The sages teach that every tragic event that happens, including those that take place in far-away lands, is a message to each of us. Do the right thing. Be a better person. End conflict, pursue peace.
The Jewish response to disasters has traditionally been both physical and spiritual. From New Orleans to Sumatra to Mumbai to Haiti to Japan, teams of Jews from Israel, the U.S. and other countries have been among the front lines of search and rescue.
We’re also among the front lines in tefilla (prayer), tzeddakah (justice/charity), and teshuvah (reflection and repentance).
When tragedies specifically strike Jewish communities (the Inquisition, the Chelmitzky massacres, the pogroms, the holocaust, the homicide bombings and slaughters of schoolchildren in Israel, the Mumbai massacre, Hashem should protect us), we also respond by coming together as a people.
Chassidus (and Kabbalistic thought) implies that there are various levels of “oneness”. Hashem is everything, eternally one and the ultimate exemplar of oneness; so too, the human race is one. We’re also taught that on another level, we Jews are one, and more specifically, the 600,000 soul roots of the Jewish people, are actually one soul. This all-comprising soul forms a spiritual blueprint of a single soul-body known as the Jewish nation.
What does this mean? It means that if the big-toe of this soul body is stubbed, we all feel it. It means that if the heart is broken, we all feel it, too.
We’re also taught that each of us is a microcosm of the whole, an entire world unto himself. Is anything more precious than an individual life?
The death of a child (chas v’Shalom) reverses the natural order of things; the death of Leiby Kletzy, A”H, seemed to turn the world inside out.
The levaya last night, a few short blocks from our home, was indescribable—there were even tears in the eyes of some of the policemen. Both Jews and non-Jews attended. Thousands upon thousands of Jews from all walks of life were there; religious and non-religious, Chassidic and Litvish, Modern Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox, Bobov and Satmar, Chabad and Breslov, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, Yemenite and “Yekke”, American and Israeli.
Why is it so much easier for us to get together during a tragedy?
Leiby was a nickname. This precious boy’s name was actually Yehuda. Yehuda was the ancient Kingdom of King David, author of Tehillim (psalms). The word Yehuda comes from the root word, hod’aa, or “the giving of thanks” or “thankfulness”.
Yehuda is also the Hebrew word from which the word “Jew” (Yehudi), is derived. Our very name embodies “thankfulness”. A Jew’s ultimate potential and essence is the ability to constantly express gratitude to Hashem for everything in life, from the mundane to the sublime.
Leiby—Yehuda, was himself, a microcosm of each individual Jew. The unspeakable manner of his death is a message to each of us—we, the Yehudim, the Jewish people, are being torn apart. And not by anti-Semitism (although yes, in many places it is still going strong).
No, we’re tearing each other apart. Jew to Jew. Community to community. Family to family. If you don’t believe it, look around. What Jew do you know who hasn’t said something derogatory about a Jew who is different from them—a different group, a different religious custom, a different hat? Less “frum”, more “frum”?
For several years, we’ve also experienced the dividing and breaking up of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria also known as the “West bank”), pieces of it actually made Judenrein (free of Jews) by Jewish politicians.
Are we paying attention?
We pay attention in the aftermath of each tragedy. When others attack, we come together. After many tragedies, including Mumbai, there was a renewed sense of achdus (togetherness/accord). In the brief moments we came together, it seemed the whole world came together. But the achdus didn’t last. And the messages have become more and more urgent.
Achdus begins with gratitude and thankfulness. We only break apart when we imagine we—or another—lacks something. When we see what’s lacking, we lack gratitude.
And now, in this explicitly painful message, Hashem is telling us, get together now. Love one another now. Pursue peace, now. The entire world depends on it.
You can begin with gratitude and thankfulness: see The Garden of Gratitude, by Rav Shalom Arush, translated into English by Rabbi Lazer Brody.