From Joy To Sorrow
May 6, 2021
Nehepach l’eivel micholeinu.
Mindboggling. Heart wrenching. Unthinkable. The magnitude of the tragedy that engulfed the entire Klal Yisrael on Lag BaOmer evening is indescribable. What began as a frightening rumor soon became a catastrophic reality as we, thousands of miles away, were swept up in the severity of the calamity taking place.
In Meron, as the horrific scene unfolded, the festive music and dancing ceased; the sound of song replaced by screams of terror and wailing sirens.
The mayhem and confusion that followed defies description. Across the world, parents and spouses worried about their loved ones who were in that holy place, unable to reach them by phone. For most the fear turned into relief, but for many—way, way too many—their worst fears materialized with the dreadful reports that their loved ones were among the karbanos of Klal Yisrael.
Meron on Lag BaOmer is usually described as Yom Kippur inside the me’arah and Simchas Torah outside. This year it was Tisha B’Av inside and out. The feelings of anguish and horror spread to every Yid in every location. Many canceled their celebrations, while events that were not canceled were held with hearts heavy with pain. A pain that burned more than any bonfire, roared louder than any musical band.
Had such a terrible incident taken place during a mundane event in an ordinary place, the tragedy would have been inconceivable. But the fact that it took place in Meron on Lag B’ Omer intensifies the shock and grief.
How could it be? Asra Kadisha Meron, the sacred place where every Yid is welcome to come connect to Hashem and Rabi Shimon: Chassidim, Litvaks, Sefardim, Satmar, Mizrachi, everyone has a place in Meron. Such bloodshed in such a heilige place, on such a heilige day—how? We can only close our eyes and imagine Rabi Shimon’s reaction when he heard of the gezeirah, when he heard his simchah was to be shattered by a tragedy of historic proportions. His great neshamah must have pleaded before Hashem to stop this from happening. But it happened nevertheless. What does this tell us?
In our quest to find meaning to momentous events, to lend context to tragedy, we tend to compare it to other events in history. Some are comparing this to 9/11. Others to the Chevron Massacre of 1929. But perhaps the most accurate precursor was the petirah of Nadav and Avihu on the day the Mishkan was completed. How could it be? Such tzaddikim, in such a place, on such a day? Hashem answered with two fateful words: B’krovai ekadeish. I will be exalted through such an act. They will realize that if such a thing can happen, this must be serious, they must really do teshuvah!
We too must internalize this very message. In security and policing echelons, an event like this one calls for serious introspection.
It must be a wakeup call for us as well.
It is natural to try to ascertain whether we knew any of those hurt or killed—a relative, an acquaintance… But deep down we know we are all brothers of these teiyere, heilige korbanos and their families. We are all with them in their pain, feeling for them, sharing their anguish, hoping and davening for healing of their bodies and hearts. We mourn the loss of the devoted fathers and husbands, the precious bachurim and heilige cheder yingerlach whose families never got a chance to take leave of them.
Our hearts ache for these families. We daven that the zechus of Rabi Shimon should stand in their stead to grant them a full nechamah, b’soch shaar aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.
TRAGEDY IN MERON
By: Duvid Berry
A week after the worst civilian accident in Israel’s history, some questions have been answered, but many others are
just beginning to be asked.
News of the tragic deaths of 45 innocent souls, and the injury of at least 100 more, attending a special celebration at a makom kadosh sent shock waves throughout the Jewish world and beyond. Klal Yisrael responded in its time-honored fashion: intense Tehillim gatherings for the injured, and grief for the lost; collections quickly set up for the families of the bereaved, and askanim working to provide assistance in any way possible, including interceding with airlines and forensics laboratories to arrange proper burials. Then began an intense soul searching, as rabbanim, darshanim, and individuals sought messages of meaning and chizuk among the tragedy.
Meanwhile, in Israel, initial shock and solidarity has given way to investigations and finger pointing. The general Israeli public stands in solidarity with the religious community. At least one secular newscaster dissolved into tears while reporting on the tragedy. Even Arab villages near Meron opened their homes to rescuers and emergency services. But the question “Who is to blame?” weighs heavily, and investigations and political maneuvering have begun.
