Views on the News

The Tragedy in Norway

July 28, 2011 12:59 PM

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.”

When the Unthinkable Happens

July 28, 2011 12:59 PM

Editor's Note: I wrote this piece upon learning of the horrific murder of nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky, of blessed memory, in Brooklyn, New York. May his family be comforted, and may Leiby's soul find peace and blessing.

When I was in college, my friend’s younger brother was shot to death one night over a beeper. Fifteen years old, and shot in the back, at a party filled with kids, because of a $100 gadget.

I was devastated. The pain, emptiness and horror that his loss created was something that will forever stay with me. I was there for the funeral and for the mourning, and close to the family during most of the trial. Unfortunately, due to technicalities in the legal system (the murderer confessed before he was read his rights, therefore his statement was inadmissible in a court of law, and he then pleaded not guilty, etc.) he ended up receiving a slap on the wrist for taking a beautiful, innocent, young life.

The pain, emptiness and horror that his loss created was something that will forever stay with me

We recently had my twenty-year high school reunion. While I was unable to attend, some of my friends were there. They updated me on what everyone was doing. And that included Marc’s family. No one had forgotten what had happened. His older brother, our classmate, was now a successful professor, happily married, with two children and a third on the way. And they mentioned that his young son is named Marc.

In Judaism, when we hear about a death, the response we are to give is: Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge. Over the years I have struggled with this response. I really have. There are times it seems appropriate, other times when it is hard to swallow.

When my elderly grandfather passed on, I had no problem reciting these words. He had lived a full life. He had been there for his children and his grandchildren, and even had the merit to meet some of his great-grandchildren. This is how life is supposed to go. We, the great-grandchildren, mourning the loss of our elder. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

But what about when it is the great-grandparents mourning their great-grandchildren? When it is a three-month-old baby in Israel with her throat slashed by a terrorist, or a two-year-old orphaned on his birthday in Mumbai, or the siblings of a nine-year-old brother in Brooklyn. And the list goes on.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Blessed is the True Judge.

It is hard to say. But really, is there anything else to say?

When things make sense, when things go in the natural order, it is easy to leave G‑d out of it. But when they don’t—when they tragically and incomprehensibly go in a different direction—as hard as it may be, there is only one thing we can rely on. That this is not natural. This is not something that makes sense. This is only something that our Creator can understand. And we have no option but to trust that somehow, some way, there is a reason and meaning to this.

It is hard to say. But really, is there anything else to say?One of the most powerful moments in my journey in Judaism came about in a conversation regarding the murder of fifteen-year-old Marc. I was in Israel, studying for the year, and had become much more connected to my Judaism. I was loving the learning, the meaning, the lifestyle. But I just couldn’t get past my difficulty in connecting to a G‑d who would allow tragedy to happen. A G‑d who allowed Marc to be shot in the back, devastating family and friends forever.

I sat there one night debating this with a friend. I emphatically said that there was no way I wanted to live in a world, or believe in a G‑d, that would allow an innocent child to be callously murdered. My friend looked me right in the eye and responded that she didn’t want to live in a world where that excuse for a human being, that murderer, was more powerful than her G‑d.

It hit me. It was so true. I also don’t want to live in a world where my G‑d is not greater than these monsters. Does it help me understand why these things happen? No. But who said we can ever understand? We can’t. But we can believe that despicable tragedies will not go unpunished. That they will not be forgotten. And that one day—G‑d willing, immediately—we will no longer suffer like this, for our exile will be over.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Blessed is the True Judge.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
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