Responses, Not Answers

Friday, 30 April, 2021 - 1:47 pm

How does one celebrate the marriage of a loved one while mourning the loss of a loved one?

It seems impossible.

And, today, Jews the world over have been called upon to do the impossible.

Last night, at the first government-sanctioned mass gathering of the covid era, thousands upon thousands of Jews gathered at the holy tomb of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai in Northern Israel.

What seemed like the greatest celebration in months quickly turned into tragedy as a terrible accident occurred. Numerous people were crushed in a cascading pile of humanity, apparently heading for the exits. The horrific details slowly emerged. 45 dead. Over 100 injured, some critically.

Our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. Our hearts are with the bereaved families. Our prayers are with the injured.

The largest civilian disaster in the Holy Land in decades happened as Jews gathered to thank G-d and to celebrate a Jewish festival, Lag BaOmer.

I don’t have words, let alone answers.

I take my cue from Aharon, the High Priest. His powerful response, upon hearing of the death of his two sons is recorded in the Torah as follows: “And Aharon was silent.”

Sometimes, there is no explanation.

This message could end right here if all we are looking for is answers.

But, we aren’t just looking for answers. As Jews, we are looking for instructions. What should we do as a result and response to this horrific tragedy?

In a sense, this tragedy causes us to dig even deeper than usual. We don’t have the luxury of blaming this on anti-Semitism or other adversaries.

So, how should we respond?

We Jews don’t believe in coincidences. This event happened on Lag BaOmer, a joyous holiday. It happened at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai, one of the holiest Sages to exist. And, it happened on the anniversary of his passing (which is why Jews gather in Meron on this date).

Rabbi Shimon, who passed away nearly two millennia ago, insisted that his passing be observed as a great celebration – rather than a day of sadness. It seems that this day was destined to carry the weight of two polar energies.

In his own famous work, the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon declared, “Weeping is lodged in one side of my heart, and joy is lodged in the other.”

As Jews have done for centuries, we must translate our pain into action. It’s okay – it’s good – to cry. But, it cannot end there. We must also be joyous and continue to carry on our mission. Embracing two opposite feelings is something we have known for far too long. Apparently, we must choose this path once again.

In this week’s parsha Emor, G-d instructs the kohanim (priests) about their holy work. As an added emphasis, Hashem warns the adults that they must also implement these measures for their minor children. It isn’t enough to be careful ourselves. We also must teach – by example and instruction – others.

Aharon must have had lots of questions when his sons died. But, he knew that his mission did not end just because there were questions. He was silent. Perhaps his silence was not merely as sign of what he didn’t have (answers), but rather a sign what he did have (a job to do). Aharon realized that the “minors” under his auspices – young and old – needed to see that Jews continue to march forward.

We may not have the answers to the questions. But, we certainly know the response.

May Almighty G-d see the terrible burden he has placed upon His children. May Hashem hasten to bring a time when we will no longer need to play this horrific juggling act; a time when joy will know no bounds, with the coming of Moshiach.

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