Still kind of reeling at the slaughter of three Yidden at their Shabbos table this past Shabbos.
The worst thing about it all is the fact that we have become accustomed to it. The age-old saying of “no news is good news” is a truism because there is very little good news that is either fit to print or that would grab the attention of the readers as bad news does.
There is a story about the Holy Chofetz Chaim, ztvk”l, (HaRav Yisroel Meir Kagan) who moved from the city of his birth, the city of Radin, Poland, to the city of Riga. The move, whatever the impetus, was meant to be permanent. However two weeks later the Chofetz Chaim moved back to Radin for good. When he was asked why he did so, what made him move back “home” after such a difficult and expensive move, his answer was “Because when I was there I witnessed Jews who were mechalel Shabbos (desecrated the Sabbath)”. “If that’s the case”, asked the Jews of Radin, “why didn’t you come back immediately”? To which he answered “Because it was only after the second Shabbos that I realized that it didn’t bother me so much. THAT’S when I decided to move back”.
Hearing these two things side by side, we might be tempted to think “Rabbi Ben Zeev! How could you even consider comparing these two things? In the first, there are Jews who were senselessly murdered and in the other, there are people who are, admittedly, transgressing the Sabbath, but how can they compare?”
The answer is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how we look at things in the realm of emmuna. However, in one regard, they are comparable: in regards what happens to us when we experience things repeatedly. Even in the face of the worst of atrocities repeated exposure makes us feel numb.
Life is very much like that. There is a reason for that I discussed in a previous blog post.
In this regard, we are constantly falling asleep. It is incumbent upon us to wake ourselves up!!!
When tragedy strikes it is incumbent upon every Jew to stop and think, to shed a tear, and to continue to pray for the safety of Am Yisroel.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the above cases which is based mainly upon our lack of, or misunderstanding of, the real weight of the issues.
As terrible as it may sound (to our warped perceptions) we Jews believe that everything that is to happen to someone is already decided at Rosh Hashana. If we are prosperous or not, if we are healthy or not, and yes, if we are to live or die. Everything is established then. As we say in the powerful tefilla of Rosh Hashana Netaneh Tokef – it’s all decided then! “Mi b’esh u mi b’mayim … mi b’chanikah u mi b’skilah” (Who by fire, who by water, … who by strangulation, and who by stoning). All of this is already established, but when it happens it should still rock our worlds.
However, our sages tell us that worse than someone who dies in this world is one who dies in the next one. Infinitely worse than the death of, or murder of, a Jew in this world is the lack of life, the living of anti-life of a Jew, or even a ben-Noah, in this world. For one who misses the point of his life sets him or her-self up for the ultimate death.
Among issurim one of the worst that a person can do is chillul Shabbos.
There are many issurim in the Torah. There are those that are “only” miderabanan, there are those that are “only” a lav (negative transgression with no consequences in court), there are those for which there is a monetary punishment, those for which one receives lashes, those for which one receives kares (incision, to be cut off spiritually from HaShem, which affects both the person themselves and his/her children) and beyond that there are issurim for which the punishment is death.
Of all of the issurim of the Torah, with the exception of avoda zara, (idol worship), there is no issur as severe as Shabbos. One who transgresses it unknowingly is “only” liable to bring one Korban per “av” melacha. One who does so knowingly is liable for the kares punishment, and one who does so knowingly in the presence of two kosher witnesses who warned him before the act as to the severity of the undertaking about to be made is liable for the death-penalty.
So in reality which case is worse? If you ask us, with our warped world-view, then the death of any Jew is worse. But in reality, that is, in the perspective of emmuna, what is really worse is the desecration of Shabbos. As the point of this blog is not Shabbos, per se, I will therefore not delve into it too deeply. Suffice it to say that we have to understand tragedy and upset in the light of, and the perspective of the Torah.
What truly bothers us is nothing new. It’s the question that bothers Iyov (Job) throughout his trials and tribulations. We just want to know why? Why was this the decision that HKB”H made for this family?
Guess what? We’ll never know. There is no way for us to understand or fathom the decisions of HKB”H, we lack perspective, we lack judgment, and we lack capacity (to state just a few differences between us and Him. In case you’re wondering the list of differences is EXTREMELY LONG).
So in lieu of the above, in which I am also lacking, I will offer the next best thing – the halachic attitude as to what our reaction should be.
Our sages, ob”m, (Tractate Shabbos 105a) tells us that if someone sheds a tear over the passing of an adam kasher, a kosher Jew, HKB”H counts them and places them in his treasure chest (and forgives them of all of their sins). A person who is killed al kiddush HaShem, which is defined as one who is killed because of his being a Jew according to a certain reading of the Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 5:4), and therefore is not to be taken lightly.
I don’t know who the Jews were whose holy lives we lost this Shabbos. I do know that HaShem chose them to die in this fashion for a reason.
It was not too long ago that I was at the levayah of my childhood friend, Aryeh Kupinsky, ztvk”l, who was also killed during the terror attack on the Beit HaKnesset in Har Nof, Jerusalem during his morning prayers. I certainly felt that a great deal more because of my personal connection. But the loss of Am Yisroel is a loss to us all. The grief of Am Yisroel is the grief of us all. And the mourning of Am Yisroel is the mourning of us all.
It is incumbent upon us to weep. It is incumbent upon us to mourn the loss of our people along with those who are suffering the loss personally. It is incumbent upon us to take a good, long look at our own lives and ask ourselves “Is there anything that I, personally, have been doing which could have contributed to this terrible gezar din (heavenly ruling) to have fallen on Am Yisroel”. As Shlomo HaMelech, (King Solomon) wrote so long ago (Kohelet 3) “It is better (tov) to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of rejoicing, for that is the end of man and (it is only at the house of mourning that) the living will take it to heart”.
It’s up to us to grow and change and bring even more light to the world to replace that which was lost when these Jews were called back to the next world.
Let’s not lose this opportunity to change and grow for the better in the aftermath of tragedy and waste it on pointless drivel. Internalize the emmuna perspective and make a better you and a better world.
And yes, leave the El Nekamos, (the G-d of vengeance), to mete out the right and proper “just rewards” to those who so richly deserve it at the time and place of His choosing.