Some clarity has been gained as to how events unfolded on the fateful night of Lag BaOmer 5781. The accident was not, as initial reports suggested, caused by the collapse of any structure, bleachers, or bridge. Nor was it a stampede of any sort, despite foreign media outlets’ insistence on using that hateful word.
A stampede implies a crazed rush of people, or animals, trampling on each other in panic, fear, or haste. The term does not jive with religious Jews at a makom kadosh, or anywhere; and the community instinctively knew it could not be accurate. In fact, the incident was what is known as a “crowd crush,” and activism is underway to replace all uses of the term “stampede” in media and historical reporting with the correct one.
Where did it happen?
The disaster occurred at a ramp set up to serve as an exit to the central hadlakah courtyard. The hadlakah takes place in the large chatzer behind the main building of the tomb of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Bleachers, music, and dancing space are set up behind the building. To provide an exit to the men’s section, a metal ramp was installed outside the southwest corner of the building. The ramp, which is located at the back-left corner of the site, from the perspective of one entering the complex, bends around the corner of the building and descends sharply along its side, to a set of ancient, slippery stone steps set in the downhill side of the mountain. The ramp ends abruptly before the steps, and a sharp right turn is required to use the steps. The way forward at the juncture is blocked; it is at a gate leading to the lower level of the Meron “Hachnasas Orchim.”
The ramp is slippery and treacherous in the best of times, as are the steps. On Lag BaOmer night, it was covered with spilled drinks and bottles. There is a central handrail, but in large crowds, it is out of reach for many people.
What went wrong?
At about 1:00 a.m., the lighting of the central bonfire of the Toldos Aharon chassidim had just been completed, and people uncomfortable with the intense crowding were leaving. An inordinately large crowd was exiting via the ramp. Officials estimate that over 100,000 people were present at Meron at that one time; the number is usually about 400,000 total over the course of the entire Lag BaOmer. Crowds were tighter this year because of last year’s COVID-induced cancelation of the event, as well as the shorter time-window on a Friday for the various events that take place at the kever. Israeli media outlets have also reported that as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic, bonfire areas had been partitioned off, creating unforeseen “choke-points.”
The ramp filled with people crushed into each other, pressed tightly together, and flowing down the ramp. A tightly packed crowd at Meron is common inside the tomb, but deadly on a slippery ramp. Some people near the steps at the bottom of the ramp lost their footing and fell. It is not clear what caused the initial falls, but the metal floor of the ramp was clearly slick and many could not reach a handrail.
Those behind the initial people who fell could not contain their footing, pressed forward by the volume of people flowing down the steep, slippery ramp behind them and the loss of counterpressure before them. Many fell, and the crush continued to flow uncontrollably down the ramp. Many were pressed tightly together, and the niftarim largely suffocated in the tight space. A police barricade blocked part of the exit, causing another bottleneck and contributing to the crush.
When the unfolding tragedy became clear, police opened the barricades and released the crowds. Rescue forces streamed to the scene, attempting to reach and evacuate the wounded. Hundreds of injured people were evacuated via six helicopters and teams of ambulances to area hospitals, including Ziv Medical Center in Tzfas, Galil Medical Center in Nahariya, Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Teveria, and Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa. Three hundred ambulances were blocked from the area by clogged roads. As medics were trying to reach the injured, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau remained on stage urging calm and reciting Tehillim for the injured.
“This was the worst incident I’ve ever experienced,” a Hatzolah member said. “We simply ran from resuscitation to resuscitation. We left one body and ran to the next one… The Hatzolah members were falling apart as they tended to the wounded.”
“People were simply pulled out of the pile like Lego bricks,” survivor Dvir Cohen remembered. “Hundreds of people had fallen on top of me.”
The site was closed during the aftermath. Blockades were set up at access roads and arriving buses were turned around. Cell phone service in the region immediately crashed, as thousands of people all tried to reach loved ones at once. Hundreds of panicked families who could not reach relatives turned to Misaskim, which set up a command center to connect families and provide information on the missing. Hospitals treating the wounded also set up hotlines for family members to inquire after lost relatives. The Jerusalem Municipality opened a crisis center to assist families in locating relatives. Tens of children ended up at the Misaskim command post, lost in the confusion. Families overseas were especially helpless, and Misaskim sent volunteers to provide chizuk to homes in Brooklyn, Montreal, Cleveland, and Teaneck.
