Parshat Bo, February 1, 2020
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A city damned for eternity, the tormented cries of thousands upon thousands of souls still echo in the wind. We recall the metamorphosis of Nazis and their henchmen turning into beasts of the wild – uncontrollable, unsatiated, and void of human decency. We can never forget the victims who had all semblance of humanity taken from them, yet rose from the ashes still clutching their dignity. Even after almost eight decades the raw emotions are still palpable. Rabbi Lau who was 7 ½ years old when he was sent to Auschwitz recently stated “he can never forgive the atrocities committed against his ancestors”. He told the assembly of dignitaries that they too must remember and never forget. His tears should be our tears and his pain should be our pain. We too can never forgive or forget.
Yet memories are short lived. Life goes on and we learn to forget yesterday and only remember today. The world was in shock upon hearing the news that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident that killed nine people, including his 13-year-old daughter. A sad and tragic end to one of our generation’s greatest basketball stars. Adults and teens join hands in mourning, deeply saddened by his untimely death. Professional games have been postponed and teams have commemorated his life with on-court displays. And many players and fans are having difficulty dealing with the immensity of the tragedy. And a common theme echoed by the tearful masses ‘we will never forget’. But we all know that this too shall fade away; the tears soon to be replaced by film clips and accolades of greatness.
A legend is gone but deep down I can’t help but feel moderately uncomfortable with the outpouring of grief. Indeed his death was tragic and untimely as was the death of the eight other passengers. And I felt my eyes tear when players who haven’t spoken to each other decided to make amends after the tragedy. Life is just too unpredictable; who knows their end? But I can’t help but wonder what it is that they mourning. His greatness was that he could shoot a ball through a hoop with panache, grace, and flair. But I remember my rabbi telling me almost fifty years ago: vos gait zich un oib ainer can shissen a ‘ball’ fiftzig fus uder ahundred. What difference does it make to you if someone can shoot a ball with accuracy from 50 feet or more? Who and what we glorify defines who we are as human beings. And truthfully, as I’ve matured, my passion and interest in the sports of my youth has waned.
Of course I can understand how some are internalizing the loss, but on a week when the world commemorated the seventy fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I question if Kobe’s death is worthy of my emotions? Seventy five years ago the world continued; no sports games cancelled or Broadway performances stopped. I can’t help but question how can we accept or fathom this blaring contradiction of emotions?
It’s not that I’m minimizing Kobe’s death; I’m just trying to ascertain why and how civilized human beings compartmentalize their emotions? Why the world is so distraught with the death of a basketball star but can ignore the death of philosophers, doctors, businessmen, scholars? One and a half million children were killed during the Holocaust and few, if any, shed any tears. Of course I’m sad Kobe died, but relative to the six million holy souls, should my tears not be reserved for someone or something more essential to mankind than an entertainer?
Every day we hear of a new tragedy and I wonder if we’ll have enough tears. We need tears for the Palestinian people who will continue to suffer immensely due to their leadership’s obtuseness. We need tears for millions of innocent civilians who, due to the randomness of geography, were born in countries with oppressive regimes. We need tears for the myriad of innocent people from China and around the world infected with coronavirus. We need tears for the victims of rape and child abuse. We need tears for the hundreds of police officers killed in the line of duty. We need tears for the soldiers that defend our freedom but sadly returned home in coffins.
I’ve listened and read beautiful tributes by Kobe’s peers and fans and can almost feel their pain. To many his life was a rags to riches story that they too could one day hope to achieve. His loss was the termination of that longing and a nightmare ending to their dream. It’s not that I did not marvel at Kobe’s brilliance on the court, but who we mourn and what brings tears to our eyes helps define us a human beings. As great as Kobe was, as a Jew I have only enough tears for the six million that were killed. And any tears that still remain will be dedicated to the amazing individuals who survived the hell of the Holocaust and managed to resurrect themselves and leave a lasting legacy for humanity. Unfortunately, I have no more tears.
Rabbi Jack Engel