Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Ruminations on Leiby Kletzky, and a community’s sorrow

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Much ink has been spilled on the latest and most painful Jewish tragedy. What else is there to say? Only this. The Talmud in Hagiga 3a, says the following:

Israel are like scattered sheep harried by lions. First he King of Assyria devoured them and then Nebuchadnezer of Babylon crunched their bones. (Jeremiah 50:17) Nebuchadnezer, the king of Babylon likened Israel to a lamb, just as a lamb when smitten on one limb, feels the pain in all its limbs, so is Israel, when one of them is killed, everyone feels it and everyone suffers…

The Talmud interprets the verse as the voice of Nebuchadnezer who observes that all of Israel is like one organism that when a loss is suffered by a community, the entire body of Israel shudders, and mourns. Sometimes, only an unspeakable tragedy reminds us of this.  People spontaneously converged on the modest Kletzky apartment from far and near.  Some criticized the spontaneous outpouring of strangers to the shiva house as insensitive, and even selfish, putting their own needs ahead of the grieving family’s. On one level those who criticized have a point, but, the point of the Talmud is that no Jew is a stranger to another Jew, and heartfelt empathy for a kinsman is appropriate even at the most devastating times.

The Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Yassin,  commented on how much Jews loved life, and how that weakness would be their downfall because no such vulnerability existed among his devotees. Nebuchadnezer gives witness to this curious empathy among Jews as well when he says that when one of them feels pain, they all do.

We go months embracing division, petty bickering, and disaffection for one another, and then something like this happens, reminding us that black hats, and knit kippot, Hebrew, and Yiddish are all mere garments that cover, and sometimes obscure the soul of the Jew. To see beyond the accessories one has to pay attention, one has to wake up, one needs to focus.  Maybe if we all had a bit more clarity, we would be protected from the unthinkable. The Gemara goes on:

He further expounded: You have affirmed that this day the Lord is your God…And the Lord has affirmed this day…(Deuteronomy 26:17-18) The Holy One said to Israel: You presented me as one to the world i.e. you have affirmed to the Lord, and [for that] I will present you as one to the world. i.e. And the lord has affirmed.

You presented me as one, as it is written:  Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one!

I will present you as one to the world as it is written: Who is like Your nation Israel, a unique nation in the land.”

So it may be that empathy, sensitivity, and comfort for the living be the unique and unifying badge of Israel. For this, we should be known by friend and foe alike. So, it has been, and so, it should always be.

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