Care for the niftarim
The image of body bags lined up in the Meron courtyard has come to represent the calamity. The niftarim were taken to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensics Medicine in Tel Aviv, a place that has been the scene of religious protests for many years. It is the site of Israel’s postmortem examinations and autopsies. The victims did not undergo postmortems, but were held until positive identification could be established, which took some time.
Parents and relatives scoured lists of survivors and injured at hospitals before turning to Abu Kabir. A relative described the panic that gripped the father of Nosson and Yehoshua Englard, as he exhausted all alternatives and realized he needed to go to the forensics lab. “We contacted every hospital, but the boys did not appear on any of their lists. That’s when we began to realize that the worst had happened,” said the relative. “In the morning… I went alone to Abu Kabir to support their father when he arrived. I realized it was a double funeral.” The father had to identify the bodies of his sons twice due to an identification error. “They sent the father back and forth during his most difficult time,” said the relative. “We buried the two children in Yerushalayim at a twenty-minute funeral because of Shabbos.”
As the identities of the niftarim became clear, as suspected, several were foreign citizens. EL AL offered free flights to family members rushing to Israel to attend levayos before Shabbos. Israel’s Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration declared that a fast track had been defined to allow families of the injured and deceased to enter Israel. Not all made it—at least two Americans were buried without any immediate family in attendance, but with hundreds of members of the greater family of Klal Yisrael.
Eight victims from North America were identified, including four with ties to Lakewood. Yossi Cohen has family sitting shivah in Lakewood. Dovi Steinmetz of Montreal attended yeshivah in Lakewood before enrolling in Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim. Pinchas Menachem Knoblowitz of Boro Park was engaged to a kallah from Lakewood just two weeks earlier. Shragee Gestetner from Montreal was a Skverer chassid known as a talmid chacham. He was also musically talented, and performed at weddings and large events. His brother sat shivah in his Lakewood home.
Menachem Yosef Tauber was from Monsey. Donny Morris of Bergenfield is the grandson of Ira Koenigsberg, the Rabbinical Council of America’s representative for Orthodox Jewish chaplains in the US military. Rav Eliezer Tzvi Josef was from Monroe.
The tragedy has had broad-reaching effects even on Lakewood residents who did not know anyone at the site. Chai Lifeline regional director Rabbi Sruli Fried, a social worker, said the group’s crisis hotline (855-327-4747) has been ringing day and night since the tragedy.
“We have been responding to schools, shuls, and individuals, frantic parents who have children in schools in Israel and are affected by this,” Rabbi Fried said. “This tragedy has been a communal tragedy of historic proportions.”
As word of the tragedy spread around the globe, condolences and expressions of unity began to pour in to Israel from Jewish communities worldwide and state governments.
The Beis Din Eidah Hachareidis in Yerushalayim declared a public mourning event that would take place Thursday, at Kikar Shabbos. The Eidah referred to it as “mandatory for all men, women, and children associated with the Eidah.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared Sunday to be a national day of mourning, ordering flags lowered to half-staff. Calls were placed to the prime minster’s office by many world leaders, including the Biden Administration, the European Union, and even the Palestinian Authority. Of course, celebrations did take place within the Arab world, and an exultant hashtag trended on Arabic-speaking Twitter feeds.
Askanim report widespread trauma and secondary trauma reactions in yeshivos and seminaries across Eretz Yisrael. Large numbers of parents have petitioned government officials for permission to visit their children in the country, to provide support and comfort in this time of stress and pain. Although Israel has allowed relatives of Israeli citizens to enter the country, it is currently denying entry to relatives of students, even with visas. A lobbying effort to change that is underway.
“They should be letting in all parents of visa holders,” said Rabbi Nechemia Malinowitz of the Igud Yeshivos and Seminaries. “If this isn’t possible, they should be letting in people who are truly needed by their children at this sad time. These are young adults, and we are talking about a terrible trauma. I believe that the country has the responsibility to allow the victims of this horrible event to get proper care. Allowing in their parents is the right thing to do at this time.”
Chaim v’Chessed stated, “Many children, students, and family members need urgent family support. It would be a basic humanitarian gesture to allow those family members into Israel.”
