Why did God permit the Mercaz Harav massacre?

Adar is also a month of fasting over the evil designs of Amalek.

I was in my rabbinical class finishing the evening prayers as the sounds of automatic gunfire rang out through the yeshiva. We were in the classroom above the library, which turned out to be the killer's target. As we lay on the floor, bracing furniture against the doors, we could only imagine the horror he was wreaking in the rest of the yeshiva. I was unarmed and could only pray that help would arrive. We called the police, but it was thanks to Yitzhak Dadon, one of the older students, and David Shapira, an IDF officer who came to the scene, that the terrorist was finally neutralized. When the security forces finally arrived, they searched the building and found us sitting on the floor in the dark. As they whisked us out of the building, we gained a firsthand glimpse of the horror the killer had wrought. We were spared only because we had been delayed in finding a 10th man to make up our minyan. Had we finished praying one minute earlier, we would have found ourselves in the path of the killer. As I was driven home by my daughters, the gnawing question of why bad things happen to good people was now amplified by the fact that murder had been perpetrated against young Torah students learning Torah in a Torah academy. 'THE TORAH is a tree of life to those who grasp hold of it" (Proverbs 18). Yet, here were eight Torah students mercilessly gunned down by Amalek incarnate. How can we reconcile the special Divine providence extended to those "grasping hold" of the Torah with the bloody reality we witnessed? The answer lies in the date of the attack: Rosh Hodesh Adar. Rosh Hodesh is a time of joy in that the new moon symbolizes renewal and rejuvenation. Yet it is also a time when the moon is not visible, and consequently is a time of darkness, symbolizing evil. Adar is a month of great joy for we celebrate the victory of good over evil. Yet it is also a month of fasting over the evil designs of Amalek. Indeed, it is the month that we remember Amalek by reading the zachor Torah portion. We remember that "God's war against Amalek is from generation to generation." Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the battle against Amalek is really a battle over whether man will obey God, or the dictates of his own rationale. Man expresses his free will by deciding to act either according to his own definitions of right and wrong, which devolve to "might and power," or according to God's definition of morality. The ability to exercise a choice between good and evil demands the existence of evil - and, by extension, people who purvey that evil. Those people are known as Amalek. And though Amalek was a specific people, the verse commanding their destruction demands that we "blot out the memory of Amalek." Consequently, Hirsch explains, it is the memory of people who glorify the sword which must be blotted out. For as long as their memory is glorified, others will follow the path of violence and reject the path of morality. Thus evil is necessary for free will, and is part and parcel of Creation. But it is, nevertheless, a stain on a loving God, who wants only good for his creation. So much so that God, as it were, offers a "sin offering" as atonement on none other than Rosh Hodesh, when light is diminished and evil reigns supreme. GOD CAN do little more than offer a sacrifice in atonement, lest he remove from Man the very task He entrusted to him: to be a partner in creation, to complete creation through his own efforts. Nowhere is this paradigm of existence more pronounced than in the story of Esther, read on Purim. The Megilla tells of Amalek's plan to annihilate Israel, by which he obtains the King's seal on a decree to further that end. The Jews fast and pray that Esther's efforts to annul the decree will succeed. However, they are told, "the decree of the King cannot be annulled." Since when can't a king issue an annulment? The answer is that this is not just any king, but the King of Kings. The decree that cannot be annulled is God's decree of Creation, the decree of free will, the decree that evil must have free reign. What the Jews were able to obtain was the permission to fight back - this was God's answer to their fasting and prayers. And as they fought evil, so too must we. Real evil will not go away with appeasement and peace negotiations. The megilla ends with the celebration of the victory of the Jews. We rejoice, however, not at our own strength, realizing that victory would be for naught without God's hidden help. Indeed it is this knowledge that God works behind the scenes to guarantee our success that is the source of our joy. It is only the guaranteed assistance of the Creator that can explain Israel's continued existence in the face of evil perpetrated by the Amalekites of the world. But that guarantee extends only to the nation as a whole, and not to individuals. No individual can confidently assume a protected existence - not even a Torah scholar, learning Torah, in a Torah academy. SO WHAT of the promise that "grasping" the Torah offers life? Perhaps the Torah's path is sometimes beyond our comprehension. The Zohar does provide a possible theological response: "A man should not confidently affirm: 'God will deliver me, or will do for me this or that,' but he should rather endeavor to fulfill the precepts, walk the path of truth, and put trust in Him that He will help." And thus we fight Amalek. A fight for the perfection of the world. It is a fight man wages internally, striving to fulfill God's will. It is also a fight we wage against those who wield "might and power" to avoid carrying out God's will. The victory of this fight is embodied in the Holy Temple, symbolizing God's dwelling among humanity upon acceptance of His will. In the megilla, Haman sought to derail the building of the Temple; today, Amalek attacks our small Holy Temple, the yeshiva, a center of Torah learning whose purpose is to bring God's will, God's peace, to mankind. And so it was on Rosh Hodesh Adar, a time of good mixed with evil, that our rejoicing was mixed with tears. We cry bitterly over the loss of our holy Torah students at the hands of Amalek. But we rejoice in the Divine promise that no matter what designs the evil Amalekites of the world conspire, they will never destroy the nation of Israel. In the words of Haftarat Zachor: Netzah yisrael lo yishaker - The eternity of the people of Israel is guaranteed by God. The writer is a computer engineer and part-time rabbinical student in Mercaz Harav's Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik Semicha Program. He blogs at www.divreinavon.com