By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
With the summer season behind us, the turning of the pages of the calendar reminds us of the approaching Yemei HaDin, and we look forward to things going back to the way they were before the summer.
For Yidden the world over, that can never happen. Following a summer like the one we just experienced, life cannot (and should not) return to the way it was. We are not the same as a k’lal, nor are we the same as individuals. In describing the world in the days preceding Mashiach’s arrival, Chazal explain that major world events will unfold without respite. Before we have the time or ability to absorb the ramifications of one event, another, yet more shocking one, will take place.
When I reflect upon the rapid succession of events this summer, particularly in Eretz Yisrael, it is indeed overwhelming. The number of fathers, mothers, siblings, and children that have spent part of their summer participating in a shivah house is heart-rending. And this is not just in Eretz Yisrael. My friend Reb Yanky Meyer from Misaskim told me it has been the busiest summer for them since they began as an organization. A rosh kollel from Europe visiting my home during his annual summer fundraising trip shared the same troubling facts from his city and community.
At several speaking engagements this summer, the same topic was suggested: Why aren’t the tefillos of Klal Yisrael being accepted? A united Klal Yisrael stormed Shamayim with tefillos for Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad, z’l, without success. The tefillos were from every community and transcended communal differences. Even a prison chaplain shared with me that in the state facility that he services, a group of religious inmates received special permission to gather at night for a group Tehillim for these young kedoshim. Yet it was all unsuccessful, at least from the limited perspective that we have.
Last week, at an Elul awareness presentation at a local yeshiva high school, again the elephant in the room was the question, Why didn’t all our tefillos for Aharon Sofer, z’l, the yeshiva student missing in the Jerusalem forest, make a difference in the tragic outcome?
Hashem’s ways are hidden from us. Why did we lose the three young kedoshim, the young man from Lakewood, over 70 korbanos from this summer’s war in Gaza, six children in various communities who were taken from us in different types of accidents over the summer months, and the Jewish journalist killed in such a horrific and brutal fashion just days ago? The explanations for these painful events, which all took place in the span of a few weeks while many of us were enjoying the relaxed summertime vacation atmosphere, is beyond all human comprehension.
There is one factor that is sorely lacking that needs to be analyzed and addressed. And that is our lack of ability to shed any tears when we see and hear about such overwhelming tragedies, one after the other. Chazal say that even when the gates of tefillah are closed to us, the gates of dema’os, tears, are never closed. The Gemara in Berachos (32b) states in the name of Rav Elazar that from the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the sha’arei tefillah are closed, but the sha’arei dema’os are not. The Chazon Ish, zt’l, would often advise people who came to him frustrated that their tefillos were not helping that there is such a thing as a tefillas shav, a fruitless tefillah, but there is never a dem’a shav, a tear shed in vain.
Elul is a time of introspection. Perhaps the way to start is to look back at the past two months, with all the difficulties Klal Yisrael faced, with all the pain and loss for so many of acheinu Bnei Yisrael, with all the tefillos that we recited. Did even one small tear drop from our eyes? Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains that tears are the sweat of the neshamah. Did our individual and collective neshamah shed even one tear for a fellow Jew?
When I shared this idea with one of my audiences, their response was that we have lost the ability to cry today. This may be tragically so, but why have we? I recall the now famous story that Rav Lau, shlita, had related over the years, of his encounter with Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a chaplain in the U.S. Army who was present at the liberation of the concentration camp in which the young inmate had spent several years. When Rabbi Schacter saw the young boy, he began to cry and asked him how old he was. The young boy, later to become the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel, responded, “I am older than you.” When Rabbi Schacter asked him to explain, he responded, “Because you are crying and I no longer have the ability to laugh or cry. So who is really older?”
We have read the story of Rav Lau’s childhood in the Nazi concentration camps and can understand full well why he could no longer cry at that time. Parenthetically, more than half a century later, almost every time I hear the eloquent Rav Lau speak about the tzaros of Klal Yisrael, he can’t stop crying. Clearly his feeling for another Jew’s pain causes the tears of his soul to pour forth.
What about the rest of us? Why have we been able to live through so much Yiddishe pain this past summer? Why can we spend so much time in prayer, yet we cannot bring ourselves to shed even one tear during all that time?
With the Yamim Nora’im rapidly approaching, it’s something to think about. It’s something to cry about.