Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Doron Mahareta, A Hillel For Our Times

The Talmud (Yoma 35b) relates the story of Rabbi Hillel, who as a young boy desperately wanted to learn Torah, but lacked the money to attend the Torah academy in his town. He discovered that by climbing onto the roof of the yeshiva and crouching near a skylight, he could hear the lessons given by the Sages, Rabbis Shmaya and Avtalion. One winter day he listened as the snow fell on the roof, nearly burying him, and he lapsed into unconsciousness as he nearly froze to death. The teachers and students happened to notice that something was blocking the sunlight throught the skylight, and when they investigated, they discovered Hillel and rescued him. Impressed by his dedication, Shmaya and Avtalion admitted him to the yeshiva, and he became one of the two greatest Torah scholars of his generation.

One is reminded of that story when one hears about Doron Mahareta of blessed memory, whose tale however had a tragic ending. Doron Mahareta was one of the eight Mercaz HaRav yeshiva students murdered on Thursday, March 8, by a Palestinian terrorist. Doron appears in the lower right-side frame of the photo of the eight martyred young Torah scholars. At age 26, the Ethiopian immigrant to Israel was the oldest of the eight.

Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein of Los Angeles passes on this story, which I understand to have been related by a person who paid a shiva condolence call to Doron's family:

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.


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