Comforting the Mourners: A Murderous Succoth

Succoth is called Zman Simchateinu, the season of our joy. It’s actually a mitzvah to be happy on Succoth — for each and every minute of the eight day holiday. But how can we be happy after our Succoth was marred with tragedy, first the murders of Eitam and Naama Henkin and then two fatal stabbings in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Why did Na’ama and Eitam have to die? Why are their children now orphans and the same for Rabbis Benita and Lavie and their families?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Is it because G-d is evil? Because G-d is weak? Does G-d allows  an evil entity to share the governance of the world?

Those are answers but they aren’t answers that leave room for living with joy. This week’s murders haven’t cancelled the holiday. That means that we have to somehow be able to be joyful even in the shade of these murders….But how?

Classically, the Jewish response  when this sort of tragedy strikes is silence. We learn this from Aaron the High Priest whose two sons died after lighting a strange fire in the Holy of Holies. Instead of questioning or complaining, the Bible teaches that  Aaron was silent. His silence didn’t denote passivity — Aaron didn’t withdraw into depression. Instead, he continued on as High Priest and  marriage counselor, reuniting feuding couples and making broken families whole. Aaron’s silence wasn’t the silence of despair. It was the silence of acceptance. Aaron didn’t try to understand. He didn’t ask questions. He saw that this was beyond him. It was G-d’s realm, a reflection of G-dly judgment and his job was to suspend his our reason and accept.

And that should be our response too. To accept and to continue on, following in the pathways of these holy Jews who have ascended to the next world in a fire of holiness.

According to a Hassidic teaching, those who die al kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of G-d’s name, suffer no pain. Their  bodies may be riddled with bullets or cuts, but  their souls rise up, like Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion, who saw Hebrew letters blossoming like flowers in the air above his head while his body burned.

This isn’t to say that the killers are off the hook. Theirs are heinous crimes which only G-d can avenge. Down here, we must continue and even rejoice, as we’re biblically enjoined to do — the murders don’t cancel out the holiday — and to realize that we are all in G-d’s hands.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.