Islamic Terrorism: What’s Really Behind It?

15 years ago, the world stood shocked when Islamic terrorists entered Chabad of Mumbai and murdered shluchim Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. A talk by Harav Yosef Heller shed light on “Galus Yishmoel” according to Chassidus and what it means today.

From Anash Magazine – published by

15 years ago, during the week following the Kinus Hashluchim, the world stood shocked when Islamic terrorists entered Chabad of Mumbai and murdered shluchim Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg and others.

The following talk was delivered then by Harav Yosef Heller, Rov and Rosh Kolel in the Crown Heights Kolel under the Rebbe’s Mazkirus. These words are exceptionally relevant today during the current battle with Islamic terror in Eretz Yisroel.



As Yidden, the Torah is our guide, lighting the way on how to act in every situation. The Torah teaches us the correct perspective so that we know the desirable approach to all current events. We must therefore look into Torah and try to understand what is demanded of us now.

The question of why Hashem allows such events to occur is really not a question at all, for what can we understand of Hashem’s ways in running His world. Hashem says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” These matters are the will of the Almighty and were not given to our understanding.

This does not negate the sorrow we feel and must feel. The Torah was given to us as we are in this world, and we do feel the lack from their passing, as well as their relatives’ pain who feel their absence even more so.

The words of the sages, “Shluchei mitzvah einan nizokin – agents of a mitzvah are not harmed”, don’t contradict this sad occurrence. The same is true for whenever we hear of a person who was on his way to do a mitzva and died in a traffic accident or the like.

We are told that before a person is born, it is decreed how many years, days, and moments he will live on earth. When his allotted time ends, Hashem takes his soul regardless of what he is doing at that moment. However, if he merits, he is taken while doing a mitzva. In other words: The act of the mitzva did not harm him, chas veshalom, but from the moment he was born, his time in this world was already determined.

These are the words of Midrash Koheles (3:18), “This tradition should be in your hand – whoever does a mitzva close to his death, it means that his righteousness wasn’t lacking except for that mitzva, and he completed it… they walk complete in their righteousness.”

All the more so when it comes to these holy kedoshim, who were killed al kidush Hashem, just because they were Yidden. It is well known the greatness of those who die al kidush Hashem, of which there is no higher level, and R’ Akiva was famously hoping for such an opportunity. Similarly, the Beis Yosef was promised to die al kidush Hashem to perfect himself, but, in the end, he did not merit it. He went on to write his work, the Shulchan Aruch, which became the basis of Halachic decision, and yet it did not reach the level of actual mesiras nefesh. This sheds light on the greatness of kidush Hashem, which is greater than the writing of the Shulchan Aruch!

The following story was told by an eyewitness:

R’ Yeshaya of Tchechoiv, the elder son of the ‘Divrei Chaim’ of Tzanz, hid in a bunker in Krakow during World War II. One night, his father the Divrei Chaim came to him in a dream, and he told him that if he wished, he could show him a way to escape. However, he said, you should know that Yidden who are killed al kidush Hashem are on such a level that even if he would serve Hashem a thousand years like he – the Divrei Chaim – had served Hashem, he would not reach their level. (Indeed, he decided that according to Halacha he was not obligated to listen to ruach hakodesh to save himself, and he remained there until he was killed al kidush Hashem).

The kedoshim of Mumbai were privileged and received a very rare merit. In their case, these two distinct virtues were combined together: they were killed for Hashem’s name, and they were killed in the middle of a mitzva mission. Their whole presence in that faraway country was a mitzva, and at that very moment they were engaged in caring for visitors.

According to all of the above, it is understood that we have no comprehension in true good and bad, and we certainly cannot ask why Hashem did what He did.

The question we need to ask, however, is what we should be doing do according to the Torah. Let us  see what the Torah says.


In Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah (374:5), it is stated: “If one of the group dies, the whole group should worry.” This is explained to mean, “they should examine their actions and do teshuva“.

The Sitra Achara tries with all its might to ensure that the self-examination should not lead to real results and a lasting awakening. Since the yetzer hara is skilled at his craft, we must look out for several mistakes which we are prone to make when examining our actions, which the Satan tries to dress in a ‘silk kapota.’

The first of them is, that human nature is that when we are told to examine our actions, we examine the actions of others – to blame rabbonim, mashpiim, melamdim, community leaders, or activists, that they need to correct their ways, and they must arouse the community to correct all matters. The only one who doesn’t need to change is, of course, the person himself. Obviously, this is the advice of the yetzer hara who wants to prevent a person from examining and correcting his own actions and pushes him to look at others.

