By Larry Gordon
The pain and anguish refuse to subside.
It is vital to understand at least this: there is one aspect of the tragedy that we can grasp—that it’s important to realize that what occurred is beyond our ability to comprehend at even the most minimal level.
But still, over the near term, we will have to deal with some who will posit that the deaths that occurred on Lag B’Omer night in Meron happened because of this or that circumstance or situation. Frankly, it would be fulfilling to be able to know with some certainty why that awful tragedy took place. But we cannot know that and go on. That is exactly what Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to know when he had Hashem’s ear, so to speak, and had the opportunity to ask Him any question.
And what was that one issue that he wanted clarified? Moshe, our commentators say, wanted to know why it is that bad things happen to good people. In essence, the Torah explains that at that propitious moment, Moshe asked Hashem to show him His face, to know Who He is and the Divine “reasoning” behind occurrences that leave us at a loss to understand.
The response from Above to this inquiry was that no man can see Hashem’s face and remain alive. The compromise posed by G-d to Moshe was to place him in the cleft of a rock or mountain and for the Divine image to pass him by, and then Hashem would allow Moshe to see the back of His head, so to speak.
In other words, we can analyze events after they occur and hope for some insight and even Divine inspiration to at least partially deal with our insatiable desire to know His ways and why things are the way they sometimes are.
Later in Sefer Bamidbar, at the conclusion of the rebellion against Moshe by Korach, Hashem opened the earth in a miraculous fashion, which swallowed up Korach and 250 of his followers.
Rashi on this matter explains that Moshe and his brother, Aharon, were disturbed that so many people lost their lives in this episode. They questioned Hashem directly, asking how it could be that all 250 were equally culpable in the rebellion and deserving of death.
Rashi says that a standard court of law presided over by flesh-and-blood judges would probably have had no choice but to find Korach and his entire group guilty and therefore sentence them to capital punishment. But Moshe and Aharon submitted, “Before You are revealed all the thoughts of man…”
This is not to draw any kind of parallel between the story of Korach and that which took place in Meron on Thursday night. This only illustrates the way in which the Divine “thought process” by design eludes us. We are incapable of going there, but that does not mean that we are not going to desire to go there or keep on trying.
I suppose you can refer to it as irony, but over the few days following the disaster in Meron the daily daf that is studied by tens of thousands around the world dealt with the subject of overcrowding in the Beit HaMikdash during the holidays.
People traveled to Jerusalem from distant areas over the yomim tovim so as to be present and bring korbanos in the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. This means that many tens of thousands of people were in Jerusalem and in the sacred areas of the Temple all on the same days.
The Gemara discusses this matter in the context of the mention of the fact that there were ten miracles that were regularly performed in the Beit HaMikdash. And, the Gemara says, one of those miracles was that even though geometrically there should not have been enough space for everyone, the worshippers not only had space but also had ample room to prostrate themselves without interfering with the person next to them.
Some have said that the space matter the Talmud refers to is not just physical room that people require. Sometimes it is important to give the next person some space in all its manifestations.
Obviously, that was not the situation in Meron the other night. People were squeezed in a very limited area; there was a stampede, and, tragically, as you know, people suffocated in a desperate situation. The result was 45 funerals and more than 100 hospitalized.
On a Meaningful Minute podcast broadcast live on Saturday night, Charlie Harary along with Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and my son, Nachi, the host of the program, talked about the challenge of dealing with and navigating our way, on a personal level as well as a communal level, through this crisis.
Charlie Harary said that, traditionally, it is not our way to ask why. He added that he learned from his grandparents who survived the Holocaust that they never asked why something was taking place and specifically to them. Survivors instead asked, “What? What is expected of us to do next?”
Rabbi Goldberg pointed out that, time and again, unfortunately, it is events like this that bring us together. To that end he pointed out that blood donation centers in Tel Aviva, Haifa, and Jerusalem were closed to donors because they had an abundance of blood supply from every walk of life in those and other cities.
An additionally unique aspect of what occurred here is that everyone in some way can trace an attachment to one of the 45 people who lost their lives. On a personal level, one young man was a counselor in my grandson’s summer camp. Another victim was the nephew of my daughter’s neighbors near Monsey. And on and on these tidbits of information went from every direction.
On Lag B’Omer, the crowd was there to celebrate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the sage who was one of the premier students of the great Rebbe Akiva. As you know, it was during this period that 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva died and that is why Sefirah is observed as a period of mourning. The students were all great Torah scholars, so what went wrong? Perhaps just not enough space.
A video that circulated over the weekend featured comments by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a’h. He spoke poignantly about the Klausenberger Rebbe who was in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The Rebbe lost his wife and 11 children in the camps during the war. Yet, he managed to survive and rebuild his community of followers in Netanya, Israel, and even build Laniado Hospital.
According to Rabbi Sacks, the Rebbe was asked how it was that he was able to withstand what he experienced and managed to live life going forward.
He responded that he did indeed have many questions for G-d and that he was certain that if he prayed hard enough, Hashem would invite him up to the heavens and supply him with the answers he was seeking.
But, the Rebbe said, “I prefer to be down here with the questions.”
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.