Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

Our Survival Kit

We are speechless. Shocked. Broken. And afraid. Four men go to daven Shacharis one morning and they are bludgeoned to death. Twenty-four yesomim. Shattered families. The middas hadin has shaken us to our very core. And only He will be able to provide the nechamah for those in need. But make no mistake about it. The Ribbono Shel Olam is speaking to us in a very clear and loud Voice, and we cannot ignore Him.

It is understandable if we react with anger and hatred. “Let’s kill them, destroy their homes and raze their villages.” Yes, it is true. Those in positions of power must see that the barbaric perpetrators of this horrific act pay for their crimes. Greater security measures must be taken. We must find a way to better protect ourselves.

But that is not our message. And let’s be clear. Only people infused and imbued with the ruach Hashem know what the message is. But for the rest of us, there is a message, some lesson for us to take to heart. We cannot and must not allow an event such as this to pass us by without taking action.

So what is there to do?

​On the fourth of Shevat 5744, nearly 100,000 people flooded the streets of Netivot as they headed toward the funeral of the Baba Sali, Rav Yisroel Abuchatzeira zt”l, the great mekubal and holy adviser. On the way to the funeral, a car carrying four men was involved in a fatal collision, leaving behind four widows and over 30 orphans.

​Rav Erlanger, a mashpia in Eretz Yisrael, tried to find the proper words to communicate the message that should be taken from this tragedy. Eager to seek guidance, he turned to the Rachmastrivka Rebbe and asked him, “What can be done at a time like this?”

The Rebbe shrugged his shoulders. He had no answer for Rav Erlanger.

Rav Erlanger asked again, with more persistence, “What can we do at a time of such difficulty?”

​The Rebbe looked at him and responded emphatically, “What can be done? Everything can be done!”​

Rav Erlanger appreciated the Rebbe’s bluntness.

​If the Al-mighty did not reveal His reasons, it is not our job to try to figure them out. Instead, when tragedy strikes, we should focus our efforts on improving – in any way we can.

Everything is on the table.

It struck me that the attack transpired while the men were davening tefillah betzibbur. Both components, tefillah and tzibbur, provide great merit. How is it that these two great protectors were unable to ward off the attack? How can it be that these tzaddikim were not shielded from harm? Perhaps it is because even when one wears a protective suit of armor, chinks in the armor make its wearer vulnerable.

Maybe, then, we can look to our prayer and our sense of tzibbur and find where we can improve. No one should tell anyone else where their shortcomings may lie. We are each aware of how we need to improve. So let us take this to heart. Let us concretize our commitment to improve so that horribly mind-numbing tragic events do not dissipate into a lost opportunity to change. It may be one’s need to come on time, or to concentrate better on a specific tefillah, or perhaps we must stop our talking in shul. Start small and increase your commitment as you achieve success.

But do something. Anything.

To protect us.

To protect others.

And regarding the tzibbur aspect, haven’t we seen this before? Wasn’t it just a few months ago that we experienced achdus in the manner in which it was meant to be? How long did it take for that feeling to wane? As individuals, we are susceptible, but as a tzibbur, we become indomitable. Take, for example, a New York City telephone book. Anyone can rip one page. But no one can rip the entire book. When we are together, we become unbreakable.

Truly special. An am segulah mikol ha’amim. Different than all other nations. A seh pezurah Yisroel. Klal Yisroel is a sheep that is scattered.

Why is it that we are compared to a sheep? There are two answers given, and one dovetails the next quite beautifully. The Mechilta D’Rebbi Yishmoel notes that the nature of the sheep is that when one limb aches, the other limbs sense the pain acutely. And as the flock grazes together, if one begins bleating, the rest bleat along with the suffering sheep.

This is why we are a seh pezurah. We may be individuals, but we bleat together, sensing each other’s pain as if it is our very own.

Tragedies such as these unite us a people. But we must do something more than just preach about peace and love. The Maharal in Netzach Yisroel describes achdus as the survival kit of golus. As a dovor shaleim, we can withstand the persecution and suffering, but when we act alone, we lose our ability to survive.

In the arena of achdus, we must do something. Anything.

During World War II, as Rav Shlomo Dovid Yehoshua Weinberg was taken to be slaughtered together with his kehillah, he turned to them and mentioned an awe-inspiring concept. It is based on a Medrash in Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim (Remez 869). “The posuk says, ‘Yodin bagoyim malei geviyos – He will judge the corpse-filled nation’ (Tehillim 110:6). If a Jewish person is killed by the goyim, the Al-mighty takes His purphurion (robe) and dips it into that Jew’s blood. When the Yom Hadin, the (final) Day of Judgment, comes, He dons that robe.”

And then he cried out, “Oy…what could be more choshuv (important) than adorning the robe of the Aibishter?”

On the 25th day of Cheshvan, Hashem’s Robe was adorned once more.

Now, we must do something about it.

Anything.

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