Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

The Phoenix Will Rise

Sometimes, the enormity of a tragedy precludes us from coming up with an appropriate and fitting response, because no matter how one reacts, it will not and cannot match the devastation of the tragedy. Upon hearing the shocking news of the horrific fire that destroyed the Sassoon home and much of the family in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, Klal Yisroel is utterly bereft. Numb. Bankrupt of emotion. As one person shared, “Who ever heard of such a thing? It is like one family’s Holocaust!” Indeed, one would be hard -pressed to find a calamity of such proportion in recent memory. No number of tears can properly express our feelings regarding this mind-numbing catastrophe. So what is there to do?

It would be unfair and insensitive for anyone to suggest why such a tragedy happened. Only the Yodei’a Machashavos truly knows. But one thing is clear: The Al-mighty wants to get our attention. He is demanding it. So, first and foremost, our reaction must indicate that we are attentive to the Ribbono Shel Olam’s calling. He has our ear. We are listening and eager to do something, anything, to help prevent something like this from happening again. Mere sadness will not do the trick.

Yes, on a practical level, we must take the proper safety measures to keep our smoke alarms updated. But let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s try to uncover something more meaningful.

It was Friday night of Parshas Vayikra when the flames engulfed the Sassoon home and consumed the bodies of seven korbanos. The timing should not be lost on us. This week, we read of the various korbanos to be brought in the Mishkan.

The Shelamim, the Minchah, and the Olah.

The Asham, the Chatas, and four types of Korbanos Todah.

The Vilna Gaon points out that the first letters of these six korbanos spell the first and last words of Krias Shema, Shema and Echad: The roshei teivos of Shelamim, Minchah and Olah spell Shema. The first letters of Asham, Chatas, plus the letter Dalet, which hints to the four types of Korbanos Todah, spell Echad. Rav Mordechai Shapiro brings this vort and says that Krias Shema is equivalent in Hashem’s eyes to all of the korbanos.

This fascinating insight may also inspire us to make a powerful and very sharp observation. Perhaps if we are more careful to sanctify Hashem in our lives, He won’t need to take our children as korbanos.

At the time of the Churban Bayis, we were somewhat consoled by the knowledge that Hashem “shofach…chamaso al ha’eitzim ve’al ha’avanim – poured out His wrath on the sticks and the stones [i.e., the Bais Hamikdosh]” (Eichah Rabbasi 4:15), and we could say, “Look how much worse things could have been.” But now, we are experiencing the full wrath of Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s din. Now, there is nothing worse. Some sort of improvement is in order.

We cannot limit our change to the batteries of smoke detectors. We must do more.

Two humble suggestions.

First of all, let us commit to improving our shemiras Shabbos. Fire and Shabbos are connected in several places in the Torah. We welcome Shabbos with the timeless tradition of women lighting Shabbos candles. We depart from Shabbos with the flickering light of the Havdalah candle. Additionally, we are instructed about the importance of keeping Shabbos through the warning of, “Lo sevaaru aish bechol moshvoseichem beyom haShabbos – You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos day” (Shemos 35:3).

Perhaps we can commit to learning more about Shabbos. In halachah or hashkafah. In thought and in deed. But let’s not just read the books. How about sharing the inspiration with our families? It should be noted that with the onset of Shabbos and the lighting of the candles, the women of Klal Yisroel pray for their children. Let’s share the beauty of Shabbos with our children. Through knowledge, song, and meaningful discussion. On Shabbos, when we are free of distraction, we have time to spend with them.

This segues to a second modest proposal.

Let’s love our children a little bit more. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them how much they mean to us. Tell them how proud we are of who they are. As difficult as it may be, we should stop for a moment and contemplate what our lives would be like without them. Our children are not perfect. But they are our children. And we must love them. If the lines of communication are down, then let’s try to repair them. Perhaps our children are in pain for some reason or another. Maybe they feel like no one is listening and no understands them. But their stifled shrieking and bone-chilling cries for help must be heard before it is too late.

We must love them.

Unconditionally.

It is Chodesh Nissan, and although right now it may not feel like it, it is time for rebirth and renewal. The months of Adar and Iyar, surrounding the month of Nissan, both contain the roshei teivos of “Ani Hashem Rofecha – I am Hashem your Healer” (Shemos 15:26). On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Nadav and Avihu were taken when their neshamos were consumed by fire. Last Friday night, seven more precious neshamos joined the ranks of “bekrovai Ekadeish – I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me” (Vayikra 10:3).

These korbanos are quite painful.

Too painful.

Klal Yisroel is hurting. But we know: “HaTzur tamim pa’alo ki chol derachav mishpat – The Rock, perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice” (Devorim 32:4). The word haTzur, the Rock, shares its gematria (301) with the word aish, fire. Fire warms and feeds, and at times consumes and destroys. But the letters alef and shin of aish can also stand for Avinu Shebashomayim, our Father in Heaven. Although a father may feel the need to punish, his love never wanes.

We need to sensitize our souls to feel Hashem’s love. We need to heal. Remarkably, the gematria of aish is also the same as the word Rofecha, your Healer. The One Who gives also takes: “Hashem nosan vaHashem lokach – Hashem has given and Hashem has taken away” (Iyov 1:21).

Rav Asher Weiss, the author of sefer Minchas Asher, recently went to the gehennom of Auschwitz and other concentration camps with his father, Rav Moshe Weiss, an Auschwitz survivor. It was a breathtaking journey. As Rav Asher stood at Majdanek, he shared an incredible thought: Avrohom Avinu said, “Ve’anochi afar va’eifer – I am but dust and ash” (Bereishis18:27). The Gemara (Chulin 88b) reveals that for saying this, his children merited two mitzvos: the ashes of the parah adumah and the dust of the sotah. Rav Asher explained that through the humility of Avrohom Avinu, his children merited two paths to purity: the ashes of the parah adumah and the removal of suspicion of the sotah by drinking the sotah water mixed with dust.

The Gemara in Maseches Brachos (17a) quotes the prayer of “Venafshi ke’afar lakol tihiyeh – Let my soul be like dust to everyone” (end of Shemoneh Esrei, Elokai Netzor). Tosafos explains that just as dust can never be destroyed, so shall Avrohom’s children be.

Dust cannot be destroyed, but ashes can. Ashes symbolize the past, while the dust symbolizes the future.

Rashi tells us about the phoenix, a legendary bird that comes from dust, turns to ashes, and is reborn from the dust.

 Here, Rav Asher paused and continued in an emotional voice: “We are told that the phoenix lives for a thousand years. Then a fire emerges from it. It turns into ashes and then rises once more from the dust. We are like the phoenix. We are not witnesses to the rebirth of Torah. We are the miracle itself! We have risen from the ashes of these kedoshim!” And then he concluded so powerfully, “Within the ashes of Majdanek lies the key to techiyas hameisim and the rebirth of the Torah world.”

And then he broke down and cried.

 In His infinite wisdom, the Al-mighty determined that He will rebuild in the same manner He has destroyed. As we say regarding the Bais Hamikdosh in the tefillah of Nacheim on Tishah B’Av, “Ba’aish hitzatah uva’aish Atah assid livnosah – With fire You consumed her, and with fire You will rebuild her.”

The ashes of destruction will come together, and the renewal of Nissan will miraculously enable them to be whole once again.

Until then, we cry.

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