The ultimate question after the Mount Meron tragedy: Why? - opinion

Many are calling for a full government investigation into what exactly caused the incident. Others are answering the question by looking inward in spiritual reflection.

A VISITOR lights a candle at the site where 45 victims were killed in a stampede last week at Mount Meron. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
A VISITOR lights a candle at the site where 45 victims were killed in a stampede last week at Mount Meron.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
 Why? How could such a thing happen? What should our response be?
These are the unanswerable questions Jews all over the world are asking in the wake of the Meron tragedy.
In a quest for answers, there seem to be two paths.
Many are calling for a full government investigation into what exactly caused the incident.
But others are answering the question by looking inward in spiritual reflection. What can we learn from this tragedy as individuals? What can we do better?
The first path challenges society to take responsibility. The second asks each person to take personal responsibility, and use this moment to perfect his or her spiritual life.
Both are right, but each in its time. First, we must complete the mourning, the self-reflection, the suggestions for spiritual change. Then we can have the necessary government review and suggestions for structural change.
Of course, we are never going to find the true answers to the question. It’s the ultimate struggle of life: Why do bad things happen? Why are children trampled? Why do innocent people lose their lives? Why did one person survive and another perish?
For the modernist, who thinks every problem is solvable by science and government action, the response is one. The believer looks inward.
I had this struggle personally when my son spent two years battling leukemia. Ultimately, his life was saved by a yeshiva student who happened to walk into a bank in Jerusalem and test his bone marrow. Two young Jews separated by thousands of miles were perfect matches, and one saved the life of another. But during this ordeal, my wife would ask constantly: Why? Why our son? Why does he have to suffer? To this question I did not have, nor do I have today, an absolutely satisfying answer.
Still, I find a path forward with two stories, one of Holocaust survivor, teacher, and activist Elie Wiesel, the other of one of Israel’s war widows, Shifra Morozov.
AFTER THE Holocaust, Wiesel had given up on life. He did not want to marry, and he feared bringing children into a world that could create such evil.
It was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who consoled his wounded soul and helped him find a way forward. We don’t know why God does these things, the Rebbe said, but we do know that there is a reason, a Divine plan.
“If you believe it’s all random, you will never discover an answer,” the Rebbe explained. If you believe that there is a plan, even if you do not know what it is, you can get comfort knowing that the answer exists.
While this gave Wiesel some consolation, he still feared fully living again.
But he was encouraged by the Rebbe once again after one Simhat Torah, when he joined the masses in receiving a bit of wine, kos shel bracha, from the Rebbe. When he finally approached the Rebbe, he introduced himself as a “hassid from Vizhnitz [referring to his family background] who came to Lubavitch.” The Rebbe responded that if he was in Lubavitch, he must act as such, and told Wiesel to ask for a blessing.
In hassidic tradition this is the ultimate opportunity; it’s like getting a blank check. The blessing of a tzadik is the greatest spiritual gift.
Wiesel stood silently, dumbfounded, until the Rebbe said, “Let me give you a blessing to start again.” He told him that it was time to find the courage to live life.
Sometime after, Wiesel married in Jerusalem. At the huppah, a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived from the Rebbe. Wiesel never found the real answer to his question, but he knew that in the spiritual worlds there was one, and that itself gave him the courage to start over.
THEN THERE’S Shifra Morozov’s story. My yeshiva classmate in Kfar Chabad in the years between the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War was a student from Holland. His sister, Shifra, who still lives in Kfar Chabad, was a war widow raising three young children herself. Her husband Dovid was a paratrooper whose life was snuffed out in a battle at the Suez Canal just after the Six Day War.
Instead of retreating, Shifra became a powerhouse of consolation for others. She would travel the country, visiting families who had lost loved ones in the wars, listen to their woes, console them, organize holiday events for them to celebrate, and attempt to help them overcome their great loss.
Once a year, she would arrange a massive bar mitzvah celebration in Kfar Chabad for the orphans of fallen soldiers. Politicians, generals and hassidic rabbis would dance with the children, sending them the message that all of the Jewish people were with them.
She turned her sorrow into inspiration – despite the fact that her mother had died in the Holocaust and her husband’s grandfather was killed by firing squad in Russia for keeping Judaism alive in the Soviet regime.
Three years ago, I witnessed the blessing she brought to her family when, that Shabbat, her entire family gathered to mark the 50th yahrzeit of her husband. Around the tables sat her three children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her love for others prompted a Divine blessing that enriched her life beyond measure.
NO, THERE are no real answers to life’s sorrows, pains and losses.
Some will find their solace in ensuring that accidents like this never happen again, through proper government oversight, appropriate facilities, and better planning.
Though these measures are vital, they will not heal the wounds of the families who lost loved ones. That will only come from within.
While we may never see the real answers, faith teaches us that there are answers and reasons that we cannot understand.
And by dedicating ourselves to greater love, compassion to others, and a more intense faith in the One Above, we can seize this moment of sorrow as an opportunity to become better human beings.
The writer is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His email is