This has been a week of nearly unbearable pain and sadness for a family, and yes, an entire community. No one should know such a tragedy. No one can even imagine the depth of this pain. As your rabbi, I first and foremost have a responsibility to serve the family in the ways that are most helpful. Thirty-three years in the rabbinate have not been enough to allow me to feel adequate at this. I can only try to help appropriately. But I understand that first and foremost our obligation is to be present in whatever appropriate ways for the Weiner and Rom families. We take guidance from a tradition which describes the deaths of two sons. After Aaron’s sons died the Torah says: Vayidom Aharon, And Aaron was silent. In the face of indescribable tragedy, silence is often the only response. And all must realize that giving mourners respectful space that they need at this time is paramount. Words of condolence, spoken too soon, are not helpful.
But we also see that tragedies of this dimension affect so many. Beyond a family that grieves, there are friends and neighbors and there is a community of caring people. All feel pained. Tragedies like this not only evoke sympathy for the mourners, they make everyone feel vulnerable, frightened and sad. And so Rabbi Englander and I, along with Shlomit Karasik and other mental health professionals, will be meeting with young adults to help and allow people to process this grief and this catastrophic event.
Some ask “How can God do this”? We know there are differing approaches. There are some who say: “God has a plan.” I can’t say that. My faith doesn’t work that way. And I find support in this from our tradition.
In the future we will address together some of the issues from the Jewish tradition. In some ways, it was my own experience in my family as a child when a cousin died that has made me search my entire life for answers to create comfort or meaning. And yet, in spite of that search, I live with the realization that there are events in the world, and in our lives, that are beyond our capacity to understand, to explain, or to find meaning. Human uncertainty and unpredictability is part of being alive.
For now, we can only bear witness to this tragedy and its pain. Later we will talk, philosophize and express belief. Not now. Now we sit like the biblical figure Job; we simply can’t always understand what befalls us.
So where is God?
God, can be found in the healing that will take place. God is in the community that shapes a response that comforts. God is the force behind creation. And this created world has both a predictable order and events that are unexplainable and subject to randomness and uncertainty. There is misfortune in the world. And to live a human life is to be subjected to that.
Sooner or later we all die. We don’t have the control to determine how. Some are fortunate to live to a ripe old age and go peacefully, and some not. And, what I have learned, is that it is not determined by what we do. It is not a matter of reward and punishment. We choose to be good, to love, to take on responsibility, and commit to values and law to help make our lives better and more menaingful. We wish to create meaningful lives and we need to create order in what could otherwise turn to chaos. And God is there.
But none of these assure long life.
The deaths are real. The meaning we give to the lives of Jared and Ori, and of those lost, is in our hands. These were men committed to their wives and children and their families. They lived lives of goodness and integrity. And because we value life – and see it as such a gift – we mourn, cry and yearn; and bring comfort, support and love. We will regain strength. And, we will emerge with not only hearts that are forever scarred, but also a realization of how important it is for us, as survivors, to feel appreciation with all that we have and all that is good in our lives. For we know, it can so easily be torn away.
Life is precarious and it is precious. We try to control, hopefully for good, that which we can. We mourn and grieve that which we lost. That’s our job now.
I wish you Shabbat Shalom.
See you in shul,
Rabbi David Steinhardt