The second mistake is when the yetzer hara pushes a person to focus on big things: to make big gatherings and big decisions, to change the world. Feeling accomplished, they then return home and go to bed, and that’s where the awakening ends. This is also the advice of the yetzer hara to prevent a person from making real change in himself.

Therefore, when we come to examine our actions in light of the recent event, we need to watch out for these mistakes, and to make small but fundamental changes to improve our ways so that it will have a lasting effect.


In Shaarei Teshuvah (page 91a), the Mitteler Rebbe writes: “Although most of the [Yidden in] exile are in the kingdoms of Edom and Yavan etc., the geulah depends primarily on the fall of specifically Yishmoel’s spiritual minister, as stated in Zohar” [Va’era 32a].

We have seen lately that the klipa of Edom like Russia, Poland, and Germany stopped persecuting Yidden, including the fall of the Iron Curtain. In our days, the (Middle) Rebbe’s words about the final moments before the geulah are materializing before our eyes.

In the last moments of galus, we suffer from galus Yishmoel, the last challenge before the final breakthrough to the complete redemption. This is what the Mitteler Rebbe writes, that the geulah depends on the breaking of this klipa.

Since we are very close to breaking the klipa of Yishmoel, the klipa becomes stronger. As we know that before they fall, the klipos increase their war even more than usual. We therefore now see a great and unusual strengthening from Yishmoel that we have never seen before; young people killing themselves just to kill others.

Our goal, therefore, is clear: to overcome the klipa of Yishmoel and subdue it. How?

First, we must understand what the klipa of Yishmoel is about.

It is explained in Chassidus that Yishmoel is chessed sheb’gevurah of klipa, kindness of severity in the evil side. In a maamar, the Alter Rebbe explains (Torah uMo’adim p. 209): “The Ishmaelites are great in kindness to those who take refuge in their shadow, this is because of their great self-importance. However, to anyone who rebels against him, he will be very cruel and kill him immediately.” And likewise in another maamar (Inyanim p. 106): “Yishmoel is chessed sheb’gevurah (kindness of severity)… but when he sees a person who doesn’t need his kindness, he hates him with complete hatred until he takes it as a spear to stab him.”

That is, in practice, he is kind and generous, but only because he enjoys and takes pleasure from the fact that others need him. When the other does not need him, he hates him to the utmost.


A person is a microcosm. Each person has all the levels of holiness: Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, and so on, as well as “the goy within you,” the klipos of Edom, Amalek, Yishmoel, and others.

Destroying the klipa of Yishmoel, as it exists in the world at large, will be achieved by each individual subduing and purging it from within themselves. We must undertake the great work of purifying and eradicating the klipa of Yishmoel as it exists within us, and through this, the geulah will come.

In this battle, we must add light to dispel the darkness. In other words: we need to strengthen ourselves specifically in the attribute of chessed of pure kedusha.

The first step in this work is to tolerate another Yid. This means not to look down upon another Yid as if he is inferior. We must instill in ourselves the awareness that every Yid has an aspect in which he is superior.

If, for example, there is someone who gets on our nerves, we must learn to tolerate him even though he is different from what we would like. We should judge him favorably and consider what problems he went through in life and what problems he is currently facing. Then, you can tolerate him even if you don’t agree with him (as explained in Tanya).

This also includes tolerating another Yid who isn’t identical to my group in every respect. We must avoid the attitude of “Ani v’afsi oid – me and nothing else,” where only I am good, my community, my movement, etc. Instead, to tolerate and love every Jew whether he walks in my path or a different path of avodas Hashem.

Likewise, when doing a favor for another Yid, it should be done with a whole heart and bittul. It should not be from a position of superiority and arrogance where I am the greater and the other person needs me, but with the bittul of chessed of kedusha, like Avrohom Avinu who said, “I am dust and ashes.”

Nor should we be kind to someone because of an ulterior motive or benefit we hope to receive from them, even holy benefits (e.g. so they will make a large donation). Rather, we should perform total kindness without ulterior motives.

And by purging from within us the chessed of Yishmoel and increasing in the chessed of kedusha, we will be able to topple the malach of Yishmoel who hinders the geulah, and we will merit the complete geulah bkarov mamash.

This article first appeared in Anash Magazine – published by

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