Ysoscher Katz

Why Am I Here?!

To use Brisker terminology, there are “tzvei dinim” (two models) in the post October 7th diaspora Jewry’s Israel hopover, the thousands who embark on a short pilgrimage to Israel for a few days and then return home.

1) There is the “kum ve’asai” model; the active pilgrim where one comes to Israel for a short while in order to DO.

They arrive prepared with a jam-packed itinerary, filled with moments of chesed and alturism. They help prepare food for the chayalim to provide them with a bit of comfort, visit hospitals to offer a modicum of relief for the injured, attend funerals to cry with the brevead (sadly there are too many of those), and pay shiva visits to alleviate some of the pain of the mourners.

2) Then there is the “shev ve’al ta’aseh” model; the passive model, whereby one comes more to BE than to DO.

They come here just like that, with no itinerary in hand. Mostly they come to do a lot of NOT DOING; to spend some time sitting in silence with friends, loved ones, and the country as a whole. They crave to be here because it feels wrong to be away during this trying time, when am Israel in eretz Israel is experiencing fear, anxiety, innumerable deaths, and debilitating uncertainty.

They want to be in that space even if only for a short time; walk the streets in fear of the next rocket attack, refrain from extravagant laughter and frivolity while a few short miles away some of our brothers and sisters, some of them very young and some of them not so very young, wither in chilly Gazan subterranean tunnels—so close by that in the serenity of late at night you imagine yourself hearing their bone crushing cries for help and relief.

Two models, equally valid but for a variety of conscious and unconscious reasons, some embrace the first model while others adopt the second.

I am here for a few days to do the latter. I am more of a BE’er than a DOer.

I hopped over for about 120 hours. To hold my children’s hands, wipe their tears, comfort my little grandchildren who even if they don’t have the words yet to express themselves undoubtedly sense that something is askew. Hopefully, Zaidy’s presence can provide a modicum of reassurance, and help steady them a bit.

Along those lines, on shabbat morning when we recite the mi shebeirach for Tzahal, I want to shed a tear in response to the tear shed by the person sitting next to me, who quite possibly has a child serving in Gaza–or maybe worse, God forbid! (Perhaps my neighbor’s child did serve but is no longer able to because it’s hard to fend off an enemy from inside a grave.)

Finally, with all the bloodshed happening on my behalf it felt right for me (others might disagree) to spend a few moments to be a part of this operation, at least vicariously. The burden of carrying the consequences of the aggressive war tactics (albeit necessary) should not just fall on those who live here. Perhaps for a few days, I too should feel safe only by owning that which Tzahal is doing on our behalf. It’s necessary but no less horrific, devastating, and tugs at your conscience. It’s one thing to grapple with this from afar. Up close it is a very different experience, for better and for worse.

Being in such close proximity to the Gazan theater of war enables you, at least for a couple of days, to better understand the necessity of this brutal war. And, at the same time, the brutality feels more intimate when you go to bed a mere 5/10 miles from where all the mass killing is taking place.


The Rabbis tell us, כשישראל בצער, שכינה מה אומרת קלני מראשי קלני מזרועי. When the Jewish nation is in pain, God says: I am in pain as well. My head is aching, my arms are hurting.

This little aphorism teaches us an incredibly deep lesson.

As we know, traditional Judaism believes in an omnipotent God who can do anything. This then begs the following question: when God notices that His children are in pain, why doesn’t He immediately heal them, alleviate their pain?! He can easily do it! The answer is: there are times when healing is NOT called for. There are moments when before we try to minimize the suffering of our loved ones we just need to join them in that painful space, to be with them and suffer alongside them; cry and ache just as they do.

That is Godly.

When God’s beloved experiences heartbreak, before God invokes His Godly healing powers, He first just sits with the broken hearted and tries to lend a shoulder, carrying the burden of hurt with them.

That is why I am here, just for a few short days. I made a conscious choice not to reach out to friends because that is not what mourners do. The bereaved person does not hang out with friends and share coffee with acquaintances. Other than being with my family, I am here to spend time in silence, crying, contemplating and soaking up every bit of fear, uncertainty and anxiety hovering all over the horizon.

Hopefully, I’ll absorb enough of it so that I can bring some of that back home with me. This way, even after I return, the broken reality stays as raw and as palpable as it is while I am here.

Like HKB”H, קלני מראשי קלני מלבי; for the couple of days that I have been here I am not experiencing the joie de vivre I usually associate with our Tel Aviv community. Instead, my head hurts and my heart aches–and that is the only way I want it.

About the Author
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for more ten years, and is a graduate of the HaSha'ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School, and gave a popular daf yomi class in Brooklyn for more than eight years.
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