The pure and holy nature of the victims, one after another, is now known to Jews all over the world
Shavuos is fast upon us, and I am once again reviewing Rav Aaron Lopiansky's marvelous adaptation of Rav Yosef Ze'ev Lipowitz's commentary Nachlas Yosef on Megillas Rus, entitled Seed of Redemption. I expect that review to be an annual event.
Rav Lipowitz's principal theme is chesed, as set forth in the Midrash (Rus Rabbah 2:14): Rabi Zeira said, "This Megillah has no laws of 'clean and unclean and no laws of prohibited and permitted.' So why was it written? To teach me how much reward lies in store for people who perform deeds of kindness."
All of Creation is founded upon Hashem's middah of chesed. And the coming of Mashiach and the realization of all our hopes will only come through forebears who exemplified chesed: Rus and Boaz.
I AM ANTICIPATING an explosion of chesed in Klal Yisrael in the wake of the terrible tragedy at Meron. It seems as if each of the victims has become in death a teacher of chesed, as we learn the details of their lives. One after another, we are hearing of how they specialized in what Elazar Yitzchak (Azi) Koltai, 13, used to call "micro-mitzvos," such as thanking the street cleaners every time he passed by for their work.
Rabbi Elazar Gefner, 52, a first-grade cheder rebbi in Har Nof and the father of a large family, used to visit the patients in a nearby mental hospital every week to bring a bit of joy into their lives. A father of one of his talmidim this year told a friend of mine how Rabbi Gefner had prepared, completely unsolicited, an eight-page report on their son as background for an evaluation by an educational psychologist.
And then there are the reports from survivors of the crush — more than one — of those who, with their last breath, as their life was being squeezed from them, still had the presence of mind to gasp out, "Whoever is on top of me, "I am mochel (forgive) you completely."
Rav Lipowitz cites in his commentary the statement of Chazal (Shemos Rabbah 2:3), "Hashem bestows greatness on someone only when He has tested him with something small." He explains that "minor" deeds are often a better measure of a person than major ones. The latter greatly excite us and spur us to rise to the occasion. "Our minor deeds do not reflect a conscious rising up, but rather, they indicate a pure and holy nature."
The pure and holy nature of the victims, one after another, is now known to Jews all over the world, and must — and I believe will — spur us to emulate their "minor" deeds and become more giving, considerate, and loving Jews.
THE TRAGEDY ALSO SPARKED a desire among Jews in Eretz Yisrael to reach out and embrace one another across the religious spectrum. That overflow of love is characteristic of chesed, which by its nature breaks down boundaries.
In a piece at Aish.com, Sara Yocheved Rigler, recorded a Hebrew WhatsApp notice she received early last Friday afternoon. It began with the words of the prophet Yirmiyahu: "O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the dead of the daughter of my people."
The writer urged everyone — no matter "where we stand in our personal opinions, or our political or national or religious worldview regarding the catastrophe" — to put all that aside "for a week or a month or longer," and instead, "today, Friday, Lag B'omer 5781, please light one memorial candle and spread this message to everyone you are connected with." The message was signed, "Iris Sharon, kibbutznik, leftist, from Kibbutz Ma'abarot.
Rigler's husband obtained Iris's telephone number from information, and called to tell her that he, a chareidi man from Jerusalem, had followed her suggestion. Then Sara and Iris got on the phone. Each mentioned their strongly held and divergent political and religious beliefs, only to conclude, "But you are my sister."
Even more powerful was a letter written by a young secular man, Yakir, as he came out of the shivah house for two brothers, Moshe Nosson Nota, 14, and Yehoshua Englard, 9, aleihem hashalom. As he and his friend Meor entered in jeans and T-shirts, a place was immediately made for them directly in front of the mourning father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Englard. The latter immediately stopped speaking in Yiddish and switched to Hebrew.
"I am very glad that you came," the grieving father said, his eyes brimming with tears, but his face radiating warmth, such that the two young visitors felt they were speaking to a malach (angel).
"Know that what is taking place here," Reb Menachem Mendel said, "is the truth. You and I, together, are in agony, over the great loss, and we are strengthening one another. Regardless of whether you are secular or chareidi.... We are Jews."
While he was speaking to them, the rest of those who had come to be menachem avel (console the mourners) remained absolutely quiet. Reb Menachem Mendel concluded, "I want you to invite me to your simchahs. And I will invite you to my simchahs."
At that point, the tears burst forth on all sides.
For several moments, Reb Menachem Mendel, bent his head down and kept repeating, ""Mi k'amcha Yisrael -- Who is like Your nation, Israel."
When the two friends approached after Minchah to offer their condolences, before they could say anything, the father told them, "Thank you for coming. You strengthened me."
"Meor and I left the house," wrote Yakir, "and looked at one another. But neither was able to speak. We could not process what we had just experienced, and even as I write now, I still have not fully absorbed it.
"That meeting represents the truth about our nation, the infinite ahavas chinam (love not dependent on anything external) that exists between us; the sharing of pain, and the strong faith that draws us together.
"I conclude with a prayer to the One Who sits in the Heavens, for ahavas chinam between us, and for besoros tovos (good news) and that the families of those who lost their lives will be consoled. And that I will merit to be invited to the simchahs of Menachem Mendel."
That encounter between Yakir and Meor and Reb Menachem Mendel serves as just one more proof for me of how powerful and necessary are all those programs built on bringing together secular Israelis and Torah Jews in formats that encourage the development of deep, personal relationships: Kesher Yehudi, Be A Mensch, Ayelet Hashachar.
And I would like to add my own prayer to that of Yakir. May the terrible tragedy at Meron serve as a catalyst for Jews everywhere taking on the micro-mitzvahs of chesed that make life so much more pleasant, and may that desire to embrace one another through acts of chesed bring about the unity that was the precondition for Kabbalas HaTorah (the Receiving of Torah).
And when that happens, we will know why Hashem caused His spotlight to shine on the pure and holy souls taken from our midst.