By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

By Yair Hoffman

We are ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim. We do not know the reasons for the tragic events of last Thursday night. To a ma’amin, there are no questions and there are no answers.

Every member of Klal Yisrael is still reeling from the tragic events of this past Lag B’Omer in Meron. Even though all of the 45 victims and most of those injured were members of the chareidi community, there were lines and lines of secular Jews in Tel Aviv, waiting patiently to give blood to those who needed it.

The tragedy united the nation.

The tragedy has also traumatized the nation. Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected.

So what should we be feeling?

The following words of Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, were said during 1948, when huge numbers of Klal Yisrael were in a state of grave danger as six Arab nations attacked Eretz Yisrael. No family was free of casualties; everyone had a relative who was killed. A nation that had just emerged and escaped from the fiery Gehinnom of Nazi-occupied Europe was now facing a second annihilation. The ma’amar can be found in Mishnah Rabbi Aharon Vol. IV page 76.

Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, began:

“In Ta’anis (11a), the rabbis taught: When the Jewish People is immersed in tza’ar, and a person separates himself from them [not sharing in their suffering] the two ministering angels who accompany a person come and place their hands on his head, as though he was an offering, and say: This man, so-and-so, who has separated himself from the community, shall not see consolation of the community.

Another beraisa teaches: When the community is immersed in suffering, a person should not say: I will go to my house and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon my soul. And if he does so, the verse says about him: “And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13). And the prophecy continues with what is written afterward, in the following verse: “And the L-rd of Hosts revealed Himself in my ears: Surely this sin shall not be atoned by you until you die…” (Yeshayahu 22:13).

Rather, a person should be distressed together with the community. For so we find with Moshe Rabbeinu, who distressed himself together with the community, as it is stated during the war with Amalek: “But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it” (Sh’mos 17:12). But didn’t Moses have one pillow or one cushion to sit upon? Rather, this is what Moshe said: Since the Jewish people are immersed in tza’ar, I, too, will be with them in tza’ar.”

One of the [48] methods through which Torah is acquired is “nosei b’ol chaveiro”—carrying the yoke, or burden, of his friend. What does nosei b’ol chaveiro mean? It means that when your friend is in danger or in distress, you share that with him, you carry his burden with him.

There are two aspects to this sharing.

The first one is action—through assistance, either with suggestions or with monetary assistance.

The second aspect is through paying attention to him and feeling his pain; this is also “sharing his burden.”

And so we find regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, after he rose to a high position through Pharaoh. The pasuk (Sh’mos 2:11) says, “And Moshe grew and he went out among his brethren, va’yar b’sivlosam, and he saw in their pain.”

Rashi writes: “He placed his eyes and heart to be pained over them.”

The Midrash (Sh’mos Rabbah 1:32) explains, “He would see their suffering and cry. He would give his shoulder and assist each and every one of them. He would leave his dargon and go and ease their pain.”

So we see that he did not just stop at help alone; rather, in order to feel their tza’ar, he directed his eyes and heart to pain himself over them. For this purpose, he would place his shoulder with each one of them, and through this feeling he came to help them. And this is what is meant when the pasuk says, “va’yar b’sivlosam.”

The Gemara in Berachos (12b) says: “A person is obligated to daven for his friend. And if he is a talmid chacham he must even sicken himself on him.” The meaning is that he must feel the tza’ar and pain of a talmid chacham as if it actually came upon him so that his prayers will emanate from this type of feeling. Chazal derived this from the pasuk in Tehillim (35:13), “But, as for me, when they were ill, my attire was sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting,” which Dovid said over Achitofel. For when Achitofel was in his illness, Dovid HaMelech was sitting and fasting and wrapped in sackcloth in order to feel his pain and share in his tza’ar.

This obligation falls upon each member of Klal Yisrael, as Chazal have said, “Whoever can pray for his friend and does not pray for him is called a sinner.” Certainly, this applies to an entire tzibbur that is in tza’ar, which includes talmidei chachamim and tzaddikim.

Chazal in Yoma (86a) listed four different categories of those who need a kapparah, an atonement, the most stringent being chillul Hashem, which even yissurim (suffering pain and agony) does not atone for; only misah, death, atones for it, as the pasuk in Yeshayahu (22:14) says, “If this sin will be atoned for you until you die.” That pasuk is interpreted in tractate Ta’anis (11a) as referring to someone who separates from the community when they are immersed in tza’ar, so we see how machmir the chachamim were on this issue, and how far-reaching it is.

These words apply to all of us during these days, when the residents of Eretz Yisrael stand in grave danger. The enemies are conspiring to destroy them just like Haman HaRashah during his time. The distress they are in today is extremely serious, because Klal Yisrael, in the state it is now, is tiny in numbers in their spiritual state and gashmiyus state as compared to the previous generation. We cannot measure the intense tragedy that is liable to ensue if, Heaven forbid, the thoughts of the evil ones come to fruition. This is a matter that pertains to the very existence of Klal Yisrael.

The obligation of feeling the tza’ar does not come only on account of additional kavanah in tefillah; it is a matter unto itself. The concept of nosei b’ol im chaveiro obligates a feeling of sharing or partnering, as if he is found in that very same tza’ar.

And just as the other one is not free to enjoy feelings of pleasure on account of his distress, so must the person sharing in that distress be so concerned in the distress of his friend that there cannot be a place in his heart to feel pleasure, on account of that tza’ar. This applies to the tza’ar and distress of the tzibbur, as the Gemara says, “A person should always distress himself with the community, as we find regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, etc.”

The source of this obligation is from the pasuk (Devarim 13:5), “After Hashem your G-d you shall walk” that Chazal interpreted in explaining that pasuk in Sotah (14a), “Just as He is merciful, so, too, must you be merciful.” Now it is explicitly explained in pesukim that this is the quality of Hashem. In Tehillim (91:15) it states, “I am with him in [times of] distress,” and in Yeshayahu (63:9), “And in all their distress, He has distress.”

Conclusion

These were the words of Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, in 1948. There is no question that had Rav Aharon been alive now, he would have said the same idea in regard to empathizing with those who have lost their loved ones in Meron. Let us take these words to heart.

During the entirety of the Holocaust, Rav Aharon’s wife did not serve meat in the household.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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