By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
At the conclusion of the Seder this year, when my family sings the piyut of “Echad Ani Yodei’a,” when it comes to the stanza of “Shivah Mi Yodei’a,” I, and probably countless other Yidden, will be thinking that “shivah” refers not only to the seven days of the week, but to the “shivah,” seven pure and holy neshamos of the Sassoon children who were taken from us last Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan in such a shocking and horrific manner.
We are all broken-hearted, stunned, and consumed with concern for just how the father, mother, and surviving sister (may they be zocheh to a complete refuah) will be able to cope with this colossal and devastating loss.
As I stood near the father at the levayah in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon, I was both overwhelmed with his sense of loss and thoroughly inspired by his emunah and inner strength that he manifested in front of the entire world.
Many have asked me to write some words of chizuk, but there really are no words. All I can do is share some personal thoughts that have been going through my heart and mind.
I attended two events in Boro Park that Sunday. First was the groundbreaking of the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center. Then, along with thousands of other Yidden, I attended the levayah of the seven children who perished in the fire. While there were many differences between these two events, there were certain similarities as well. Some of the similarities were as follows.
Both the Holocaust and this tragedy are incomprehensible and impossible to explain. These events, as well as many such events in our long and painful history, are beyond the scope of human comprehension. The Gerer Rebbe, zt’l, once remarked, “Every day, we recite 13 Ani Ma’amins; we proclaim ‘I believe,’ but not once do we state ‘Ani Meivin,’ I understand. Tzadok HaDin is most often not understood and beyond our ability to comprehend.”
At the levayah of the gaon Rav Moshe Shisgal, zt’l, who passed away at a relatively young age, his father-in-law, the gadol ha’dor, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, stood up to be maspid him. In an emotional, brief hesped, he said, “Der vos zogt az er farshteit iz a kofer,” one who says he understands is a nonbeliever.
After a particular painful communal tragedy years ago, a rebbe publicly defined the tragedy in a manner reserved for those with Divine insight. When the grandson of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt’l, shared the rebbe’s explanation of the tragedy with him, he expressed strong disagreement and said, “Er veist azoi vee ich veis”–“He knows like I know.”
People are explaining away the tragedy, saying that it was due to a lack of working smoke detectors, but Rav Pam, zt’l, would explain that while the smoke detectors may not have been working, the children died because of “Unesaneh Tokef,” because on Rosh Hashanah this bitter decree was sealed.
They didn’t perish because of smoke detectors; they perished because, as their father so painfully and heroically explained at the levayah in Eretz Yisrael, there was a decree from Heaven. My good friend Shimon Gross, a foremost expert on fire systems and fire alarms in the Five Towns (if it sounds like a plug, it is) told me that since this tragedy, he has been overwhelmed with calls to inspect fire-safety systems in many homes throughout the Five Towns and he has found many of these systems completely defective. Everyone should do everything in their power to protect themselves and their families from these types of tragedies. However, all these homes were protected because of the outcome of “Unesaneh Tokef.”
On the way home from this painful levayah, I couldn’t help but think that the very words that the Novominsker Rebbe used at the Holocaust Education Center groundbreaking could be said here as well. The Rebbe quoted the Mishnah in Pesachim that in Messianic times, the two separate berachos of “HaTov v’HaMeitiv” and “Dayan HaEmes” will become one berachah. Why would there even be a need for the berachah of “Dayan HaEmes” after Mashiach comes? The Tzlach in Pesachim explains that after Mashiach comes, when everything will become clear to us and Hashem’s mysterious ways will become understood, then all those painful times when we had to recite the berachah of “Dayan HaEmes” will now be understood differently, and for those very same events, we will apply the berachah of “HaTov v’HaMeitiv.”
While the Rebbe was referring to the colossal churban of the Holocaust, I thought that the same idea applies to individual incomprehensible tragedies like this as well. Klal Yisrael collectively recited seven berachos of “Dayan HaEmes” at this terrible tragedy. One day, in the coming days, when all will become clear to us and Hashem’s mysterious decrees will be understood by all, we will collectively recite seven times the berachah of “HaTov v’HaMeitiv.”
One final similarity between the two events that I attended on Sunday is that unfortunately our memories are very short. The whole purpose of creating a Holocaust Education Center that will require tremendous sums of money and resources is that as the survivors pass on, our collective memories have caused us to forget the horrors of the Shoah, and this will serve as a reminder of what really happened to our parents and grandparents. So, too, with the terrible tragedy of the fire and loss of almost an entire family, we are moved and inspired to become better Yidden. Unfortunately, however, as we have seen with similar tragedies of the past, that inspiration is very short-lived.
If we can allow this tragedy to help us be better parents, better spouses, and perhaps even better Jews, before the effect wears off, then there can be no greater z’chus for these seven holy, pure, beautiful neshamos.
Yehei zichrom beruchim.