The blame game
Many eyewitnesses have faulted police for exacerbating the dangerous situation and turning it deadly. Over 5,000 officers are deployed to Meron each year on Lag BaOmer. Police at the bottom of the slippery ramp have been faulted for not opening the barricades to release the pressure of the crowds. Some videos even show officers reacting harshly to people forced out of the crush.
Survivor Yitzchak Deri, 24, of Bnei Brak, said he begged police to remove the barrier minutes before the tragedy. “I was next to this wall of death [a metal barrier placed at the exit by the police]—to which there’s no explanation or inkling of why it was put there. I went back, I fought against the swarm of people and I managed to get out,” he said. “I have witnesses to this—I cried to the police officer and told him: ‘Take this out—this wall of death—we’re dying.’ I told him that I almost fainted. I said, ‘There’s going to be dozens of people dying and I’ll testify against you in court.’ And this was ten minutes before the tragedy occurred.”
Deri added, “It was clear that they were going to die. I heard several people say ‘Shema Yisrael.’”
A relative of the Englard brothers reported that the children begged police to be allowed to escape the crush. “They were crying, begging for their lives,” he said.
A statement from the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) on Friday said that an investigation into possible police negligence in the disaster will be opened immediately. Police investigators have already been at the site to gather evidence and all videos of the disaster are being reviewed. Police Chief of Northern Israel Shimon Lavi said he was prepared to accept “responsibility,” while Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said he was willing to face an inquiry. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman promised to hold a special audit that would focus on the actions of decision-makers, police and rescuers in the field.
Journalist Maor Tzur Ish reports that police closed the exit to the ramp to administer treatment to a man who had suffered a heart attack and collapsed before the crowds began descending the ramp. Police and medical teams tried to treat the man, he reported, causing a bottleneck and the eventual collapsing wave of people in the crush. He said police were attempting to stop the throngs of people from trampling the man who had collapsed and those trying to help him, and for that reason they closed part of the passageway.
Some find fault with government regulators failing to oversee the kever properly. Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged a full probe, but political rival Benny Gantz demanded a state commission of inquiry, Israel’s highest level of investigation. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday launched an investigation into the conduct of police, and is set to launch a similar probe into the government’s conduct.
Many find fault, however, in coordinated efforts to block state regulators from enforcing building, fire, construction, and permit codes at the site. Rav Aharon Boimel, leader of the Berditchev kehillah in Yerushalayim, said he avoided the central hadlakah the entire evening, fearing disaster.
“We’ve warned of overcrowding there in the past—and what we feared most happened. If police had not positioned barricades at the compound the disaster would have been greater,” he said. Hatzolah director Eli Beer is quoted as having said that the crowd was four to five times larger than it should have been. Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau has issued public calls for the state to take over full oversight of the area.
Shlomo Levy, former head of Merom HaGalil Regional Council where Har Meron and the tomb complex of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai are located, claimed that he tried for years to eliminate the dangers at the location, but “religious groups use government connections to have the place in a chokehold.”
“From my knowledge of the place, it is impossible to move a stone there without running into this or that group, and if you do move something there, half an hour later you get a phone call from Jerusalem,” Levy said.
A spirit of unity and cooperation reigned briefly after the shared suffering of loss and tragedy. The manner in which the country, community, and nation moves forward remains to be seen.
Chesed U’Mishpat Ashirah
Chizuk in Troubling Times
Facilitated by Y. Strauss, based on a conversation with Rav Chaim Meir Roth shlit”a, Rav d’Khal Sterling Forest Sefard
One must feel the pain of all those who are suffering from this terrible g’zar din. Indeed such a tragedy is overwhelming. Many people are in shock; how can such a thing happen in such a place? Rabi Shimon is from the greatest tzaddikim ever. Yachol liftor ha’olam, he had the power to remove the midas hadin from the whole world! Lag BaOmer is Rabi Shimon’s hilullah, his personal simchah. In fact, the Arizal writes that Rabi Shimon would get upset when someone would come to Meron and cry endlessly, as it was disturbing his simchah!
That such a thing should happen on Lag BaOmer is unfathomable; it is beyond our ability to understand. So what must we do? We open up our Chovos Halevavos to Shaar Habitachon, perek heh to see how a baal bitachon should look at such an event.
