“How can you sleep so soundly? Arise! Call to your G-d!”
Those piercing words, first spoken some 2,600 years ago to Yonah Hanavi by the captain of a ship that was about to capsize in a devastating storm, continues to be a rallying call to Klal Yisrael.
As Torah Jews we recognize the eternal truth, one that we recite in the first of the 13 Ani Maamins: “The Creator, Blessed is His Name, creates and guides all creatures, and He alone made, makes, and will make everything.”
We are also cognizant of the fact that all of Klal Yisrael is a single unit, and therefore, when a shocking tragedy strikes one community, a message is being sent and the call issued to all of Klal Yisrael.
A look at the front page of Monday’s daily edition shouted out a call of “Arise! Call to Hashem!” Two tragic tributes were prominently featured. One was in memory of a 19-year-old mother of a two-month-old baby, who passed away after suddenly collapsing on Shabbos. The other described a 38-year-old mother of four children, who was niftar on Sunday after a lengthy illness.
These two tragedies came only two weeks after the community was shaken to the core by the news that a 38-year-old father of seven was abducted and brutally killed by unknown assailants.
These calamities are but three items on a long list of devastating blows to our community in the past few months, which includes another 19-year-old mother who was suddenly niftar only days after giving birth.
When misfortune strikes, R”l, individuals react in very different ways.
Some — especially when disaster strikes close to home and they personally know the family involved — are totally shattered, even traumatized. They find it hard to continue with day-to-day life, and may even allow themselves to be temporarily overwhelmed by feelings of depression and despondency.
On the opposite extreme are those who give a deep sigh, ask a series of questions about the precise details of what happened, and then try to figure out how to place a safe mental distance between the occurrence and their own lives. Even when they can’t justify such reasoning, they prefer to put the matter out of mind as quickly as possible. They aren’t acting out of callousness or malice. It is a defense mechanism that some individuals employ when confronted with painful news.
The first type of reaction is counterproductive, the second, according to Rambam, is severely misguided. After specifying how a community should react in times of distress, Rambam (Hilchos Taaniyos, 1:3), declares: “Should the people fail to cry out [to Hashem] and sound the trumpets, and instead say, ‘What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence,’ this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses.”
First and foremost we must recognize the fact that this isn’t about “them” or “there,” but “us” and “here.” We must fill our hearts with emunah and chizuk, and internalize the fact that the Ribbono shel Olam is sending us a clear message, and we dare not ignore it.
Our response to this message must not be one of melancholy and inaction, but of tefillah and teshuvah. It is imperative to go on with one’s daily life — but with a renewed commitment to self-improvement.
As the legendary Harav Yonason Eibschutz, zt”l, writes in Yaaros Dvash, the primary honor one can show towards a niftar is with thoughts of teshuvah.
As broken-hearted parents grieve the petirah of beloved children, shattered young men mourn the unfathomable loss of their spouses, and tiny, nursing infants are left motherless, let us all be shaken out of our complacency, make a cheshbon hanefesh and take upon ourselves a small, realistic kabbalah to improve our actions.
May the Ribbono shel Olam have mercy on His children, dry our tears and heal our wounded hearts through the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.