“I feel certain that my husband is somehow present here,” said Aviva Machpod last week, as her son was called up to the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Family and friends surrounded Matan Machpod with song and dance as they led him to the Ark, where the Torah he would read from would soon be opened. But first, Chabad Rabbi Menachem Kotner asked everyone to close their eyes and offer a silent prayer for Matan and his mother.
Matan was only two years old when his father was killed. For Aviva, the years of raising him alone were difficult, with painful reminders of what should have been, and what was not, at every turn.
Shabtai Machpod should have been there last week. He should have been there as Matan was growing up. He should have been there as Matan was called to the Torah. But ten years ago, when he drove to work on a routine morning, Shabtai passed the Beit-Lid IDF intersection—a soldiers’ depot—as a suicide bomber exploded himself, killing 21 soldiers. An experienced IDF officer and medic himself, Shabtai stopped his car and ran out to help. While tending to the wounded, a second suicide bomber exploded, killing Shabtai instantly.
Several months later the Machpod family received a distinguished award by Israel’s Police Department honoring Shabtai as a hero. But the magnitude of the loss would grow, and as Matan neared his Bar-Mitzvah, Aviva’s worries deepened.
So last Rosh Hashana, Aviva wrote a letter to G-d. It came from a hole in her heart, and seemed to reach its target. “This is a significant year for me,” she wrote. “My only son will be turning 13, and he has no father to prepare him and to celebrate his bar mitzvah with him. Please send someone who can fill this role somehow. Don’t leave us alone.”
When Aviva met a Chabad rabbi several months later, she took the opportunity to tell him about her situation. He introduced her to Rabbi Kotner, of Chabad’s Terror Victim Program, project of Tzeirei Chabad in Israel. Rabbi Kotner visited the Machpods at their home, and reassured mother and son: Chabad would arrange and sponsor Matan’s tefillin-laying celebration and his aliyah to the Torah, to prepare him for his Bar Mitzvah. And with genuine paternal warmth, he promised them both that it will be a joyful celebration.
It was. Matan, who was trained to read from the Torah by Rabbi Moshe Avitan, a family friend, did a beautiful job.
Expressing her joy and gratitude, Aviva said, “Shabtai would have wanted it to be like this. He would have wanted Matan to have his aliya and his tefillin laying here at the Kotel, [the Western Wall].
“And you, of Chabad’s Terror Victim Program,” she said, “you are messengers of G-d who were sent to stand here with Matan on his big day, and fill the role of his father.”