It’s like waking up from a pleasant dream only to find yourself living a nightmare.
As word of this morning’s terror attack spread through our community like typhus in the ghetto, we rushed through the turmoil of stampeding emotions. First, an all-too-familiar thrill of horror, as our brain pieced together the words we were hearing and we grasped the enormity of the tragedy. Following quickly was overwhelming, drowning sorrow, pain for the loss of our friends and brothers, and agony for the bereaved. Soon anger took hold, fury at those who would dare, at the brazenness and wrongness of it. Unfortunately, we’ve been on this roller coaster before.
But this time, there was a new sensation in the train of feelings thundering through our hearts, a new car at the end of the line. Fear. Real, primal, raw fear. We guiltily do a quick computation of how many variables would have needed to be different and that could have been me. A different shul, a different minyan or a different day, and my name would be solemnly spoken on the radio, in shuls and schools, mentioned morbidly in many speeches and articles just like this one. And… maybe next time…?
Talmidim and mispallelim are asking: Should we be afraid? And I wonder: Why that question now?
When thinking about tzaros and feeling their pain, we know a message is being broadcast to us as individuals. We’ve heard the shiurim, even given some ourselves. We know what we need to do. Yet all too often we miss getting the message and doing something about it, because we feel too safe.
In every tragedy, there’s usually some false sense of security we can hold onto, some way of explaining to ourselves why we’re different from the victims, at least relative to our exposure to terror. We don’t live in the “settlements.” We don’t live in the South. We don’t live in the North. We won’t ride the light rail. It was only Har HaBayis activists. It was only “settlers.” It was only Israelis.
Today, all our false securities are blown. We can’t avoid going to shul. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that our brothers, while always “us,” are still, in some way, “them.” We’ve been rudely awakened from our dream of safety and plunged into a nightmare in which we are all just the same: Jews, together, facing bloodthirsty pogromist peasants, as we have done for hundreds of years.
Drawing magical boundaries to separate ourselves from the victims is a pattern we’ve fallen into before, and with tragic consequences. As the Nazi regime advanced its policies of anti-Semitic discrimination across Europe, many Jews insisted that they would be safe, for one imagined reason or another. Even as Hitler’s murderous intent took shape, beginning in Poland, Yidden elsewhere reassured themselves that only Jews of Warsaw would be victimized, because it was the current seat of the reform Bundist movements.
Six million Kedoshim later, we know the truth. Our enemies believe in achdus of the Jewish people. And the message is there for all of us to hear, not to excuse ourselves from.
So, should we be afraid now? As always, yes. And no. Ashrei adam mefached tamid refers to matters of Torah; we must tremble at the thought of the disaster of failure (and its consequences). But otherwise, warns Yeshayah Hanavi, pachadu b’Tzion — chata’im. Let’s get the message now, wherever we are, whoever we are, and not wait for it to come any closer.
Rabbi Yitzchok Landa is a teacher of Torah at Yeshiva Ateres Yerushalayim and Kehillat Arzei Ramot