The world media reported yesterday what many of us had already been thinking for some while, that Flight MH370 was lost in the ocean, there were no survivors. What came next, was an unfortunate gaze into the media industry, as we became voyeurs in other people’s grief.
How do we deal with a tragedy? How do we respond to the pressures of such events? How do we continue with the daily grind of life while those around us are grieving?
One of the hardest stories that our Torah gives us, was found in last week’s Parasha. Aaron’s children are killed by a heavenly fire and Aaron is told that he should not deviate from the inauguration service lest he be killed, there is tragedy of the loss of one’s children, and there is a silence that speaks volumes.
Our sages ask all of the wrong questions, they focus on the fact that Aaron was consoled due to his silence or rewarded because of his silence. In the midst of the wrong questions, we must raise our voice and ask the right one. What does the individual need, how can we empathize, how can we engage, how can we provide comfort?
The natural way of grief is to have an outburst of emotion, the stifling of Aaron’s voice, during a time when he needs it most, is seemingly unnatural; despite this, perhaps this story can provide us with an understanding on how to deal with tragedy.
There is a story told of the relationship between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, many aspects of the story are taken from various places in the Babylonian Talmud. The two met each other in unusual circumstances, Rabbi Yochanan was bathing in the river, and Reish Lakish stopped and saw that he was very good looking, he said surely you could use your looks for certain physical pleasures. Rabbi Yochanan responded that if he learnt Torah then he could marry his sister who was more beautiful. Thus the beginning of a long relationship formed, where Reish Lakish began as student, but mastered his learning and became equal. After an argument about superiority between the two, Reish Lakish became ill and died prematurely. The many sages visited Rabbi Yochanan who was depressed at the loss of his companion, they would try to get him to debate Torah subjects, or answer questions and he would reject them, saying that they were not the caliber of questions he was used to from Reish Lakish. The sages realized they had to do something for their colleague, so one day they came and sat near Rabbi Yochanan, in silence, allowing time to pass so that he realized that they were his support, and that when he was ready they would be there for him.
Every tragedy calls for action. We are obligated in searching for answers, to bring those responsible to justice, caring for the bereaved, and tending to the meis, the body. We have to do something! The progression of dealing with a tragedy should include the initial out pouring of grief, there should be action, and there should be reflection. Through the process of grief, sometimes we need to actively be silent.
If we think that Aaron was being forced to be silent then perhaps we should reevaluate our understanding. I think that he was making a decision to be silent, not because he had been consoled as our sages teach us, but because he needed to be silent. He needed to contemplate the event at hand, remember his children whom he had lost, and muster the strength to keep going.
When major tragedies occur that call upon us to join together in solidarity with those suffering; it is our role to support them, to find the answers, and ensure justice. We have to be the supporting pillars for those that need, and we sometimes have to be actively silent.It is only through this silence that we can move on, continue on, and grow in strength.
We, the consumers of media, need to say enough is enough. Let us be silent for the sake of the victims, the families left behind, those that are mourning, and those that are crying. There will be a time for answers, and the search must go on, but we need to actively be silent for the sake of those who need silence!