Klal Yisrael intuitively experiences certain tragedies as national tragedies. Certainly the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel, as they were hitchhiking home from their yeshiva for Shabbos, is such a tragedy since it results from the Palestinian enmity towards Jews.
When tragedy strikes, we are required to ask ourselves why; we must search our deeds both as individuals and as a community and commit ourselves to repairing that which needs improvement. If we refuse to reexamine our ways and treat the tragedy as just another natural event, the Rambam writes, we are guilty of the greatest cruelty, for we prevent ourselves from teshuva and thereby ensure the repetition of similar tragedies.
Yet while we are required to ask and search ourselves for areas in need of tikkun (repair), we are forbidden to give conclusive answers. Those who rush to give definitive answers and to pinpoint the specific sin that caused the tragedy claim for themselves prophetic insight that no one possesses today. Too often, they appear to be hitching rides on the tragedy to advance their own particular hobby horses. And that is true no matter how worthy their particular cause, whether it be Shabbos, or tznius, or the funding of yeshivos.
No one in our day can do a mathematical mapping of cause and effect, but nonetheless we can – should – seek out hints. Even if we have understand only a small fraction of Hashem's intent (which is certainly the case), there is value in any individual or communal improvement that results. No sincere act of teshuva goes to waste.
SOMETIMES THE RESPONSE to a tragedy may itself be a hint to where our point of vulnerability lies. The response to the kidnapping of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal has been an overwhelming coming together of Klal Yisrael. This past Shabbos, Jews around the world took upon themselves to bring in Shabbos well before the listed times for lichtbentshen (candlelighting), in the hope that the added kedushah of Shabbos would help bring the safe return of the three yeshiva students. And I doubt there is a minyan anywhere in the world over the past two weeks that has not concluded with extra Tehillim, recited in unison, for the three young men.
Has anyone listened to the interviews with the parents of the three yeshiva students and not been awed by their quiet dignity, their strength, and – let us emphasize – their emunah? Has anyone viewed the photographs of the talmidim at the yeshivos of the three kidnapped talmidim, their faces contorted in agony as they beseech the Ribbono shel Olam for the return of their friends, and not been struck by the intensity of their tefillah?
Have we perhaps learned to look at our fellow Jews – davka the ones who do not wear the same kippah as ours – with a focus on what is noble, admirable, worthy of emulation about them?
The Tolna Rebbe posed a question in his weekly Chumash shiur parashas Korach that should pierce each one of us: "Imagine if you were to see these three youths near you without the threat to their life hanging over their heads. How much would you love them? How close would you feel to them? Does it have to come to a life-threatening situation for a Jew's heart to be open to another Jew?" But our hearts have been opened.
THE TIMING OF THE KIDNAPPING on Erev Parashas Shelach and continuing through Parashas Korach perhaps offers its own hints. Shelach records the most damaging lashon hara ever spoken – the Spies false report about the Chosen Land promised to the bnei Yisrael by Hashem out of His overwhelming love. As a consequence of that lashon hara, the entire generation that had already reached maturity, the Dor Dei'ah, perished in the Desert. But for their false report, bnei Yisrael would have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately with Moshe Rabbeinu at their head, and we would have remained on the Land forever.
But the lesson has been imperfectly absorbed. As individuals, we attempt to escape from confronting our own failings by turning our attention and our mouths to the failings of others. We build our own fragile egos at the expense of others. As communities as well, we avoid looking critically at the failings of our own community by turning our attention instead to others whom we perceive to be weaker than us in some way. There is no sub-community in the tapestry of Klal Yisrael that is immune from the tendency to elevate itself by pointing to the failures of others.
Far better that we direct our energies to repairing our own communities, and focusing on what is admirable and what we can learn of a positive nature from others. That does not mean that we must become carping critics of our own society. Those closest to us also deserve to be viewed with an eyn tova. But it does mean that the solace for our own defects not be found in the faults and weaknesses of others but in the hard work of repairing those defects.
Korach's rebellion, the Targum informs us, began with an act of separating himself from the Klal. Rabbeinu Bachye writes that Korach was the spiritual descendant of the Dor Haflagah (the Generation of Dispersion) and later of the men of Sdom. The former sought to build a tower in order to wage war on Hashem and separate the Upper Realm from the Lower Realm. They sought self-sufficiency and independence from Hashem. The people of Sdom rejected the whole notion that human beings are interdependent on one another, and made it a capital offense to do any act of chesed for a fellow man.
And Korach proclaimed that each Jew is holy: He does not need Moshe Rabbeinu to lead or Aharon HaKohen to be the Kohen Gadol, but can forge his independent relationship with Hashem, without any assistance. The common element in these three cases was the failure to recognized the interdependence upon which Hashem's creation is based.
The machlokes of Korach, the Tolna Rebbe pointed out, alone of all the many sins in the Desert was punished instantaneously, with the perpetrator and his entire family swallowed up by the earth without a trace. If the punishment for machlokes is so great, he concluded, how much greater must be the reward for brotherhood and recognizing our essential connection and dependence on one another and Hashem
OUT OF THE ONGOING TRAGEDY, we have already seen many of the positive qualities of Klal Yisrael come to the fore. One of the most moving aspects of the interviews with the parents of the three yeshiva students has been their expressions of gratitude for all the prayers being offered on their sons' behalf. They describe the feeling of being enveloped in the love and concern of the entire Jewish people. And they are.
There is little that most of us – i.e., those not in the field searching house to house in the Hebron area -- can offer Gilad, Eyal,and Naftali and their parents besides our prayers. But those prayers can be powerful. The Zohar says that the most powerful prayer of all is the tefillah l'ani – the prayer that comes from a broken heart.
Our task is to truly pray with a broken heart, and that means identifying as parents with all that these three sets of parents are going through. That at least is within the imaginative capacity of all of us who have children and have ever worried about where they were, in exponentially less perilous circumstances. To even begin to imagine what the three young men are experiencing is beyond us. The Gemara in Bava Basra already described the situation of the captive as the greatest of afflictions – the terror, the loneliness, the total lack of control over one's fate, and, in this case, the knowledge that one's captors lack all normal human feelings and that to them you are entitled to no sympathy.
But try we must to put ourselves in their shoes as well so that our prayers are tefillos l'ani capable of bringing them home to safety of their families, who yearn to hug them and tell them again how much they love them.