There are no adjectives which can possibly describe the depth of the pain that enveloped our community when the news spread of the unfathomable tragedy in Flatbush on Friday night. As thousands gathered in the streets of Boro Park for the heartbreaking levayah, the grief in the air was tangible, and the calamity dominated every conversation.
As we beseech Hashem for the recovery of the heroic mother, Gila Gail bat Tzipora Frances, and her daughter Tzipora bat Gila Gail, there are no words with which we can possibly offer consolation to Gavriel Sassoon, the shattered father who exhibited such a lofty level of emunah at the levayah. All that can be said is “Hamakom yenachem eschem” — only the Omnipresent can possibly offer consolation.
As we grapple to try to come to terms with this indescribable tragedy, it is imperative that we bear in mind what Mr. Sassoon said in his hesped.
“The petirah of these seven pure souls are korbanos tzibbur,” he said, adding that “there is nothing to say — the only thing to do is to surrender to the will of Hashem.”
When learning of a tragedy of any sort, there is a natural inclination to make inquiries as to precisely what occurred and how it happened. Often, these questions are driven by a fear of this happening to us, and the subconscious desire to use this detailed information to distance our own circumstances from those of the victims and comfort ourselves with the thought that this couldn’t happen to us.
But as Torah Jews, we must seek to quell this inclination with the realization that this is about all of us.
Certainly, hishtadlus for safety is obligatory at all times, but the primary reaction to this communal tragedy must be of spiritual introspection. This is a time for each of us to make a cheshbon hanefesh, to look deep within the recesses of our own heart and seek the way to return to Hashem.
However, in order to do so, we must first fortify ourselves with emunah peshutah.
Seventy-three years ago, on Shabbos Parashas Hachodesh 5742/1942, Harav Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Piaseczna Rebbe, Hy”d, delivered a lengthy dvar Torah in the Warsaw Ghetto.
By this time, the Rebbe’s only son had been niftar from injuries he received during a German bombing, his daughter-in-law, Hy”d, brutally killed, and his sole surviving child, Rechel Yehudis, Hy”d, had been deported by the Nazis.
The Rebbe endured unspeakable torment; with his own eyes he witnessed indescribable horrors, and he had no illusions about his own probable fate.
The following is adapted from what the Rebbe said on that Shabbos.
Each Yid has inherited from his or her forefathers emunah in Hashem. This lies deep within his soul, and is there whether he recognizes it or not.
One way to understand this is by comparing it to our physical existence. A person is aware of the existence of his various organs — heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. — but only academically, like anything else he “knows”; he does not feel them.
Limbs — hands and feet — we feel, we are aware of, because they move only upon our will and command; but our hearts keep on beating as long as we live, regardless of any intent on our part. One is aware of one’s heart only when something occurs that makes it beat faster than usual.
Like the heartbeat, our emunah is always there. We only sense it, though, when we choose to make a concerted effort to “add” to it, to increase and strengthen it.
In that case, why does one easily “feel” his or her emunah when things are going well and the soul is brimming with happiness, while one struggles at times with emunah in times of trouble, when filled with grief and fear?
This is because the “sensing” of emunah is akin to a prophecy, which one can only attain through happiness. This spiritual recognition cannot manifest itself in a state of depression or sadness.
So how was Moshe Rabbeinu able to merit prophecy at the burning bush, at a time when his heart was filled with pain over the suffering of his people?
It is because Hashem appeared to him in a burning thornbush, which showed that He was, kavyachol, “with” Bnei Yisrael in their pain.
“Imo anochi batzarah — I am with him in distress.” The Ribbono shel Olam is, so to speak, filled with pain and even “weeps” over the sorrows of His children. While ordinarily prophecy — and emunah — can only be achieved through simchah, by pushing aside all barriers and cleaving to Hashem during even the hardest of times, one can merit prophecy and emunah even when the mood is somber and the heart is shattered.
In times of struggle, our only resort is to cleave to Hashem, to weep along with Him, kavyachol, as He weeps with us, and this serves to activate and enhance the emunah within us.
It is related that a well-known Rebbe once asked the Apta Rav why his tefillos were so accepted in Heaven.
The Apter Rav responded that every time he hears of the suffering of a Jew, the suffering causes a hole in his heart. “I’ve heard of so much pain and so much sorrow that my heart is pierced with holes like a sieve.” The Apter Rav continued, “I take my heart and I place it before the Ribbono Shel Olam, and when the Alm-ghty sees my heart so full of holes, He has mercy on my heart and hears my tefillah.”
Our communal heart has been thoroughly pierced. May the Ribbono shel Olam see the holes in our heart and have mercy on us. May we merit speedily in our days the Geulah Sheleimah and techiyas hameisim, when we will all be reunited with the precious souls of Elaine, a”h, Rivka, a”h, David, z”l, Yehoshua, z”l, Moshe, z”l, Sarah, a”h, and Yaakov, z”l, Sassoon.