There are moments, unfortunately all too rare and often in tragic circumstances, when the unity of Am Yisrael turns from an ideal into a tangible reality.
One such moment came on Friday, October 14, 1994. Nachshon Wachsman, Hy”d, a young Israeli soldier, was being held by Hamas murderers who threatened to kill him at 8 p.m. if the terror group’s leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, wasn’t released. That Erev Shabbos, thousands of women around the world lit candles for the first time, in response to a plea from Nachshon’s mother that they do so in his merit. In neighborhoods throughout Israel, people finished their Shabbos seudah early and poured out into the streets to say Tehillim at the designated hour.
While the results weren’t as hoped for, the feeling of achdus succeeded, at least for that moment, in bringing down the walls that artificially divide us into camps of religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Litvish and Chassidish.
Last week saw another event that brought forth an outpouring of achdus. A distinguished avreich in Givat Mordechai, Rabbi Shimon Ozer Gross buried two young daughters who succumbed to a powerful pesticide that had been left in their home by an exterminator. The Grosses two young sons were in critical condition. The names Rafael Yitzchak Eizik ben Michal and Chaim Michael Shlomo ben Michal were uttered by everyone in their tefillos. Shiurim around the country were dedicated to these boys; children and teenagers in chadarim, yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs were learning, reciting Tehillim and taking on chessed projects in their merit.
At the girls’ funeral, Rabbi Gross, who learns at the Mir and who accepted the Heavenly decree unquestioningly, recalled the famous story of the sons of Rabi Meir who passed away suddenly on Shabbos. His wife, Bruriah, hid the news from him until after Shabbos, and only told him after eliciting from him that one who is given a deposit for safekeeping must return it when the owner wants it back.
Rabbi Gross asked why Rabi Meir burst out in tears upon seeing his children’s bodies, even though he clearly understood that they were only a “deposit for safekeeping.” “The answer is that when the owner comes to retrieve his item at the proper time, then it really is time to return it,” he responded. “But when the owner asks for his item early, it is an indication that we were not good guardians. Maybe we weren’t worthy of these gifts for safekeeping; we didn’t merit to raise them.”
We have no doubt that Rabbi Gross and his wife — may they be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and may they see their two sons recover and give them much nachas — were eminently worthy.
Last week was marked by another tragedy that rocked the Jewish community: a cooking gas explosion that took the lives of an entire family, R”l.
In his hesped, Rabbi Gross raised an important point: Our children aren’t ours. They are precious deposits that have been put in our hands for safekeeping.
In this specific case, the exterminator they hired was licensed, experienced and authorized to use phosphine, the pesticide that caused the tragedy.
But we have to increase our vigilance. We have to examine our homes on a regular basis to make sure they’re safe for children. Cleansers, bleach and bug sprays have to be inaccessible to young, curious hands. Ditto for medicine. We have to make sure young children aren’t given nuts or other foods that might cause them to choke.
We need to remain aware of our responsibility toward the “precious deposits” in our possession. We can’t rely on newspaper articles or other resources that share health tips to prescribe treatment or medicine for our children. Children must be taken to the doctor and given only medicine prescribed for them, at the proper dosage.
Precautions must be taken on Shabbos to ensure that hot-water urns, cholent pots and Shabbos candles are all safely out of reach. Electric cords that could be pulled down must be tucked away.
Tragedies like those of last week require cheshbon hanefesh, on a spiritual level, as well as on a practical one.
The value of our sense of achdus will be heightened if it leads us to internalize this message: To serve our Creator, we must treat His deposits with the requisite care.