Friday, April 30, 2021

Reflecting on a Tragedy

The Jewish World is reeling with intense grief in reaction to the horrific events that occurred at Meron last night on the eve of Lag B’omer. It is difficult to contemplate or fathom the scope of this devastating tragedy. The manner in which dozens of mostly young men lost their lives is beyond traumatic. As of this writing, many people are still missing, and their families are desperate to contact them, not knowing if they are still among the living. There are so many layers to this tragedy that it is hard to process. I will try to give it some context in the best way that I can.  For many in the Orthodox community in Israel, Lag Ba’omer in general and traveling to Meron, in particular, is the highlight of their year. The spiritual connection that people feel at the sacred space of where the revered sage Rabbi Shimon was laid to rest is compelling for hundreds of thousands to make the journey to Mt. Meron in the Galilee on Lag Ba’omer. This year, in particular, the pilgrimage to Meron on Lag Baomer was anticipated with greater fervor than usual. It was as Israel was emerging from the pandemic and finally turning a corner on COVID. On a national level, this was going to be the first massive gathering, and indirectly this was a celebration of the conclusion of COVID. Alas, this was not meant to be. Instead of our brothers and sisters waking up to a festive Lag B’omer, they are waking up to an intensely dark day of burying many people.  As people of faith, this is acutely challenging as we are once again forced to reconcile how a benevolent G-d can allow so many holy and pure souls to be literally trampled to death? Unfortunately, we have a precedent with a great celebration that was marred with tragedy, and that story is recorded in the Torah. As the Mishkan was being inaugurated after many months of great anticipation, tragedy struck with the unexpected death of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron the Kohen Gadol. The Torah records the reaction of Aaron as “ Va’yidom Aaron,” translated as Aaron was silent. With the unspoken words of Aaron, I believe he was teaching us that there are times when words do not suffice and when they in fact, can be unproductive. No words of comfort will assuage the collective pain in our hearts. We may be willing to accept the justice of G-d, but we know as long as we are in this world, we will never fully understand. For us, in the face of overwhelming tragedy, there is only one response for now: silence. As Aaron taught in the face of immense tragedy, silence may be the most profound communication. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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