The Chovos Halevavos writes that someone who has bitachon thanks Hashem for anything that happens, both the good and the bad, and he says, “Hashem nassan v’Hashem lakach, the same Hashem that gives me good is the One who performs din.”
Meron represents this reality. Meron is a place where one can balance the knowledge of Hashem’s tov and the tzaar of his personal hardships. Inside, at the kever, people are crying; outside they are dancing. In the very same place, both realities are true.
Meron shows how one can come to the level of “chesed u’mishpat ashirah,” which the Gemara explains to mean that both when we see the chesed of Hashem and when we see His mishpat, midas hadin, we can sing to the Ribono Shel Olam. Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s life embodied this emunah. Rather than living a life of comfort as befitting a tzaddik of his stature, he lived as a fugitive, stuck in a cave with barely anything to eat and nothing to wear. Rabi Shimon lived a life of emunah and bitachon, a life in which we don’t have questions.
Rabi Shimon was megaleh the Toras Hasod, the secrets of the Torah. In this world, the world of sod, we acknowledge that we cannot understand Hashem’s ways. They are hidden; it is a world of sod. The way to relate to them is by having bitachon. By knowing that just like the good which we are so used to is from Hashem, so too are His hidden ways of din. In the world of sod, we find comfort in the fact that everything has meaning, everything has depth, even that which seems so bizarre and strange.
Sometimes Hashem runs the world in the form of niglah, we can understand it; good people are rewarded, bad people suffer. But there are times when Hashem acts with the chelek of sod, in a way that is incomprehensible to the human mind. When we accept that world, when we live with emunah and bitachon, we can live with unfathomable events, we can say Hashem nassan Hashem lakach, chesed u’mishpat ashirah.
As we come to terms with this terrible tragedy we must turn to the Ribono Shel Olam and say that we learned a lesson in bitachon, a lesson that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai teaches us. He taught us that there is a world of sod.
Chesed u’mishpat ashirah.
We do not understand why Hashem did what He did. But we can learn from it nevertheless. Perhaps one thing we can take out of this is the concept of kedushas hamakom. There are places of kedushah which we visit on a constant basis. Meron is a makom kadosh. When such a thing happens in such a place, it should serve as a reminder that these places need to be respected and revered, as Hashem said after the petirah of Nadav and Avihu, “V’al pnei kol ha’am e’kaveid.” People see that there is a concept of a place where the higher level of kedushah demands from us a higher level of behavior.
May the Ribono Shel Olam be menachem us, the entire Klal Yisrael. May this be the last tzarah we face before the Geulah Sheleimah, and may we be zocheh to truly understand that chesed u’mishpat ashirah, whatever happens is from Hashem, with the coming of Mashiach.
The following are excerpts from a speech given by Rabbi Moshe Rotberg, rav of Khal Zichron Yechezkel in Toms River, following the tragedy at the kever of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron.
Facilitated by Meir Kass
As Klal Yisrael collectively attempts to put the Meron tragedy in perspective, let’s understand that we are talking about a tragedy of historic proportions. Lesser tragedies to befall Klal Yisrael have culminated in gezeiros that changed halachah forever; who knows what Chazal would have implemented following the tragedy we witnessed last week? While there is no way to make sense of it, and one of the challenges of being an ehrliche Yid in such difficult times is strengthening our emunah, there is so much to be learned from this horrific tragedy.
So many people have been asking how it could be that such a tragedy could occur at the kever of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai on his yom hilulah. How could it be? Where was the shemirah, the protection of Rashbi?
The Mirrer mashgiach, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, said over a fascinating mashal. A sick man was instructed by his doctor to go to the Swiss Alps, where the healthy, refreshing air would help him recover. The doctor told him of a certain hotel at which he could stay where all his needs would be taken care of while he spent his time recovering. The man packed his bags and headed to the Alps, where he spent several weeks. Upon returning, his doctor examined him and noted that he was no better than before; in fact, he was in even worse shape. The doctor asked the man what happened while he was at the Swiss Alps and why he had not healed. The sick man told the doctor that he doesn’t understand it either. “I went to the hotel just like you ordered,” he said. He described the amenities, the rooms, and the activities provided by the hotel. The doctor became furious. “Don’t you understand that I didn’t send you there to enjoy the hotel, but to gain from the air in the mountains?!”
