Sunday, Sep 19, 2021

The Reason for the Tragedy in Meron

This article will not be about why the terrible, unspeakable tragedy occurred in Meron last week. Indeed, after every tragic occurrence, the floodgates seem to open and every other guy seems to have a direct line to Heaven through which he was informed as to the reason for the occurrence. This one insists it was because of sheitels, that one is adamant that it’s internet usage, to another guy it’s clearly due to rampant sinas chinom, yet another fellow blames mothers of boys in shidduchim, still others place fault with the shadchonim, others say it’s the mosdos, the vaccines, the anti-vaccinators, etc., etc.

As we’ve mentioned in this column in the past, it’s an amazing coincidence how whatever each person’s pet peeve or legitimate issue has been for the past few years, that exact issue just so happens to be the one that has now been revealed to him as the very cause of this particular tragedy. Nor is it ever our failings about which Hashem may be demanding a reckoning; it’s always the other guy’s failings.

The fact, however, is that we have no nevuah today, no prophecy, and as such we simply cannot know the reasons for why Hashem does the things He does. Even gedolim today have no nevuah; in general they limit their observations to whether a particular midah k’neged midah would seem to apply to a specific tragedy. If they have a mesorah relating to a particular situation, they can instruct us about that as well. Other than heeding their words, if we merit to get direction from them, we, on our own, do not and cannot know what Hashem wants from us after any tragedy strikes.

Of course, this does not mean that we can thus do nothing. We dare not remain unmoved after a tragedy of a magnitude unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. Each person must seek to improve in areas that he or she knows is an area where they can use some improving. Each of us must work on ourselves – not on the other guy. Of course, any general improvement in Torah and gemilas chassodim will also always add merits to ourselves and to the klal.

Offense and Defense

After giving this some thought, it would seem there is still something we can do even though we do not know why Hashem brought this tragedy upon us in the first place. Perhaps we can play defense.

What does that mean?

For those who know sports (and this author is not really one of them, but I believe that this is true), there are two ways to win: One is with a great offense, meaning that even if the other team manages to score against them, their offense is so good that they’ll always score far more points against the other team. The second way to win is with an airtight defense. With this method, although one’s team’s offensive prowess is not as great as they’d like it to be, their defense is such that the other team simply cannot score any points against them. As such, even if they manage only one or two plays against the other team, that’s all they’ll need because the other team will be prevented from scoring anything against them.

Chazal tell us that this same thinking actually applies to life as well. The Dor Haflaga, the generation of the Tower that was built to wage war against Hashem Himself (end of Parshas Noach, 11:4) was comprised of people who declared open war against Hashem and His will – not exactly behavior deserving of Divine assistance or salvation. Yet we are told that they were “protected” because they were “safah echos,” they spoke as one – in other words, they were united and lived in peace between themselves.

So great is the power of shalom, of peace, that Hashem first separated them and brought rifts out amongst them before He could, so to speak, punish them (See also Rashi, pasuk 9). Their unity served as a shield against punishment that they truly deserved. In other words, they had a defensive ring of protection so strong that it deflected a charon af that would have destroyed them completely but didn’t.

Throughout our history there have been times when we’ve committed terrible misdeeds yet were saved because of the shalom that resided amongst us. The medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:10) tells about how in the days of Achav – when there was rampant avodah zarah, one of the three cardinal sins – Klal Yisroel still won at battle because they lived in peace and no one would inform on or speak ill of another. We see how no one ever informed on Ovadia, who provided shelter and food to the nevi’im he’d saved from the king’s death sentence. It was this protecting each other – as opposed to getting the other guy with a juicy tidbit worth sharing – that ensured they won at battle even though they were hardly worthy due to their terrible sins.

Conversely, during the final days of Shaul’s reign, Klal Yisroel lost at war even none of them worshipped avodah zarah, because they spoke ill of each other and lived in disunity.

We find this on many other occasions, where Chazal explain the fact that we lived lives of bounty and blessing even though sins of a terrible nature were being committed, all due to the fact that shalom reigned amongst us and that protected us, even though we were not worthy of that protection.

Two Jews, Three Shuls? Great!

Shalom, then, is our secret weapon. Even at times when we do not know why a particular tragedy occurs or in which areas we need improvement, working on shalom will protect us regardless. It’s the ultimate defense, guaranteed by Chazal to be impregnable.

Now, this writer is not one who happens to think that “there is so much sinas chinam amongst us,” chas veshalom. Perhaps I’m naïve or uninformed, but I do not see any average frum person hating any other frum people. Where I come from, the myriad groups found among us Yidden is merely a sign of just how much we’ve grown and how many different communities, minhagim and mesoros there are.

The average twenty Yidden from twenty different shuls would have absolutely no problem davening together if they happen to be in one place at one time. That they usually daven each in his own place doesn’t mean that they’re “fighting”; everybody is welcome in everyone else’s place. Each person simply feels comfortable in his own corner.

