I guess at some point we run out of words. Or should. At some point, the same thing happens so often that we have thoroughly analyzed it, internalized it, tweaked it, unpacked it, rehashed and disgorged it. When Aaron the High Priest was informed that his two beloved sons were dead, the Torah tells us he was stone silent, va’yidom Aharon. We have another saying in our tradition: Lechah dumiyah tehillah – silence is the highest praise we can give You. At some point, words fall short and silence is the only sensible, only possible, response.
The problem is that we have ruach memmalelah, the power of speech, of intellect. We process what occurs in our lives by articulating what happened and what it all means. We agonized over the three Gush yeshiva boys who were kidnapped and murdered. We wept for the victims, dead and alive, of the Har Nof massacre. We pray ceaselessly for Ayala bat Rut, who has so many burn surgeries ahead of her. And now we watch the funerals of the four French Jews who were hunted down with cold, cruel deliberation. And we come to the same conclusions each time – the conclusion that closes the Book of Ecclesiastes, Kohelet: In the end, all is noted; be in awe of Gd and observe His precepts, because this is the sum of man. We are hard pressed to eke out any more meaningfulness than that from events such as these, which have been happening since our father Avraham first championed monotheism and began the chain that was to be the Jewish people. The locals took an instant, irrational dislike to him, and stopped up his wells. Just because. Just because he was a Jew.
It gives me a headache to think about how and why Gd foretold to Avraham that his descendents were destined to be tortured in a land not theirs. Out of that suffering was born a people with extraordinary sympathy for the Other, for pain, for injustice. We endure all manner of suffering, but we soldier on. I think, for example, about Holocaust survivors who endured concentration camp horrors but remained observant Jews, because this is the sum of man. The alternative to giving up our faith is despair. Not an attractive alternative.
There is a cloud of sadness within which we are functioning. Life goes on, but we compartmentalize and safekeep the memory of those who have perished. The antidote to that sadness is finding meaning. We reject the ironic first verse of Ecclesiastes – In vain, in vain; all is in vain. The rest of that Book pushes back against just that proposition, and arrives at a conclusion that demands our attention.
When bad things happen to good people, we feel out of control. It is miserable to feel out of control. It offends our pride. It belies our accomplishments. It is humbling and even humiliating. But we are allowed some measure of control. I may not control how and when I die, but I might be able to influence where that happens, and if it happens in Israel, no matter how, it lends dignity and meaning to my death and, by extension, to the life I led.
The four Parisian victims – Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and Francois Michel Saada – were buried in Israel. What a statement that made about the centrality of this country and about the unity of the Jewish people.
I find myself returning to the same thoughts over and over, trying to make sense of what appears senseless to us but cannot be. Hafoch bo ve’hafoch bo. Turn it over and over. Wrestle with the hurt and the frustration, but bear in mind that there is a foregone conclusion which we have the freedom of choice to embrace or not - Sof davar hakol nishmah; et haElokim yir’ah v’et mitzvotav shmor, ki zeh kul ha’adam. In the end, all is noted; be in awe of Gd and observe His precepts, because this is the sum of man. Therein lies the possibility of finding comfort.