Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord…. and Aaron remained silent (Lev. 10:2-3)
A nation mourns.
The unfathomable tragedy that took place amidst the exuberant celebrations of Lag BaOmer atop Mount Meron this past Thursday night came as a shock felt round the world.
The Torah describes a moment of euphoria when the fires of heaven poured down on the altar at the ceremonies marking the dedication of the Tabernacle. And yet, even as those fires served as a momentous marking of the long-awaited divine revelation, a grandiose celebration of the imminence of God, the jubilance of God’s presence turned suddenly into heart-wrenching despair for the High Priest and his immediate family.
On Mt. Meron, there was palpable joy. And then there was confusion and anguish. It was a celebration of Torah, a celebration of devotion to God, a salient national moment of reemergence from the grips of the pandemic. Masks no longer mandatory outside, 100,000 Israelis flocked to the mystical mountain to celebrate and to express their great appreciation for the invaluable blessing of being alive.
When catastrophe hit, festivity gave way to panic, elation gave way to devastation. 45 dead. Hundreds injured, many seriously. Among the worst peacetime tragedies to ever befall the State of Israel.
As is human nature, in the wake of disaster, some seek to place blame: blame the irresponsible organizers, blame the unsafe attendees, blame the government, blame the police, blame the rabbis…maybe even blame God.
I would suggest that instead of seeking to blame…we allow ourselves instead to embrace the pain. There will be plenty of time to determine who was at fault and how an accident of this magnitude can be avoided in the future. That must happen…soon. But for now, let us pause to mourn the tragic loss of life – the untimely deaths of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers – of adults and children – and join together around the world in sympathy and empathy for every life lost and every life left behind to grapple with the consequences of this moment for many years to come.
Sunday, May 2nd – the 20th of Iyar – has been declared by the State of Israel as a Day of National Mourning. Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Aharon; rather than spend the day seeking to explain, let us instead dedicate some time this day to being mindful of the heartbreaking sorrow, cognizant of the precariousness of life, and aware of the bonds that bind us together as a one people, wherever we are, however, we choose to practice, whatever we choose to believe.