Do different groups have hashkafic disagreements with each other? Sure. Some more pronounced and serious than others. Even so, hashkafic disagreements have nothing to do with sinah of any type, and surely not sinas chinam. As long as the disagreements aren’t personal, that’s fine, no matter how heated the argument. We Jews argue all day in the beis medrash – at times vehemently. Yet, we come as friends and we leave as friends; why would we hate one another?

Are there those who do allow petty disagreements, jealousy or other issues to cause hatred between themselves and others? Surely there are. To say that it is rampant, though, or that the various groups and their differences in hashkafa, outlook, dress and behavior is a sign of sinah of any sort, is something this author simply does not see.

There is one area, however, where it can be suggested that perhaps the yetzer hora has found a footing and is refusing to let go. The yetzer hora has attempted to infiltrate us in this area for years, decades, without success. With Hashem’s help we’ve been smart enough to keep him at bay – we have enough nisyonos as it is, we need not introduce new ones. Tragically, though, he seems to have recently broken through.

Now, before we go any further, I wish to make as clear as humanly possible that we are not here to take any sides or make any insinuations whatsoever or to even suggest anything about any one person, side, hashkafa etc. We are here to try, after the unspeakable tragedy of last week, to discuss a sensitive issue that is surely worthy of discussion.

Without going into any details, I believe most of us can agree that there is/was a machlokes among the great gedolim in Eretz Yisroel regarding various issues which we will not even mention. It’s gotten so that by simply mentioning that there is this disagreement, each side already accuses you of taking a side. As such, without getting into anything about what goes on, or went on, in Eretz Yisroel, I hope it is okay to point out that we here in America have largely kept out of the entire parsha in any case. Our gedolim here, without minimizing the awe-inspiring gadlus of anyone in Eretz Yisroel or the correctness of his path, have simply decided that there is no reason for us, here, to be involved.

To a great extent, virtually none of the practical issues involve any of us here and never have. As weighty, important – even demanding of mesiras nefesh – any of the issues may be over there, still, all those ins and outs, the opinions, the latest declarations and developments, hardly have any bearing on us here. It isn’t for no reason that for decades none of the gedolim in America have involved us in these issues, important as they may be. It was one disagreement that, baruch Hashem, we here in America were not involved with.

Admittedly, there may be an issue of support – monetary or political – for which our brothers in Eretz Yisroel may need to turn to us here. This is indeed how the yetzer hora has finally managed to involve us in something that has almost nothing to do with us. How can we stay out when one side or another may need our support? As mentioned above, we are not minimizing, in any way, the importance of what is going on over there; it’s simply a question of whether there is any good reason for us, here, to involve ourselves. When our involvement and support was thus sought, we felt a need to become involved.

Tragically, this involvement cost us dearly; we suddenly find ourselves immersed – many of us deeply – and spending tens and even hundreds of hours heavily involved in the minutiae and minute-by-minute latest machlokesim, many of which hardly have any bearing whatsoever on the actual hashkafic issues in question or any practical matters that need our support or involvement.

It is for this reason that we say that the yetzer hora has finally found a way in. Supposing that any of us feels, in consultation with our moreh derech of course, that it is our duty to become involved due to a need for our donation or any other reason, let us be honest with ourselves and keep it at that. If there is a need for any person to become involved in any way in any disagreement – and that is a big if – there is no reason to spend even an extra second or to become “involved”. The average person who spends hours involved in who said what to whom when, hasn’t given even a dollar for all those hours, weeks and months spent in fervent discussion. Other than hock, what has he done to support either side?

Rav Chaim Epstein zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Meilech and revered figure to virtually every true ben Torah in America, was a person who fought for Torah and bnei Torah. He wasn’t afraid to express his opinion, controversial as it may have been – when he felt that it needed expressing. At the same time, if he felt that there was no reason to express such an opinion at any particular time, one could not get him to speak no matter how much one tried.

In Rav Chaim’s eyes, machlokes was a real, actual, raging out-of-control fire. It was something he avoided no matter how difficult – and it was often quite difficult to avoid. Nothing hurt him more than if Torah, bnei Torah or gedolei Torah were being abused, derided or worse. When necessary, he came to their defense as a lion, fearless and unafraid. When not expressly and absolutely necessary, however, he avoided even the slightest hint of machlokes. He kept his silence – no matter how much he may have had to say.

Knowing When to Speak – Or Not

Let me reiterate that this article is seriously, honestly, not here to take any side, promote any side, or put down any side of any disagreement amongst anyone anywhere. Please do not abuse this as a springboard for a letter or discussion to the effect that, “But you neglected to mention how important it is to know… because of… etc.” That’s exactly the point. If you feel something is important – on any side of any issue – and it calls for your involvement, go ahead and do whatever the Torah calls upon you to do.

Just think about how Hashem would react to each and every ben Torah or simple Jew who accepts upon himself that from now on he will not involve himself for hours or even minutes in an issue, when it does not involve him in any way.

Who knows why Hashem brought about what happened on Lag Ba’omer? Who can know what is being demanded of us?

One thing is sure, though. If even one, two or three people decide to involve themselves a little less in machlokes, the protection that provides is guaranteed by Chazal. Let us speak up when we need to – and keep our peace when called for as well.

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