The lesson here is the mutual responsibility we all carry for every member of our nation
With the spilled blood of 45 pure bnei Torah still boiling like the blood of the prophet Zechariah in the courtyard of the Mikdash, our hearts are roiling too, with so many questions. Why has Hashem done this to us? How has he allowed children, teenagers, and sterling avreichim to fall in such a cruel way?
But deep inside, we know not to question the Creator’s decisions. In truth, Moshe Rabbeinu already asked those questions for us all when he begged HaKadosh Baruch Hu: “Hodi’eni na es derachecha, inform me of Your ways.” With these words, the Gemara explains, he voiced life's most piercing question: Why do we see tzaddikim suffer while evildoers enjoy a good life?
HaKadosh Baruch Hu responded with a singular statement: “Hinei makom Iti — See, there is a place near me” (Shemos 33:21). Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: With these words, HaKadosh Baruch Hu revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu that all of mankind’s questions about the ways of the Hashgachah Elyonah stem from the limited human point of view.
“Your question, Moshe,” Hashem said, according to Rav Hirsch, “stems from the fact that your perspective is ground-based. Positioned as you are on earth, you are forced to peer upward, confined to a narrow view. However, if you would find a place to stand beside Me, and observe what is happening in the world from My lofty view — then you will understand the events below in a very different way.” (See the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch ibid.)
Consider the difference between a street view and an aerial view. From above, one sees the world spread out before him as an expansive panorama, with a far broader perspective than his friend who’s standing on the street and whose aperture is far more limited. And from the higher perspective, all the questions dissolve.
So it’s not the question of all questions that storms our hearts this week. Instead, we wonder: What signal is this tragedy sending us? We have been reminded from Above that we are all one nation; almost every stream and every community in the Torah world was represented among the Meron victims. Is there not some message there?
When Yosef, the ruler of Mitzrayim, threw his brothers into the Egyptian prison, they said to themselves: “…aval asheimim anachnu, in truth, we are guilty regarding our brother, as we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us.” (Bereishis 42)
In other words, says Rav Leib Chasman ztz”l, these holy brothers did not regret the actual sale of Yosef that they carried out. They thought it was justified according to the letter of the law. But when they were sitting in prison, they confessed, “How did we harden our hearts in the face of our brother’s pleas and cries? Where did our compassion go?”
They realized that this lack of empathy — their apathy, the erosion of their capacity for compassion — had brought their current trouble upon them. The pasuk says that after they sold their brother, “they sat to eat bread” — as if nothing had happened, as if no one’s life and future had just been cruelly ripped away. Now, when they were thrown into prison, their great hearts sensed the reason. “Because we did not see.”
Still, there are those who will claim — in their view justifiably so — that the events of last Thursday have nothing to do with them. True, a tragedy happened, but what could we have done to prevent it? Are we responsible for the safety deficiencies on a mountaintop miles away?
Let us look how the holy Torah addresses the death of one individual who is found on the wayside with no clue as to his murderer’s identity. This is the parshah of eglah arufah, at the end of parshas Shoftim. And according to the Torah, the greater Jewish nation must take responsibility for this death.
Why is this so? What does an isolated murder outside the city limits have to do with us? This is why we have a police force; they need to find the murderer. There’s a forensics institute, there are ambulances and burial societies. Let them do their jobs and leave us out of it. Isn’t that the way it should be?
In primitive societies — and also in modern ones whose humanity has calcified — the death of a person is just a statistic. But that is not the case in the State of Torah, the only truly enlightened state in the universe. In this state, we don’t just count our losses and move on.
Hence, a dead person found lying on the wayside is not just a random incident. It has shockwaves and ramifications and must be felt on an emotional level by the entire nation.
Try, then, to imagine a bit how things would have been handled in the State of Torah with regard to the anonymous body. The elders of the nation — and according to the Gemara, they were the members of the Sanhedrin Hagedolah, meaning the highest beis din in the Land — would appear in the field and engage in a concerted effort of… measuring. They measured the distance between the deceased and the cities in the area, to ascertain which city was the closest. That city then bore the collective blame — because in some way, on some level, its sense of collective responsibility has eroded.
The public nature of the event, and the stature of the justices, meant that the lesson ultimately reverberated far and wide. Everyone saw, heard, and knew that the death of a person — even an anonymous individual — is not something to be taken lightly.
But it didn’t end there. When the closest city was determined, the elders of that city were obligated to take responsibility for the death. The Gemara says that all the elders of the city — even if they number one hundred — must go out into the ravine, where the eglah arufah ceremony takes place, and declare, “Our hands did not spill this blood.”
The Gemara then rightly asks: “And did it enter anyone’s mind that the elders of beis din are murderers?”
The answer is sobering: “Their statement means that he [the anonymous victim] did not come before us and leave without food and an escort.”
In the event that the city did not provide for the needs of the person — whether with food or with security — then the entire city, headed by the elders, could not declare, “Our hands did not spill this blood.” They felt guilty. They felt accountable. And mostly, they learned this important lesson of taking responsibility, even if there’s only a remote, insignificant misstep that could have ultimately caused the chain of events leading to the death.
The lesson here is the mutual responsibility we all carry for each and every member of our nation. Because potentially, we are all to blame. When a person is not careful (and generally we are not careful) he strings another bead in the chain — even if it is an insignificant one — of deeds and actions that may ultimately lead to a dreadful outcome.
We must uphold the value and significance of every individual among us — because every soul is a lofty one. That is the truth, and we must never lose sight of it. If not, we are all to blame — one way or another.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 859)
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