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Mt. Meron: Lay the blame, or join in unity? – comment

CM 02/05/2021


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Rarely have the words from the daily page of the Talmud studied by Jews worldwide as part of the “Daf Yomi” cycle resonated with such meaning in light of contemporary events as they did on Sunday.Sunday’s page, 21a of Tractate Yoma, discusses crowded conditions in the Temple during Yom Kippur and the three pilgrimage festivals – Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot – when masses of Jews descended on the site.“At the time when the Jews went up on pilgrimage,” Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “they stood crowded together, yet prostrated themselves with ample space.”The great medieval commentator, Rashi, explained that the people were so tightly packed together that even as they stood ramrod straight, at times the pressure of the masses would lift some people off the ground as if they were floating.Yet, Rashi continued, when it came time for people to prostrate themselves in prayer, there were four amot (about two meters) separating each person so that a person would not hear the confessions of someone else.The Talmud listed this phenomenon – tremendous overcrowding yet enough room for everyone to prostrate themselves comfortably – as one of the 10 miracles that occurred regularly at the Temple.One could not read those words Sunday without thinking about the horrible tragedy at Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb in Meron on Lag Ba’omer. There, too, people were crowded so closely together that they could literally be lifted off their feet. But in Meron there was no miracle.

Despite the writing on the wall in comptrollers’ reports and expert opinions about the need to significantly upgrade the site to accommodate the throngs of people who flock there every Lag Ba’omer, the government, haredi and religious authorities, and the police all tragically preferred to believe that miracles would happen at Meron year after year, and that disaster would not strike.Yet disaster did strike, and now we are witnessing two deeply ingrained Israeli reflexes.One is to look for someone to blame, and the other is to rally together in unity. The first is necessary and – if done properly – could have an important corrective effect. The second is as moving as it is healthy.Let’s start with the blame game.It is only natural that a tragedy of this proportion will necessitate a public accounting. Something like this doesn’t just happen.Someone allowed too many people to go to the site; someone did not heed previous warnings; someone did not enforce the regulations; someone pushed for unlimited access to a site that anyone who has ever visited realizes it cannot accommodate unlimited numbers of people; someone was unable to stand up to strong interest groups.Israel is not a country blessed with leaders who take responsibility for failures that happened under their watch. It was refreshing, therefore, to see one senior police officer do just that.“I’ll put things on the table. I, Shimon Lavie, the commander of the Israel Police Northern District, bear full responsibility, for better and worse,” Lavie said shortly after the dimensions of the disaster became known Friday morning.But a failure of this magnitude has many fathers, not just one.Haredi leaders who will not take “no” for an answer, and who see every regulation or restriction as a threat to their lifestyle, need to look inward. As do government officials, from the religious services minister through the public security minister, interior minister all the way up to the prime minister – who bears ultimate responsibility – for allowing a situation to continue year after year despite the warnings that the situation was unsustainable.This is surely a time when a state commission of inquiry is justified, not to find someone to pin the blame on, not to score political points – even in this overheated political atmosphere – but to follow the trail and understand how something like this was allowed to happen.Who made what decisions? Who failed to implement what regulations? Who refused to heed what warnings, and why? This type of reckoning is key to preventing a repeat of this horror five or 10 years down the line somewhere else.The second reflex we witnessed was that of a country coming together in a time of pain and calamity.After the initial shock of the scope of the tragedy seeped in, the concern of some when they heard the news was that in today’s Israel – a country where the divisions between the haredi and non-haredi communities have rarely been greater – this would be viewed as a sectoral tragedy, a haredi tragedy, not a national one.President Reuven Rivlin has taken to dividing the country into separate tribes: the secular, ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionist and Arabs, though his list is by no means exhaustive. The concern was that because almost all the victims came from the “haredi tribe,” it would be seen as “their” tragedy.And that is something that would have taken a tragedy that tore families apart and compounded it by further splitting the country.But that didn’t happen. The country, as it knows how to do in times of tragedy, rallied together.Flags were flown at half-mast for the victims, one or two who may not have even recognized the authority of the nation standing behind that flag. A day of national mourning was declared. Somber music was played on the radio. The voice of a seasoned radio presenter, KAN Reshet Bet’s Esti Perez, cracked when she read the names, ages and place of residence of the victims.These deaths were not mourned only by the haredi “tribe,” but by the whole nation. People from each of Israel’s “tribes” went out and donated blood, and people from each of Israel’s “tribes” shed tears when they heard the heartbreaking stories and saw the gut-wrenching images.The country, again, was united by death.Some may argue that this type of unity is a mirage since it is only temporary, only the product of a horrible tragedy, and that it will soon pass and everyone will soon be back at each other’s throats.But that is human nature. Brothers may quarrel incessantly, yet when tragedy hits the family they will rally together – sit shiva together – only to continue quarreling once the mourning period is over. But those quarrels do not drown out the common bonds that they share, and that come out during times of tragedy.The same dynamic is at work here. It would have been easy for some people to turn their eyes and hearts away from this disaster, saying, “This is not my tragedy, I‘ve never been to Meron for this ceremony, nor did I ever intend on going.”Terrorist attacks or horrible car crashes elicit feelings of grief and empathy to some extent because people realize that it could very well happen to them too; that there, but for the grace of God, go they.But this was not the case here. This is not a situation where everyone could say, “This could have happened to me.” Yet grief and sadness enveloped the whole of Israel on Sunday as so many people mourned. And this spoke very well of the country.Despite the super-charged and even hateful rhetoric of recent months, despite the deep divisions highlighted by the coronavirus, mystic bonds of brotherhood still bind people here – something that provides badly needed solace at trying times such as these.
Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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