mintz, the Director of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.
“My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew, I am a Jew.” With those last words, Daniel Pearl became a symbol of Jewish pride. “They proved the indomitable power of the Jewish soul,” says Rabbi Mintz.
The idea, to dedicate a hakafah in memory of Danny would have resonated well with his son, says Mr. Pearl. He recalls the joy of Danny’s Bar-Mitzvah on Simchat Torah, at the Western Wall in Israel. “There were 10,000 Jews at the Wall celebrating the festival, so Danny had 10,000 people at his Bar-Mitzvah,” he laughs.
Daniel, a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal at the time of his kidnapping, loved music, and, says Mr. Pearl, while “ we don’t play instruments on the holiday, there is song and joy—and with this idea the Shluchim have an opportunity to add a Kiddush Hashem on top of the symphony of voices that will be ringing in the air on that day.”
We talk about Danny’s final words. Mr. Pearl admits he is still puzzled at the calm and assertive manner in which his son spoke under the circumstances.
“I think he was saying, this is who I am, and if you have problems with it, it’s your problem.”
“I don’t know where he got the strength to do that—it must have come from the history of the Jewish people.”
It is interesting that of all possible ideas, Mr. Pearl, whose only son, brutally murdered with such unbridled hatefulness it sent a wave of revulsion and anger around the world, should choose to focus on joy.
Mr. Pearl explains: “The young children of today must understand that we are not the aggressors that our enemies are trying to portray us as, but we are the spearheads of decency and peace –this is our mission.
“Therefore the mitzvah of v’samachta b’chagecha: it is an act of defiance against the forces of evil, it is a call of war between the culture of joy and the culture of hate, and I want children to know about it so that they will be proud to be members of the camp of joy.”
Mr. Pearl is hoping to achieve more: “I’ll tell you why I’m so happy that Chabad is doing this.”
“I’m hopeful that this gesture will introduce or solidify our strength and resilience and pride, especially among the young children who will be singing v’samachta b’chagecha.”
The father of Daniel Pearl says that he wants the young Jewish generation of today to appreciate the commandment of “v’samachta b’chagecha”—to be joyful in our heritage, not merely as a tradition of the past, but especially as something relevant to their present-day reality.
It’s why, explains the father Daniel Pearl in these days before Simchat Torah, “it’s not enough to be joyful spontaneously. It is a commandment—v’samachata b’chagecha is a commandment.”
Baila Olidort is the Editor-in-Chief of Lubavitch News Service