This mashal is so pertinent to our own lives. There are so many times when we are going where we should be going, but we are just experiencing the hotel. We are not getting the help we need; we aren’t focusing on what’s important.
Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was one of several who taught Torah following the deaths of 24,000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva who passed away because “lo nahagu kavod zeh l’zeh.” Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and his peers, however, engaged with one another with the proper respect. When we go to his kever we must ask: Are we just going to the hotel or are we actually experiencing and gaining from Rabi Shimon bar Yochai? Are we just going or are we learning and becoming better people?
I can’t help but notice the horrible pictures, the stories of last week’s tragedy—two sets of parents burying two of their young children; a yasom who lost his father years ago who now lost his own life—his poor mother, after burying her husband now burying her son; one individual who was injured and taken out, only to go back in and succumb. And the nature of the deaths, being trampled—skilah, chenek—is nothing short of horrific. We need to understand how to internalize this in a productive way so we can move forward. When we see the faces of every one of the victims, we hear incredible, beautiful things. So many stories, so many details about these people, and Klal Yisrael as a whole mourns every one of them—whether it’s a boy from Teaneck, a Yerushalmi Yid, or a Mirrer bachur. We mourn them all as kedoshim v’tehorim, as we should. But we must ask ourselves: How did we view these individuals just 24 hours before the tragedy? Not these individuals in particular, but in general. Do we see the positive aspects of people before a tragedy strikes?
Klal Yisrael has an innate ability to come together in times of tragedy like no other nation can. But how do we come together when things are going well? Do we trample on each other and put others down? Do we tear into people, and act quickly on impulses to damage others’ reputations? This is a problem that has been exacerbated by the technology available to us now. We don’t feel it because it’s only a word, it’s only a statement, it’s only a text. Do we judge people based solely on the way they look? How often do we slap labels on people—even benign ones: “That person is so yeshivish/chassidish/modern,” and so on? We are heartbroken over the horrific tragedy at Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s kever, but do we notice whether we are trampling on others without a second’s thought? Of course, we can’t say this is the reason why the tragedy happened, but it is something we should keep in mind.
Does going to kevarim change who we are, what we need to do? We go to the hotel, but do we get the fresh air? We went to Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s kever but are we changing who we are, how we treat other people? We must take a lesson from that.
If we can move on from this horrible tragedy with one thought, it should be this: Hashem told us, on the yom hilulah of Rabi Shimon, at the kever itself: “Yidden, look how precious you are to each other. Look how much you truly care for one another.”
Why is it that when people are alive we so easily knock them down, but when they pass away, everyone rallies around them? Is it possible the reason is because when people are alive and doing well, we see them as a potential threat or we simply can’t fargin? When a person is down on his luck, when a person is sick, when a person is deceased, they are no longer a threat, and we can treat them with respect. When we see the images of the 45 victims of Meron, we have only rachmanus, we have only broken hearts. Imagine if just 24 hours earlier we looked at them and everyone around us with an open heart, rather than trampling on them and being judgmental.
This is a wakeup call for all of us. I can’t say why this happened, but we all saw what happened immediately following the tragedy. Klal Yisrael instantly had room in their hearts to see 45 beautiful yidden, to see their strengths, their goodness, and their accomplishments. Were we able to see that before?
Let us not leave a tragedy like this without internalizing something special, something unique. Hashem doesn’t do anything without a reason. While we may never understand the reason for this particular tragedy, we now know how precious every individual is. Let’s not believe for a moment that when we speak negatively about each other, put each other down, and judge each other, we aren’t trampling them. We are. We are trampling on them; we are destroying them. It’s just that the optics aren’t there, and the effects of our words are hidden; we don’t see the terrible things they cause. Let us emerge from this tragedy strengthened in our resolve and commitment to seeing every Yid positively. Let us see ma’alas chaveireinu—the positive in everyone, the beauty in every Yid. And with that, we can at least take something positive from this tragedy, and not chalilah allow ourselves to move on from such a story unshaken and unmoved.
Growing from Tragedy
Parenting is one of life’s greatest privileges and definitely one of its more challenging tasks. Even in straightforward, simpler times, it helps so much to spend some proactive time thinking of what your goals are in terms of what you want most to provide for your children, which will influence any decisions you make on how to parent them.
