Like many of my columns, unfortunately, this one was written late on our deadline day and is not the piece that I originally envisioned. I had originally planned to write a nice and completely positive piece about how excited and happy I was to participate in a number of unique events this past week, such as the Hachnasat Sefer Torah for the Young Israel of New Rochelle’s Sephardic Minyan (See article on page 56), the Teach NJ Mission to Trenton, and an in-person gathering of soon-to-be freshman parents at the yeshiva high school where I will be sending my youngest son in the fall. I wanted to write about how these events were further signs of COVID’s loosening grip within our communities and our gradual return to “normal” life.
I especially wanted to write about the beautiful and touching procession of the new sefer Torah from the relatively new Young Israel of New Rochelle building to the old Young Israel building across the street where the Sephardic minyan will be davening. Most don’t know this but, for me, New Rochelle is a community with which I feel a sense of kinship and closeness going back nearly 30 years to my ninth grade year at MTA, where I made many friends from New Rochelle. All through high school and even after, my Queens friends and I would love to visit New Rochelle for Shabbos and experience what we considered to be true suburbia.
I remember well the old Young Israel building (a former church dating back to the early-mid 1800s, I believe) where we used to daven with our New Rochelle friends. It was nice to see the old shul building this past Sunday, looking almost exactly as I remember it, and especially to see the excitement of the members of the Sephardic minyan as they, along with the shul’s rabbinic leadership, walked and danced the new sefer Torah to its new home.
However, watching the news online and catching clips and videos shared via social media about the rockets landing all over Israel, and the vile and disturbing pro-Palestinian protests in midtown Manhattan, has cast a bit of a pall over our deadline day and my writing
inspiration. And although the fast moving and scary events in Israel have begun to push it aside, I am also still thinking about the tragedy in Meron that filled our pages, hearts and minds in last week’s edition. (By the way, we have a few additional pieces related to Meron and Donny Morris, z”l, on pages 86 and 88).
These events all seem to be coming one after another so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up and have time to process, especially for those of us in the media whose job it is to follow the news. Part of me just wants to hit a kind of pause button today and have it stop, even if only for a few hours. I believe I am not alone in feeling this way.
So, what to do since there is no pause button in life? I don’t have all or many of the answers but I do know that the Rambam in Hilchot Taaniyot emphasizes that whenever unusually bad events afflict a community, they should be recognized as an act of Hashem calling upon us to improve. Of course, it’s near impossible to identify where exactly we need to improve as individuals and as a community. It’s also doubly hard to determine whether our focus should be on bein adam l’makom or bein adam l’chaveiro. Who knows?
I read recently the powerful words of Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington of Silver Spring, who, in writing about the tragedy of Meron in another Orthodox publication, noted that we should not reduce events like the Meron tragedy to what he calls a “because” moment. He explains the call for silence as based upon the posuk of vayidom Aharon (and Aharon became speechless) after the deaths of his sons. Aharon was silent because the tragedy overwhelmed his intellect and emotion. His sons perished as they performed an unauthorized avodah in the newly inaugurated Mishkan. A day of glory turned into a day of unspeakable loss. Aharon did not become merely silent, for silence implies that a person has words but chooses not to express them. Vayidom implies becoming mute, meaning that the person has lost the power of speech.``
Rabbi Lopiansky continues: “Although we are speaking of the value of silence (with Aharon) in the realm of bein adam l’makom, it is also important to emphasize the need for silence in bein adam l’chaveiro.” He notes the value of silence in the sphere of the interpersonal/bein adam l’chaveiro and calls for all of us to be extra careful in sharing or forwarding anything that could hurt another person, and to always assume that anything sent via electronic media could reach any person on this earth. He even goes further and says that since “a forwarded message can be assumed to reach everyone instantly, there is no shogeg — no ‘unintentional sinner’ for this terrible act. Any information forwarded — through any electronic media — should be assumed to reach every person throughout the globe, instantly. Never, ever forward anything that could hurt anyone!”
The above is a very high bar to set, especially for someone who is in the news media world and is basically emailing information of all sorts all day long, almost every day but Shabbos, but it’s certainly something to think about.
However, he goes a bit further and concludes by quoting the Tiferes Yisrael, who explains that the phrase nosei b’ol (carrying the burden) is not merely the actual help that one gives a friend in distress, but includes the feeling and sensing of the pain and suffering of the other. R. Lopiansky suggests that “we pause a minute at each name of the victims [and unfortunately, I would add the new innocent victims who were just killed in the last 48 hours of attacks] and think what their death means for their families. The sudden shock. The kallah whose anticipation of the happiest moment in her life has blown up in her face. The family that is now staring at the empty beds of their children. On and on and on. Just one minute of mulling over each name will overwhelm us with the tzaar of klal Yisrael. It will change us profoundly. And in some inexplicable way, a suffering genuinely shared by many, lightens the burden, even if it’s just a wee bit.”
That is something that resonated with me and I wanted to share it with you. I believe this kind of silence is something we should consider and I hope that we will be able to achieve this in the days leading up to and including the Yom Tov ahead.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer,
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link