Rabbi Anshel Friedman, ZAKA chief in northern Israel, says Kaddish for those who died in Meron stampede, ahead of bodies’ transfer to families for identification.
After a year of social distancing, on Lag Ba’Omer 2021, 200,000 Jews were flocking to Meron in Northern Israel to celebrate the legacy of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as never before. This was always a super fun and holy day on which even secular youths built bonfires, eat half-burned/half-raw foods, and talk, sing, and dance through the night. But this year, it seemed even more awesome, as we relish a return to freedom. Like Rabbi Shimon and his son, after 13 years living in a cave, finally could reenter normal life.
Only the preceding Shabbat, we read in our weekly Torah portion, how, at the unbelievably holy day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle, two of the four sons of the Aaron, the High Priest suddenly died (Leviticus 16:1, see also 10:1-7). They were the holiest of holy. How can that be? The Torah tells us they were bringing alien fired that G^d had not commanded when a Heavenly fire burned them, leaving their bodies and clothes intact. Were their contributions, on a very subtle level, alien to Judaism, a sin? Or had they merely displayed some overzealous fervor? Our holy commentators differ on the issue. In any case, Moses comforts his brother by saying that G^d becomes more holy in our eyes through the ones closest to Him.
Some people have suggested that the Holocaust was a Divine punishment for assimilation and dilution of European Judaism. Hardly anyone agrees. Some point out that, rather than a downfall of Jews, that was the final nail in the coffin of normalcy of antisemitism and of Caucasian supremacy. But in any case, also there, we saw that most of the victims were not Secular or Reform Jews but rather the most pious of the pious. Whole Chassidic and Lithuanian yeshivot and kehillot were exterminated. G^d becomes more holy in our eyes through the ones closest to Him. (This doesn’t let the actual perpetrators off the hook. They’re a shame to their families.)
Hundred-and-ten years ago, a euphoric crowd at Meron befell a similar disaster. While trying to find causes is important, especially to prevent a recurrence, assigning blame somehow wholly seems to miss the point. NB: Note, I don’t answer why this happened. Those who ask why, usually don’t need answers. They need to cry first. Just answer: Yes, why? And listen.
In any case, there are too many similarities between the death of the sons of Aaron and the revelers at Meron now. First of all the shock. What was supposed to be the greatest of feasts became marred by a disaster. And the victims had no wounds, their clothing still intact. The shock is palpable.
Only those who cling to life like Jews can understand the disaster of death.
May Heaven comfort the bereaved and heal the physically and emotionally wounded. And may the next repeat of Jewish history be a joyous one.