Yakov Saacks
Yakov Saacks

The tragedy in Israel: The correct response

I was and still am devastated upon hearing the news that 45 Jewish participants were crushed and trampled to death while joyfully singing and dancing at the annual event at the grave of the venerated sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. This annual celebration is not new, but rather has been going on for thousands of years with varying amounts of participants, usually numbering in multiple tens of thousands.

The reason for the celebration is because the saintly Rabbi Shimon, a master Kabbalist, possible author of the Zohar, the main book of Kabbalah, taught that a person’s soul is our true essence, eternal and our real self, as opposed to the body, which is temporary and mortal.  Rabbi Shimon followed this thought by teaching that when a person passes, the soul is freed from its bodily constraints. That’s why, on his deathbed, Rabbi Shimon requested that his disciples not mourn his passing but celebrate it.


This year (2021) began as it normally does with tens of thousands of Jews from all walks of life arriving either by bus, taxi, or on foot. They sang in unison, danced together and celebrated with all the joy and happiness they could muster for those few hours before heading back to mundanity.

It is unclear what happened next to cause the crush. Apparently, as the masses began to exit the festivities, they entered a narrow walkway that leads down some steps into the street. They found this exit locked with a gate barring them egress. More and more people were exiting with nowhere to go which resulted in a crush because of the sheer mass of bodies. This was no stampede; this was a crush that ended up killing 45 people, some of them kids, and hurting countless others.


When we heard the news, we were shocked beyond belief. Joy turned into tragedy. We went from dancing to CPR compressions, singing to wailing and from laughing to sobbing. This traditionally happy day was converted into a national day of mourning.


Shortly after getting over the shock, the blame game began. Some blamed police, some blamed the organizers, some blamed slippery sidewalks, others blamed the debris lying on the floor, others blamed secular Jews for being secular, while others placed blame directly on the internet and the ability to access smut 24/7, while others blame God for allowing this to happen.


It is outrageous to start pointing fingers at one another while the bodies are still warm. In fact, it is wrong to blame period. I say let there be an investigation to ascertain what happened and proceed accordingly. It is contemptible to blame others because of their spiritual beliefs or how ritually correct they are with kosher and the like. It is vile, wrong and perfidious.


What should be the correct response if not blame? I believe that we can take a few lessons from Judaism as to what the correct response should be.


The Torah tells us that Aaron, brother of Moses, lost his two sons during the inauguration of the tabernacle in the desert. After the verses detail their deaths, it tells us what Aaron’s response was: “Vayidom Aaron.” He was silent. He said nothing. Nothing at all. He did not blame, he did not curse God, he did not berate anyone, he was simply silent. I am sure he cried bitter tears of grief but he did not place blame.


The code of Jewish law states clearly that when you pay a Shiva call to comfort a mourner, you should not be the one to start the conversation. Let the mourner guide you as to where they wish the dialogue to go. In other words, don’t talk – just listen. If you talk and the mourners have to listen, then you have not comforted them at all.

I think about the parents who lost their children the other day in the crush of humanity, and I ask myself do these parents really need to hear that it was because of the internet that their child died? Terrible thing to do to these families.


In the summer of 1956, Fedayeen terrorists entered a study hall located in the small village called Kfar Chabad filled with Russian refugees. They shut off the electric and began shooting indiscriminately, killing five and wounding four others. One hero was a teacher who saved many lives by throwing children out of the window to safety. As this was a Chabad village, everyone waited for words of wisdom from the grand Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi M.M Schneerson.

The Rebbe’s first teaching of wisdom is that he said nothing. A full week went by to allow the families to sit Shiva, mourn and cry over this tragedy and only then did the Rebbe speak. His literal words were, “In continuing to build, you will find your consolation.” He did not give reasons or blame anyone. All he did was to tell them not to run again like they did from Russia, but rather continue to build the village. Make it larger and safer. Not one negative word came from his mouth.


The best way to help post facto is not to lay blame or conjure up reasons from your deep insecurities as to why this occurred. Rather, be practical and be positive.

Practical means help these families in whatever they need; money, airline tickets, food, clothing and comfort.

Positive means nothing negative. No blaming. No pointing fingers at whomever. Be guided by compassion and not anger.

In my mind, I reflect on some of the sayings that I heard when growing up. If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything, silence is golden, don’t give reasons for the Holocaust and silence shows that you are listening.

I will be quiet now.

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About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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