A number of years ago, my father zt”l was looking for a speaker for the shul’s Yom HaShoah program. He contacted the agent of a famous Holocaust survivor and author to see if he could get him to address the audience for the event.
“How much do you have in your budget for the speaker?” asked the agent. My father, quite annoyed at that question, responded, “As much as Yirmiyah received for writing Eichah (Lamentations).” Needless to say, my father found another speaker.
In truth, I did not want to write an article this week, considering the horrible tragedy in Meron on Lag BaOmer. How can one find words to express adequately the feelings of witnessing the awful death of adults and children alike who have come to celebrate the joyous occasion of Lag BaOmer at the holy site of the kever of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai? As much as it is difficult to write anything comforting, or even sensible, it is more difficult not to write anything. So for the moment I will turn to Yirmiyah.
On Tish’ah B’Av morning, we read the haftarah taken from Yirmiyahu (chapters 8 and 9). In pasuk 23, Yirmiyah laments, “If only someone would turn my head to water and my eye to a spring of tears, then I would cry all day and night for the death of my daughter’s people.”
In Eichah 1:13, we read, “From on high He sent a fire into my bones and it crushed them; he spread a net for my feet, hurling them backwards.”
These are not comforting words, but they do capture our feelings of despair for the tragedy that befell 45 precious souls, their grieving parents, siblings, and widows. It especially hit home with the death of a young bachur, Donny Morris, whose parents live right here in the Tri-State Area (in Teaneck), and Azi Koltai, who originated in Passaic.
The only comparison we have to Aharon HaKohen and his reaction to the fiery death of his two sons Nadav and Avihu during the joyous celebration of the inauguration of the Mishkan (see VaYikra 10:1-4) is “VaYidom Aharon–and Aharon was silent.” The Torah never offers an explanation as to why Aharon’s two sons were consumed. It is left to speculation by the Gemara and commentaries throughout the generations. Apparently, the Torah is telling us that there is no one explanation why Hashem decrees as He does. Perhaps all conclusions are true. Perhaps none. But G-d’s decree is something we must accept.
I have seen people, and even talmidei chachamim, express all kinds of reasons as to why this tragedy occurred. Some were even laced with disdain for fellow Jews to the left or the right. I am not aware that Hashem sent prophets to deliver His secrets to any of them.
The most profound words came from a number of the parents or loved ones who simply expressed their unflinching faith in Hashem and their love for fellow Jews of all stripes who came together at this tragic moment.
I am sorry if I have nothing profound to contribute in terms of making sense of this tragedy. Sometimes Hashem just wants us to huddle together and realize that Jews throughout the globe are united as one, despite making every effort to show otherwise.
Hashem, we beg you! Please let us see the fulfillment of Yirmiyah’s words at the very end of Eichah: “Bring us back to You, Hashem, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.”
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.