What You Are Doing Is Important

What a remarkable photo it is taken by Ariel Schalit for the Associated Press. The caption in this Globe and Mail story says, “Mourners gather around the body of Shraga Gestetner, a Canadian singer who died during Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021.”

Shraga Gestetner was among those accidentally trampled and killed in the midst of a big celebration in Israel. Many commentators are reflecting on the heightened fervour and enthusiasm among those who were finally able to gather for the annual event, partly in celebration of the luminousness of Judaism’s mystical teachings.

The Montreal-born victim had been in Israel without any of his family members and he was buried immediately in accordance with Jewish law.

Speaking to media, a Montreal rabbi made sure to point out that Israeli officials, including the President, urged members of the public to attend the funeral today.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko discussed the bonds of loyalty among the Jewish people that I think Schalit’s photo so aptly depicts.

Whenever there is a Jewish tragedy, I seek out what rabbis are saying and take an interest in how they are helping the community to come to terms with and maintain resolves amidst even the most devastating events.

Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky here in Ottawa sent an email today with the subject line, “Defeat is simply too expensive.” In it, he writes:

We join in the mourning of the families whose loved ones died horrifically at Mt. Meron at the Lag Ba’Omer celebration of the founder of Jewish mysticism, the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Like Aaron the High Priest, who on a day of great personal and national celebration, and in the portable Temple itself, lost two of his children, similarly we hold the horrific loss and the day of celebration in our hands, not discarding either. Like Aaron the High Priest, we are speechless by this event and look to G-d bewildered and sad.

He goes on to discuss how we might recover from this trauma by recounting the counsel the Rebbe gave to those grieving a terrorist attack against five students in 1956:

As the village descended into grief and mourning for the week of shiva, the Rebbe sent deeply empathetic words to the bereaved survivors. He explained that when tragedy strikes, it is a sign from heaven that what we are doing is extremely important. So important, in fact, that the “spiritual forces of evil” feel threatened by it and will stop at nothing to curb its progress. Our response therefore has to be to double and redouble our efforts, to ensure that we will not be intimidated into ceasing our work. […] The crisis is not a reason to resign, it means you’re doing something incredibly important!

The tens of thousands gathered at Mount Meron were doing something important and good. They were gathered, they were singing, and they were rejoicing. Evil hates that. But even death cannot trample it because the ultimate values we affirm are as everlasting as the souls that bear them.

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