Let’s say you hope your children will be honest. In that case you’d be proud if they admitted mistakes, since honesty is a virtue you value (more than perfection). If you put emphasis on loving other Jews, you’d be sure not to expose them to judgmental table talk, instead speaking highly of different types and groups of Jews. Plugging your questions into your goals and determining the best fit minimizes a lot of confusion.
We are all still numb with the shock of the Meron tragedy last week. There are no definitive lessons and no sense to be made of something so huge and horrific. When we can’t wrap our minds around tragedy, how can we possibly help our children be at peace with it?
We can’t. It’s too big for all of us. No one can pretend to have clarity about loss in general, and certainly not loss of this magnitude. Instead, it’s vital that we are open and accessible to hear and hold our children through difficult times like this and to let them know that their confusion, fear, and pain are not too much for us. This is worth more than having the perfect answer or chizuk.
Perhaps, though, we can also set some course of action by thinking of our goals—both in terms of knowledge we want to impart and live by and actions we want to take—and sharing/reacting in ways that bring us closer to achieving those important goals even during this devastating time. Here are some possible values we may want to impart and examples of how we can use this event as a springboard for growth in our children:
- Having emunah and bitachon doesn’t always mean having answers or happy endings: We live our lives knowing that we don’t know, and that we have the blessing and privilege of serving, loving, and trusting the One Who does. Having bitachon does not mean believing that all will work out well. It means we believe that Hashem knows the needs of every neshamah, taking into account the past, present, and future and crafting the details of our lives and deaths in ways that are for the neshamah’s ultimate good, even when it doesn’t at all seem or feel that way to us with our limited perspective. There is a bigger picture, an eternal good, and the zechus of hanging on.
- Each neshamah has its own “recipe”: Most children love to bake. Each cake has a specific recipe and time needed before it is ready to come out of the oven. Some are done in a half hour; some need more than double that. This can be used as a comforting analogy. The typical neshamah can need 120 years to “bake” to completion, while others need only 14 years to be “done.” Hearing of young people dying is so sad. The young kedoshim, though, still lived the recipe they needed and didn’t lose their chance to acquire the sweetest eternal life of one whose life was purposeful and fulfilled. We live our lives and use our time to grow closer to Hashem and to our potential not because we are afraid to die, but because that’s what it means to live. That’s the part of the recipe that’s up to us.
- We feel other Jews’ pain because we are all connected. (And pain is not bad/scary to feel.): You may not have answers for your children to hear, but you have tears for them to see. And that is far more powerful a lesson than any speech on ahavas Yisrael. Talk about how much you think of and hurt for the families, pledge tzedakah for their causes, and daven for their neshamos. Minimizing our fun after hearing of and feeling someone else’s hardship is a powerful model of areivus. Don’t worry about exposing children to the pain and tears related to feeling for others. Life, unfortunately, comes along with pain. And the message that it’s “too much for us” breeds fragile people who can’t handle discomfort or being real. We want to raise feeling, authentic people who can handle all of the feelings that are appropriate to true, deep connections and the circumstances of life.
- We take messages as opportunities to grow: We lack the clarity of knowing why things happen, and that’s why we can’t make any definite cause-and-effect equations (for example, this aveirah caused this, so to make up for it we have to rectify that). What we always can do, though, is take messages as catalysts for growth. Whether it’s for the zechus of one suffering or gone or to become a better oved Hashem, doing something is always a positive reaction. One gadol told a friend of mine that the best things to take on in such a situation are not necessarily new and potentially very difficult actions; they can be resolutions to take existing mitzvos to the next level of depth and kavanah, such as saying Modeh Ani with more mindfulness and feeling, saying brachos/amen out loud, etc. Such actions, and the ability to point to when and for which reason you took them on and maintained them, make you someone who reacts by growing and becoming more.
These are just examples. Thinking of which themes and life lessons are goals for you will crystallize your own parenting “curriculum” through crisis as well as through life im yirtzeh Hashem. Living those goals as your own reality is the best you can do to inspire your children to join the journey.
May we be gifted the opportunity to parent our children through many simchos and times of shefa and bracha.