Still reeling from the brutal murder of little Leiby, I checked the news once Shabbat had ended to learn of the horrendous massacre in Norway, in which 93 people have been confirmed killed and another 97 wounded. This was the single worst massacre to date, and was the largest number of deaths in Norway since World War II.
A country is in mourning, the world in shock. Once again we are witness to the depravity of one single person.
Alongside the news of Norway, another tragedy of a different sort was reported. This was the story of a young Jewish woman, known throughout the world for her singing and creative talent, who died at the age of twenty-seven.
Another young life, cut short, needlessly.
We have just lost dozens of innocent people, with much left to do, to give to and to impact their world, but who are no longer here because of a monster who didn’t value the lives of others. And at the same time we have so many others who lives are snuffed out in their prime because of a monster within, disabling them from valuing their own lives.
A country is in mourning, the world in shockAnd where does this leave us? Those reading these stories, watching the interviews, feeling the pain?
Chassidic philsophy teaches us that we are to live with the times. In other words, we should glean meaning, direction and insight in our day-to-day life from the time of the year, the Torah portion of the week, etc. We are currently in the “Three Weeks” of mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which culminate with Tisha B’Av, the day of the greatest destruction for the Jewish people. The Three Weeks begin on the 17th of the month of Tammuz, which marks the day that the walls leading to Jerusalem were destroyed. Three weeks later, on Tisha B’Av, our Temple was destroyed.
Yet all three weeks are considered a time of mourning. We do not just recognize the day of the actual destruction, but we recognize that the root of that destruction began much earlier. Had we been able to recognize it then, to stop it then, perhaps the worst could have been prevented.
We have watched so much tragedy unfold, and in our shock and pain we ask “why?” Yet no one can give us that answer. Certainly not now. Not yet. Not while our Temple is still destroyed. Not while our walls are crumbled and in need of rebuilding. We are taught that when Moshiach comes, he will have many questions to answer. He will explain the “why” for so much. But while we wait, the “why” is the one thing we will not know.
But there is something we can and must do. And not just for those tragedies that have happened, but to help prevent more from occurring.
We do not just recognize the day of the actual destruction, but we recognize that the root of that destruction began much earlierWe must all take a piercing look into our lives and the lives of our loved ones and those around us. Are there walls there that have been weakened? Walls that have been breached, walls that have been broken? Are there walls in need of rebuilding or repair?
Walls serve both positive and negative purposes. We can build a wall to keep others out and ourselves hidden, or we can build walls to offer protection and security. Those walls that hide problems must be destroyed, for those walls hide what must be dealt with, and do not allow others to help. Simultaneously, when we hide behind our own walls, refusing to let others in, we often find that we become prisoners within our own mind and hearts.
At the same time, those who have no walls in their lives are vulnerable to the ills around them, and must be helped to build walls that can offer the safety that one needs. Often it is the lack of walls in the first place that leads to situations where walls are built to hide, rather than to protect.
Our collective time of mourning as a Jewish people teaches us that mourning is not just for the day that tragedy struck, but it includes the time period when the warning signs were there and the problems escalated and we were not able to stop them. We need to protect ourselves, our children and our community by looking at our walls. And we need to remember that just as one person can wreak so much terror and destruction, so too can one person save the emotional, physical or spiritual lives of so many others. So, too, can one person impact the world and change it for the better.
But change can only happen when we look for the breach in the walls. When we don’t wait for an event to occur to deal with the root of the problem.
A predator does not become a predator overnight. A person who takes his or her life, either purposely or indirectly through reckless behavior, did not develop an addiction or depression or erratic behavior overnight. A terrorist does not plan an attack overnight. There are signs. There are warnings. There are behaviors. And we as a community must learn to identify them and deal with them before they lead to action.
There are warnings. There are behaviors. And we as a community must learn to identify themWe are in pain. We are in mourning. And we should be. The loss is great. But we have seen, and will see through every tragedy, the unity that will come about. The community will become one through extended support, help and involvement. We must use this concern and love to strengthen ourselves and fight against what seeks to destroy us, be it the demons within or those outside of our hearts and minds. And we must search and find those walls, and the breaches and weaknesses that lie within.
Together we can fix these broken walls, and build new ones where necessary. Together we will get through this. And together we will bring comfort to one another while we await the ultimate comfort and end to this suffering with Moshiach, who will finally explain the “why.”