This past Shabbat in shul, I spoke about the unbearable tragedy of the killing of Leibi Keletzky and how we should react. A number of people requested that I distribute my words.
I want to say a few words about the tragedy of this past week, the brutal murder, r’l of Leibi Kletzky. On Shabbat morning, as I was standing outside shul before delivering the sermon below, a black woman approached me. “We are Catholics” she said, “and we are sorry for your loss”. This tragic, senseless murder has united so many people in so many ways.
On the surface there are so many differences between those of us in Shul today and the Kletzky family – if we were to pass them on the street, they – chasidim, we, Modern Orthodox – we might look at each other as strangers – yet so many people, from so many walks of life have been united in the search, in davening, at the funeral, and now in mourning.
It is an incomprehensible tragedy. A young boy, allowed to walk home from day camp by himself for the very first time gets lost, – meets a stranger, a fellow Jew, who takes him home and the boy is murdered, dismembered.
I have read and heard so many people say I have no words, I am speechless, and then attempt to say something, and invariably fail.
And that’s my position this morning too. There are no words. There are only tears.
If this had been, G-d forbid a terrorist attack, or an anti-Semitic attack, we would have felt differently. We would have been able to feel anger – rage, we could be loud and shout and demand. We would know how to react.
A friend of mine, a prominent rabbi, has written how this individual must of have been a pedophile, and known to the rabbis, who must have covered up for him as so often is the case. And I agree with his point that in all communities far too much covering up for abusers goes on – but in this instance it seems he is wrong. We – at least as far as we know, can’t blame the culture, or the rabbis, or the mindset.
And that is the problem. There is, apart from the accursed murderer, no one to blame. Nowhere to take our grief.
And that I think is the only response to this tragedy. We have to learn, not to speak but to cry.
There are times when words – words of comfort, words of explanation are simply inadequate.
We read this morning the story of Pinchas. Or rather we continue the story from last week. Pinchas saw an act of pure evil, and he acted- he saw a sin in progress, and he alone knew what to do – he killed the perpetrators – kanim pogin bo…he acted as a zealot.
And Hashem approved of Pinchas’s actions, and makes him a Cohen, because this is the halacha, and if any one of us, had had the opportunity to stop this brutal murder and the only way was to kill the attacker, it would have been a mitzvah to do so, and had we hesitated or failed, we would be guilty of bloodshed.
But what about everyone else? Where was Moshe – Joshua, Elazar, the elders – where were they? What were they doing?
The torah tells us , וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד They were at the gates of the tent crying. They forgot that they could act, they didn’t realize they could act -the Halacha that they were supposed to act had been concealed from them.
And for the longest time I always understood that this was some form of implicit criticism of Moshe. A sign that the time had come for a new leader. He had become passive. He was no longer able to lead. He saw difficulties – and all he could do was cry.
But I was wrong. Moshe wasn’t weak. For whatever reason the halacha was concealed from him. From his perspective there was nothing to do, nothing to say.
And Moshe Rabenu taught us at that moment – when you see tragedy and there is nothing you can say or do – you have to cry. You can’t shrug your shoulders and walk away. You can’t just say ‘what a bad world we live in, but what are you going to do?’ The only response is tears. And tears are the correct response.
The Ibn Ezra says that “hema bochim – mitpalalim ” – they were praying – praying with tears – crying and davening , davening and crying at the same time.
And that’s the only response to this tragedy that makes sense.
This Tuesday is the 17th of Tammuz. And the three weeks of mourning for the beit hamikdash begin. It is no coincidence that these three weeks will coincide with the last three weeks of the shloshim for Leibi Kaletzky.
And our avoda , our task this year during the three weeks, is to cry, to learn to feel again. To feel shattered, bereft, that we live in a world where such evil exists, a world so broken, so far from redemption. This year we can’t go through these three weeks, the 17th Tammuz, Tisha B’Av by rote. We have to let these days affect us, deeply.
The Rambam writes that anyone who sees tragedy and fails to take it to heart, simply says it’s the way of the world – that person is cruel.
And we have all, as individuals and as a generation, become desensitized to tragedy, to suffering.
It is strange that in this day and age we know more about other people than ever before. With reality TV, facebook and twitter, now phone hacking scandals, we know so much more about people than we used to. But at the same time, we seem to care about other people less.
And this week, and the tragedy is that it took a tragedy to do it, we began to feel again – to feel the searing pain of strangers at this unbearable tragedy – and we began to cry again.
On Tisha B’av thousands of years ago as the Jewish people cried unnecessary tears, tears of self-pity, Hashem said to the Jewish people – for nothing you cried, by your life I will give you this night as a night of tears.
Perhaps we can show the Almighty in return – we did cry, we saw tragedy – and we wept. We wept when we heard about Leibi Kaletzly. We wept when we saw the beautiful Kehillat Jeshurun shul on fire. Hashem, you gave us reason to weep, and we did weep, and we kept on crying through these three weeks, we didn’t just do it by rote, we felt what it means to be mourners again, one people, staggering under unbearable grief.
And if we can indeed learn to cry, to feel the pain of our fellow Jew, and fellow human being then please G-d we will merit the day promised by the prophet, “umacha hashem elokim dima me’al kol panim – May Hashem wipe away tears from every face”